Creating Characters with Shape Layers

When it comes to creating flat, sharp, and colorful characters in Photoshop, it is always advantageous to involve the use of vectors. Vectors are mathematical objects that define shapes or curves. Unlike pixels, vectors are resolution independent. This means that they can be scaled to any size, edited, or transformed an infinite amount of times without any deterioration of clarity or loss of detail. In Photoshop, vector art can be integrated into your image files in the form of paths, vector masks, or shape layers.

Different vector tools and functions are suited to a variety of different tasks in Photoshop. In this case, the creation of whimsical character faces is ideally suited to working with shape layers. A shape layer can be created with the pen tool or any of the shape tools. What causes one of these tools to create a shape layer, rather than a path, is the designation that you choose in the tool options bar. Shape layers allow you to build up stacks of resolution-independent shapes that are absolutely perfect for tasks like creating faces. The available preset shapes are excellent building blocks for features and the pen tool affords you the flexibility to create any custom shape you desire.

Once you create a number of shape layers, the flexibility doesn't end there. When you select more than one shape on a layer, you'll notice that there are number of options available for creating compound shapes. You can add, subtract, intersect, and exclude shapes as well as perform a plethora of alignment options to get your complicated features placed exactly where you want them on the face.

Like traditional layers, shape layers can also be linked or grouped so that multiple elements across a series of layers can be moved, rotated, or scaled together at the same time. No matter what style of face you're creating, when it comes to flexibility and versatility, shape layers are the absolute key to success.

1 I The first thing you need to do is to open up the background.jpg file. This brightly colored painting provides an ideal backdrop for the bright, whimsical characters we're about to create in this chapter. All of your shape layers will be added to this file to create plethora of strange creatures. To get started, select the pen tool. Then, in the tool options bar, ensure that the shape layers function is enabled by clicking on the button at the left. Press 'd' on the keyboard to set your foreground color to black and zoom in closer on a section of the background.

Project files

The background image file for this chapter can be found in the folder entitled chapter_02. Although you'll be creating your own characters by following along, you may find it useful to have a look at the three sample character files included within this folder for reference purposes.

Creating Characters

2 I Click and drag to create a curved point with the pen tool. Move the mouse, then click and drag again to create another curved point, joined to the previous point by a line segment. Repeat this method, making your way back to the original point. Click and drag on the original starting point to close the shape. Once the shape is closed, select the direct selection tool. Use the direct selection tool to click on the individual points that make up your curved shape. When you click on a point, the Bezier handles that define that point will become visible.

Creating Characters with Shape Layers

3 I Click and drag the Bezier handles to reshape the curves and move the points with the direct selection tool until you have achieved the desired shape. When you're finished, select the pen tool again and click on the foreground color swatch in the toolbar to launch the picker. Choose a blue color from the picker to change the foreground color to blue. Ensure that the create new shape area option is selected in the tool options bar, and then use the previous method to create a smaller blue shape on a new layer. Edit the points and curves with the direct selection tool, using the previous method.

Affect which shape layer?

You've probably noticed by now that before you create a shape layer, I instruct you to set the foreground color in the toolbar first, specifying a fill color for your new layer before you create it. However, you've probably also noticed that there is a color swatch in the tool options bar that allows you to specify the fill color of a shape layer too. Before you choose a different color from the swatch in the tool options bar, you need to pay attention to a small chain-link button to the left of it. When enabled, this option affects the properties of the current layer, meaning the layer you already created. So when this option is enabled, changing the color in the tool options bar will affect your already existing layer. If you disable this option, your current shape layer will remain unaffected when you choose a new color. But any new shape layer you create will use the new color selected in the tool options bar.

4 I Specify a darker blue foreground color. Select the pen tool and ensure that it is set to create a new shape layer in the tool options bar. This time, when starting your shape, just click once instead of clicking and dragging, then move the mouse, and click and drag. This will create an initial sharp, or corner point, and your second point will define the curvature of the line. Click and drag to add more curved points and then, when returning to your starting point, just click. By clicking once on the starting point, you ensure that this point remains sharp, not curved.

Which tool do I use?

Using the move tool will allow you to move an entire shape layer around on the canvas. However, if you want to move your shapes around within your layer, you'll need to use the path selection tool. Simply click on the shape you wish to move and drag it with the path selection tool. This is especially useful when your shape layer contains more than one shape and you wish to move shapes independently of each other.

5 I In the tool options bar, select the ellipse shape tool and then disable the chain-link button by clicking on it, so that the new color we choose from the swatch in the tool options bar is not applied to the currently targeted shape layer. Click the color swatch in the tool options bar and select a dirty yellow color from the picker. Ensure that the create new shape layer option is enabled and then click and drag, while holding down the shift key to create a perfectly circular shape layer. You can reposition the entire shape layer with the move tool.

6 I Drag the shape layer onto the create a new layer button in the layers palette to duplicate it. Target the original layer (the one beneath the copy) in the layers palette. Choose Edit>Free-Transform from the menu and drag the corner points of the box outwards to increase the size, and alter the shape of the shape layer. Press the enter key to apply the transformation. In the tool options bar, enable the chain-link button to affect the current layer. Then specify a black fill color via the swatch in the tool options bar.

Creating Characters with Shape Layers

Animate Characters With Shape Layers

7 I Target the top layer in the layers palette, so that your next layer will be created above it. Again, use the ellipse shape tool to draw a smaller circle in his eye area. Ensure that the create new shape layer option is enabled as you create the circle. Next, change the fill color of the new layer to red via the color swatch in the tool options bar. With this new layer targeted, choose the stroke effect from the layer styles menu at the bottom of the layers palette. Add a darker red stroke to the outside of the circle.

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Learn Photoshop Now

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Responses

  • bellisima
    What is the definition of layers in digital illustration?
    8 years ago

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