Shop Talk

Creating Vector Graphics in Photoshop

While Adobe Photoshop is known as one of the most capable image editors available, it’s mainly associated with raster-based images. For those that want to make vector illustrations, Adobe Illustrator is the go-to application in the Creative Cloud. However, while it’s not as powerful as Illustrator, Photoshop does have some tools that allow for the creation of vector art.

"Don't Move IX" by metron

Creating vector style designs in Photoshop is commonly referred to as “Vexel” art. The work has the look and feel of vector art, but is made of pixels and does not have the freedom of being scaled to any size needed without losing quality. With a little understanding of the tools however, one can create vector designs that can be edited further in a vector program, and even enlarged in a similar manner to standard vector art from directly within Photoshop. It’s true that the tools available in Illustrator will offer more control, however, vector art can be created in Photoshop using the following tips.

Shape Tools

Shapes created using the shape tools are actually vector graphics, as they are composed of curves and lines, just like shapes created in Illustrator. They can have a color fill and a stroke, and even be filled with a gradient. All of which allow for resizing, as long as the shapes are not rasterized. Photoshop has a Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, Line, and Custom Shape tool. Like Illustrator, the shapes created in Photoshop can be used to create new complex shapes. The same “combine shape” pathfinder options found in Illustrator are also available in Photoshop. To do this, select two shape layers that are overlapping each other and then go to Layer>Combine Shapes. From here you can choose Unite Shapes, Subtract Front Shape, Unite Shapes at Overlap, and Subtract Shapes at Overlap. The short video below shows this in action.

The Custom Shape tool is one of the most versatile shape tools available. There is a large amount of pre-installed shapes that come with Photoshop, and more can be downloaded online. You can also create your own custom shapes. Doing this will allow you to convert raster layers into vector shapes, and add more depth to your designs. For example, you can create a layer filled with an extracted texture—as shown in our latest blog post—convert this texture to a custom shape, and enjoy all of the power shapes allow. The short video below shows how to quickly create custom shapes.

Note: Shapes can also be used to create vector masks. Read more about that here

Pen Tools

Along with the shape tools, the pen tool and it’s accompanying tools, will enable you to create complex vector designs. They work in the same manner as the pen tools found in any vector editor. You can easily load a drawing onto one layer, lower the opacity, and then trace the drawing on a new layer with the pen tool. You can add, delete, and convert points, and for those that would rather have a more natural drawing experience, there is a Freehand Pen tool available.


There are a few different ways you can save/export your designs when they are finished. If you have Adobe Illustrator and wish to continue working on your design in that application, you can export all of the paths you have created by going to File>Export>Paths to Illustrator. Doing this will save a new AI file that can be opened in Illustrator, or any vector editor that can import that format. Here are some Illustrator alternatives to check out.

When saving your final design, you can either save as EPS or PDF. Both of these formats will retain the vector data you have created. The only drawback to doing this, is when you open your saved designs in Photoshop, they will be flattened. In order to avoid this, save as PSD, this way you can edit and resize your files later. The EPS and PDF save option is ideal for opening your designs in another application.

In order to take advantage of some of the tools above, or to retain the ability to resize your designs without losing any quality, all your layers need to contain either shapes or paths. Any layers that contain pixels will hinder the design when it comes to resizing or exporting. Keep this in mind and Photoshop can easily be used to create vector illustrations. As an example, the cassette tape below was created entirely in Photoshop, using only shapes and paths. It was easily resized from 1000 pixels wide to 10,000 pixels wide, with only minimal adjustment needed to the corner radius of the shapes.

Did you find the tutorial helpful? Please let us know in the comments below, and share any tips you might have.

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Art historian, burrito enthusiast, and Email Marketing Specialist here at Redbubble.