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Shape layers are a special kind of layer made up of a color and a vector mask that defines the shape. When you need a geometric or graphic shape, it makes sense to use a Shape layer rather than to fill a selection on a regular layer because you can always reshape a shape layer without degrading its image quality, or resize it and its edges are likely to be much smoother than the edges of the shape on a regular pixel-based layer. Let's take a look at this layer, the circle layer which is a pixel-based layer. If I get my Zoom tool and zoom in on that, you can see that its edges are indeed made up of square pixels.
If I were to scale up this pixel- based object, it wouldn't look very good. You might actually be able to see the jagged edges of the shape as you can here when I am zoomed in. And if this was a photograph, the photograph would probably get blurry and soft if I scale it up too far. By contrast, a shape layer does allow you to scale and resize. So let's see how to make a shape layer. I am going to go back to 100% view by clicking this Actual Pixels button in the Zoom Tool OptionBar. I am going to borrow this magenta color from the pixel-base circle by getting my Eyedropper and clicking with the circle layer selected on the magenta circle and that puts magenta in the foreground color box.
Then I am going to go over to the Layers panel and I am going to click the Eye icon on the circle layer to make that layer invisible. And now I am going to get my Shape tool. The Shape tools are located here in the toolbox above the Hand tool. If I click on that, you will see a fly- out menu with a series of geometric Shape tools and a Custom Shape tool, which we are going to revisit in a moment. But for now, I am going to take the Ellipse tool and I am going to use it in this image by holding the Shift key down to constrain the ellipse to a circle and I am going to draw out a circle, release my mouse, and it immediately fills with the foreground color.
Over in the Layers panel, I can see that I automatically have a new layer. I didn't have to create this layer first as I did when I made my pixel-based circle. This layer has two components: a solid color represented by this icon and a vector mask represented by this icon. And you can see the vector defined circle in the middle of that mask. In this image you can see the edge defined but if I click off of that shape layer, the edge becomes smoother to the eye. Even after I have created this shape, I could reshape it using the Direct Selection tool here or I could scale it up.
With my Shape layer select and in particular the vector mask on that layer selected, I could go to the Edit menu and Free Transform Path and then I could hold the Shift key to constrain proportions and drag that shape up without fearing that I was degrading the image quality of the shape. So when I click this checkmark and then click off of that layer, it looks just as smooth as it did when it was smaller. I am going to undo, Command+Z or Ctrl+Z on a PC, and now let me show you the custom shapes. I am going to go back to the Shape tool and this time I am going to choose the Custom Shape tool.
In the Options bar for the Custom Shape tool, there is a Shape field right here. If I click the arrow on that field, I see a number of small graphic shapes and if I go to the arrow on that drop-down menu and choose All and choose OK and then drag down the menu, I can see all of the shapes that come with Photoshop and there are quite a few here to choose from. So for example, I could get a puzzle piece and then click in the Options bar to close that menu and then if I come in and draw on this layer, I have a separate shape layer with this puzzle piece on it and I could reshape and resize the puzzle piece too.
I am going to undo to get rid of the puzzle piece, that's Command+Z or Ctrl+Z, and show you one more kind of custom shape layer that can really come in handy and this is a tiling shape layer. Let's say I'd like to have a different design on this background. I am going to go to my design layer and click its eye icon to turn that design off and then I am going to go back to my custom shape picker and I am going to scroll down and from here I am going to choose this tiling shape that looks like diagonal lines. I will close the Shape Picker by clicking in the blank area of the Options bar.
Then I am going to come in to the top- left corner of the image and I am going to drag diagonally and you can see it's dragging out a series of shapes in a tiled pattern. When I release my mouse, those shapes all fill with the foreground color. When I click off of that layer, you can see the shapes without the vector outline. I am going to take that new Shape 2 layer and drag it to the bottom of my Layers panel just above the Background layer. And I have changed the background of my image. If you need to add a graphic or a geometric shape like this one to a layered file, do check out the shapes that are available with Photoshop's Shape tools.
They offer the advantage of smooth edges and scalability that you may not get with a regular pixel-based layer.
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