Ahh, the Pen Tool! When it comes to making complex selections and cutting objects out of an image, there is no better tool for the job. And while the Lasso Tool or Magic Wand Tool might make selections faster and easier (and are still quite useful depending on the situation), the Pen Tool reigns supreme when it comes to accuracy and precision.

So, what’s the drawback? Well, it’s pretty tricky to get the hang of it. Even with all of the helpful videos and guides out there (including a handful of our own), we still get questions all the time on how to master this extremely versatile tool within Photoshop. In our most recent tutorial on the Pen tool, we focused on the absolute need-to-know fundamentals so that you can follow along and start practicing immediately.

Not only does the Pen Tool provide unparalleled accuracy and control, but it’s extremely flexible as well. Photoshop will store any Paths you create under the Paths tab. If you ever need to adjust a selection as you work, you can simply select the Path you wish to edit, make the changes that you need, and then convert that Path into a new selection.

Before editing a Path, be sure to check Auto Add/Delete in the Pen Tool options bar. This will tell Photoshop to automatically swap to the Add Anchor Point Tool (when you’re hovering over a line segment) or the Delete Anchor Point Tool (when you’re hovering over an Anchor Point). This setting makes the process of making changes to a Path much easier.

Avoid using the Delete or Backspace keys to remove Anchor Points! These shortcuts will delete the selected point as well as the line segments that connect to it!

Another key to mastering the Pen Tool is making sure that your precision selections look realistic within the context of an image. I know that we use the Pen Tool for its clean lines and curves, but rarely in the real world will you find a completely hard edge. To maintain realism in your selections, be sure to add a bit of feathering to account for the naturally occurring softness in photographs. It’s a subtle change that will help avoid that “Photoshopped” look.

And if you ever feel lost, just remember your “home base” keyboard shortcuts:

  • Use CTRL or CMD to toggle the Direct Selection Tool which will allow to move a Point or a Curve at any time.
  • Use ALT or OPTN to convert a Point into a Curve or vice versa.

For an even smoother workflow, toggle the Hand Tool by using the Spacebar. The Hand Tool allows you to navigate around your image by clicking and dragging, eliminating any need for you to have to zoom out, scroll, and zoom back in to continue a Path.

And most the most important tip of all: practice, practice, practice! The Pen Tool completely changed how I work within Photoshop and if you put in the time, I’m confident that you’ll see a considerable improvement in your own work as well.

About the Author: For over seven years, Aaron Nace has been teaching photography and photo manipulation on PHLEARN.com to millions of users across the world at every skill level. You can subscribe for his professional videos or view the free tutorials as well.