Digital Imaging

Week 11: Vector Tools, Design & Other Stuff

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Create vector shapes using the pen tool in Photoshop
  • Design and create a layout using vector and type tools
  • Be aware of various batch processing procedures for multiple files


This final week, refocusing on design and communication a bit. Also, vector tools for creating lines and shapes. I’ve included some batch processing we do not have time to cover that are essential to know about when creating digital imaging. These processes all go beyond just Photoshop – many   professional-level graphics software has options for accomplishing tasks in a batch, so look for those when you are working on many images at once.

Good Design & Layout

Elements in layout2013 Boston magazine cover

  •  title, headline
  •  images, photos
  •  text
  •  other graphic elements

Good design/layout is coherent, visually attractive, logical, easy to understand, has clear hierarchy of information. Basically, it makes sense and just looks good.

Good design makes you feel something as well, it makes a connection with the viewer on an emotional level even though we don’t always notice it.

Bad design/layout is confusing, not attractive, hard to understand. It doesn’t make you want to read the content.

Hierarchy of information

  • size of elements
  • colors
  • location on the layout

Good layout is a balancing act between composition and the visual elements.

Stronger visual elementsposter design

  • large
  • bold
  • high contrast in brightness
  • high contrast in colors
  • isolated
  • clean
  • familiar figures, like human faces, alphabet
  • good location


Elements of design

Clean layouts and very carefully chosen font and carefully placed text all communicate a very specific message. Click on images below to go to pages with more or do your own search for inspiration. In many cases, less is more but you need enough text to make sure your audience understands your message and has all the details they need.

good design magazine cover  

Vector Graphics

When you draw a vector path, you aren’t drawing a line made of pixels; you’re actually using a mathematical formula for the line that defines its size, shape, angle, etc. Vector images remain crisp and sharp no matter what size you make them,  because the computer is simply multiplying or dividing the mathematical description to create a new size for the object.  Vectors are ideal for creating logos, for example, which may be scaled up without loss of quality from 1 inch wide on the company stationery to 20 feet wide on the front of the corporate headquarters building.

Adobe Illustrator is the preferred tool for vector graphics. If you have Illustrator and would rather use it for the vector exercise this week, go for it. If not, Photoshop will be your tool.

Vectors in Photoshop take the form of paths. Paths can be converted into selections, and selections can be converted into paths. Photoshop creates vector shapes through vector masks. These clipping paths are similar to other types of Photoshop masks: they control which area of the image shows. Photoshop you should be using for this lesson include:  pen tools, shape tools, effects.

I’m providing a lot of resources here for you to get started with. You don’t need to explore all of them unless you run into difficulty. Explore the work of some vector artists and watch the first video about the pen tool. I also highly recommend playing the  Bezier Game  for vector line practice.

Getting Started

  1. Explore the work of other vector artists.    Check out some of these links for inspiration. Not all of them were created in Photoshop exclusively but they might give you some ideas.
    •  — 55+ colorful vector illustrations
    • Bert Monroy  is a well known artist in the Photoshop community who creates photo-realistic images entirely of vectors. He uses a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop.
    • Illustrator World  — These  were created in Illustrator rather than Photoshop but are good examples of vector work. They could be scaled to any size and still remain crisp.
  2. Read from Adobe or use these resources to come back to later if you need help:
    1. Draw with Pen Tools —
    2. Draw straight lines and smooth curves —  
    3. Working with Shape Tools —
  3. Play  the  Bezier Game  — fun and challenging!!

Working in Vectors

Using the Pen Tool

This video tutorial offers a number of great techniques to know about. Scroll through the video and focus on the ones you are interested in. Even if you don’t use these techniques this week in your design, you now know it is possible!

Sometimes you may wish to convert a shape to a path or vice/versa. Here are a couple good video tutorials on how to do this:

Further Reference for Vectors

Advanced tips for working with vectors in Photoshop CC & new techniques:

Custom Shapes & Anti-Alias

Many of the special effects in Photoshop are created through using custom shapes and brushes. Custom shapes can also be used as custom paths.  Have a look at this site   (or another free shapes site) and see if you can find a shape or brush that you like and download it (.csh file).

To install a custom shape:  

Click on the custom shape tool and then open the Presets Manager…

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.44.17 PM

In the Presets Manager, load the .csh file into the appropriate preset section (shapes, brush, etc):

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.50.04 PM

Once the file is loaded, click Done and you will see the new shapes appear in  your custom shape chooser.

It is also important to know about anti-alias edges, as this will make your image and text look much better.

Actions & Batch Processes

Note: we won’t be using these essential tools this week in the exercise, I just want you to be aware of their existence.    You can always come back later if you need to use methods. I use them fairly often so I consider them an essential tool to at least know about.  


One panel I use all the time is called Actions – this allows you to record a specific custom set of operations and then you can repeat them on other images later on. Maybe you have a bunch of files you want to turn into b/w, reduce the resolution to 72dpi, and then save as a jpg. The first step is to record each step of the action. Note and warning – do this on a copy of your original file! Follow the steps in the video Adobe provides here:

or watch this video:


Batch Processing an Action

Once you have your action set up, you can apply it to all the files in a folder. Warning – make sure to be very careful in the settings of the batch process so that you don’t overwrite your original files!! Here are a couple tutorials:


Bonus! Other Groovy Stuff You Might Like

Note: these are also not required for this week’s exercise but really come in handy.  

Perspective Crop

Something I use all the time. Just in case you don’t know…

problem - square  perspective crop

Contact Sheet

Create a contact sheet from a folder of images. Top Menu -> File -> Automate -> Contact Sheet II

contact sheet


Make a panorama from a series of photos. Why do this when your smartphone or camera does it for you? You can get a much higher end resolution if you take a series of photos and merge them together in Photoshop. This means you can print it out at a larger size without degrading the quality.    Also Photoshop sometimes (not always) does a better job than the camera.

How to do this from Adobe:  

Image Stack

Remove tourists from photo. Ever wonder how magazine photographers get all the people out of their gorgeous images of a scenic area? They don’t get a pass to go at a special time. This is the method that you can use.   It involves taking a series of images (minimum of 3) and making sure you do this over time so that the people move through the scene enough to get a photo of the background of where they were before.   Use this tutorial if you take photos with a tripod ( or the following video tutorial when not using a tripod:





Design a magazine cover or poster (LAST EXERCISE!!)

The goals of this exercise:

  • to understand how to set physical dimensions of pixel based images
  • to  get familiar with Adobe Photoshop Type Tool, Vector graphics tools and Layer Styles
  • to demonstrate how size, colors and placement of visual elements affects the overall layout and create hierarchy of visual strength


  1. You must use text  
  2. You must use vector objects (not just pre-made shapes)  
  3. 1 photo is allowed – or just use vectors (click on ‘Tokyoiter’ image above for fun examples)

Resize and crop an image of your choice into w8.5 x h11 inch (vertical, like real magazines) 150 pixels per inch document*.  Experiment with Photoshop Type tools, Vector shapes and various  Layer Styles  (drop shadow, emboss, glow etc).

*150 pixels per inch is too low for real print publication. For designs which will be printed, you should have minimum 300 pixels per inch. I also recommend using Adobe Illustrator or inDesign, not  Adobe Photoshop for actual print designs.

To crop your image into specific size and resolution, you can use options in “Crop’ tool in the tool box.

Pay attention to “layout’ of your design and try to create “good layout’. Emphasize important visual elements and information.  Also, please spell check!   “Check Spelling…’ is under “Edit’ menu.

After completing your design, save your file as Photoshop (.PSD) file with layers. Place in your Google Folder and then export as jpg for uploading to your journal entry.


  1. Create a new post  on the course website and give it the category ‘Week 11’².
  2. Upload the JPEG version of your final image
  3. Write a short reflection on the processes you used to create your image. Were you successful in creating your image? What do you like about it? How could it be improved? Describe any challenges you encountered.


No official discussion due but  commenting on other student’s work from last week’s exercise is encouraged!