If you need to add a custom shape to your Photoshop project, it may be tedious to draw it out each time you need to include it. Luckily, there are multiple ways to create a custom shape that you can use as many times as you want. 

To create a custom shape in Photoshop, create a path using the Pen Tool to define the parameters of the shape. With the path complete, go to Edit > Define Custom Shape to turn the path into a shape. Your custom shape will now be available within your Custom Shape Tool (U).

Now you can make a custom shape from an existing image or create a path of your own, as mentioned above. Let’s go over both techniques so you can begin making custom shapes from any starting point.

How To Make A Custom Shape From An Image

Using an existing image to create a custom shape is easy. 

Images with limited colors, such as a black outline and a colored fill, work well for this. Alternatively, a silhouette can work equally well if you want the custom shape to be the shape of the silhouette itself. 

I’ll be using this yellow and black smiley face for this example, turning the black outline into my custom shape.

Once you’ve chosen a suitable image, open it in Photoshop. Your image needs to be high quality, without pixelation, and have clearly defined colors, such as the black in the smiley face. You can use any Quick Selection Tool to make the selection. However, using the color range method is the easiest for this purpose.

To select the main color, go to Select > Color Range.

This pulls up the Color Range dialog box, where you can click on the color you wish to select. In this case, I clicked the black outline to select those colors of the graphic.

Under the Select dropdown, there are options for color ranges. Since my image is limited to three colors, it will easily select the appropriate color range. If the areas of your image you are turning into a custom shape are the only dark areas, choose Shadows in the drop down. 

You’ll then see the selected area in the preview box.

You can choose specific color options for other colors or use the eyedropper to pick the color directly from your image. If your color is similar to another color, it may not be as successful as selecting only that color.

Once you’ve selected your color range, you can edit it more precisely. 

The Range slider will help add or remove other similar colors and tones to your selection. If your selected color, like mine, is vastly different from other colors in the image, you won’t need to have a very high range. 

Move the slider left for a smaller range or to the right to select a larger range of tones.

Then adjust the Fuzziness slider to adjust the tolerance of which colors will be included in your selection.

Finally, the last thing to check in the Color Range dialog box is that the image isn’t inverted. The preview box shows a grayscale preview of your image. Anything in white will be what your custom shape becomes. 

You can check Invert if you want to reverse the selection and make a custom shape by excluding your selected area.

Anything in black will be disregarded when your custom shape is made.

When you’re happy with your settings, click OK.

Your image will now have an active selection around the sampled colors. Everything selected will be the same color. In my image, everything that is black has marching ants around it to show it is selected.

Now we need to create a path from the selection by first opening the Paths panel. Go to Window > Paths

The paths panel opens where the layers panel is so that you can toggle between the two. Currently, the Paths panel is blank. 

At the bottom of the Paths panel, select Make work path from selection

This removes the marching ants around your selected color and replaces it with blue paths and anchor points. 

The Paths panel now shows the Work Path from your image. 

Now it’s time to convert this path into a shape by going to Edit > Define Custom Shape

Name your new custom shape in the dialog box and click OK.

Find the Shape Tool (U) on your toolbar and hold it down to see all the shape tool options. Select the Custom Shape Tool.

In the Options bar, you can choose which shape is used on the Custom Shape Tool. Photoshop provides preset shapes already, but now your custom shape also appears under this list. 

Select the downward arrow next to the default shape in the Options bar to open the shape library. 

There are multiple categories of pre-existing shapes. Your newest custom shape will be at the bottom.

Select your custom shape. In the Options bar, set your Fill and Stroke colors.

On the canvas, click and drag out to draw your custom shape. To constrain the proportions, press Shift while dragging the Custom Shape Tool to your preferred size. 

Each new shape will appear in its own layer. 

How To Make A Custom Shape From A Path

You can create a custom shape using paths which gives you more customization options compared to using a premade image. 

To begin, select the Pen Tool (P).

In the Options bar, choose Path in the dropdown menu. 

Using the Pen Tool set to Path, you can draw any shape on the canvas. You can use the Pen Tool as you normally would, whether you draw straight lines or add curves, as long as you complete the shape and join the final anchor points. 

Once you’re happy with your path shape, in the Options bar, choose Shape.

This turns your path into a solid shape with a stroke and fill.

Now to turn your custom path into a custom shape, once again go to Edit > Define Custom Shape

Name your custom shape in the Shape Name dialog box and click OK once you’re done.

You’ve now created a custom shape from a path. To find and use your new custom shape, go to the Shape Tool (U) and choose the Custom Shape Tool.

In the Options bar, your most recently used shape will appear by default. Click the downward arrow next to the current shape to open the shape library. Your new custom shape will be at the bottom of the list. 

Select your custom shape. 

To create the shape on your canvas, click and drag your mouse to your desired size. To keep the proportions constrained, hold Shift while dragging. You can change the Fill and Stroke colors in the Options bar

Now that you know to make a custom shape, it’s important to know the full range of settings available to make shapes look just right. In my ultimate guide to working with shapes in Photoshop, I break down everything you need to know.