Photoshop Toolbox: Shape Layers, Paths, Fill Pixels

Photoshop Toolbox - Beginner Tips for Photoshop

On this edition of the Photoshop Toolbox we take a look at what those little buttons up in the Options Bar mean when you are working with shapes or the other drawing tools inside Photoshop.

Photoshop Shape Options

The three options whenever you are working with shapes are (from left to right) shape layers, paths, and fill pixels. From these options you can start to create virtually any shape you need. Here’s how they work.

Shape Layers

With this option selected, whenever you draw a shape Photoshop will automatically create it on a new layer as a vector shape, meaning you will always be able to resize and edit the shape without losing resolution and all of your curves and edges will always remain sharp.


When using the Paths option, you are not creating a visible shape but rather an outline that you can turn into a selection, fill or stroke. Similar to a vector-based shape, you can manipulate the path by adding or adjusting the anchor points that construct the path

Fill Pixels

With this final option selected, the shape you create will be added to the currently selected layer. If you first create a new layer and then draw the shape the result is not a “Shape Layer” but a shape ON a standard layer. It will be a rasterized (pixel-based) shape filled with your foreground color. You will not be able to resize and manipulate it in the same way you would a vector shape or path. You will have similar control over it as you would with any other flattened image – like a photo.

Personally, because I like to maintain as much editability as possible as I work, I generally use the Shape Layers option. It keeps my shapes independent of the other layers and I love being able to always have the option to resize. One of the other real pluses here is that vector-based shapes require less information and don’t add as much to the file size as a pixel-based shape.

What do you prefer using when creating shapes?

  • Thx for the post Jason! The distinction between these three path settings was never very clear to me until now. I only use PS once in a while and I find myself using the paths setting mostly because it acts like a saved selection.

    Now I know how to get the most out of these options.

    September 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

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