How to Use Adobe Photoshop’s Curvature Pen Tool

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

Vector illustration is very versatile and beautiful, but for many artists it’s too mathematical and unintuitive to create. Drawing with Bezier curves doesn’t feel like drawing at all! 

However, the newest update to Photoshop CC has solved most of the problems you could have with the Pen Tool by adding a new variation of it—the Curvature Pen Tool. It’s very intuitive to use, and it’s still as powerful as its classic counterpart. Let me show you!

1. How to Prepare the Background for a Vector Illustration

Step 1

Before you create anything in vector, it’s good to have a sketched background that will be your reference for the whole process. You can use my butterfly from the tutorial below:

Copy the image of the butterfly and open a New File (Control-N) in Photoshop, using your clipboard as a template.

photoshop new clipboard file
photoshop vector background

Step 2

Lower the Opacity to make the reference barely visible.

photoshop how to lower opacity

Step 3

Go to View > Rulers. Click and drag the vertical rule to place it along the middle of the butterfly’s body.

photoshop place a ruler

Step 4

Go to Image > Image Size to make the file bigger and easier to work in (later you will be able to make the image as big as you wish, because vector images resize losslessly).

photoshop how to resize image

2. How to Create the Vector Butterfly’s Body

Step 1

The reference is ready, so let’s start creating! Click and hold the Pen Tool to find the Curvature Pen Tool.

photoshop where is curvature pen tool

Step 2

Place a few points around the thorax of the butterfly. The shape will be estimated automatically.

photoshop how to use curvature pen tool

If you want to change the color of the shape, just double click its thumbnail.

photoshop how to change shape color

Step 3

Create the abdomen the same way.

photoshop create shapes with pen tool

Step 4

Photoshop tries to read your mind when you use this tool, but it’s not always successful. You can adjust the shape on your own by simply clicking the path and dragging it. You can do this to any other point as well.

photoshop how to move pen tool points

Step 5

Use this method to create the head. Use a different color for the eye to make it stand out, and place it under the layer of the head.

photoshop vector butterfly head

Step 6

You can also draw lines with this tool. Just draw the start and end points, and then adjust the curve.

photoshop how to draw lines with pen tool

To turn the shape into a line, remove the Fill and add the Stroke. You can also adjust the thickness.

photoshop how to remove shape fill
photoshop how to add shape stroke

Step 7

Add the tip of the antenna.

photoshop vector butterfly antenna

3. How to Create a Butterfly’s Wings in Vector

Step 1

Before you start drawing the wings, create a New Layer under the body (you can Group the layers of the body to keep order) and lower its Opacity to see the reference below. Outline the upper wing with a few points.

photoshop create vector butterfly wing

Step 2

Adjust its shape by adding more points and dragging them.

photoshop advanced vector shape
Tip: you can remove the points by clicking them and pressing Backspace.

Step 3

Create the other wing the same way.

photoshop create vector wings

Step 4

The pattern will take a lot of layers, and we don’t want to change the Opacity of all of them separately, so Create a new Group and lower its Opacity.

photoshop create a layer group

Step 5

Outline the big cell first. Use a bright, neon color for it.

photoshop vector buttefly wing pattern

Step 6

Add another cell and adjust its shape to keep a thick border between it and the other cells.

photoshop how to create butterfly wing cells
Tip: you don’t need to create a new layer for every shape. Just hold Control and click to deselect the previous path, and keep drawing. This will let you use the same color as before.

Step 7

Use this method to create all the other cells. The lower wing may need another group placed under the upper wing.

photoshop create butterfly wings

Step 8

When you’re done, change the Opacity of all the layers back to 100% and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the half of the butterfly. Copy it as a whole with Edit > Copy Merged.

photoshop copy merged symmetry

Step 9

Paste the copy and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal and place the half next to the other. Keep in mind that this copied part is not vector—if you want to make the image bigger, repeat this last step afterwards.

photoshop how to use symmetry

Beautiful!

Do you want to create other beautiful butterflies with this method? Try my tutorial about butterflies to find the steps to create four different species, as well as your own wing patterns:

how to use curvature pen tool in photoshop