Graphic Thoughts | Tutorial: Shaping Text in Photoshop
Posted May 1, 2008

Recently, a friend of mine watched over my shoulder as I created some digital signage for a huge corporate client of ours. While the name "digital signage" might sound big and corporate-esque, it’s just an easy way of saying "I create pretty signs in Photoshop that ultimately end up on a bunch of flat-panel displays."

Well, this day the client wanted me to alter some of the default text they’d given me to make it into a logo. So, understandably, I set out to do just that and realized (once again) how much I take for granted in Photoshop that people simply don’t realize they can do.

Lucky for me, it’s another great opportunity to turn my friends’ "Hey, now do that again" into another tutorial for Graphic Thoughts. Here goes.

Step 1: Convert Your Text to a Shape
This tutorial is quick and easy, but super-powerful, especially when you want something a little different for a logo or textual design. At this point, you’re probably well aware that in Photoshop you can type any text, save the Photoshop .psd file, then come back a day later and still edit that text. That’s great and all, but let’s say you want to make a slight alteration to your text (like extending the edges of a letter to make regular text into a killer logo). No sweat, right? But how? Turn your text into a shape, that’s how!

In this example, I’m using the Arial Black font and the word "RAZOR." I want to move some of the letters to overlap others, but I also want to alter the way the "Z" looks by extending both the top and bottom of the letter. Now, remember when I mentioned being able to edit text, such as changing an A to a Z? Well, once you perform the next function, your text can no longer be edited in that same way; however, it can be manipulated in many other cool ways. If in doubt, just copy your RAZOR layer (Ctrl-J on Windows, Cmd-J on the Mac) of text and work on one and simply hide the other (by clicking the eye icon beside its name).

With the RAZOR layer selected, choose Layer > Type > Convert to Shape. As soon as you do this, you’ll notice the RAZOR layer menu will look slightly different (you’ll see a black shape, the chain icon, and the shape itself as icons). That’s because Photoshop has just taken the word RAZOR and changed it from text into an actual "editable shape."

To see what I mean, choose the black arrow icon by selecting the Path Selection Tool > Direct Selection and clicking the letter Z in the graphic’s RAZOR layer on your work area (not the z on your keyboard). When you do this, you’ll notice little nodes on each corner of the letter (Figure 1, below).

figure 1

Step 2: Adjust and Manipulate Your Letters
When the tool is a black arrowhead (Path Selection) you can move the entire letter. If you press Shift A, the arrowhead will turn white, and now you can select any of the nodes. With a node (or multiple nodes) selected, you can now move or delete them. In fact, if you want to add more nodes, choose the Pen tool directly below the Path Selection tool (keyboard shortcut P), and you’ll see you can do many different things.

In my example, I selected the Z nodes and extended each. On the bottom part of the Z, I also changed the angle. To do this, simply select a node and move it with your mouse, or use your keyboard arrow keys to get more precise movements. You can also click and drag to highlight multiple nodes or shift or Ctrl-click/Cmd-click to select nodes as well. To finish the look I then selected each letter and moved them closer to each other. Because they’re all black, they simply blend into each other (Figure 2, below).

figure 1

Step 3: Save Your Shaped Text as a Custom Shape
What if I wanted to use this logo again at a later date? Sure, I could re-open the file and drag it into a new document, but let me show you a super useful thing you can also do: take the logo and turn it into a custom shape.

Press A to engage the Selection Tool, then click anywhere on the word RAZOR. When you do this, you’ll see the outlines of the letters or shapes you’ve created highlighted by thin lines. Now choose Edit > Define Custom Shape, and name the shape whatever you want. What you’ve actually created is a vector shape, which means you’ll be able to size the logo as small or as big as you like and it’ll always look clean at the edges.

The custom shapes tool is kind of hidden. It’s found in the same toolset that contains options like the rectangle, line, and ellipse tools. Click and hold any of those icons from the toolbar to display the other options, or click U and look at the top of your screen.
(Figure 3, below). Select the RAZOR shape and click and drag out your cursor on your canvas and you’ll see the logo you just created. You can resize it, color it, add shadows, etc.

figure 1

Step 4: A Useful Extra Tip
One thing you’ll notice when you select a shape layer is the thin outlines that appear in your text, making it hard to see the logo. How do you turn off those lines?

To begin, click the shape icon in the Layers palette that contains your shape. In our example, the RAZOR layer contains a black square/chain link/shape in the form of the word RAZOR (Figure 4, below). Click the RAZOR shape icon and you’ll see the thin lines disappear. Click again to have them reappear.

figure 1

One thing that might also be useful is to create a copyright shape that you could then add to any of your photos; in my case, that would be "Copyright © 2008 PixelPops Design, LLC." Realize, too, that there are billions of custom shapes out on the internet. Simply do a Google search for Photoshop shapes, download them, and add them to your collection!

Lance Gray (lance at is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.