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Shapes, Arrows and Hidden Options in Photoshop

Creating arrows (such as we here use in our tutorials) shouldn’t be too hard in Photoshop, and it actually isn’t. However, you may find it frustrating to find out the best way to accomplish such a seemingly simple task. For example, there are some custom shape tools with arrow forms, such as this one:


The form is correct, but what happens when we need a longer arrow and stretch this one out?


Well, that one is much bigger, but the whole shape is stretched – not at all what we wanted. We could use the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow tool) to marquee the end of the arrow’s leader line, and stretch that out, like so:


That leaves us with a more natural looking arrow, but that’s way too much work!

Another thought might be to use just the plain old Line tool, and then add a triangle shape on the end, using the Polygon shape tool. For example, here is the line tool:


And now we use the Polygon shape tool, set to three sides to create the arrowhead, and place it on the end of the line:


The effect is looking better, but that’s still a lot of work, and the alignment of the triangle with the line is quite difficult! As it turns out, there is a much easier way, buried in one of the most obscure option dialog boxes in Photoshop. Let’s go back to the line tool, and then take a look at the Tool Option Bar:


Notice the small downward triangle next to (of all places) the Custom Shape Tool? That is the Shape Geometry Options box, and it changes depending on which shape tool is selected. The options for the Line shape tool are quite interesting. Go ahead and give it a click:


Of course, by now you guessed what we’d find there. Arrowheads! And with options to place them either at the Start, or the End, or both, of the line, along with options for the size (the size is a percentage of the line width – you’ll need to experiment). Here are a set of arrows drawn from left to right, with Width of 500% and Length of 1000%, with various combinations of Start and End selected.


For an added bit of elegance, experiment with the Concavity option, which affects the back edge of the arrowhead where it connects with the line. Here is an arrow with Concavity set to 30%:


Notice that, regardless of the arrow length, each arrow head remains a constant size, perfectly aligned with the leaders. To give your arrows a bit of extra pop, you can add a drop shadow layer style, or even a stroke. Here we’ve got the arrows pointing to themselves, in a bit of a circular reference:


Check out the obscure Geometry Options for the other Shape Tools as well. There are some hidden gems in there (hint: try the options on the Polygon tool – you’ll be surprised!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s tip, and we’re always looking for new ideas… Leave a comment to make a suggestion or a request – we’d love to hear from you!

About Michael Hoffman (224 Articles)
Mike has been a photographer, artist, educator, and technophile for most of his life. Early in his career, he created technical illustrations and photographs for electronic equipment manufacturers, and taught classes in computer aided drafting and 3D modeling software. When digital cameras became widely available in the late 1990s, the move was a natural one, and has led to a happy combination of technology, software, photography and art. Mike is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Acrobat, and is well versed in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, as well as Illustrator and InDesign. He has also contributed his time and efforts to the excellent work being done by Operation Photo Rescue, in restoring photographs damaged by natural disasters. As an active member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, he continues his quest for excellence in art, excellence in design, and excellence in education.

3 Comments on Shapes, Arrows and Hidden Options in Photoshop

  1. Thanks for the tutorial.

    I’d figured out how to select arrowheads but wasn’t able to change their size.


    Because the line tool wasn’t selected at the top of the screen.


    Because I’d clicked on the custom shape tool after selecting the line tool.


  2. Prerak Mody // 11/10/2014 at 4:50 am //

    Amazing Tip! Helped in three projects where I was manually trying to create those arrows,

  3. Tim Murray // 06/09/2018 at 2:55 am //

    Like to see it modified for PS CC 19.1.6 for Mac, as my control bars don’t match up.

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