How to

Tutorial: combining paths in Photoshop

By 19th December 2010 6 Comments
Bloodynosed beetle

Cat’s a bit of a wiz on Illustrator but can sometimes get frustrated when trying to use that programme’s equivalent tools in Photoshop. Take the pen tool; a great device for creating beautifully curved lines. But why oh why doesn’t it act the same in Photoshop as it does Illustrator? For example, when drawing a curved line, if you want to turn a sharp corner instead of continuing the curve, in Illustrator you have to click on your node to lose a bezier handle before continuing with the line. In PS, you have to alt+click. It took Cat quarter of an hour to find this out, trawling through a very lengthy, but informative, pen tutorial.

Deciding to use a combination of the pen tool and CS5’s brilliant magic wand Cat hoped to create an accurate path with which to precisely cut a beetle from its background. She diligently created a path around the beetle’s body (path shown yellow) then, using the wand selection, selected its antenna (path shown red) and then its legs (path shown blue). By using different methods of selection, she ended up with several different paths. Having created and named her three paths, she wanted to combine them, like a virtual beetle drive. After another hour of internet research she eventually found what she was was looking for. To save you the frustration, here it is. Please note: the paths have been coloured for reference, you won’t see them like this in your version of Photoshop.

Beetle paths

Combining paths in Photoshop
Click on one of your paths in the paths palette. Copy it (edit>copy or Cmd/Ctrl+C). Then click on another path in the paths palette and paste the first path into it (edit>paste or Cmd/Ctrl+V). Both your paths will be on the same path. Continue until all of your paths are in the same path. You can see that they are by checking the paths’ thumbnail and you will also be able to see the paths on your image. (You can increase the size of the thumbnail by choosing ‘Panel options’ from the right-hand menu – click on the tiny arrow). Cat has coloured the paths magenta in the screen grab below (so you can see them) and renamed the path thumbnail ‘outline’.

Beetle paths on same path

Now combine the paths. This is where PS and Illy do coincide. Use your path select tool (the black arrow) and drag it across all of your paths to select them. Choose the first option in the pathfinder options (see below) and then click the ‘combine’ button. Et voila, your paths are now a single path!


Press Cmd/Ctrl+click to select the path in the paths palette then go back to your layers palette. You should see the ‘marching ants‘ walking along the edge of your shape. Making sure you are in the correct layer, click Ctrl+C to copy the image and Ctl+N to create a new document and Ctrl+V to paste your cut-out image. Or invert the selection and delete the background. Add a touch of gradient overlay and create a whole new species!

New beetle?


  • Jess Gillis says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been stuck on this for almost an hour.

  • bijutoha says:

    Nice information , Just I have a doubt about Pathfinder Options . As I know these options are included with Shape and Pen tools, but while I select the “Selection and Lasso Tools” (under the Move Tool) I saw Pathfinder Options available there also .

    So could you tell me please how to use them by Selection and Lasso Tools ?

  • Cat says:

    Thanks for your comment, bijutoha. The ‘new selection’. ‘add to selection’, ‘subtract from selection’ and ‘intersect with selection’ work the same whether you’re in lasso or pen or other selection tool.

    Hope that helps.

  • Jason Fonceca says:

    This helped a lot, like Jess above, I was spending time trying to figure it out, thanks!

  • Mahmuda says:

    Thanks, It would be helpful for beginners.

  • Image Masking Service says:

    Brilliant and easy descriptive tutorial, very easy to understood. many thanks for sharing this with us.

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