Paint Shop Pen Tool

This tutorial is an introduction to the Paint Shop Pen Tool and you need to know a few ground rules and heed a few warnings before you get started. 

The Pen Tool is not for the faint of heart, the mildly committed digital editors or those who use the automatic adjustments (the One Step Photo Fix'ers, for instance). 

The Pen Tool takes dedication, perseverance and a lot of trial and error before one becomes adept with the beast.  Along the path to mastering the Pen Tool you may experience frustration and the urgent need to hurl your mouse or Intuos Pen across the room.

Don't avoid the PaintShop Pen Tool unless you prefer to let the automatic, built in adjustments in PaintShop Pro make all of your creative adjustments.  In reality - there is absolutely no fun or satisfaction using the auto adjustments while there is enormous satisfaction and pride in creating your own masterpieces!

Once the happy state of understanding and adeptness in using the pen tool is reached then you will have a very powerful Paint Shop Pen Tool at your disposal!

Here's a recent comment from Stephen - in an earlier comment he said he was just learning the Pen Tool and the video tutorial was posted just in time and his suggestion is totally fabulous ...

I figured out a neat idea to help me learn the pen tool.

I purchased an inexpensive (think Dollar Store) coloring book.  I now scan in one page at a time into my photo editing software, I am using the PEN tool to select each area to color.

Next I turn the PEN path into a selection and fill that selection with a color.

Makes learning the PEN tool fun and interesting.  I end up with lots of paths, and lots of layers, but I am finally understanding the PEN tool

I am not perfect yet, but having fun practicing.  And practice is the key to getting really good. 

What Does It Do?

 So what does the PaintShop Pen Tool do, exactly, and why should you bother to learn how to use it correctly?


The Paint Shop Pen Tool is probably the most accurate method to cut out an object in an image.

I'm a real fan of the Edit Selection method of selecting but it is not nearly as accurate as the Paint Shop Pen Tool.

This is the selection tool of choice for advanced users. 

It takes some diligent effort to learn how to manipulate the tool.  Once it's mastered then it's a simple mater to use it when precision is required.

This wall seal was photographed on a marble background.  The Pen Tool was used to cut out the seal and it's easy to see the really crisp, sharp edges.  You can learn how to do a cut-out here ... 

Shapes, Tattoos, etc. 

The Paint Shop pen tool makes it easy to create complex shapes and designs for logos and tattoos,  for instance.  It is particularly useful for making beautiful, smooth complex curves.

This cute little Gecko started out as a tattoo on the arm of the young gal who clips my dogs toenails.

She agreed to let me photograph her tattoo and after a few hours work with the Paint Shop Pen Tool, this is the end result. 

You can do something like this from a photo or, if you're creative, then you can design your own. 

Digital Inking

A third application of the Paint Shop Pen Tool is to ink a drawing or photograph.

This may appeal to both the artistically challenged (like me) as well as the artistically gifted.  As a matter of fact, using the Pen Tool helps to understand and appreciate features such as the shapes of faces, hair lines, lips and noses.

I am quite sure that after you complete a few portrait inkings with the PaintShop Pen Tool you will start noticing beautiful shapes in the real world - shapes like ...

  • Hair framing a face.
  • Curve of the lips.
  • The gentle shape of eyebrows.
  • The shape of the eyes.
  • The smooth shape of noses.
  • And more ...

Tools and Techniques

These are the different tools and techniques you need to understand and use for success ...

  • Layers.
  • Pen tool and its options.
  • Painting, Gaussian Blur and layer opacity.

It doesn't look like much, does it, but these are all the things you need to work with and understand to create some fabulous inked art.


If you've been working with Paint Shop Pro then you are probably familiar with layers.  If layers are still somewhat of a mystery to you then perhaps it would be a good idea to work through the Layers Tutorial.

The ability to create and manipulate layers will make your Paintshop inking much easier.  For instance, the inking of my little dog, Libby, required 14 layers to complete. 

Pen Tool and Options 

The Paint Shop Pen Tool lives at the bottom of the tool bar (outlined in yellow).

There's no flyout - just the Pen Tool and when you select it then the choice of the options is what you need to deal with.

Options Bar - Left 

From the left edge, the choices are ...

  • Presets
  • Apply
  • Modes
  1. Edit - generally used to adjust a curve.
  2. Knife.
  3. LInes and Polylines - may use on occasion.
  4. Bezier - makes wonderful curves and is one of the primary inking Tools.
  5. Draw Freehand - the other primary inking Tool.

  • Close Selected Open Contours.
  • Start New Contour.
  • Three check boxes that should be checked.
  • Drop Down arrow for working with offsets. 

Options Bar - Right 

  • Duplication X and Y (you can do a lot of creative things with Offsets and Duplication)
  • Line Style - normally use a solid line for inking (28 line styles are available)
  • Line Width
  • Anti-Alias
  • Joint - how joins will look
  • Miter limit of joins

No amount of description can really tell you how this tool works - the best thing is to just get in there and get dirty with pen tool. 

Nodes and Control Arms


Nodes are square points on line and curved objects. You can change the shape of a line or a curved object by dragging one or more of its nodes. 

Nodes have zero, one, or two control arms.

The length and direction of the control arms determine the shape of the contour at the node.

The straight or curved line between two nodes is a line segment.

There are four types of nodes: symmetrical, asymmetrical, cusp, and smooth.

Symmetrical Nodes

You can use symmetrical nodes to create smooth, flowing curves on either side of a node. Any adjustments to one control arm are mirrored by the other. 

Asymmetrical Nodes

You can use asymmetrical nodes to obtain a different amount of curve on each side of the node, but keep a smooth flow through the node. You can adjust the length of each control arm, but the not the direction. 

Cusp Nodes

You can use cusp nodes to create extreme changes in direction. You can adjust the length and direction of each control arm independently.  Cusp nodes are probably the most useful and when working with a project it's probably best to convert all the nodes to Cusp. 

Smooth Nodes

You can use smooth nodes to create a smooth transition between straight and curved line segments. 

Bezier Curves and Draw Freehand

This is a bezier curve drawn with the Bezier Curve tool contained within the PaintShop Pen Tool. 

Bézier curves are used to create nice smooth curves that can be modified indefinitely. "Paths," as they are commonly referred to in image manipulation programs, are combinations of linked Bézier curves.

The following three curves are all drawn with the Freehand Tool contained within the Pen Tool. 

There are three freehand curves here and each one was drawn with a different Tracking Value (the top one has a Tracking Value of 1, the middle one has a Tracking Value of 50 and the bottom one has a Tracking Value of 100). 

The Tracking Value is the number of nodes that are added when the freehand lines are drawn.  The lower the number, the smoother the freehand curve and the easier it is to modify the curves.

If you've got a fairly steady hand and a Wacom pen and tablet then give the Freehand a go.

This is one of the the choices you need to make - Freehand or Bézier.  Both are good and the Freehand will require more work after the initial line is drawn.  Probably the best thing is to give both tools a go to determine which is better for you and your project.

Introductory Paint Shop Pen Tool Video

Now that you've been through the different nodes and watched the video it's time to mess around with the different Paint Shop Pro Pen Tool options so you can discover exactly how they work.  Theory is good but hands on is the best way to learn.

After you are familiar with the tool and how they work, you can move on to some more challenging projects with the Paint Shop Pen Tool ...

Cut Outs

Drawing a Celtic Knot

And there you have it - an introduction to the Paint Shop Pen Tool - one of the most powerful tools in the program.

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