The best way to combine two shape layers in Photoshop is to keep both shapes in a vector format so they will still be editable. However, there is another quicker option available if you are satisfied for the finished product to become a raster layer.
What’s the difference between raster and vector?
This question is asked by many newbie designers, webmasters, marketers and other interested individuals – and sometimes the answers can be as confusing as the names raster and vector themselves. It’s time to clarify the difference between raster and vector.
The difference between vector and raster graphics is that raster graphics are composed of pixels, while vector graphics are composed of paths. A raster graphic, such as a gif or jpeg, is an array of pixels of various colors, which together form an image.
A vector graphic, such as an .eps file or Adobe Illustrator file, is composed of paths, or lines, that are either straight or curved. The data file for a vector image contains the points where the paths start and end, how much the paths curve, and the colors that either border or fill the paths.
The vector graphics are not made of pixels, the images can be scaled to be very large without losing quality. Raster graphics, on the other hand, become “blocky,” since each pixel increases in size as the image is made larger.
Suppose, there are following 2 shapes:
The raster option
A raster image is made of up pixels, each a different color, arranged to display an image.
The easiest way to combine 2 shape layers in photoshop is to select the 2 layers in the layers palette (press shift to select more than one layer at a time).
Right click on one of the layers in the layers palette and choose merge layers.
This will combine both your shapes into one raster layer but the individual shapes will no longer be editable or scalable.
The vector option
A vector image is made up of paths; each with a mathematical formula (vector) that tells the path how it is shaped and what color it is bordered with or filled by.
The best way to join 2 shape layers is to select all the path points on one shape layer. To do this, use the direct selection tool and press shift to select multiple points.
To combine shapes whilst drawing new shapes
To combine shapes whilst drawing with the shape tools, make sure the ‘Add to Shape area’ option is pressed as you start drawing each new shape.
Why combine shape layers?
The advantages of combining 2 shape layers means that you can not only move and scale shapes together whilst keeping them in proportion to each other but also apply layer styles such as gradients and shadows to what appears to be one seamless shape.
Pros and cons of raster and vector
Raster images are capable of displaying a myriad of colors in a single image and allow for color editing beyond that of a vector image.
They can display finer nuances in light and shading at the right resolution.
Vector images are scalable, so that the same image can be designed once and resized infinitely for any size application – from business card to billboard.
Raster images cannot be made larger without sacrificing quality. Vector images cannot display the natural qualities of photographs.
Raster images are often large files, while vector images are relatively lightweight. Raster images are used in web and print, vector images cannot as of this writing be used in electronic format – they must be converted to a raster first.
Vectors display at the highest resolution allowed by the output device, while rasters blur when blown up.
When should one use a raster or a vector?
Raster images are primarily used with photos, which is why Photoshop is a raster editing program. Adobe Illustrator, on the other hand, is a vector drawing program that automatically creates your vector formulas as you draw.
Logos, letterhead, and other graphic elements are typically best created as vectors; while photographs are best left for rasters. All vectors must be converted to raster for web use. Text is typically rendered in vector format.
If you are not sure whether you should create a raster or vector file, follow this simple rule of thumb: If you’re drawing something from scratch with only a few colors, go with vector. If you are editing a photo with multiple colors, go with raster.
Many projects use vector drawings and vector images together – a brochure, for example, might include a corporate logo (vector) plus an image of happy customers (raster).
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