How To

Arrow in Photoshop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing Arrows in Four Different Ways

how to draw curved arrows in pho

Drawing an arrow in Photoshop is a versatile skill, catering to various creative and professional needs. Whether it’s for detailed diagrams, web design, or digital art, Adobe Photoshop provides several tools for this task, including the Line Tool, Pen Tool, Custom Shape Tool, and Brush Tool. Understanding how to make an arrow in Photoshop enhances one’s ability to communicate visually, adding clarity and emphasis to projects.

This article guides readers through four different methods to draw arrow shapes in Photoshop, including techniques to add arrows in Photoshop effectively. It also covers adjusting arrow properties, creating custom arrowheads, and enhancing arrows with effects to optimize visual communication.

Draw an Arrow with the Line Tool

To create an arrow in Photoshop using the Line Tool, follow these detailed steps to ensure precision and customization according to your project’s requirements.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Open Photoshop and Select the Line Tool:
    • Launch Adobe Photoshop.
    • Locate the Line Tool in the toolbar. If it’s not visible, click and hold the Rectangle Tool to reveal it.
  2. Configure the Line Tool Settings:
    • In the options bar at the top, set the line’s thickness by adjusting the ‘Weight’ for Shape or Pixel mode.
    • Choose your line color from the ‘Fill’ option and set the ‘Stroke’ color and width to define the line’s borders.
  3. Drawing the Line:
    • Click and drag on the canvas to draw the line.
    • Hold down the Shift key while dragging to constrain the line’s angle to a multiple of 45 degrees, ensuring it’s perfectly straight.
  4. Adding Arrowheads:
    • Click the gear icon in the Line Tool options bar to access ‘Live Shapes Controls’.
    • Check the ‘End’ box under the ‘Arrowheads’ section to add an arrowhead at the end of the line.
    • Adjust the arrowhead’s width and length in the input boxes provided.
  5. Customizing Arrow Properties:
    • In Shape mode, click on ‘Stroke Options’ to explore additional settings like caps, alignment, and dashed lines.
    • In Pixel mode, adjust the opacity and weight directly from the options bar.
  6. Final Adjustments:
    • Use the on-canvas transform controls to rotate and resize the line, which will proportionally adjust the arrowheads.
    • Set the concavity to determine how the arrowhead meets the line, enhancing the arrow’s visual impact.

Tips and Tricks

  • Constraining Line Angle: Holding the Shift key is crucial for maintaining straight lines. This is especially useful when creating diagrams or technical drawings where precision is key.
  • Customizing Arrowheads: Experiment with different sizes and concavities to match the style of your project. Larger arrowheads can be useful for emphasizing directions in signage or presentations.
  • Resetting the Line Tool: If the tool isn’t performing as expected, reset it by clicking the drop-down next to the line icon in the options bar and selecting ‘Reset Tool’. This can resolve issues with unexpected behaviors or settings.

By following these steps, you can effectively draw arrows using the Line Tool in Photoshop, tailoring each element to fit your specific design needs. Whether you’re adding directional cues to a map or creating graphic art, the Line Tool offers a straightforward method for incorporating arrows into your projects.

custom arrow

Drawing an Arrow with the Pen Tool

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Setting Up the Pen Tool:
    • Open your project in Photoshop and select the Pen Tool from the toolbar. Choose from the standard Pen Tool, Curvature Pen Tool, Freeform Pen Tool, or Magnetic Pen Tool depending on your preference for control and the nature of the curve.
  2. Drawing the Curved Arrow Shaft:
    • Set the Pen Tool type to “Shape” to allow for easier adjustment and manipulation.
    • Ensure the fill is set to transparent and the stroke color is set to your desired color for the arrow’s shaft.
    • Click on the canvas where you want the arrow to start, move your cursor to the desired end point, and drag to create a smooth curve.
  3. Adding the Arrowhead with the Line Tool:
    • Switch to the Line Tool by selecting it from the toolbar or pressing ‘U’.
    • Set the Stroke to 0px and choose a Fill color that matches the Pen Tool line’s color.
    • Draw the arrowhead at the end of the curve. Make sure not to extend the shaft too long.
  4. Merging Shapes:
    • After drawing the arrowhead, select both the curve and the arrowhead.
    • Right-click and choose ‘Merge Shapes’ to combine them into a single object. This ensures they move and scale together seamlessly.
  5. Adjusting the Arrowhead:
    • If the arrowhead appears too large or small, go back to the arrowhead settings in the Line Tool options and adjust the dimensions until it fits the design of your arrow shaft.
  6. Finalizing the Arrow:
    • Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to make any final adjustments to the curve or the position of the arrowhead.
    • Ensure both parts are aligned correctly and the arrow points in the correct direction.

Tips and Tricks

  • Flexibility with Pen Tools: Experiment with different Pen Tools to see which one suits your drawing style best. The Curvature Pen Tool is particularly useful for smooth, flowing curves.
  • Precision in Curve Adjustment: Use the Direct Selection Tool to fine-tune the curve by adjusting the anchor points. This is crucial for achieving the exact shape you want.
  • Consistency in Color Matching: Ensure that the stroke and fill colors are consistent between the shaft and the arrowhead for a uniform look.

By following these steps, you can effectively use the Pen Tool in Photoshop to draw detailed, custom arrows that are perfect for a variety of design projects. Whether you’re creating diagrams, interfaces, or custom graphics, these techniques provide the flexibility and precision needed for high-quality results.


Drawing Arrows with the Custom Shape Tool

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Accessing the Custom Shape Tool:
    • Open your project in Adobe Photoshop.
    • Select the Custom Shape Tool from the toolbox. If it is not visible, click and hold on the Rectangle Tool to find it in the nested menu.
  2. Choosing the Arrow Shape:
    • Navigate to the top Options bar and click the drop-down menu next to the Shape icon.
    • If using Photoshop version 21.0.2 or later, go to Window > Shapes to open the Shapes panel. For versions like Photoshop 2021/version 22.2, locate the “Legacy Shapes and more…” folder, then find the “Arrows” subfolder to access various arrow shapes.
    • Select your desired arrow shape from the available presets.
  3. Drawing the Arrow:
    • Click and drag on your canvas to draw the arrow. Adjust the size by dragging the mouse further away or closer.
    • Release the mouse once you achieve the desired size.
  4. Adjusting the Arrow’s Orientation and Size:
    • Press Ctrl+T (Command+T on Mac) to activate the Transform tool.
    • Rotate and resize the arrow as needed by dragging the corner handles. Hold the Shift key while dragging to maintain the arrow’s proportions.
  5. Customizing Arrow Properties:
    • With the arrow still selected, go to the Options bar to adjust the Fill and Stroke colors to match your design.
    • Double-click the arrow layer in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style dialog box where you can add effects such as shadows, glows, or stroke enhancements.
  6. Finalizing the Arrow:
    • Once all adjustments are made, press Enter to finalize the placement of the arrow on your canvas.
    • If necessary, you can further refine the arrow’s position using the Move Tool (V).

Tips and Tricks

  • Utilizing Vector-Based Shapes: Take advantage of Photoshop’s vector-based arrow shapes that can be scaled without losing clarity or resolution. This is particularly useful for projects that may require resizing for different formats.
  • Exploring Legacy Shapes: If newer versions of Photoshop have hidden older arrow shapes, explore the “Legacy Shapes and more…” folder to access a broader range of arrow designs.
  • Handling Upgrade Issues: If you face issues with missing shapes or empty folders in the Shapes panel following an upgrade, try clearing any search terms like “arrows” from the search box or resetting the Shapes panel from the Panel menu.

By incorporating these steps and tips, you can efficiently use the Custom Shape Tool in Photoshop to add professional-looking arrows to your projects, enhancing both the functionality and aesthetic appeal of your designs.

baby arrow

How to Draw an Arrow using the Brush Tool

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Select the Brush Tool:
    • Open your project in Adobe Photoshop.
    • From the toolbar, select the Brush Tool (B).
  2. Create a New Layer:
    • To keep your arrow separate from other elements, create a new layer by clicking the ‘New Layer’ button or using the keyboard shortcut Shift+Ctrl+N (Windows) or Shift+Command+N (Mac).
  3. Configure the Brush Settings:
    • In the options bar, choose the desired brush shape, size, and color. Adjust the brush settings for size, opacity, and flow to suit the precision needed for your arrow.
  4. Drawing the Arrow:
    • Position your cursor at the starting point of your arrow on the canvas.
    • Click and hold down the mouse button, then drag to draw the main line of your arrow.
    • Release the mouse button and draw a V-shaped line at one end to create the arrowhead.
  5. Adjusting the Arrow:
    • If the arrow needs repositioning, switch to the Move Tool by pressing ‘V’ or selecting the arrow icon at the top of the toolbar.
    • Click on the arrow’s layer and drag to the desired location.

Tips and Tricks

  • Layer Management: Always draw on a new layer to avoid altering other elements of your project inadvertently.
  • Brush Customization: Experiment with different brush shapes and sizes to find the best fit for the style of arrow you need.
  • Freehand Flexibility: Use the Brush Tool for freehand drawing to add a personal touch and organic feel to your arrows, making them unique to your design.

Using Pre-Defined Arrow Brushes

  • Accessing Arrow Brushes:
    • Download arrow brushes from resources like Envato Elements, which offers a wide variety of design tools.
    • Install the arrow brushes by double-clicking the ’63 Arrow Brushes.abr’ file, which will add them to your Brushes panel under Window > Brushes.
  • Drawing with Arrow Brushes:
    • Select the newly added arrow brush from the Brushes panel.
    • On your new layer, draw the arrow in the desired location on your canvas, adjusting size and rotation as needed.

By following these steps and utilizing the flexibility of the Brush Tool, you can create distinctive and effective arrows in Photoshop that enhance your graphic projects with a touch of personalization and creativity.

paint tool

Adjusting Arrow Properties

Step-by-Step Instructions for Adjusting Arrow Properties

  1. Adjust Image Contrast and Brightness:
    • Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast or Image > Adjustments > Levels to enhance the arrow’s visibility by making it stand out against the background.
  2. Change Color Settings:
    • Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation to modify the color of the arrow or its background, which can help in improving its overall visibility.
  3. Sharpen Arrow Details:
    • Use Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask to clarify the arrow’s details, making it easier to distinguish the finer aspects of its design.
  4. Utilize Layers for Non-Destructive Edits:
    • Add effects such as outlines or drop shadows on separate layers to increase visibility without altering the original arrow image.

Customizing Arrow Shape and Style

  • Arrow Properties Adjustments:
    • Check the Properties/Appearance settings to select the correct line type, whether solid, dashed, or dotted, depending on the project’s requirements.
  • Customizing Strokes:
    • In the Stroke Options, customize align, caps, corners, and specify gap and dash values for creating various dashed lines. Save these as custom presets for future use.
  • Edit Arrowheads:
    • In the Line Tool options, set the Width and Length of the arrowhead in pixels and adjust the Concavity to modify how the arrowhead meets the line.

Using Tools for Arrow Orientation and Shape

  • Transform Tool for Orientation:
    • Use the Transform tool (Ctrl+T or Command+T) to rotate and resize the arrow, ensuring it points in the desired direction.
  • Annotation Tool for Custom Heads:
    • The Annotation tool allows for the creation of arrows with customized heads and formatting, enhancing the design flexibility.

Table: Key Properties and Tools for Arrow Adjustment

Brightness/Contrast, LevelsEnhance arrow visibility by adjusting lightness.
Hue/SaturationChange color for better distinction.
Unsharp MaskSharpen details for clearer visibility.
Properties/AppearanceChoose line style (solid, dashed, dotted).
Stroke OptionsCustomize stroke details and save presets.
Arrowhead SettingsSet dimensions and concavity of arrowheads.
Transform ToolAdjust orientation and size.
Annotation ToolCreate customized arrowheads and styles.

By following these steps and utilizing the specified tools and settings, you can effectively adjust the properties of arrows in Photoshop to meet the specific needs of your design project, ensuring that each arrow serves its intended purpose with optimal visibility and aesthetic appeal.


Creating Custom Arrowheads

Using the Annotation Tool for Custom Arrowheads

  1. Access the Annotation Tool:
    • Open your project in Adobe Photoshop.
    • Select the Annotation Tool from the toolbar to begin creating custom arrowheads.
  2. Design Custom Arrowheads:
    • With the Annotation Tool active, design your arrowheads directly on the canvas.
    • Customize the shape, size, and formatting of the arrowheads to fit the style of your project.
  3. Apply and Adjust Custom Arrowheads:
    • Attach the custom arrowheads to your arrows.
    • Use the transform options to adjust the orientation and scale to ensure they align perfectly with the arrow shafts.

Creating Arrowheads Using Legacy Shapes

  1. Navigate to Legacy Shapes:
    • Go to the Custom Shape Tool and access the Shapes menu.
    • Select Legacy Shapes and More > All Legacy Default Shapes > Arrows to view traditional arrow shapes.
  2. Selecting and Using a Legacy Arrow Shape:
    • Choose an arrow shape that suits your design needs. Note that these shapes are fixed in dimensions and cannot be resized without losing quality.
    • Drag the selected arrow shape onto your canvas and position it as needed.

Table: Tools and Methods for Creating Custom Arrowheads

Tool/MethodDescriptionCustomization Level
Annotation ToolAllows for freeform creation of arrowheads directly on canvas.High, with flexible design options
Legacy ShapesProvides a selection of pre-defined arrow shapes.Low, fixed dimensions

By utilizing these tools and methods, you can create distinctive and customized arrowheads in Photoshop, enhancing the visual impact of your arrows and ensuring they complement the overall design of your project.

Enhancing Arrows with Effects

Adding Effects to Arrows

  1. Changing Arrow Color and Thickness:
    • To modify the color of an arrow, select the arrow layer and navigate to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Adjust the hue sliders to achieve the desired color.
    • For changing the thickness, select the arrow and go to Edit > Transform > Scale. Drag the handles to adjust the thickness, ensuring to hold the Shift key to maintain the proportions.
  2. Applying Different Brush Styles:
    • Select the Brush Tool from the toolbar.
    • In the options bar, choose a brush style that suits the design needs. Adjust the size and opacity to apply the desired effect to the arrow.

Creating a Clipping Mask for Arrows

  • To create a clipping mask, ensure the arrow layer is directly above the layer you want to clip. Hold down Alt and hover the mouse between the two layers in the Layers panel until the cursor changes to a clipping mask icon, then click.
  • Alternatively, select the arrow layer and use the shortcut Ctrl+Alt+G or navigate to Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

Enhancing Arrows with Layer Styles

  1. Applying a Stroke:
    • Double-click the arrow layer to open the Layer Style dialog box.
    • Select ‘Stroke’, set the size, and choose a color to create a distinct border around the arrow.
  2. Adding Inner Glow:
    • In the Layer Style dialog box, select ‘Inner Glow’.
    • Choose a white color and adjust the size and opacity to create a subtle inner border that enhances the arrow’s visibility.
  3. Creating Depth with Inner Shadow:
    • Still in the Layer Style dialog box, select ‘Inner Shadow’.
    • Adjust the distance, size, and opacity to give the arrow a raised effect, adding depth to its appearance.

Table: Key Effects and Their Impact on Arrow Enhancement

EffectTool/Method UsedImpact on Arrow
Color ChangeHue/Saturation Adjustment LayerAlters the arrow’s color to fit the design theme.
ThicknessTransform ToolAdjusts the arrow’s thickness for better visibility.
Brush StyleBrush ToolAdds texture and style variations to the arrow.
StrokeLayer StyleCreates a defined border, enhancing the arrow’s edge.
Inner GlowLayer StyleAdds a soft inner border, increasing depth.
Inner ShadowLayer StyleGives a 3D effect, making the arrow appear elevated.

By applying these effects and adjustments, arrows in Photoshop can be significantly enhanced to better suit the aesthetic needs of any project, ensuring they are both functional and visually appealing.


Optimizing Arrow Visibility

Regular Maintenance of File Size and Dimensions

  1. Monitor File Size and Dimensions: Regularly check the file size and dimensions of your Photoshop documents (PSDs) to ensure they are optimized for performance and do not hinder visibility.

Enhancing Photoshop Performance

  1. Allocate More RAM: If the efficiency value in Photoshop drops below 100%, adjust the Memory Usage setting to allocate more RAM, enhancing overall performance.
  2. Optimize History and Cache: Tailor the History and Cache settings according to your specific workflow needs to improve responsiveness and efficiency.
  3. Disable App Nap and Layer Thumbnails: For users who run automated tasks, disable App Nap on macOS to prevent slowdowns when Photoshop runs in the background. Also, disable layer thumbnails to avoid jarring layer nudging and improve performance.

Adjusting Guides and Selection Tools

  1. Set Guides and Grid Preferences: Customize the color, style, and spacing for guides and the grid in the Guides, Grid, & Slices preferences to enhance the precision and visibility of your design elements.
  2. Layer Selection Techniques: Use the Move Tool (V) and Ctrl/Cmd + clicking on an object in the canvas to accurately select specific layers. Additionally, hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click on the layer’s thumbnail to automatically select around the objects in that layer.

Saving and Exporting Optimized Graphics

  1. Optimize Graphics for Web: Utilize the “Save for Web & Devices” command to create graphics that are optimized for web use, ensuring faster loading times and maintained visual quality.

Table: Key Settings and Tools for Optimizing Arrow Visibility

Setting/ToolPurposeImpact on Visibility
File Size and Dimensions CheckEnsure manageable file sizes for better performance.Enhances speed and responsiveness.
Memory Usage AdjustmentAllocate more RAM to Photoshop.Improves overall application performance.
History and Cache OptimizationAdjust settings based on workflow.Increases efficiency and speed.
App Nap and Thumbnail DisablingPrevent performance reduction.Improves layer handling and speed.
Guides, Grid, & Slices SettingsCustomize visibility features for precision.Enhances accuracy in element placement.
Layer Selection TechniquesAccurate layer targeting and selection.Facilitates precise editing and visibility.
Save for Web & DevicesOptimize graphics for online use.Ensures clarity and quick loading on web platforms.

By implementing these adjustments and regularly monitoring your Photoshop settings, you can significantly enhance the visibility and effectiveness of arrows in your projects, ensuring they are both visually appealing and functionally optimal.

Saving and Reusing Arrow Styles

Save and Reuse Layer Styles in Photoshop

Photoshop’s capability to save and reuse layer styles is particularly beneficial for applying consistent effects across multiple layers without the need for manual replication. This feature streamlines the workflow and ensures uniformity in design.

Saving the Layer Style

  1. Create the Desired Style: Once you have finalized the arrow style on your layer, you’re ready to save it.
  2. Open the Layer Style Dialog Box: Right-click on the layer and select ‘Blending Options’ or double-click the layer to open the Layer Style dialog box.
  3. Save the Style: Click on the ‘New Style’ button, provide a name for your style, and save. This style will now be accessible in the Styles palette.

Applying the Saved Layer Style

  • Access Saved Styles: Open the Styles palette by navigating to Window > Styles.
  • Apply to Any Layer: Simply click on the desired style in the Styles palette to apply it to any active layer in your project.

Managing Arrow Styles with Tool Presets

Tool presets in Photoshop allow you to save all the settings of a shape tool, including the arrow tool, which can be a significant time-saver.

Saving Tool Presets

  1. Set Up Your Tool: Configure your arrow tool with the desired settings.
  2. Create a Tool Preset: Go to the Tool Preset menu at the top of the screen and select ‘New Tool Preset’. Name your preset for easy recall.

Reusing Arrow Styles as Smart Objects

  • Save Arrows as PSD Files: Keep your arrows as PSD files to drag them into other files as smart objects. This method maintains the quality and allows for easy manipulation.
  • Access Layers Easily: Smart objects preserve the original arrow layers, making it simple to make adjustments later.

Preserving Custom Arrow Presets

To avoid losing custom arrow styles with software updates or reinstallation, use the Preset Manager to save these permanently.

Using the Preset Manager

  1. Open the Preset Manager: Navigate to Edit > Preset Manager.
  2. Select Presets to Save: Choose ‘Styles’ from the dropdown menu, select your custom arrow styles, and then click ‘Save Set’ to store them on your computer.

Table: Summary of Tools for Saving and Reusing Arrow Styles

FeatureTool UsedPurpose
Save Layer StylesLayer Style Dialog BoxEnables the saving of styles for reuse in other layers.
Apply Saved StylesStyles PaletteFacilitates the application of saved styles to layers.
Save Tool SettingsTool Preset MenuAllows saving of tool configurations for future use.
Reuse as Smart ObjectsPSD FilesMaintains quality and editability when reused.
Preserve Custom StylesPreset ManagerEnsures styles are not lost during software updates.

By following these methods, you can efficiently manage and reuse arrow styles in Photoshop, enhancing both productivity and consistency in your design projects.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve navigated the diverse methodologies for creating arrows in Photoshop, showcasing the flexibility and precision that this software offers. From the straightforward use of the Line Tool to the more intricate processes involving the Pen Tool, Custom Shape Tool, and Brush Tool, each method presents unique advantages tailored to varying design needs. The exploration of adjusting arrow properties, creating custom arrowheads, and enhancing arrows with effects further underscores Photoshop’s capability to refine visual communication, ensuring that each arrow not only meets specific design requirements but also elevates the overall aesthetic of a project.

The potential to save and reuse arrow styles, alongside tips for optimizing arrow visibility, underscores the importance of efficiency and consistency in design work. By implementing these strategies, designers are equipped to produce work that not only looks professional but also communicates effectively. The versatility of Photoshop in creating and enhancing arrows demonstrates its invaluable role in the design toolkit, encouraging both creativity and precision. As readers apply these techniques to their projects, they will undoubtedly discover the profound impact well-designed arrows can have in guiding visual interaction and enhancing the clarity of their designs.


Q: What is the fastest method to create an arrow in Photoshop?
A: The quickest way to create an arrow in Photoshop is by using the Annotation tool found in the toolbar. This tool allows you to draw various types of arrows, including straight, angular, or callout arrows, and lets you customize the arrowheads and their formatting.

Q: How can I create a pointing arrow in Photoshop?
A: To create a pointing arrow in Photoshop, you can utilize the Line Tool, Pen Tool, or Custom Shape Tool. With the Custom Shape Tool, you can select a pointed arrow shape from the library. Click and drag on the canvas to draw the arrow, releasing the mouse button when you’re satisfied with its size and orientation.

Q: What are the steps to make a circular arrow in Photoshop?
A: To draw a curved arrow in Photoshop, follow these seven steps:

  1. Open a new canvas.
  2. Create a new layer.
  3. Draw a circle shape on this layer.
  4. Apply a layer mask to the circle.
  5. Use the Brush Tool to mask out parts of the circle.
  6. Continue masking areas to shape the circle into an arrow.
  7. Add the arrowhead to complete the circular arrow.

Q: How do I convert an arrow back to a simple line in Photoshop?
A: To change an arrow to a line in Photoshop, you can remove or modify the arrowhead properties using the options available for the tool you used to draw the arrow, such as the Line Tool or Pen Tool. Adjust the weight, end points, or remove the arrowhead entirely to revert to a basic line.

Daniel Long

Daniel Long

About Author

Daniel Long, as a writer, delves into the realm of emerging technologies and business solutions, with a particular emphasis on optimizing efficiency and fostering growth. He educational background includes a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, and he furthered his knowledge by attaining an MBA from Chapman University. This combination of expertise allows him to offer valuable insights into the ever-evolving business landscape.

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