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When drawing something symmetrical with the pen tool in Photoshop, is there any way to set up a mirror line at a given angle, so as you draw a shape on one side it gets automatically duplicated and reflected to the other? I'd rather not have to copy-paste-transform at multiple intervals to see how it's looking.

This is essentially equivalent to 3ds Max's 'Mirror' modifier for meshes.

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Photoshop doesn't have such a function natively, but you can fake it, if a little awkwardly.

  1. Start your shape. Select the shape layer AND the background layer and turn them into a Smart Object (Filter > Convert for Smart Filters or Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object). I'm assuming you'll make this the left hand half, so position it to the left of the document. (For other relationships adjust these steps accordingly.)

  2. Copy the layer by pressing Cmd/Ctl-J or by dragging it to the New Layer icon. You now have a copy of the same shape and background layer.

  3. Double-click either Smart Object to open it as its own document.

  4. Press Cmd/Ctl-T to activate Free Transform on your shape layer. In the transform proxy in the control panel, change the transform position indicator from the center (default) to the right-hand middle position.

  5. Right-click the object and select "Flip Horizontal." Press Enter/Return to lock in the transform.

  6. Choose Window > Arrange > Tile.

You now have your main canvas and the master shape visible. Any changes you make to the master shape will appear in the main document every time you save the .psb document that is your smart object.

The plus with this approach is that all the tools of Photoshop are at your disposal in working on one half of the shape, and will be immediately duplicated in the other half as you save.

The downside is that creating a merged, single shape requires several extra steps. I'll outline them if you need to do that.

This is also the best way to make reflected text in a Photoshop composition and keep the text editable, by the way. Smart Objects opened up a whole new realm of possibility when they were introduced.

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Thanks, that's very useful. Smart Objects are great, if they had live updating and edit-in-place too they'd be perfect! –  Paul Calcraft May 23 '11 at 9:41
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There were dialogs on this subject between Adobe engineers and Photoshop beta testers in the CS4 and CS5 pre-release cycles. The thumbnail answer is that this would be so compute-intensive (think of a S.O. with >50 layers, including multiple adjustment layers and blend modes) that interactivity performance would not be acceptable to users. That's also why smart filters are disabled when you edit the S.O., and why there's only one layer mask for a Smart Filter set. So the answer we've had from the Adobe engineers is: "Yes, we could do it, but you wouldn't like it." –  Alan Gilbertson May 23 '11 at 18:31
    
Interesting, would have been nice to have the option when dealing with simple smart objects (like component shape drawing), but I guess they didn't think it would be worth dealing with all the people complaining when it started getting slow. –  Paul Calcraft May 24 '11 at 7:11
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Just as an aside, you could also run the whole sequence as outlined, but starting with an Illustrator document. Bring that in as a Smart Object, then you would have all the much more versatile and powerful shape tools in Illustrator at your disposal. It all depends on which tool set will best meet your design goal for the project. –  Alan Gilbertson May 24 '11 at 7:33
    
I tried this approach, and I found that you can group the shape layer and its reflection as a group and apply effects to the group as a single layer. –  wecsam Jul 29 '13 at 3:03

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