Photoshop How-To: Trace on Object without the Pen Tool
Tracing objects in Photoshop almost always involves the pen tool in some way. You know the drill: start dragging the Pen tool for straight lines then hop skip and jump around curves. If you're too far off the beaten path, no worries, just add another anchor point because you can always change them later by manipulating the control handles. After bumbling around the perimeter, you reach the end of the path(or beginning, actually). Taking a look-see, you realize that what should be round curves are instead sharp edges defined by enough points to fill a starry night. Cleaning up that mess will take even longer to do than tracing it in the first place.
There are other ways to trace an object, you know, and in this Lynda.com video Deke McCleland shows a method that creates vector-based outlines with primitive geometric shapes — circles, rectangles, and so on. At first glance, this Deke's Technique may seem to involve more steps than if he were to use the pen tool. But considering all the sturm und drangthat goes into using the pen tool, this approach is quite straightforward. By breaking the object down into its constituent shapes, you'll see it in a new light. You may want to dust off your old geometry texts to remember terms like "tangent," but that's if you want to impress your friends when you show them the impressive results.
Visit Deke's Techniques for more Photoshop and Illustrator creative how-to projects in about 10 minutes.