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Masking basics

From: Print Production Fundamentals

Video: Masking basics

Masking is one of the secrets of happiness in Photoshop, whether you're doing color correction or compositing, or you're silhouetting subjects from their backgrounds. Multiple terms are used, silhouette, knockout, dropout, cutout, you get the idea. First, some basic rules. Work nondestructively if you can. Don't kill innocent pixels. Let Photoshop help you if possible. And keep in mind that it's okay to improve an edge. It's well within your artistic license to reshape a lumpy waist or an irregular ear while you're creating a mask.

Masking basics

Masking is one of the secrets of happiness in Photoshop, whether you're doing color correction or compositing, or you're silhouetting subjects from their backgrounds. Multiple terms are used, silhouette, knockout, dropout, cutout, you get the idea. First, some basic rules. Work nondestructively if you can. Don't kill innocent pixels. Let Photoshop help you if possible. And keep in mind that it's okay to improve an edge. It's well within your artistic license to reshape a lumpy waist or an irregular ear while you're creating a mask.

If you need to knock out a straight edge object such as a book or this pencil, or you need something with a smooth arcing curve, then the Pen tool is your good choice. Now it takes some practice to become accustomed to this, and this is not intended to be a Pen tool tutorial. You can find a number of those on lynda.com. It's a very powerful tool. So I'm just going to make a quick pen path around this pencil just click, click, click to make straight points, and then click and drag to make curve points.

And I always tell my students, when you're making those straight points, you have to be precise on your pen. Just click and peck like a chicken. Now I've got a point that's a little out. Right there I can use my Arrow keys to reposition it. Sometimes that's easier than redrawing, and then I keep on drawing, then I sort of sharpen my pencil here, head back up. And when you get near the end, you see a little circle next to your pen nib. There you go! At the moment, it's sort of ethereal. If I go to my Paths panel, it's just called Work Path.

Now if I'm going to take this into InDesign, I have to name this path. So I'll double-click on it, and I'll just call it pencil. InDesign will let me choose whether or not to use this path as a way to silhouette the object. And that's kind of neat, it gives you some flexibility. But Illustrator doesn't feel the same way. If I want to silhouette this pencil and have it float in, in Illustrator, I need to designate this as an official clipping path. To do that, go to the Paths panel menu, choose Clipping Path, it recognizes the name. Don't put anything in the Flatness field.

What this means is that the ultimate imaging device is going to make a decision about flatness. Frankly, you don't have to think about it, so just click OK. Now you'll notice that the name pencil shows a little outline around it, and that's just a hint that it's now officially designated as a clipping path. When I save this, if I'm going to go into Illustrator or into InDesign, I can save it as a PSD, and it will be just fine. In older workflows, we had to save as an EPS so that that path would be recognized--that shouldn't be necessary. But keep that in back of your mind if you're working with somebody that's using an older program has to have an EPS, well, save this as an EPS.

But there are some subjects that really don't lend themselves to the Pen tool. When you have a cat with furry ears or you have a person with flyaway hair. For that, you want to start with something like the Magic Wand or the Quick Selection tool. With the Quick Selection tool, you just paint across the subject, and Photoshop is looking at color and contrast differences to try to determine where the edge is. And as I paint across, oh, it picks up some stuff I don't want, but that's okay. I can hold down the Option key on the Mac or Alt on Windows, and I can carve away the parts that I don't want. But this isn't perfect.

You can see that it's not selecting the hair on the cat's ears. That's why we have Refine Edge. When I choose Refine Edge, I get a separate little dialog up that helps me judge whether I'm making a good selection. And I can choose different ways to view. I can choose Marching Ants, Overlay, on a black background, on a white background. My personal favorite though is to just view this as a potential mask by choosing Black & White. And here's the secret to happiness in the Refine Edge dialog, Smart Radius. Check that Smart Radius option, and as I drag this slider up, you'll see it's starting to move out from that initial selection, it's starting to look for more subtle changes to determine where an edge is.

Now it's not going to be perfect, you'll probably have to tune it up a little bit, but look, Photoshop has done the really hard part for me. It's captured the hair on the ears. Before I click OK, I'm going to choose how I want to output this. I can output it to an Active Selection, layer Mask, several other options. I'm going to save myself some time and go directly to layer Mask. When I choose that and click OK, now you can see that the cat is silhouetted from the background. Now I'm going to do a little quick clean up just so you know how to do this. If I hold down Option or Alt and click on the Mask thumbnail, I look at just the mask by itself.

If I press D on my keyboard for default, it ensures that my foreground and background colors are black and white, and X on the keyboard can swap my foreground and background colors. So I want to paint with black to hide. A mask is sort of like a stencil. The black part hides pixels, the white part reveals pixels. So I'm not going to go all the way through with this, I really just want you to understand the concept, I'm painting with black where it's picking up background that I don't want to have show in my final piece.

If I hit the X on my keyboard, I can paint with white, and I can ensure that some of these little gray areas are actually white. So remember that black hides, white reveals, gray areas reveal at reduced opacity, so you have a little translucency actually at the edge of the cat and the little hairs on the top. The truth is that's sort of how it is in real life. Hairs and fur are sort of translucent, so you really get a more realistic mask. When I Alt-click or Option-click on the Mask thumbnail, now I can see the cat silhouetted on the background. Again, this is not really meant to teach you all these techniques, it's just to expose you to them.

But just remember, for straight edge, hard edge things, you're going to use the Pen tool. For soft edge, more organic edges, you're going to use the Magic Wand or the Quick Selection tool and clean it up with Refine Edge. I'm going to save this just like it is. I'm not going to compress my layers. Remember, I want to work nondestructively. You always want to be able to go back in and make changes if you need to.

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This video is part of

Image for Print Production Fundamentals
Print Production Fundamentals

68 video lessons · 23748 viewers

Claudia McCue
Author

 
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  1. 2m 7s
    1. Welcome
      1m 31s
    2. Using the exercise files
      36s
  2. 7m 5s
    1. What is print production?
      1m 51s
    2. Understanding roles and responsibilities
      5m 14s
  3. 13m 49s
    1. Communicating with your printer
      3m 49s
    2. What does the printer do with my files?
      2m 39s
    3. Understanding the importance of contract proofs
      1m 57s
    4. Handling corrections and alterations
      2m 8s
    5. Attending press checks
      3m 16s
  4. 13m 27s
    1. Choosing the correct type of printing for your project
      3m 15s
    2. The art of letterpress
      1m 33s
    3. Understanding the advantages of sheet-fed printing
      2m 22s
    4. Using a web press for long runs
      1m 39s
    5. Understanding thermography
      1m 38s
    6. Considerations for digital printing
      3m 0s
  5. 15m 11s
    1. What's a process color?
      2m 55s
    2. What's a spot color?
      2m 52s
    3. Exploring how ink behaves on paper
      5m 14s
    4. Comparing monitor vs. press output
      4m 10s
  6. 15m 15s
    1. Building to the correct size
      4m 37s
    2. Folding and trimming
      3m 18s
    3. Setting up for die cutting
      3m 19s
    4. Embossing
      4m 1s
  7. 3m 17s
    1. Choosing an application
      3m 17s
  8. 9m 54s
    1. Understanding font formats
      1m 45s
    2. Using OpenType fonts
      5m 20s
    3. Fonts to avoid
      2m 49s
  9. 13m 52s
    1. Comparing raster vs. vector images
      3m 23s
    2. Understanding color space
      4m 26s
    3. Examining image formats
      6m 3s
  10. 13m 13s
    1. Looking at image resolution
      7m 16s
    2. Masking basics
      5m 57s
  11. 39m 53s
    1. Understanding Illustrator
      2m 34s
    2. Illustrator layout tips
      2m 48s
    3. Building a simple three-panel brochure
      6m 29s
    4. Using swatches
      5m 22s
    5. Working with effects
      5m 16s
    6. Cautions about some effects
      1m 23s
    7. Importing images
      2m 41s
    8. Exploring fonts
      2m 42s
    9. Saving for users with older versions
      3m 2s
    10. Saving as PDF
      4m 36s
    11. Gathering up the pieces
      3m 0s
  12. 57m 8s
    1. InDesign layout basics
      5m 21s
    2. Building a simple three-panel brochure: method one
      7m 19s
    3. Building a simple three-panel brochure: method two
      3m 21s
    4. Working with color and gradient swatches
      7m 12s
    5. Making gradients and creating a rich black swatch
      4m 45s
    6. Exploring fonts in InDesign
      2m 54s
    7. Importing graphics
      7m 49s
    8. Copying and pasting graphics
      3m 38s
    9. Saving for users with older versions
      2m 21s
    10. Packaging up a print job
      6m 57s
    11. Generating PDFs
      5m 31s
  13. 22m 43s
    1. Using Overprint Preview in InDesign
      3m 3s
    2. Managing swatches in InDesign
      5m 29s
    3. Preflighting in InDesign
      7m 58s
    4. Using the Links panel in Illustrator
      3m 16s
    5. Using blending modes in Illustrator and InDesign
      2m 57s
  14. 35m 35s
    1. Basic forensics in Acrobat
      11m 3s
    2. Using Output Preview
      5m 30s
    3. Dealing with display artifacts
      2m 52s
    4. Using TouchUp tools
      8m 17s
    5. Converting colors
      4m 11s
    6. Using preflight profiles
      3m 42s
  15. 3m 27s
    1. Submitting the job
      2m 29s
    2. Being a good print customer
      58s
  16. 1m 2s
    1. Next steps
      1m 2s

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