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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang! This is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques. This week I'm going to help you build up an essential skill inside of Photoshop: we're going to be tracing vector-based path outlines. So we're going to take this fairly complicated geometric object right here and we're going to trace it with a series of so-called primitives--that is, circles and rectangles and that kind of thing-- and then we'll go ahead and combine these primitives into a final path outline that exactly surrounds that light bulb. Here. Let me show you exactly how it works. All right! Here's that final composition, just so you have a chance to see it on screen. I'm going to switch over to my starter file, which comes to us from the Fotolia Image Library, about which you can learn more at fotolia.com/deke.
I'm also going to switch to the Paths panel, and you can see that I've created a handful of paths in advance. The first path collection, primitives, contains all of the core path outlines that I used to sculpt out the light bulb. Then I combined them into a single path outline final bulb right here, and I'll show you how that works shortly. And I'm going to switch over to the black arrow tool, which Photoshop calls the Path Selection tool, and then I'll click on that path outline, so that you can see all the anchor points. You can see that it does a great job of accurately tracing that light bulb.
Next, I'm going to switch to base shapes. Now these are a handful of shape outlines that I've created in advance for you, just to save us some time. Our job is going to be to trace the top of the bulb. And you can see here that the top portion of the bulb is very nearly elliptical, so we'll trace it using the Ellipse tool. Click and hold down on the Shape tool here inside the toolbox and then choose the Ellipse tool from the flyout menu. Now notice, because I have a path collection selected there inside the Paths panel, Photoshop automatically selects the second icon in, in the Options bar, which is Paths.
But not only am I going to be drawing a path outline, I'll be adding it to the existing collection of paths. So I'm going to go ahead and trace along the top of the bulb. Notice I haven't got my alignment exactly right. Fortunately, I can press and hold the spacebar in order to move that ellipse on the fly. As soon as I get it where I want it to be--right about there I think--I'll release the spacebar and continue drawing in order to scale that path. I might scooch this over a little more while pressing the spacebar again and then increase the size of the path until it ends up being about yea big.
Notice that's done a terrific job of tracing the top of the bulb. Now I'm going to switch over to the Black Arrow tool once again, the reason being that we're going to duplicate this big ellipse. And if you take a look at the two sides near the bottom of the bulb here, you'll see that they're arcs, and they can be described using this larger elliptical shape. I'll show you how that works. Go ahead and click on the big shape in order to select it and then press the Alt key, or the Option key on the Mac, and drag the shape to clone it on the fly, and I'll go ahead and move it to right about there.
I'm trying to very nearly align it with the edge of this smaller circle. Now I'm going to press both the Shift and Alt keys--that would be Shift and Option on the Mac--and I'll go ahead and drag this elliptical shape over to the right-hand side of the bulb. And once again, because I have the Alt or Option key down, I've cloned that shape. The Shift key ensured that I performed a perfectly horizontal drag. Now I'm going to zoom in, just so I can get a better look at what I'm doing. It looks as though I managed to align this left-hand ellipse pretty nicely with this smaller circular shape on the right.
I'll go ahead and click on that shape, however, and take it up just a little bit, and I'm pressing the up arrow key in order to do that. And that goes ahead and nudges the path outline in one-screen-pixel increments. So the farther you zoom in, the more control you have. Now I'm going to scroll over to the right-hand side of the image. Notice that this ellipse ends up cutting into the bulb too much; it needs to be scaled. So I'll click on it to select it and then go up to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform Path. Or you can press Ctrl+T or Command+T on the Mac.
Now I want to transform the shape with respect to this center-left-hand point. So I'll go up to the Options bar and click on that center-left point in the Reference point matrix. And I just happened to know from experience that I need to scale the shape by 88%, so I'm going to click on the Link icon between the W and H values and change either of those values to 88 and then press the Enter key, or the Return key in the Mac, in order to accept that modification. All right! Let's go ahead and zoom out so that we can see more of the image at a time.
Now I'm going to draw a very basic path outline using the Pen tool. And we're not going to have to create control handles or anything that fancy; we're just going to create a four-point polygon essentially. So I'll switch to the Pen tool, which I can get by pressing the P key, and then I'll click like so, just to lay down some points in advance. And the reason I'm doing it this way is I don't want to click directly on any of the path outlines for fear of adding a point to them. Now that I've laid down that basic four- point polygon, I'm going to switch from the Black Arrow tool to the White Arrow tool, which Photoshop calls the Direct Selection tool, and I'll zoom in once again so I can better see what I'm doing.
And I'll go ahead and click on this anchor point and drag it up so that it's tangent to the larger ellipse. And if you don't remember your geometry offhand from high school, tangent means a line that's directly on that path outline, that's just touching it and continuing it straight. Now I'm going to move down a little bit, grab this anchor point, drag it up so it's tangent to the other ellipse, this left-hand ellipse which describes the outer edge of that light bulb. That looks pretty good.
Then I'll scroll over here to the right-hand side, drag this anchor point so that it touches right there against that right-hand ellipse, and then scroll up, grab this anchor point, and drag it down so it touches the big ellipse at top. That should work out pretty nicely for us. Now we need to fill in the gaps. This area right here is currently empty. Let me zoom out. We need to fill it in just using a rectangle. Now this may not make that much sense at this point, but it will in just a moment. I'm going to switch over from the Ellipse tool to the Rectangle tool, and then I'll draw a rectangle like so.
Notice that its bottom edge is cutting through the center of those lower, smaller ellipses. Let's go ahead and zoom out. I'll grab my Black Arrow tool once again, and I'll click on the big left-hand ellipse and then Shift+click on the slightly smaller right-hand ellipse. What we want to do here is cut these shapes and paste them in front, and you do that by pressing Ctrl+X or Command+X on the Mac to perform the cut, and then you press Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac in order to perform the paste, and that pastes them right in position and in front of all the other shapes.
Now we need to change the nature of these two ellipses, so instead of adding to the light bulb, they subtract, and you do that by going up to the Options bar and clicking the second icon in, which is Subtract from shape area. Now that doesn't look any different here inside of the image window, but if you take a close look at this Preview over here inside the Paths panel, you can see that those shapes are indeed subtracting from the other ones. Let's make a duplicate of this path by dragging it down onto the little page icon at the bottom of the Paths panel, and I'll rename this collection combined paths.
Now what you need to do is marquee all of the path outlines--and you just need to partially marquee them, by the way, but you need to make sure that you've got them all. And then once they're selected, click on the Combine button up here in the Options bar and you'll create a single path outline, like so. And that, friends, is how you can precisely trace a geometric object using shapes and paths here inside Photoshop.
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