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The elusive alpha channel remains one of the most misunderstood yet powerful tools in Photoshop. Alpha channels are collections of luminance data that control the transparency of an image, and they inform just about every aspect of Photoshop. As he builds transitional blended layers, fashions a depth map, makes edge adjustments, and takes on extreme channel mixing, Omni Award-winning expert Deke McClelland teaches Photoshop users that where there's a will, there's a way. Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks: Advanced Techniques covers mapping texture on an image, turning flesh into stone, using vector masks, working with all different channels, creating a rustic edge effect, and much more. Exercise files accompany the tutorials.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts for Channels and Masks from the Exercise Files tab."
Okay gang, now it's time to take those smooth paths, the one that I drew around the face, which you can draw too if you want to. If you are out for it, you can go for that face path if you want to. But I am just skipping that for now because it's more the same thing that we just saw, it is more intricate than the shoulder path. We are going to add it to this new shoulder path that we created together, or you could use my old shoulder path, either one is going to work for you. Then we are going to take those two paths and more, as it turns out. We are going to need another path that really makes things work. We are going to combine them together to create the final vector mask around this woman's face, the one that's really going to do the trick and look super great. You will see, it's just a thing to behold.
I am working inside of this catch-up image called Two smooth paths.psd, found inside the 15_paths folder. Of course, there is more than two smooth paths in there, but there is only two smooth paths that we are really concerned about right now, face and new shoulder. All right, so here is what we are going to do. We are going to start with the new shoulder path, because that's the one that we just got done creating together and we are going to convert it into a vector mask for this layer. We have to bring over the two paths independently of each other, because they are actually inside of different entries here. There are different paths inside of the Paths palette, and you can't select multiple paths at a time.
All right, so click on new shoulder, we will go over to the Layers palette. Make sure that the Profile layer is active, then I want you to go down, the simplest thing to do, right, is to go down here to this Add a layer mask icon and Ctrl+Click on it on the PC or Command+Click on it on the Mac. That goes ahead and places that Profile image inside of the vector mask. And all we have is her shoulder. So the fish win, end of exercise, they ate her head, opp! Too bad, very sad. I am going for an exercise, I am afraid but that's it, that the way it works. Barracudas are savage creatures, don't you know? Now, actually we are going to bring in her face too, and here is how. Go back to the Paths palette, I want you to click on the face path to make it active.
Then I am going to press the A key in order to switch over to the Black Arrow tool and I am going to click on this path to select the entire thing as you can see here, then I want you to copy it, by pressing Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac, or of course, you can go up to the Edit menu and choose the Copy command if you prefer. Then go over to the Layers palette, click on the vector mask right there for the Profile layer. Make sure it's active, make sure you can see the path outline down here at the bottom of the screen, and then I want you to either press Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac or go up to the Edit menu and choose Paste.
When you do, you will paste her face into the layer along with her shoulder. Now, we've got a big problem. She doesn't look right, not at all, I don't think. I will go ahead and Shift+Tab away the palettes for a moment here. So you can see that not only are we missing the back of her head, because we haven't bothered to actually encircle it with the path yet, but we have also got a bad intersection between her face and her shoulder, where the two paths intersect, we are getting a gap. That's because by default, paths intersect using exclusion as their method of intersection. By that, I mean, at any point where the two intersect each other, we are going to create a hole. So the intersection is actually a point of exclusion. We can fix that though by changing these icons up here inside of the Options bar.
So as long as your Black Arrow tool is selected -- it doesn't work when you have the White Arrow tool selected, I don't know why. But when you select the White Arrow tool, you don't have any options up here in the Options bar and that is complete nonsense, in my opinion. It's like, it will still give us those options we need access to, I wouldn't do, but anyway, they don't. So you have to have the Black Arrow tool active, and then you see these guys right here. They allow you to change the way that the paths intersect with each other. It's very important that you have the face path selected and you are defining the intersection of that path with any paths below it, with any paths behind it.
The order of the paths is defined by the order in which you added them to the vector mask. So the shoulder path is at the back, it's the background path. Then the face path, because you added it second because it's the foreground path. So notice that they are set to exclusion right now, so Exclude overlapping shape areas. You could switch it to Intersect so that we get just that part we were missing a moment ago. Fish win once again, barracuda ate her. Or we could subtract the face from the shoulder, so that we are cleaving inward there, we are cutting inward. Or we could add the two together, obviously. We want to add the two together so that we would have one path adding to the other, and we keep this little wedge inside of the neck. That's a great outline now. That works wonderfully.
Let's go ahead and switch to the Full Screen mode by pressing the F key and I want to add one more path, don't I, to include this area of the fish that are showing through behind her head so that we have her full ear and neck and her other implied shoulder and her hair and so on. We are going to do that. We are going to add it the simple way using the Rectangle tool. So now each one of the Shape tools, they add paths as well. They all draw paths, it's just that they draw predetermined paths, so paths with predetermined shapes like rectangles, and rounded rectangles, and ellipses, and polygons, and blah, blah, blah. So I am going with, yes, the Line tool as blah, blah, blah, so is the Custom Shape tool. We will actually come back to Custom Shape later in a later exercise; go for rectangle right now, however.
You should see these options selected up here in the Options bar. You should see that we are going to draw a path, because we are working with an existing path. I will go ahead and Shift+Tab up my palettes again, because my vector mask is active. So the vector mask thumbnail is active and I can see my paths here inside the Image window. All right, I will Shift+Tab that away again. You also want to make sure that this icon right there, Add to path area (+) is turned on, because otherwise you are going to cut a hole or find the intersection with this rectangle that we are about to draw.
Then I want you to draw a big rectangle like so here, in order to surround this area. But keep it on the inside of this intersection right there because you don't want to go out into this area, otherwise, you will get rid of that little wonderful wedge that we have. You will complete her face, isn't that a wonderful thing? It is actually, and she looks great, the whole darn thing looks awesome! Now it is a little disconcerting to have all these paths intersecting each other so that we can't see what the heck is going on. So why don't you just go ahead and click on that thumbnail, or we could have pressed the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac because we have a Shape tool active. That would have worked too, that just goes ahead and hides the paths. The paths are still active though. They are still working on the layers, so the layers are still masked.
I will go ahead and Shift+Tab away those palettes again and that is the quite beautifully rendered path outline that traces every detail in her face. If you zoom in here, you will see that we have done an awesome job of tracing along the lips and the underside of the nose and so on.But if you find some problems, if you are sitting there thinking, you know what you didn't really get that lip right, Deke. Why then? You can bring back up that palette, you can click on the vector mask in order to make it active. You can grab your White Arrow tool, and you can modify the path if you want to. You can just bring it in a little bit, so bring that point in, maybe bring this control handle up a little bit, where we see other issue, let's go ahead and click that path away. Along the nose also, I think, could do some work. So turn it on again, then go and click here, and bring it up like so, and bring this up like so, and we will get rid of that little area.
So, always editable, amazing creature these paths are. Once you come to terms with drawing smooth points, working with control handles and so on inside Photoshop, you are going to just up your masking skills through the roof. The Pen tool is a heck of a precision tool for drawing smooth masked edges inside Photoshop.
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