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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."
In this exercise, I am going to show you how to make the most basic path you can using the Pen tool in Photoshop and this most basic that you can make is going to be a free form polygon as you will see. Something that you can do very easily actually using the Pen tool. I am working inside of the original version of the Photographs & paths.psd image that's found inside of the 15 Paths folder. So I went ahead and reverted the image to its original appearance to get rid of all those rectangles I created in previous exercise and I am looking at the Layers palette right now.
Why don't you go ahead and turn on the Profile layer because what we ultimately want to do with the Pen tool is we want to trace the contours of this woman's face. So that we can mask away her background and reveal the barracudas in the background that are coming at her. So ahead and turn on the Profile layer and click on it if you want to. Since this layer will ultimately be modifying but it's not essential that you click on any layer in order to draw paths because paths in layers exist independently with each other as you will see. Now let's go ahead and switch over to the Paths palette and because we are going to be making a new path, I wants you to get in a good habit of creating a new entry here inside the Paths palette before we begin. So make sure the Paths palette is up. Then Alt+Click or Option+Click on this little Page icon down here at the bottom of the Paths palette and let's call this Free-form polygon or something along those lines, spell it correctly as well. There we go. Click OK in order to create that new entry.
Notice it's blank, we are just seeing grayness and that's it and by the way I am viewing big versions of my thumbnails. If you want to see big versions of yours which is a good idea I think. As otherwise you can't see what's going on with these little ratty thumbnails. You want to right click inside of blank area at the bottom of the Paths palette if you could find it and choose Large. If you can't get to a blank area at the bottom of the palette you know you can collapse a few of the palettes. You can also go over here to the palette menu and you could choose palette Options and then you can select the larger of these little starfish paths right here.
All right, so anyway make sure that you can see large thumbnails. Then I wants you to go over and grab the Pen tool. Now you will notice if you click and hold on the Pen tool, it's look like a little pen nib of course. Now you got a bunch of different tool variations to choose from here. Now the Pen tool allows you to create paths into first place. These guys lower here, Add Anchor Point, Delete Anchor Point and Convert Point those allow you to modify an existing path. We will see how those work and then Freeform Pen tool allows you to draw a free form path which may seem like insanely great thing because how much easier must that be which it is. It's way easier to use a Pen tool. It's quite hard to use because you have to lay down a single time at a time.
The Freeform Pen tool, you just sit there and draw and it makes a path for you. Problem is it's no good. I mean you might will be using the Lasso tool if you are going to use the Freeform Pen tool. It's not any more accurate. It's going to kind of smooth things off for you but that's about it and let me show you what I mean. So I am going to go ahead and grab that Freeform Pen tool and then I will just try to trace her face and we are going to exactly the same experience we would get if we were trying to trace her face using the Lasso tool and the Lasso tool is not the tool I will recommend for doing really careful work inside of Photoshop. So that's simple to do but I mean how useful is that? Not at all in my opinion.
If you want to access the power of paths inside of Photoshop then you need to use a tool that gives you access to that power, which is the Pen tool, which is the standard Pen tool not this one here. Now I can imagine that there is times where this tool might come in handy for just a little path little here or little path there, that kind of thing. If so great, avail yourself of it. All you want I am here to tell you. I never use this tool. Ever I have never used this tool in the history of Photoshop and that's you know. So I am wash, if you want to use it's great, but I am washing my hands of it. You are on your own.
Let's go to the more powerful tool. So I am going to undo the addition of that sticky path there and I am going to switch to the good Pen tool, the Pen tool and now notice that my path entry is still highlighted here. It's still active so it's still going to receive the path that I created. So I will go ahead and press Shift+Tab in order to hide those palettes from view and I am going to use the tool and in the easiest manner you can, which is to create a free form polygon as I say. You just click with a tool. So I wants you to click right there on her forehead if you are following along with me and notice what happened. I just lay down a square. That square is called an anchor point because it anchors the path down at that location and is also called a corner point in this case because it defines a corner between two segments. What's a segment? Well, you will discover that as soon as you click again.
As soon as you click the second time, you create a segment between your two anchor points, between your two corner points in this case and it's a straight segment because we haven't conveyed any curvature with these points here. We have just created the standard corner point and when you have two corner points in a row, you get a straight segment between them. So basically what you are doing as you click along the image you are setting up a kind of dot to dot puzzle and Photoshop is doing the puzzle for you. It's actually connecting the dots for you as you work along and that's all you have to do in order to set up a free form polygon as a path here inside Photoshop.
You just have to click with this tool in order to make it and Photoshop will go ahead and draw straight segments between those click points. So it's very much like Alt+Clicking or Option+Clicking with the Standard Lasso tool. All right, now I am going to press the F key to switch to the Full Screen mode, which allows me to go ahead and move the image over to the left a little here. So I have some more room on the right and notice I did click out here into the pasteboard and that's okay. You can do that if you want to in Photoshop. It allows you to make a path that's bigger than the canvas size.
Now I am going to Shift+Click over here. Way over here on the right side of the pasteboard. Shift+Clicking is going to constrain the angle of the segment to a 45 degree angle. So it's going to be diagonal or perpendicular. In our case, it's perpendicular, specifically horizontal. Now I am going to Shift+Click up here and I am going to get a vertical segment. Then I will Shift+Click over here and I will get a horizontal segment, nice. Now I just did that. There is no reason it has to be horizontal or vertical. It could be totally wacky, like oh, just go ahead and undo the addition of those last points and you can back step by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Z, Ctrl+Alt+Z, Ctrl+Alt+Z like so on. That would be Command+Option+Z a several times in a row to get back to the point. That was last good point inside the path essentially.
It's still active. If you are ever concern that it's non- active. If it feels like you know for some reason all your points went away like that, all of your points went away and you can't see them anymore, then all you need to do is click on that last point once again to reactivate it and then your cursor will change back into a standard pen nib. You won't have any do doodads next to it and that indicates that it's ready to add more segments to your existing path and then I could just click like this, if I am unconcerned about constraining my segments.
So it could be in case we are outside the canvas size, it really doesn't matter at this point. All right, now I am going to move my cursor over the first point in the path and notice that I get a different cursor this time. It's a pen nib with a little O next to it and that O indicates a closed shape, indicates a little circle actually and that tells you that as soon as you click right there you are going up the shape. Notice that all of our anchor points went away and we now have a closed path outline that we can use to mask this layer if we want to. All right, so here is how things are going to work. That's how you draw a free form polygon inside of Photoshop using the Pen tool. That's a simplest way you use the Pen tool. In the next exercise, we are going to see how you can edit a path using the arrow tools.
After that we will see how we can employ the path as a selection outline or a mask and after that we will see how we can use the Pen tool to draw more organic outlines that actually fluidly follow the shape of the image by introducing smooth and Bezier control handles. So a lot of stuff coming in your way. Some exciting stuff I assure you. Stick with me, please.
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