We've seen how to create simple custom shapes in Photoshop but what if we want to create a custom shape from a more complicated piece of artwork like this wood-cut portrait of Shakespeare? Well, what we need to do is simplify this as much as possible and then in conjunction with Illustrator's Live Trace we can vectorize this artwork and then copy the result back into Photoshop and turn the result into a custom shape. But there is going to be some back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator and there is great synergy between the two programs, so I think is a very interesting technique.
What we have here is a vector mask applied to the portrait, so that's the first piece of very necessary simplification, masking out any unnecessary detail. So the vector mask was created with the Pen tool, just drawing around the figure and then when the path is complete turning that path into a vector mask by clicking on the Layer icon and holding down the Command key and clicking on the to Add Mask icon. So we are at this point. What I'm going to do now is place this artwork in Illustrator.
Coming over to Illustrator I am going to choose File > Place and choose my artwork. Make sure that I have the Link checkbox checked. That's very necessary and then I am going to zoom in on my piece of artwork and I will go ahead and Live Trace it. It may take a moment because it's quite a complicated piece of artwork. Well, the result isn't too bad but we need to simplify it further. So I am going to come to my Live Trace Options. We are using the Black and White mode, which is what we want in this case.
I am going to do a few things here that will dramatically reduce the number of anchor points on path and give us a simpler result. But this alone is not going to be enough. But first of all I am going to check Ignore White and then turn on my preview. Now that it's not having to draw around any white shapes we have approximately half the number of anchor points. So that's a big step in the right direction. I'm also going to apply some blurring to the image, which will help remove any nasty jaggedy vector tracing results.
So I'm going to blur it by 0.2 pixels and then I will press the Tab key and that will cause my trace to update and we've reduced the number of anchor points further. And lastly what I am going to do here in my Tracing Options is I am going to increase the size of the minimum area. I am going to double it to 20 pixels. This is the minimum size of detail that is traced around. So by doubling it we are excluding the very small details and then if I press my Tab key we will trace again.
Starting out with nearly 17,000 anchor points, we have come down to just over 5000. I am going to click Trace there and now I am going to return to Photoshop. We can see that the problem area is we have got a lot of jagged stuff going on around the nose. We are still seeing the wood-cut texture in the face and we don't really have as much detail and simplicity as we would like in the eyes. So coming back to Photoshop I am going to three things here, maybe four. The first thing I am going to do is make it black-and-white.
The next thing I am going to do is adjust the contrast using a Levels adjustment layer. I am going to get the black point slider and I am going to bring that towards the center. That's going to make the dark grays black. I am going to get the white point slider and bring that towards the centwe. That's going to make the light grays white and you can see that we are losing some detail and that in this case is what we want to do. And I am also going to get the mid point slider and move that slightly towards the left. That's going to lighten the mid-tone values.
The next thing I want to do to simplify this image further is apply the Median filter. The Median filter is going to look for stray pixels and remove them. Before I do this I am going to convert my image for Smart Filters and then I am going to come to the Noise group > Median and apply a Median Radius of 1 pixel. And you can see that's quite dramatically simplified things, admittedly at the price of slightly blurring the image but that's okay because when we vectorize it it's not going to matter.
One more step I would like to take here is applying some dogging and burning to bring out the shadow and highlight details on the face especially because this is what's going to be problematic when we live trace this image. So to do this I am going to add a Doge and Burn layer above my image layer currently Layer 1. I am going to hold down my Option or Alt Key when I click on Create a new layer. I want to check a number of things here. I am going to name the layer dodge and burn. I am going to use previous layer to create a clipping mask so that it only affects the layer beneath. Also so that is clipped to the layer beneath.
I am going to change the Mode to Overlay and I am going to fill with Overlay Neutral Color. That's going to give me a layer of solid gray. We need some pixels for our Dodge and Burn tools to work with and a 50% gray has no effect in the Overlay blend mode. But when we stop painting on it we are going to be darkening and lightning areas, which will affect the image below. Firstly I am going to burn and I'm going to increase the size of my brush and I am going to go over some of the shadow areas.
I can change the size of my brush as necessary. Now going in the other direction using the companion Dodge tool, I can go over some of these busy areas on the face and lighten them effectively removing some of that what is ultimately going to prove to be distracting detail. So we just want to get rid of it. Okay I could do more but I am going to stop right there. Now I am going to save the file. I am going to switch back to Illustrator where I will get this message telling me that the image has been updated.
I do want to use the updated version and we now see the updated version traced using the existing trace settings and if we go and have a look at tracing options we can see that we've dramatically reduced the number of anchor points. Remember, we started with 17,000. We're down now to just under 1500. I am going to need to expand the result now or rather I am going to expand a copy. So I am going to hold down the Option or Alt key, drag a copy over, and expand that copy and I want to see how we c an simplify things a bit further still using a couple of useful tools.
The Eraser tool and the Blob Brush tool. So let me get in here to a comfortable view size. I am going to hold down my Command key and click away from the illustration to deselect and then I can now just start painting with my Eraser tool to smooth out those bumpy details and if I wanted to incorporate some of these highlight areas that are in the hair, I can do that with the Blob Brush and when I go over those areas, they are incorporated into the existing background.
Now, you may find that when you use the Blob Brush that what you're actually doing is creating extra paths that are also in the same fill color and while that looks okay, that is going to add to the complexity of the illustration. So as a final finishing touch, select the elements and then using the Pathfinder, combine them. So I am going to just carry on and do a little bit more that, incorporating details that are really going to be too fine to read and also just smoothing things out.
I am going to select it all again and just make sure that I incorporate any overlapping details, absorb it all into the simple illustration, and then I am going to select all of that, copy it, come over to Photoshop and probably best to do this in a new document. I am going to create a new document and we'll have the new document to be an 800 pixels square. I am going to paste my shape layer.
It's going to look like that and I can now come to the Edit menu and choose Define Custom Shape. It's still a little bit on the complicated side, but can probably benefit from being simplified a little bit more. I will give it a name and let's get rid of that and we'll just now draw a few of them, choosing the Custom Shape tool, and choose that custom shape and draw away till our heart's content and then just change the color of this as we choose.
And just to give you an idea of the kind of thing that we can do with it here I have just drawn three versions of this custom shape. I've overlaid it with some type, overlaid it with a couple of rectangles, changed the blending modes and it's not going to win any design awards I don't think, but it's a pretty simple and effective poster. So just one application of what you can do with a more complicated custom shape, and most importantly how to get there using Photoshop in combination with Illustrator's Live Trace.
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