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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."
The next step of my adventures is to add the blue waves on the right side of her head that go over her ear. In case you are like a little bit vague about what I am talking about, let's go ahead and switch to the final version of the image. This is fish face, it's actually the Fish face.psd image, the version with the fish in brown, instead of blue. You can see how we have got these wavy lines. They are defined using a shape layer, essentially, which is a vector mask assigned to a dynamic fill layer.
Then I added a gradient layer mask on top of the whole kit and caboodle. It's an amazing thing that you can combine vector masks and layer masks inside of Photoshop. I think, it's just utterly and completely fantastic. So let's go ahead and switch to the image at hand and this version of the image, this catch-up document, is called Blue super suit.psd, found inside the 15_paths folder. I am going to bring up my Layers palette right here, and I want you to go ahead and select the blue 2 layer, if it's not already selected.
I want you to press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, click the black/white icon, choose Solid Color because we are inventing another shape layer. Solid Color allows us to create a dynamic fill layer. Even though it's called Solid Color, the result of the Solid Color is a dynamic fill, meaning that we can edit that fill any time we like, just by double clicking on it. Here comes the New Layer dialog box and I am just going to call this whiteness because we are just filling this area with white. Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask is now on, by default. Well, that is as it should be, so that's nice. These settings are fine for now, Normal, 100%, everything is okay. Click OK and let's go ahead and make this layer white by clicking and dragging up into the upper left corner of the big color field here; or you could set the R, G, and B values, all to 255 and then click OK.
Now we need to go ahead and mask the contents of this layer and we are going to do that using one of the paths in the Paths palette. So go over to the Paths palette. You will see this path called waves, which are actually made up of a bunch of sub-paths. Let me show you how I made it. I am not going to walk through the entire thing because it requires some patience, put it that way and I don't want to try your patience at this point. You can do it, if you want to. Here is how. I am going to first invent a new path by clicking on the little Create new path icon down here at the bottom of the Paths palette. Actually, I am going to Alt+Click or Option+Click and I will say, new waves or something like that; although, I am only going to make partial progress. I click OK and let's go back to the Layers palette and turn off whiteness for a second, so we can see through to the underlying image. See what portion of the image, we want to select.
Switch back to the Paths palette. We have got new waves selected. I am going to draw this as a custom shape because there is a custom shape that draws waves for you. So I will go ahead and switch to the Custom Shape tool. Notice, by the way, I have gone ahead -- if you loaded my Deke keys. I have gone ahead and given this tool, a keyboard shortcut of U. I got rid of U for all the other tools, so that you don't cycle between them because really custom shape is the tool of tools, where the shape tools are concerned. Notice by the way, inside the options bar when any of the Custom Shape tools are selected, you can also switch to the Freeform Pen tool, which is I have told you I don't like one little bit; or to the wonderful standard Pen tool.
Let's switch to a different shape here and if you click the down pointing arrowhead, you will see the small collection of shapes that are installed along with Photoshop and load with Photoshop, by default. Click the right pointing arrowhead and choose All, so that you can see all of the shapes that are installed with the program. You don't want Append, you want OK, just say OK because otherwise, you are going to duplicate a bunch of shapes. Then you will look like crazy for the waves and let's see, where in the world are the waves here? You can obviously make this drop down palette bigger by dragging the lower left corner, if you are so inclined, and there is waves right there. Go ahead and click on it in order to make it active, then you can hide the shapes of palette, if you want to. Then you just drag, like so. I went ahead and actually, I don't think, I pressed the Shift key; I went ahead and left it a little taller than it was wide, than it was originally drawn, that is to say.
I wanted more waves. You can see here my waves, they are actually more continuous, they continue on and on. So I went ahead and took these waves, I selected them using the Path Selection tool or using the black Arrow tool, click and you will see that you select all of these paths together. Then if you press and hold the Alt Key or the Option key on the Mac and then start dragging these paths, you will clone them. I also press the Shift key, so that I could drag them exactly horizontally here. Then I will release the mouse button and then release both keys. I will zoom in and you can see that they don't really snap in place, actually, as they should.
So you got to zoom way in and then nudge the paths around using the Arrow tool. Bear in mind, when you are zoomed in, you are going to move one screen pixel, when you press the arrow keys. So it does give you more and more control, the farther you zoom in. Then at this point, you can see that these edges don't really match these edges. So these guys are aligned but these guys over here are not aligned; the far left points are not aligned. So I went ahead and switched to the white Arrow tool, clicked off the shapes, and then this is a tedious part, Click, Shift+Click, Shift+Click, Shift+Click, Shift+Click. If that's not tedious, I don't know what is. Then press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac.
Now here is the deal. Photoshop doesn't really give you a lot of options for joining paths together. That's really Illustrator's territory. If you want to be able to combine paths with each other by, sort of, joining end points and that kind of thing, the stuff that Illustrator excels at, then you are going to need to create your paths inside Illustrator in the first place, copy them, and then paste them into Photoshop as paths; but otherwise, you just have to do this, kind of, monkey work inside Photoshop itself.
Then I coil them up, and I had to create some additional paths over here, and so on, and so on to create these waves. I am going to spare you the details. If you want to investigate on your own, be my guest. Anyway, I have got these waves all ready to go. Let's go ahead and click on them here inside the Paths palette. Let's return to the Layers palette, turn the whiteness layer back on, and make sure it's active. Then go down here to the layer mask icon and Ctrl+Click on it or Command+Click on that icon on the Mac, in order to make these, in order to convert these guys to a vector mask or here is another way to work.
We have already seen that way of Ctrl+ Clicking or Command+Clicking on the Mac, here is another way to work. We know, we are going to need a layer mask, as well, in order to allow us to draw the gradient. So you could just click down here. Even though, the paths are selected and highlighted and you can see them in everything. If you just click on this icon, the Add a layer mask icon, and notice it says, Add layer mask, Photoshop will go ahead, if you click on it, it will go ahead and add an empty layer mask. So it won't do anything. It's not actually masking at this point because it's filled with white. Now hover your cursor over the Add layer mask icon and it becomes an Add vector mask icon because you have already got layer mask. You can only have one layer mask, but if you make another mask it's got to be a vector mask.
So now click on it and notice what happens. Photoshop is smart enough, you don't have to Ctrl+Click this time. Photoshop is smart enough to go ahead and assign those path outlines as the vector mask. Now then we need to cut off the vector mask. Actually, let's go ahead and switch to the Full Screen mode, so I can drag it down a little bit. We need to cut off the vector mask at the costume hem, so go to the blue 3 layer right there. In order to make it active, just click on its vector thumbnail and using the Arrow tool -- let's go ahead and press the A key again to get the black Arrow tool, go ahead and click on the path outline to select it, press Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac in order to copy it.
Let's go back to the vector mask associated with the whiteness layer and we are running out of room in order to see the name of the whiteness, layer but you know that's it right there. Go ahead and click on its vector mask thumbnail to make it active and then press Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac in order to paste that vector mask into place. Now it's currently set to the Add mode, as you can see up here in the options bar. Let's go ahead and switch it to the Subtract from shape area mode and you can also do that just by pressing the minus key, if you want to. Plus and Minus are the keyboard shortcuts for the Add and Subtract modes up here. All right, so that's a beautiful thing.
Now we can go ahead and click on the vector mask thumbnail in order to turn off those path outlines. Now what I am going to do with the layer mask active, you can see it's active, let's go ahead and Shift+Tab away my palettes, so we can hide them from view and I am going to grab my Gradient tool. I am actually going to zoom out, so we have some smoother transitions on screen here. So Photoshop is doing a better job of rendering the image. So I switch to the Gradient tool. Make sure the foreground color is black and the background color is white, as it should be when you first create the layer mask, even though it's not really the default settings. Otherwise, you can press D for default and then X for black and white, like so. Go up here, make sure we have got our default settings going. If you want to just make sure you have defaults, you can Right Click on the down pointing arrowhead and choose Reset tool, and you should see these settings, like so. So we are going to draw a black to white linear gradient, Normal, 100% Opacity, and so on.
Then I am just going to move my image over to the left, a little bit. I might, otherwise, end up getting an auto scroll and I would like to avoid that. Then I drag from here to about here in order to fade the waves in and that's actually not enough. So let's try that longer, like so. That's better, I think. We end up creating these fading waving lines that are getting more and more opaque, as they proceed over to the left, beautiful, wonderful. Now let's go ahead and bring back the Layers palette. Make sure that layer is active. This isn't always and it wouldn't be active. Press the M key to switch back to the Marquee tool and then press the 7 key to lower the Opacity of the layer to 70%. That is the result of combining a vector mask and a layer mask together here inside the mighty and powerful Photoshop.
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