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Selecting precisely with the Pen tool and paths

From: Photoshop CS5: Selections in Depth

Video: Selecting precisely with the Pen tool and paths

Photoshop's Pen tool is different than the other selection tools because the Pen tool creates vector-based paths. These are smooth paths, consisting of curved or straight-line segments connected by anchor points. This makes the Pen tool ideal for selecting items with smooth or curved, hard edges, like a car or maybe some sunglasses. Once you make a closed path with the Pen tool, you can convert it into a traditional selection with just one click. To show you how this all works, I'll go to the toolbox, and there I'm going to click on the Pen tool.

Selecting precisely with the Pen tool and paths

Photoshop's Pen tool is different than the other selection tools because the Pen tool creates vector-based paths. These are smooth paths, consisting of curved or straight-line segments connected by anchor points. This makes the Pen tool ideal for selecting items with smooth or curved, hard edges, like a car or maybe some sunglasses. Once you make a closed path with the Pen tool, you can convert it into a traditional selection with just one click. To show you how this all works, I'll go to the toolbox, and there I'm going to click on the Pen tool.

I'll go up to the Options bar, and I am going to double-check that I have the Paths icon selected here, not the Shape layers icon or the Fill pixels icon. I also like to leave Auto Add/Delete checked, so that I can add or delete points with the Pen tool. I am going to move into the image, and I'm going to start right here, selecting the edge of this truck. I'll click and then I'll click again to show you that when I create one anchor point and then another by clicking, I get a straight-line segment in between.

Now, I want to make curved line segment, so I'll click and drag in the direction that I want the line segment to go. Notice that as I drag, I'm pulling out these direction handles. The length and the direction of these handles will determine the shape of the curve. So, now I have a point here and a point here and a curved segment in between. I'll continue to do this around this part of the truck, clicking and dragging in the direction that I want to go. Then I'll come right here, and I'll click and drag one more time. Now, at this point, I need to change direction.

Look what happens if I just try to click and drag. The line is going the wrong way, so I am going to undo by pressing the Command key. This time I'm going to click on this point, holding the Option or Alt key, and that gets rid of the direction handle on this side of the point. Now, I can come here and click and drag, and the curve goes the way that I want it to. Then I'll come over this way, and I'll click and drag again. Now, I'll just click a few times in the canvas outside of the document to get all the way around the truck and back up here where I'll continue to draw my path.

I'll click to create an anchor point, I'll click again, and I have a straight-line segment. I'll click here, and I'm just clicking to create straight lines, until I get to this other rounded area. I'll go all the way up to the top of it and click and drag a curved segment. I'll do the same down here and then some short straight segments, and I'll come here and do a curve, here a short curve.

Finally, I get all the way back to the beginning. Now, at this point, if you look closely, you'll see there's a little round circle that means I'm at the beginning, so I can click right there to close my path. After I've made the initial path, I can fine-tune it using the White Arrow tool, the Direct Selection tool. I'll click anywhere on the path, and that displays the path along with the anchor points. I can click on a line segment with this tool and move the entire segment like this, or I can click on an anchor point, like this, and that brings back the control handles.

If I click and drag that anchor point, I can move it, or I can move any of the control handles with this tool. If I think that I need an extra anchor point - for example, I might need an anchor point right here - I can go back to the Pen tool and because I have Auto Add/Delete checked, I can just click on the line with the Pen tool, and that will create another point. Now, in order to move that point, I need the White Arrow tool, the Direct Selection tool. But rather than I have to go back to the toolbox to get that, I can just hold down the Command key and click on that anchor point, and that will temporarily give me the White Arrow tool, and I can move the anchor point.

When I'm satisfied with my path, I'll turn it into a selection. To do that, I am going to go to the Paths panel, and here's the path I've created. If I want to load a selection from this path, I can go to this icon at the bottom of the Paths panel, the third from the left, that looks like a circle made up of little dots. I'll click that to load a selection based on that path, and then if I were to go back to the Layers panel, I could use that selection like any traditional selection: I could fill it, I could move it, I could filter it, or I could use it as the basis for an Adjustment layer.

So, for example, if I go to the icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to make a new adjustment layer and choose a vibrance adjustment layer, in the Adjustments panel, I can drag the Vibrance slider slightly to the left to reduce the saturation of the truck without affecting the area outside the truck. I'd like to go back to the Paths panel to show a couple more things about paths. For one thing, this is only a temporary work path. If I want to save this path with the image so I could reuse it, I want to convert it into a permanent path.

To do that, I'll select the path, I'll go to Panel menu, and I'll choose Save Path. I'll give the path a name, and I'll click OK. Another thing about paths is that I can have more than one path. But if I want to combine paths - for example, subtracting the area inside of one path from another - than it's best to use subpaths within a path, and I'll show you how to do that now. I'll leave the truck path selected in the Paths panel, I'll go back to the toolbox, and I'll click on the Pen tool.

I'll go up to the Options bar for the Pen tool, and I'll click on the second icon: Subtract from path area. Then I'll come into the image, and I'll click and drag to start a subpath within this path. I'll use the same techniques I showed you before, clicking on straight-line areas, clicking and dragging to create curves. At this point, I can see that this direction line is heading in the wrong direction for where I need to go next.

So, I'm going to hold down the Option key on the Mac, or the Alt key on the PC, and click at the end of that direction point and drag it up into the direction that I want to go next, which is right here. Then I'll click to add a point, and I'll go all the way back to the beginning of my path. When I see that small circle, I'll click to close the path. What I've just done is to create a subpath. If you look closely at the path icon on the truck path in the Paths panel, you can see that I've cut out that area of the back window from the original path.

So, now if I go down to the third icon from the left and click there to load a selection from this path, you can see that my selection does not include the window. So, now whatever I do to edit this election will affect all of the area within the truck except for the back window. So, that's how you can use the Pen tool to create paths and then convert the paths into a selection. You may find that using the Pen tool is a bit of a challenge at first, but I think that if you practice the techniques that I've shown you here, you'll soon come to see that this is one of the most useful of the selection tools, particularly when you're trying to trace around image elements that have hard, curved shapes, like the truck in this photograph.

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This video is part of

Image for Photoshop CS5: Selections in Depth
Photoshop CS5: Selections in Depth

47 video lessons · 22232 viewers

Jan Kabili
Author

 
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  1. 2m 40s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 28s
  2. 30m 22s
    1. Changing part of an image
      5m 2s
    2. Using Content-Aware Fill
      5m 31s
    3. Compositing images
      4m 18s
    4. Correcting part of a photograph
      3m 51s
    5. Replacing a sky
      4m 46s
    6. Cropping an image
      1m 8s
    7. Building an object
      5m 46s
  3. 18m 52s
    1. Understanding selections and masks
      7m 26s
    2. Deselecting and reselecting
      2m 23s
    3. Hiding selection boundaries
      3m 15s
    4. Moving selection boundaries
      2m 14s
    5. Inverting selections
      2m 9s
    6. Selecting all
      1m 25s
  4. 17m 8s
    1. Transforming selections
      3m 16s
    2. Combining selections
      7m 31s
    3. Expanding selections
      6m 21s
  5. 41m 48s
    1. Selecting hair, pt. 1
      6m 26s
    2. Selecting hair, pt. 2
      6m 6s
    3. Removing color fringe
      5m 17s
    4. Selecting an object with hard and soft edges
      6m 55s
    5. Anti-aliasing vs. feathering
      9m 9s
    6. Working with Refine Mask
      7m 55s
  6. 16m 14s
    1. Selecting rectangles with the Rectangular Marquee tool
      6m 29s
    2. Selecting ovals with the Elliptical Marquee tool
      4m 44s
    3. Selecting straight edges with the Polygonal Lasso tool
      5m 1s
  7. 18m 9s
    1. Selecting freehand with the Lasso tool
      4m 57s
    2. Selecting precisely with the Pen tool and paths
      7m 32s
    3. Snapping to edges with the Magnetic Lasso tool
      5m 40s
  8. 28m 11s
    1. Selecting painlessly with the Quick Selection tool
      5m 33s
    2. Making the Magic Wand tool work for you
      5m 23s
    3. Selecting colors with the Color Range command
      5m 39s
    4. Changing colors with Replace Color and Hue/Saturation
      5m 16s
    5. Working with the Background Eraser tool
      6m 20s
  9. 20m 55s
    1. Selecting layer transparency
      3m 31s
    2. Selecting image luminosity
      3m 47s
    3. Increasing contrast in Camera Raw
      8m 40s
    4. Fine-tuning a color channel selection
      4m 57s
  10. 17m 1s
    1. Saving selections for reuse
      6m 2s
    2. Loading and modifying saved selections
      4m 54s
    3. Sharing selections between images
      6m 5s
  11. 13m 54s
    1. Cleaning up selections in Quick Mask
      4m 42s
    2. Filtering selections in Quick Mask
      2m 34s
    3. Painting selections in Quick Mask
      2m 10s
    4. Making Step and Repeat web buttons in Quick Mask
      4m 28s
  12. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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