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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."
All right friends, this is when things get interesting, we are going to take a look at how we create smooth points using the Pen tool that allow us to trace organic curves inside of an image and this is the real power of the Pen tool and up the anti of course, it gets a little more complicated here. I am looking at that Polygonal Pen tool outline, that polygonal path that we converted to a Vector Mask for the Profile Layer. I don't like it though looks Okey-dokey, but you know, it's got a lot of very obvious problems I think and it's nothing that we are going to stick with, it was just an experimental path or the sake of learning of course.
So let's get rid of it. I am working inside of the Polygonal vector mask.psd file if you want to catch-up with me. It's found inside the 15_Paths folder. I am going to click on the thumbnail for the vector mask, I would like you to do that as well and then come down here to the trash can icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, make sure by the way that this vector mask is active, that's the whole point you should see the vector outline. Move down to the trash can icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and Alt+Click or Option+Click on it; so Alt+Click on a PC, Option+click on a Mac that gets rid of the vector mask, can leaves you with just a Profile Layer.
Now if you go back to the Paths palette, you will see that you are free form polygon path is still intact because I was telling you the vector mask and the original path are independent of each other which is actually a really good thing. In this exercise, we are going to build her shoulder, this path right here, it's called the shoulder path at the top of the Paths palette. You can see that I have also given you this path called face that traces her entire face. These are both very accurate paths, you can check out how they were put together by switching to the black arrow tool here and clicking on them and you can see that I have got plenty of points going on here with lots of little control handles as well, we will see how those work.
Here's the shoulder path, it's simpler. It's a much more simple path and it's got basically two corner points along the bottom and then three smooth points along the top here. And these bottom corners points are actually what we called cusp points because they have curve segments going in and out of them. So let's go ahead and put this relatively simple path together. The first thing I want you to do is go down to the bottom of the Paths palette and Alt+Click or Option+Click on the little page icon and let's call this new shoulder or something along those lines and click OK. You will create a new path entry here, a new empty path entry, no paths will show up inside of the image window now.
Now I want you to zoom in a little bit and actually switch over to the full screen mode, won't you, by pressing the F key so that you have some room to work inside of the face board so that you can draw your paths a little bit too big which is always a good idea. Now I am going to grab my Pen tool here inside the tool Box and I can select it, of course by pressing the P key as well. I want you to create the first point more or less in her neck. Right here at the base of her neck here where the neck is joining her jaw, I guess and I am going to click and hold and notice by virtue of the fact I am holding and dragging away from that click points. So this is one operation, click and drag, in order to create a smooth point. It looks square just like a corner points, so an anchor point always looks square with two control handles that are connected to it. And notice that the control handles sort of have a see-saw action going on. I can spin them around in a circle if I want to, so they are kind of a propeller too if you want to think in that way.
Now the see-saw is going up and down at a fulcrum point which is the point itself. So if I drag the control handle down the opposite one moves up, and if I drag up the opposite one moves down, if I drag toward the point the other one comes toward the point as well. So it's always symmetrical, at least when you first create it, it's symmetrical and it's opposite and then ensures the fact that we have this straight line of a lever joining the two round control handles assures that we have a continuous arc through this point or at least we will have a continuous arc once the path is built.
All right, so now I want you to draw another point, Click and hold at this location like so in order to create another point with a control handle extending out of it and notice that now Photoshop goes ahead and joins the two points, these two smooth points here with a curving segment and it's continuously curving as I move those control handles around. All right, I am going to go ahead and release and then I am going to scroll the image over a little bit and I am going to click and hold on her shoulder like so in order to create another point along with control handles. So another smooth point with the pair of control handles.
Notice that I am dragging my control handle in a counter clockwise direction away from my points, so from right to left in this case because I am actually drawing this path in a counter clockwise direction. I could have chosen to draw in the clockwise direction in which case I would be dragging from left to right instead. But my point is that you need to drag away from the path that you are creating, notice that I am not dragging toward it because if I drag toward it I would get a crook at my path. I need to drag away from it so that the opposite control handle, the one that I am modifying indirectly, is controlling the curvature of the segment.
Now if you end up getting something like this where it is just playing wrong, that's okay you can switch back to your white arrow tool and you can move your points around as needed and you can also move your control handles. You can drag your control handles to different locations and now notice they are no longer symmetrical, they are so opposite of each other but one control handle isn't moving back and forth with the other, it's just moving up and down with the other. All right, I will go ahead and drag the control handle to about here and drag this control handle to about here and that looks pretty good to me. Now I am going to zoom in and I want to show you what's going on with this control handle action. Notice that the segments always move into and through the anchor points. They are anchored by the anchor points, in other words, but they don't actually move through the control handles. That's why I call them handles instead of points.
You will see some Adobe literature they called this control points, I call them handles because they are not directly associated with the segments. They allow you to tug at the segments. They have a magnetic attraction, notice what happens if I move the control handle over the segment then the segment becomes straight at that location and as I move it away at any given position for this control handle here, the segment is moving half way, it's basically being tugged toward the control handle and then it starts to be magnetically attracted toward the other control handle and finally back in to the anchor point.
So it has to go into the anchor point and it's always thinking about that as it's preceding along here because paths actually have direction. So you can think of them as flying toward the control handle and then being tugged toward the other control handle magnetically as if this is a comet going through space being attracted to different stars and planets. The stars, the big things with a big attraction would be the anchor points. The small guys, the planets would be the control handles because they have a less attractive quality associated with them. Then it comes back toward this one and then it comes into the anchor points which are always moving half way out of a straight position toward the control handles all the way toward the anchor points, something to bear in mind.
Now if you end up finding yourself getting a crook in your path where it starts to have a little bend associate with it like that and you are thinking how do I make this nice and fluid, nice and smooth. You want to observe something called the one-third rule and the one-third rule says that you want to have each control handle associated with one-third of the path. So notice that this control handle goes out one-third into the segment that is one third into the segment, then there is a third of the segment that's open and the final third of the segment is controlled by the other and opposite control handle that's associated with the opposite anchor points, that is to say.
Now notice that I have moved my anchor points and control handles in segments in general, inside, I am cheating inside of the edge of this woman shoulder and that's what you want to do too. You want to select too little rather than too much and that way you are going to eliminate any edge fringing, any of that stuff which is really great and a wonderful thing about paths is that they are nice and smooth so they have a more accurate appearance in your standard everyday average mask. You are not going to use them to select hair of course, but you are going to use them to select smooth continuous edges, think porcelain, when you want a porcelain effect you want a path outline; when you want to reticulated effect then you go with traditional masking.
All right, so we have manage to create a nice continuous four point path here that's made up, of course, four smooth points, each of which are bound by control handles. I have two control handles extending out from them. In the next exercise, I am going to show you how to lob off a control handle in order to create a cusp point.
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