Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video Drawing a straight-sided outline, part of Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery.
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In this exercise, I am going to show you the simplest method for using the Pen tool, which is to click with the tool to set down corner points. Each one of the corner points is automatically connected by a straight segment. We are going to be working inside of this image here. It's called Macworld April 1991.psd found inside the 27_pen_tool folder. This is a photograph of a magazine article that I wrote eons ago back in 1991, and this is the first time I wrote about Photoshop. So, I figured it'd be a great image to select in Photoshop.
What we are going to do is extract this magazine from its background and then just set it against a white Background. Now, it's not entirely a polygon as you can see here. We do have some straight edges along the left side and the far right side, the bottom is a little bit straight but we've got a fair amount of curving here at the top. We are still going to do our best to trace the magazine using just straight segments. So, the first step is to go ahead and select the Pen tool and of course you can get it by clicking on it or pressing the P key. Then, assuming you want to draw along with me here, this is the way I am going to work.
I am going to start down here in the lower left corner and I am just going to click with the tool. I want you to notice the appearance of my cursor. It's a pen with an X next to it. Anytime you see a pan with an X next to it, it means you are beginning a new path outline inside of Photoshop. As soon as I move that cursor it now appears as a pen nib with no X next to it. That means you are actively drawing inside the program. So, if you click or drag with the tool again you will automatically connect the last point you created with the new point.
So, now I am going to move my cursor up to the top of the magazine right there and I'm going to click again and notice that Photoshop goes ahead and connects these two points, they are corner points because they represent corners in the path outlines. It goes ahead and connects these two corner points with an absolutely straight segment. So, you don't have any of that Alt+ Clicking or Option+Clicking that you do if you are trying to create a polygonal selection outline with the Lasso tool for example. But otherwise it works pretty similarly. You are just clicking along to set corners. All right, now I am going to click to set a corner right there and if you don't set the point exactly where you want it, don't worry about that, we'll come back to how you manipulate these points later.
Right now I just want you to set them in place. Now once we start getting into this curving region right here it's difficult to know exactly where you should put the points. What I'm going to tell you is cheat on the inside of the magazine for now and more points are probably going to work out better but we don't want to overdo it. So I'll set a point right about there and this may or may not end up being entirely accurate, we'll see later and then I'll click another point there. Notice this whole time Photoshop is not only setting down points but it's automatically connecting the points with these straight segments.
So this is a pretty easy application of the tool by the way. Now, the one place where you might get into trouble is if you accidentally do something that makes Photoshop think that you're done drawing the path outline. Now, the one place where you can get into trouble is if you accidentally do something that makes Photoshop think you're done drawing the path outline. For example, this is pretty far- fetched but let's says you go to the Paths panel because you are just totally not thinking and you click off of this new Work Path item. The Work Path represents the path in progress and then your path outline goes away and you are like Ah! Darn it.
Then, you click on the Work Path again to make it active and now you can see the path outline. But, if you click to set a point you are not going to connect that point to the last point in the path. The reason is because Photoshop thought you were done. It doesn't think you're working on that path outline anymore. So, I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z, Cmd+Z on the Mac in order to undo the creation of that new point. You know that you're going to create a new path because of the cursor so you have to watch that cursor sometimes. It appears right now as a pen nib with an X next to it and that means you're starting anew, nothing is active, that's what the X means and you're going to start a new path outline.
Well, of course you want to activate the path outline you were working on. How do you reactivate it? Well, you go up to that last anchor point, the one you just drew, and notice that my cursor now appears as a pen with a little point next to it and that means if you click there you are going to reactivate the path. So, go ahead and click. It has to be an end point, that is, a point at the end of the existing path. Click on it and now move your cursor away and it appears as just a pen nib meaning you're good to go. You are now drawing the path outline once again. So, just keep an eye on that cursor and you should be fine.
I'll go ahead and click on a few more points here in order to set them. Again, if I don't exactly nail the point, I'm not that concerned right now. Then, I will click along the bottom here, click on the inside edge of the magazine cover. Obviously, I'm going to have to adjust these points later but for now I'll just click along in order to create them. Notice, that I am clicking on the corner along the inside edge of the magazine and then finally - look at this, I'm ready to close the path, and if I move my cursor over the first endpoint in the path then I'll see a little O next to it and that O means I'm about to close the shape.
As soon as I click, not only do I close the shape but I deactivate it and my cursor changes back to a pen with an X next to it. So, if I click anymore I am going to create a new path outline. All right, the thing to do now is to go ahead and name our path because notice that it's called Work Path. If I click off that path outline then it's no longer active. We can't see it inside the Image window anymore. If I click again with the Pen tool I begin a new work path, I wipe out the old one. So, you can see how that's a problem. Press Ctrl+Z, Cmd+Z on the Mac.
What you want to do is not have an item named Work Path in italics here because that indicates that it's temporary. It's something that Photoshop created for you and it's waiting for you to take ownership of it. What you do is you double-click on that item in order to name it yourself and I'll go ahead and call it Magazine outline. Then I'll click OK and now it's saved. Notice that it appears in Roman letters. It's not called work path, that's good news. If I click off of it to deselect it and start creating a new path then I will create a new work path item there inside the Paths panel.
I don't want that item, so I am going to go ahead and throw it away but we have now saved that Magazine outline. Now, here's the really great news about path outlines, you can save them with any file format. So, this could be a JPEG file and I could go ahead and save that path outline along with it. I can save it along with a TIF image, with a Photoshop image, what have you. It doesn't matter what the format is. In the next exercise, we'll take this path outline, we'll apply it to the magazine and we'll edit it to taste.
Recommended prerequisites: Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals and Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Advanced.
- Using masks and blend modes in radically new ways
- Mastering the Pen tool and Paths panel
- Transforming and maximizing Smart Objects
- Employing Smart Filters to create complex effects
- Exploring the capabilities of Bristle brushes and the Mixer Brush
- Merging multiple images into seamless panoramas
- Exploring the full range of luminance with HDR Pro
- Recording actions and batching-processing images