Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video Pixel-based masking versus the Pen tool, part of Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Advanced.
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In this first project, we're going to take this open magazine, which featured the first words that I ever wrote on the topic of Photoshop, and we're going to mask it against this synthetic woodgrain background, and we're going to do so with absolute precision and control, using the Pen tool. Now, you might look at the magazine, and figure, well gosh, you know, it's bright, and it's set against a dark background, not altogether uniform, but certainly we could end up masking it using a combination of Color Range, and Refine Edge, for example. Or we could manually trace it point by point using the Pen tool.
Seems like masking is the better way to go. Well, for the sake of comparison, let's try it out. I'll go up to the Select menu, and I'll choose the Color Range command, and I've reestablished the default settings, so the Fuzziness is set to 40. I am going to go ahead and click in the background, let's say, and then Shift+drag across the background in order to select the entire thing, and that's really all there is to it. I could then turn on the Invert checkbox, so that we are selecting the magazine instead of the background, and then click OK. And then I would press the Q key in order to switch to the Quick Mask mode.
Press the Tilde key to hide the image, press the L key to switch to the Lasso tool, and press and hold the Alt key, or the Option key on the Mac, as I click around the interior of the magazine. I am not going to worry about the edges for now. I could take care of them later, but I just want to make a point here. After I complete the selection, I'll press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete in order to fill that area with white. Press Control+D, or Command+D on the Mac, to deselect the image. Let's go ahead and grab this garbage over here, and I'll press Control+Backspace, or Command+Delete on the Mac, in order to fill that with black.
Then let's go ahead and center the zoom. Press the Q key in order to exit the Quick Mask mode, and convert the mask into a selection outline, and then drop down to the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and click on it. Now, that's a pretty good job so far, but we do have some ratty edges. So I'd go up to the Select menu, and choose Refine Mask, and then I'll take the Feather value up to, say, 3 pixels, maybe take the Contrast value pretty high to something like 70%; that gives us a nice edge.
And then I want to back it off a little, so I'll take the Shift Edge value down to about -20 I think it will do it for us. And that ends up creating a pretty smooth outline. I'll go ahead and click OK in order to accept the results there. And if I wander around the edges here, I can see that I am rounding off the corners a little bit in the upper right corner, but down here in the lower right corner, things look awfully darn good actually, and we've got a nice crease there in the middle of the magazine, down here at the bottom. This corner is a little messed up. This corner up here has problems, because we've dropped out some of that edge on the left-hand side.
I'd have to repair that, and we've dropped out the upper left corner as well. These are all problems I could take care of, including this rounded corner right there in the middle. I have some kind of rumply edges up here at the top, but again, I could address those. The thing is, while this is looking pretty good, especially for the very minimal amount of work that I put into it, you don't say that about outlines that you create with the Pen tool. If you do it right, they look absolutely dead on accurate. So I'll go up to the Window menu, choose Arrange, and then choose Match All, so the other image is zoomed and scrolled to the same location, and then I'll switch over it, and you can see, this is perfection right there.
We have an absolutely smooth edge. We've got a great corner right there in the middle of the magazine. We've got a wonderful looking corner up left. We've got a great edge all the way down. Notice I managed to keep that dark edge on the left-hand inside. We've got great corner work down here in the bottom left corner, and so forth. And that is the precision that afforded to us by the Pen. Also, if I go ahead and click on this vector mask thumbnail here inside the Layers panel in order to make it active, so that I can see the path outline; it's that gray thing right there. I'll go ahead and switch to my black arrow tool -- the so-called Path Selection tool -- and then I'll click on that path outline, and you can see, now I can modify it to any extent I like. And if I wanted to drag a point to a different location, then I would click and hold on the black arrow tool, and switch to the white arrow tool, which Photoshop calls the Direct Selection tool, click off the path outline to deselect it, then go ahead and click on that anchor point to select it, and I could drag it to a different location, and modify it in any way that I see fit in order to make it exactly right.
And that is a great thing about working with a Pen. Regardless of what kind of shape the image is in, or what kind of contrast you have between the foreground element and its background, the Pen tool delivers, because you're creating one point at a time, and you're in charge of where those points lie. All right. I am going to switch back to my original image here, and press the F12 key in order to revert it. Having told you now how great the Pen tool is, I want you to know that there are two varieties. Pen tool is located right here at the top of the stack of vector tools, right above the Type tool, and if you click and hold on it, you'll see that there are two Pen tools, in fact.
There's the standard Pen, which requires you to lay down a path outline one point at a time. It offers very little in the way of automation. It requires dexterity, and skill, and manual labor. And then we have a Freeform Pen tool, which allows you to just drag around inside the image window, and Photoshop creates the points automatically. So you would think, oh my gosh, the Freeform Pen tool is the way to go. Well, you may find it to be a really great tool, but for masking a precision element like this, it's not going to work out too well, and let me show you why. I'll go ahead and drag around the outline of the magazine here, and I happened to be working with a Wacom tablet, which is why I am getting moderately decent results.
If you try this with a mouse, very likely you'll get very raunchy results. And then I'll go ahead and drag all the way around to the beginning, and you can see that circle next to the pen nib cursor. That's telling me that I am closing the path. Now I've got this path outline here. Well, it's certainly not something I can use in this current state, so I would have to modify it. I'll go ahead and switch back from the white arrow tool to the black arrow tool here, and I'll click on the path outline, and you can see that I've got just a ton of anchor points, so many, in fact, that it would take me longer to modify this path outline than to simply draw a new one.
I'll go ahead and switch over to the final version of my composition. Compare that to this path outline right here. I'll click on it with the black arrow tool, and you can see that we have very few anchor points, and every single point is making a real contribution to the path outline. In other words, every point is essential, and that's the kind of result you only get by laying down one point at a time using the Pen tool. And I am going to show you exactly how this tool works, starting in the next movie.
- Adjusting the color settings in Photoshop
- Placing and blending Smart Objects in a scene
- Transforming and warping vector objects
- Correcting for lens distortion
- Mitigating halos and enhancing contrast with Shadows/Highlights
- Adding and editing points on a curve
- Editing multiple images in Camera Raw
- Creating a pro-quality sepia tone or quadtone
- Colorizing with blend modes and opacity
- Reducing and smoothing over noise
- Creating depth-of-field effects with blur
- Selecting with Color Range and Quick Mask
- Perfecting a mask with Refine Edge
- Drawing paths with the Pen tool
- Converting path outlines to vector masks