April 21
Working with Alpha Channels in Studio Artist

by David Nagel
Senior Producer

Studio Artist from Synthetik Software is, without a doubt, amazing, powerful graphics software. There's nothing on the market that compares. Literally. This software is unique in features, functionality and interface. It's this last one—the interface—that can throw off some users, including your faithful staff at Creative Mac. In fact, when we wrote our review of Studio Artist 1.1, we praised the program for its obvious glory but criticized some features that we mistakenly thought were missing, like importing alpha channels. We were wrong about that one. After we received a correction from Synthetik, I took it upon myself to learn how to do it. It's actually not that tough. But as is the case with many features in Studio Artist, you just need to know where to look.

So let's.

Selecting the source alpha image in Studio Artist

We'll begin with a document in Photoshop, since that's the most likely place you'd be importing an alpha channel from, at least in a still image. If you're planning to bring an image from Photoshop into Studio Artist, you'll need to follow these steps precisely. And remember, anything you bring in to Studio Artist comes out flat (although your original image remains unharmed), so don't think about bringing the image back in to Photoshop and playing around with the layers after the fact.

So first we're going to need to create an alpha channel in Photoshop. This is one of the tricky parts—not because it's hard to create an alpha in Photoshop, but because you need to do it the right way to bring it into Studio Artist. Make a selection that will represent the masked-out area of your image. In our example, we're going to apply effects in Studio Artist to the face of the clock in the image here, so we'll use the circular marquee selection tool to select that area. Now, under the Select menu, I'll choose Save Selection and call it "noface."

Selecting the paint mask in Studio Artist

So you're all set, right? Nope. Another easy step, but one you might not think of, is to flatten your image. (Go to the Layer menu and select Flatten Image. You'll note that your image still looks right, and, checking the channels palette, you'll find your alpha still in tact. At this point, you can save the image either in Photoshop format or TIFF. I choose TIFF because I've had the best luck that way. You should too.

After you select your mask, the unused portions of the image are grayed out.

Now we're ready to bring this whole thing in to Studio Artist.

So launch the program and open up the TIFF file. Now, under the file menu, select Import Image to Canvas. For our example, we're going to add a second layer, but this is not necessary for working with Alpha channels. Open up the Layers palette from under the Canvas menu. Name the current layer. (I'll call mine "clock.") Now click New in the Layers palette. This will place a second layer on top of your first. To change the order, click your mouse directly to the left of the layer selection button in the Layers palette (where the tiny "active layer" dot is) and drag the layer up to where your previous layer was. When you let go, your layers will have switched position. Change your original layer's setting to Soft Overlay White.

Now we're ready to work.

To select your alpha, go into the Canvas menu, go down to the "Set Current Region Selection To" and select Source Alpha Image. Now, up near the title bar of your document, you'll see the work "Mask" next to a pull-down menu, whose default setting is "None." Change this to "Paint." The unused portions of your image will become grayed out. (I have noticed that in a few cases the reverse of my mask is grayed out. I can't figure out why. But if this happens, just go back into Photoshop and select the inverse of your previous selection and save that selection, deleting your old channel.)

You are now good to go.

In your Layers palette, click on the untitled layer's selection button to activate it. Then, in the pull-down menu in the Layers palette, select View: All Layers. For the sake of simplicity, we're just going to apply a few effects using the source image, applying them to the background layer's unmasked area and viewing it through a soft overlay of the original image. For the sake of this tutorial (to keep it as simple as possible), we're just going to add a little age to the face of the clock by applying the Autodraw Airbrush 1 paintbrush under the Chalk category. Click the Action button, and you'll see the effect through the overlay. In this case, I went in and did a little touching up with the interactive pen because the automatic action was taking too long to get to the parts that I cared about. But using the alpha channel, I'm able to work just in the clock face to antique it without affecting the bricks surrounding it.

Voila.

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