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Photoshop Tips for Beginners 3

Manipulating and masking with paths By Dave Nagel
If you're new to Adobe Photoshop, it's likely you haven't played around with paths too much. The path tools in Photoshop aren't really like those in vector illustration tools (like Illustrator), which are used principally for the creation of vector objects. In Photoshop, paths can be used (clumsily) for this purpose. But they have a more useful function in image manipulation: masking.

Now, I didn't begin masking with path tools until well into my Photoshop career. But as I became more used to the path tools and figured out a few tricks about them, they became part of my routine--an important part because of their flexibility and, particularly, editability.

I'll show you how this works, along with some examples of useful path tricks, by walking you through the masking of a simple object in Photoshop using path tools. For this exploration, we'll be masking out the flower from the image below.

To do this, we'll use the basic path tool, plus some shortcuts to help us along the way. When we're done, we'll have a path that we can then turn into a mask to cut out the background.

Creating the path-based object
In order to cut the flower out of this image, we'll use paths to define the flower's edges. We'll do this using Photoshop's Pen tool, and, along the way, using modifier keys to make adjustments to the path as we go so that we don't have to resort to switching tools often during the drawing process.

Here's how it works.

1. Begin by selecting the Pen tool in the Tools palette.

2. Now you're going to begin drawing with the Pen tool to define the boundaries of the object you want to mask out. For the sake of accuracy, blow up your image to 200 percent or more so that it's easier for you to see the precise edges of the object. Then just click somewhere to create your first point on the path. Don't click and drag. Just click.

3. Now we'll add a second point. You can see, as you move your cursor around, that the path follows your cursor. Move your cursor to the place where you want to set your second point. Don't click yet.

4. This, of course, doesn't look right. My petal is curved, and the path segment preview shows a straight line. So instead of just clicking on this point, I'm going to click and drag simultaneously. The dragging action creates tangent handles, which allow you to control the curve of the path segment. Let go of your mouse button when you have the curve in the shape you want.

If you mess up, you can go back and modify the tangents to adjust the curve manually--and without switching tools. To do this, hold down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (Windows), and click on the end pointy of a tangent handle you wish to adjust. You can move the tangent in any direction and to any distance in order to get the curve just right.

5. Once you have the curve the way you want it, you can move on to your next point. In my case, however, the tangent I created with the previous point gives me a bad curve coming into my next point. So I want to eliminate the half of the tangent that will affect this subsequent point. To do this, I'll hold down Option and Shift to click on the previous point. Doing this will maintain the curve I previously created but will allow me to "start fresh" on the next curve I want to create.

6. So now, using these techniques, I can continue to place points and paths around my object. But what happens if, along the way, I somehow manage to place a bad point into my path shape? That will ruin the mask. Well, without switching tools, you can adjust your points manually simply by holding down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (Windows) and clicking on the problem point. This allows you to reposition it without altering any tangents that might be involved in the shape of the path segment in question.

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Related Keywords:photoshop, masking, paths, path shortcuts, knock out


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