Photoshop Clipping Paths | How to use Pen Tool in Photoshop


Photoshop paths

If you are planning to work with large files you will usually find it quicker to draw a path and convert this to a selection rather than accept the selection and paint tools alone. The Paths panel is shown in Figure 1.0. The Fill path button fills the current path using the current foreground color. The Stroke path button strokes the current path using a currently selected painting tool. The Load path as a selection button can be used to convert a path to a selection. If a path is selected, clicking the Add mask button adds a vector mask based on that path. Clicking the Create new path button creates a new empty path and you can remove a path by clicking the Delete path button. Figure 2.0 summarizes how a pen path can be converted to a selection or a vector mask that isolates an object. An active selection can also be converted to a path by clicking on the ‘Make work path from selection’ button. Alternatively, you can choose the Make work path option from the Paths panel fly-out menu.

Pen path modes

The pen tool has three modes, of which there are only two that you should really be interested in using. If the pen tool is in ‘ Shape layers’ mode, when you draw with the pen tool this creates a vector mask path outline that masks a solid fill layer filled with the current foreground color. If you select the Path mode option in the pen tool Options bar this allows you to create a regular pen path without adding a fill layer to the document. You can of course use any path outline to generate a vector mask, so I usually suggest you keep the pen tool in the default ‘Path’ mode and leave it set like this. Note there also Selection, mask and Shape buttons in the Options bar for converting a regular pen path.

Drawing paths with the Pen tool

Unless you have had some previous experience of working with a vector-based drawing program (such as Adobe Illustrator), drawing with the pen tool will probably be an unfamiliar concept. It is difficult to get the hang of at first, but I promise you this is a skill that’s well worth mastering. It’s a touch like learning to ride a bicycle, once you have acquired the basic techniques, everything else should soon start to fall into place. Paths can be useful in a number of ways. The main reason why you might want to use a pen path would be to define a complex shape outline, which in turn can be applied as a vector mask to mask a layer or be converted into a selection. You can also create clipping paths for use as a cut-out outline in a page layout or you can use a path to apply a stroke using one of the paint tools.

Pen path drawing example

To help you understand a way to create pen paths we shall start with the task of following the easy contours of the stringed instrument illustrated in Figure 3.0. You will find a copy of this image as a layered Photoshop file on the book website. This image contains a saved path outline of the Cups at a 200% view. The underlying image is therefore at 200% it’s normal size, so if you open this at a 100% view, you're effectively ready to work on this demo image at a 200% magnification. The Background layer contains the Figure 3.0 image and above it there is another layer of the same image but with the pen path outlines and all the points and handles showing. showing. I suggest you create this layer visible and fade the opacity as necessary. This will then help you to follow the handle positions when trying to match the path outlines. Let’s begin by making an outline of the Cups fretboard (as shown in Figure 3.0). If you have learned how to draw with the polygon lasso tool, you will have no problem drawing this path outline. Click on the corner points one after another until you reach the point where you started. As you approach this point you will notice a small circle appearsnext to the cursor, which indicates you can now click to close the path. Actually, this can be easier than drawing with the plane figure lasso because you can zoom in if required and precisely reposition each and every point. To do this,  hold down the CL key to temporarily change the pen tool to the direct selection tool and drag a point to realign it precisely. After closing the path, hitCE LE to convert the path to a selection, or clickEon its own to deselect the path. Now try to follow the Cups body shape (Figure 4.0). This will allow you to concentrate on the art of drawing curved segments. Note that the beginning of any curved segment starts by you dragging the handle outward in the direction of the intended curve. (To understand the reasoning behind this, imagine you are trying to define a circle by following the notional edges of an sq. box that contains the circle).  To continue a curved segment, click and hold the mouse down while you drag to complete the form of the end of the previous curve section (and predict the initial curve angle of the next segment). This last sentence is written assuming that the next curve will be a smooth continuation of the last. If there happens to be a sharp change in direction for the outline you are trying to follow you will need to add a corner point. You can convert a curved anchor point to a corner point by holding down the OAkey and clicking on it. Click to place another point and this will now create a straight line segment between these two points. Now, if you hold down the CL key you can again temporarily access the direct selection tool and reposition the points. When you click on a point or a segment with this tool the handles are displayed and you can use the direct selection tool to adjust these and refine the curve shape. If you wish to do defining the whole Cups, as well as the headstock, you'll apply to create any curved segments and to add corner points (such as round the tuning pegs). These should be placed whenever you plan a successive segment to break with the angle of the previous segment – hold down the OA key and drag to define the predictor handle for successive curve segment.

S M Rishad
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