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Discovering Pen Paths in Photoshop

This question is asked at least once a month, so here's help using the Adobe Photoshop Pen Tool for easy yet controllable paths. Quite often we get inquiries for various image editing techniques, or clarification on photo editing techniques readers have discovered at other web sites or in books they've purchased. Many inquiries come through the Photoshop 911 "Emergency room" and while we try to answer all of them via email, some of the solutions require images and a more thorough response than appropriate for email.

Note: this tutorial first appeared in Photoshop Tips & Tricks while using version 3.5. The basic concepts are still valid however for versions 5.5 through CS you'll need to keep in mind the new layers techniques.

Once you understand the workings of paths there's lots and lots of great stuff you can do with them.

Aside from the fact that paths can be dragged back and forth from Photoshop to Illustrator, paths allow you to manipulate single strings around, through, over existing bitmap art, or as stand-alone graphic devices. They can be filled, stroked, selected, modified, broken, linked, joined, saved to a selection and even exported as independent files.

Yes folks, paths are your friend.
This particular piece deals with using paths, or more specifically "Clipping Paths," as a device to layer along with an exported EPS file for use in the popular desktop publishing programs. I'll squash your question early and get it out of the way... (as many people ask)
      "...can't you save Tiffs with clipping paths too?"

The answer to that is yes and no. So far clipped Tiffs only work with the latest Illustrator, Quark XPress, PageMaker, and InDesign. Most people want them to work in Microsoft products but so far as I know they won't. If you find one, let me know.

Paths exist as a separate layer

path You can draw an outline around most any object with an incredible amount of accuracy using the lowly pen tool. If you know Illustrator, you know Photoshop paths.

It's really a simple operation of drawing a connect-the-dots outline, except if you click and drag on the next dot, a control handle pulls out designating the direction of travel for the next spline or path.

If you simply click around the object, then the dots or anchor points will be connected by straight paths. Kick around with the pen tool and see what you come up with.

vectoring Think of it as rollerblading -- each time you plant the skate, it takes you further along your chosen path... you hope. (Except each time I plant the scate I land my backside on the pavement. Ouch!)

Unlike selections with the Lasso, the paths are always there and don't mess up the art on the bitmapped layers. Once you've drawn your paths and interconnecting anchor points you can go back at any time and modify or tweak the paths until you have them just like you want them. You can convert the path into a standard selection to use as you would any selection.

In our example today, we use Mr. Star dingbat from the Poptics Font (Yes, we've got'em, if you like.) We want to do a few things with Mr. Star for an article in a magazine so we'll need our magic paths to help do a couple of things.

Paths for filling and drawing

pathOkay... so here you see the completed path. It's not selected, so there are no anchors showing. Our path allows us to simply Fill the selection, so our first move is to make a selection of the path onto a new layer and fill with a radial blend from Yellow to Red. That was easy.

We used the Window > Palettes > Show Paths, then pulled out the Options menu to select "Make Selection." You know the rest, using the blend tool, dragging up and filling the active selection with that nice blend -- as revealed after returning to the Layers view above.

filled Turning on our original art layer (the eye icon in the Layers Palette) we now see our composite art. Isn't he cool.

On the next page we'll take a look at creating a path that will become the "Clipping Path" so that when placed in a popular desktop publishing program, our image will be "outlined" or will have the white background transparent.

...continue to the next page





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