Get started with Photoshop like a Pro! (Part 2a)

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Previous Articles: Part-1a | Part-1b

22. Making visible only tools you want to use:

Although you see a whole bunch of tools in Photoshop’s Toolbox, along the left side of the window, you probably only use a few of them. Luckily, you can hide all those that you don’t use and have a smaller, less-cluttered Toolbox. Here’s how: Go under the Edit menu and choose Toolbar (near the very bottom of the menu) to bring up the Customize Toolbar dialog (seen above).You’ll see two columns: the left side lists all the tools in Photoshop, and when you see a tool you’re not going to use, drag-and-drop it over to the column on the right, and it’s hidden. When you’re finished, click Done, and now you’ve got a smaller, cleaner Toolbox with just the tools you actually use.

TIP: USE SINGLE-KEY TOOL SHORTCUTS: You can select most tools in Photoshop’s Toolbox using a single key on your key- board, and some of them actually make sense. For example, press B to get the Brush tool, or C to get the Crop tool, or T for the Horizontal Type tool, or P for the Pen tool. But then, of course, there’s J to get the Healing Brush tool, or O to get the Burn tool, so don’t get used to it making sense. Anyway, to find out any tool’s one-key shortcut, just click-and-hold on it in the Toolbox, and when its flyout menu pops out, it will list the shortcut. If there are multiple tools that use the same shortcut (like T for all four Type tools), then just add the Shift key (so, it’s Shift-T) to toggle through the different tools associated with it.

23. Selecting Square or Rectangular Areas of an Image:

If you want to edit just a particular part of your image (rather than editing the entire image), make a selection of the area where you want to work, and then any changes you make will only affect that selected area.There are lots of different selection tools in Photoshop for helping you make precise selections and one of the most popular is the Rectangular Selection tool (it’s actually called the Rectangular Marquee tool because it adds a selection that looks like a Hollywood marquee with flashing lines running around it).To use it, choose it from the Toolbox (as seen above; or just press M) and click- and-drag it out over the area you want to select. By default, it draws a rectangle, but if you want a perfect square instead, press-and-hold the Shift key and it constrains the selection to a perfect square.To reposition your selection once you’ve drawn it, just click the same tool anywhere inside that flashing marquee area and drag it to a new location.To move what’s inside that rectangle (or square), picking up a chunk of your image and moving it, switch to the Move tool (V; the first tool at the top of the Toolbox), click inside that flashing marquee area, and drag it.To remove your selection (called “deselecting”), press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D).

24. Making a Free-Form Selection:

If you want to select something that isn’t square, maybe an object in your image, you need to make a free-form selection (a selection that isn’t square [or round]) using the Lasso tool (its icon looks like a rope lasso). Just choose it from theToolbox (or press L) and trace along the edges of the object you want to select. If you need to add to the selection (once you’ve drawn it), press-and-hold the Shift key and keep tracing. Anything you trace around while you’re holding that Shift key gets added to what you already selected. If you make a mistake and trace around an area you didn’t mean to (you “painted outside the lines”), then press-and-hold the Option (PC:Alt) key instead, and trace around the area you want to remove.To deselect your selected area, press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D).

25. Making Really Precise Selections:

The king of all selection tools (well, in my mind anyway) is the Pen tool (P), because it makes precise selections, which can be easily adjusted after the fact. Best of all, it makes perfect curves around objects, which is a bigger deal than it sounds.There are actually five Pen tools, but you’ll use the regular Pen tool about 95% of the time. It kind of works like a “connect-the-dots” tool, in that you click once to choose your starting point, then you move your cursor somewhere else and click again, and it draws a straight line between those two points (perfect for selecting a wall or a box or any- thing with straight lines). If you come to a part of the object you’re selecting that has a curve to it (imagine you’re selecting a camera—parts of it are straight, but the top and the lens are round), just click-hold-and-drag, and as you drag, a perfect curve appears. Two little handles appear that let you adjust the exact amount of curve later (you adjust your curve after you’ve made it all the way around the object).That’s basically how the Pen tool works: Click-click-click makes straight lines; click-hold-and-drag makes a curve. When you get around the object, back to the first point where you started, you’ll see a tiny circle appear in the bottom-right corner of the Pen tool’s cursor.That lets you know you’ve come “full circle.” Click directly on the first point and it connects the last point to it, so the whole thing is connected. However, what you now have isn’t a selection, it’s a path—straight lines and curves that are not flashing (well, not yet anyway).To turn that path into a selection, press Command-Return (PC: Ctrl-Enter). On the next page, we’ll look at how to adjust that path before you turn it into a selection.

26. Adjusting Pen Tool Path:

Once you have a path in place, you can adjust it using two different arrow tools, both found in the Toolbox, a couple of spots below the Pen tool.The first is called the Path Selection tool (A; its icon looks like a solid black arrow), which is used to pick up and move your entire path (in case you want to move it to a new location) or, if you have more than one path in the same image, it lets you switch between paths.The second tool is the Direct Selection tool (Shift-A; its icon looks like a solid white arrow), and it’s the one you’ll use the most. It lets you click on any point created by the Pen tool and adjust that one point. So, for example, if you traced along an edge with the Pen tool, but part of your path wasn’t snug up against the edge of what you were tracing, you’d click on one of the points and move it up, so the path was flush against the edge. Also, if you created a curved point, you’ll see one to two little levers (handles) coming off that point—those are there to let you adjust the amount of bend on the left or right side of that curved segment (it kind of works like a teeter-totter).To adjust the bend, click on the little dot at the end of either lever and drag up/down to adjust the curve until it fits the edges of the object you’re tracing around. If there’s too much bend, click-and-drag that lever in toward the point in the center.To add more curve, pull the end of that lever out away from the point. So, in short: the solid black arrow moves your entire path; the solid white arrow adjusts individual parts or points along your path.

27. Delete, Add, or Change Points with Point tool:

If you’ve created a curve along your path and you want it to be perfectly straight, or if you have a straight path and need it to become curved, there’s a tool that switches one to the other. It’s called the Convert Point tool, and it’s found in the Toolbox nested with the Pen tool (it’s the bottom tool in the flyout menu; its icon looks like the point of an arrow). To use it, click on a curved point and it becomes straight (you’ll see the little teeter-totter levers go away and the lines straighten instantly), or to make a straight point curved, click-and-hold directly on it, and drag to pull out a curve. If you need to add more points to your curve, there’s a tool for that, as well. It’s called the Add Anchor Point tool, and it’s found in the same Pen tool flyout menu (it looks like the Pen tool, but has a small + [plus sign] next to its cursor). Click anywhere along any path, and it adds a point. Of course, if there’s a tool to add points, there’s one to take them away.This one is called the Delete Anchor Point tool (it also looks like the Pen tool, but has a small – [minus sign] next to its cursor). Click on an existing point and it deletes that point.

TIP: DRAW YOUR PATH INSIDE THE EDGE: For better results with the Pen tool, “dig in a little” to the edge of what you’re tracing, instead of going right along the edge.This will help keep you from having small white gaps along the edges when you turn the path into a selection.

28. Drawing a Free-Form Path:

If you want to create a free-form path that you draw like you’re using the Lasso tool, there’s a special Pen tool just for that. It’s called the Free form Pen tool, and it’s nested with the Pen tool (its icon looks like the Pen tool, but with a little “S” coming out of the end of the pen tip).To use it, just start tracing along the edge of the object you want to select and, as you draw, it automatically lays down the points for you. Once your path is done (you’ve connected the final point with the point you started with), you’ll see the points it created and you can now adjust them using the Direct Selection tool (Shift-A; the solid white arrow).

29. Getting to Custom Brushes:

In the Options Bar, click on the brush thumbnail (it’s the second icon from the left) to open the Brush Picker, then click on the gear icon in the top-right corner of the Picker. In the bottom half of the pop-up menu that appears, you’ll see all the different collections of custom brushes you can load.When you choose a set to load, a dialog pops up asking if you want to replace (delete) the current brushes and use these instead, or just add (Append) these new custom brushes to the end of the current default set of brushes. Here’s the good news: you can feel free to try out these brush sets because you’re always just one click away from re-loading the default brush set. In that same pop-up menu, you’ll see Reset Brushes. Choose that and it returns you to the default set of brushes.

30. Picking up Brush size:

Once you select any tool that uses a brush tip (like…well…the Brush tool, of course, but also the Clone Stamp tool, the Dodge and Burn tools, the Pencil tool, the Eraser tool, etc.), you can choose the type (hard or soft) and size of the brush from the Brush Picker up in the Options Bar. Click on the brush thumbnail (it’s the second icon from the left) and the Brush Picker appears (it pops down), where you have a default collection of brushes you can choose from, along with Size and Hardness sliders.You’ll also see a preview of each brush tip, so you can easily see which ones are smooth, hard-edged brushes, and which ones are soft-edged (their previews look blurry).

TIP: USE THE BRACKET KEYS TO CHANGE BRUSH SIZE: You don’t have to use the Brush Picker to change a brush tip size.You can also use the bracket keys on your keyboard (to the right of the P key).The [ (Left Bracket key) makes the brush tip smaller; the ] (Right Bracket key) makes it larger.You can also press-and- hold Option-Control (PC:Alt-Ctrl), click on your image and (1) drag up/down to visually change the hardness and (2) drag left/right to change the size. Lastly, if you Right-click your brush anywhere in the image, the Brush Picker appears right at that spot for you (saves you a trip up to the Options Bar).

31. Making a Gradient:

This is going to seem amazingly obvious, but you make gradients using the Gradient tool (G). Click-and-drag it to create a gradient between where you started dragging and where you stop. By default, it builds a gradient going from your current Foreground color to your Background color. So, to change the color, just change your Foreground and Background colors. But, there are a bunch of other gradients to choose from. In the Options Bar, click on the down-facing arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail to open the Gradient Picker, and you’ll see all the different default gradients you can choose from. Just click on the one you want. Of course, there are other sets of gradients you can load (just like there are other sets of brushes you can load). Click on the gear icon in the top right of the Gradient Picker and, in the bottom half of the pop-up menu that appears, you’ll see all the different gradient sets you can add. When you choose a set to load, a dialog pops up asking if you want to replace (delete) the current gradients and use these instead, or just add (Append) these custom gradients to the end of the current set.You can return to the default set anytime, by choosing Reset Gradients from the same pop- up menu and it returns you to the default set of gradients.

TIP: CHOOSE FROM FIVE DIFFERENT STYLES OF GRADIENTS: There’s a linear gradient (a straight line between colors), a radial (circular) gradient, an angular gradient, a reflected gradient, and a diamond-shaped gradient.To choose one, click on its icon to the right of the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar.

32. Editing a Gradient:

Get the Gradient tool (G), then click on the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar (don’t click on the little down-facing arrow, click right on the gradient thumbnail itself). This brings up the Gradient Editor. Click on a gradient preset, at the top of the dialog, to use it as your starting point for editing (for example, if you want to create a gradient with three different colors, click on a gradient preset that looks like it has three colors [I clicked on the Blue, Yellow, Blue preset above]—it just saves you a step). Once the gradient you want to edit appears in the gradient ramp, you’ll see icons appear right below it (they look like little houses to me, but technically, they’re called color stops).You drag these color stops to the right or left to change the balance of a particular color in your gradient (you want more or less of a color), and the little diamond-shaped icon that appears between two colors controls the midpoint between them (drag one of them and you’ll instantly “get it”).To edit the color of one of these color stops, double-click on a little house icon and the Color Picker appears.To add more color stops, click directly beneath the gradient ramp.To delete a color stop, click on it and drag it away from the gradient ramp.The two opacity stops above the gradient ramp are for adding transparen- cy. For example, if you wanted to go from black to transparent, rather than from black to a color, you would click on the opacity stop you wanted to be somewhat transparent, then choose the amount of opacity in the Opacity field near the bottom.

33. Creating Arrows, Talk Bubbles, Stars, and Other Custom Shapes:

To create things like talk bubbles, arrows, or shapes, you use the Custom Shape tool. It’s found right above the Hand tool in theToolbox—just click-and-hold on the Rectangle tool and choose it from the flyout menu (it’s the last one in the menu) or press Shift-U until you have it. Now look up in the Options Bar, and you’ll see a preview of the currently selected custom shape appear in the Shape thumbnail. Click on the thumbnail and the Shape Picker of custom shapes will appear.To use one, just click on it, and then click-and- drag it out to the size you want in your image. By default, it will appear on the current layer, so if you want it on its own separate layer, click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to make a new blank layer first.Also, on the left side of the Options Bar, you’ll see a tool mode pop-up menu where you can choose to create your custom shape as a Shape layer, or a Path (these options are more for graphic designers), or Pixels, which is more for us photographers (it treats your shape like any other image). By the way, you can load more sets of custom shapes by clicking on the gear icon in the top-right corner of the Shape Picker.A pop-up menu will appear that lists all the different custom shape sets you can add (append) to the end of the current set of shapes, or you can replace (delete) the current shapes and use these instead. I generally just choose All from this menu to load every set at once, so I can scroll through them all (and I leave them loaded all the time—it just saves time).You can return to the default set of custom shapes anytime, by choosing Reset Shapes from that same pop-up menu.

34. Using Colors that are Already in Image:

To “steal” a color from your current open image, get the Eyedropper tool (I) from the Toolbox (its icon looks like a small eyedropper), then just click it once over the color in your image you want to use, and that color now becomes your Foreground color (you’ll see this at the bottom of theToolbox). Okay, now that you know that, I have a tweak that will probably make this tool work better for you: By default, it picks up the color of a single pixel. But, if you’ve ever really zoomed in tight on an image, you’ve noticed that even a tiny area of color is made up of a bunch of slightly different colors, so it’s possible you might click and get a color that doesn’t look quite right.That’s why I set my Sample Size option for this tool (up in the Options Bar) to 3 by 3 Average, rather than leaving it set to the default Point Sample.That way, you get an average of the color in that area, rather than picking up the color from a random stray pixel. In short, I think you’ll get better, more predictable results.

35. Choosing a Color:

Well, there are a couple of ways: There is the Swatches panel (go under the Window menu and choose Swatches to open it), which has a bunch of color swatches already there.To use one of those colors, just click on it and it becomes your Foreground color (your Foreground color is the color that things now appear in. So, if you clicked on a red color swatch, and used the Brush tool, it would paint in red, or if you created some type, it would appear in red, and so on).You can load different sets of color swatches by clicking on the little icon (with the four lines) in the top-right corner of the panel, and a flyout menu of other color swatch sets appears. If you create a new color you want to save as a color swatch, go to the Swatches panel and click on the Create New Swatch of Foreground color icon at the bottom of the panel, and now it’s a swatch, too.There is also a Color panel (choose Color from the Window menu).This has a vertical hue slid- er on the right, where you pick your basic color, and the large rectangle in the middle is where you choose your saturation (how vivid the color will be) by just clicking-and- dragging in that rectangle.The color you create here becomes your new Foreground color. Also, near the bottom of the Toolbox, you’ll see two overlapping squares. The one in front is your Foreground color, and to change that color (without having to pull up either the Swatches or Color panel), just click on it and the Color Picker appears (it looks like a larger version of the Color panel). Choose a color here and it becomes your Foreground color.

36. Making Lines:

You use the Line tool (I know, that seems too obvious). It’s found just above the Hand tool in the Toolbox, nested with the Rectangle tool (it’s the diagonal line), or press Shift-U until you have it. Just click-and-drag and it draws a line. Up in the Options Bar, you can choose the thickness of your line in the Weight field—the higher the number, the thicker the line. If you look on the left side of the Options Bar, you’ll see Shape selected in the tool mode pop-up menu. Click-and-hold on that pop-up menu and choose Pixels to get a more “photographer friendly” line, made up of pixels like our images (otherwise, it creates a path, like you drew it with the Pen tool, or a special Shape layer, both of which are more for graphic designers).There is one extra thing you’ll want to know:You can add arrowheads to the start or end of any line (hey, ya never know), by clicking on the little gear icon toward the right end of the Options Bar. Here, you can turn on arrow- heads and choose their thickness.

Continue to Part-2b >

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