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Chapter 13. Advanced Masking > The Key Is to Choose the Right Tool

The Key Is to Choose the Right Tool

In Photoshop, there is almost always more than one way of getting the job done. In the area of masking, however, certain tools were designed for specific types of images, and it's all too common to find someone becoming frustrated with a tool because it's the only one they know, and they're trying to force it to do something it's not really meant for. The key to getting good at masking is to be familiar with as many masking tools as possible and to have a good grasp of what each tool was designed for so you can choose the right tool for the job at hand. Let's take a brief look at what's available, and then we'll dig deeper and explore each feature in depth:

  • The Background Eraser: This tool is best for crisp-edged objects that have a noticeable difference in color or brightness from the background that surrounds them. With this tool, you have to manually paint around the edges of objects to tell Photoshop which areas should be deleted, and Photoshop will try to figure out what should be kept or deleted.

  • The Extract command: This command is best for images that have soft or fuzzy edges, like hair or objects in motion. With this command, you need to define three areas on your image: areas that should be left alone, areas that should be deleted, and areas that have a mix of both. Then, by comparing the first two areas, Photoshop figures out what to do with the third.

  • The Blending sliders: These are a quick and dirty way to isolate objects that are radically different in brightness from what surrounds them. The most obvious uses for these would be things like fireworks, lightning, and text on paper.

  • Channels: These are the old-fashioned way to remove the background on images. They used to be essential before the more sophisticated masking tools (Background Eraser and the Extract command) came along, but they are still useful when using those other tools would be too time-consuming. Channels are useful in a multitude of situations, but I most often use them on simple images.

  • The Pen tool: This tool is best with crisp-edged objects that have mainly straight lines and very smooth curves. That means that it's ideal for images that are in-focus and contain man-made objects like cars and computers. I would never think of using the Pen tool on overly complex images like trees or hair.

  • Layer Masks: These are mainly used to refine the results you get from the other masking tools. Used all by themselves, they are no different than manually erasing the background with the standard Eraser tool; combined with other tools, however, they become a powerhouse that can often make the difference between a mediocre result and one that you'd be proud of.



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