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After making and fine-tuning the path, it is time to do something with it. For compositing artists, the most useful choices are these:

  • Convert a path to a selection

  • Stroke or fill a path

  • Create Image Clipping paths

Converting a Path to a Selection

Converting a path into a selection is the option I use all the time. The ability to combine Pen tool precision with selection flexibility is an almost intoxicating combination.

To convert a path to a selection, use one of the following techniques:

  • With the desired path active in the Paths palette, click the Load Path as Selection button on the bottom of the Paths palette.

  • Drag the Path icon down to the Load Path as Selection button in the Paths palette.

  • (Cmd + Return) [Ctrl + Enter] to convert the active path into an active selection.

  • (Cmd-click) [Ctrl-click] the Path icon in the Paths palette.

  • Choose Make Selection from the fly-out menu on the Paths palette.

Once the path is a selection, use all of the finesse and controls discussed in Chapter 2, “Selection Strategies and Essentials,” Chapter 3, “The Essential Select Menu,” and in the following chapter “Masks Are Your Friends.”

Filling a Path

Once you've made a path, the Photoshop world is your oyster. You can fill or stroke a path to create special or photorealistic effects. Figure 4.50 shows the original photograph of a branding exercise I worked on. As part of the project, I showed that the New York Waterway ferryboats would look much nicer with a bit of clean up and pizzazz. After cleaning up the boat, I outlined the side of the boat, and defined a number of patterns, such as the ducky and fern image that come with the Photoshop sample images. To define and name a pattern to use on an image, follow these steps:

Use the Rectangle Marquee tool on any open image to select an area to use as a pattern. Feather must be set to 0 pixels.

Choose Edit > Define Pattern.

Enter a name for the pattern in the Pattern Name dialog box and click OK.

Figure 4.50. After cleaning up the boat and making a path, it was child's play to create theme variations by filling the path with a pattern.


To work along, download the two files Ch4_ferryboat.jpg and Ch4_patterns.pat. Load the pattern file into your patterns library.



To fill a path with a pattern:

Make a path around the side of the ferry and name the path. Select Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern, click OK, and choose and scale the desired pattern as shown in figure 4.51. Click OK.

Figure 4.51. Selecting and scaling the pattern.

To allow the ducks to interact with the ferry, I changed the Fill layer's blending mode to Multiply, as shown in figure 4.52.

Figure 4.52. The Multiply blending mode lets the layers interact realistically.

Please keep in mind that while Multiply is an appropriate blending mode for this image combination, you'll need to experiment with the blending modes to achieve the best results for your images.

The ducks are now sitting in a straight row and don't look as though they've actually been painted on the boat. To rotate them into position, rasterize the Fill Layer (Layer > Rasterize > Fill Content) and rotate and transform the duck layer to create the final image (figure 4.53).

Figure 4.53. The final image.

Color and Gradient Fills

You can also fill a path with solid colors (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color) and gradients (Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradients), which in combination with blending modes gives you a fantastic and flexible method to experiment with images.

Figure 4.54 is a beachside snapshot of a sand dollar. Figure 4.55 shows the accentuated version, in which I made a path for the sand dollar and used a Gradient Fill layer to frame the image with color.

Figure 4.54.


Figure 4.55.



Create and name a path for the sand dollar.

Convert the path into a selection and invert the selection (Cmd + Shift + I) [Ctrl + Shift + I].

Rather than using the Layer menu, click the Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers palette and select Gradient.

As soon as you add a Fill or Adjustment layer with an active selection, Photoshop automatically creates a layer mask based on the selection. The black area is inactive—that is, protected—and the white area is active and is where the effect will take place.

Photoshop will bring up the standard Gradient Fill dialog box, which is a good starting point from which to develop gradient variations. In this case, I started with the standard Copper gradient set to Radial, shown in figure 4.56.

Figure 4.56. Selecting the Copper gradient, set to Radial.

Clicking the color bar of the gradient brings up the Gradient Editor, where you can change the color of the gradient by clicking on the small color squares and choosing a new color from the Color picker (figure 4.57).

Figure 4.57. Experimenting with colors and spreads helps produce unique image effects.

Experiment with the colors and scale to your liking. In my case, I used the complementary colors of blue and magenta so that they would visually offset each other, and I scaled the gradient by 200%.

Click OK. Figure 4.58 shows the results of my tinkering—the gradient is 100-percent opaque and rather ugly. By changing the gradient layer's blending mode to color and dropping the opacity to 40%, I achieved a more subtle effect, similar to using a gradated filter when photographing with traditional gels or filters. With further adjustments to the gradient, I achieved the effect as shown in figure 4.59.

Figure 4.58. The opaque blend is very ugly.

Figure 4.59. After some experimentation, a pleasing colorization effect is achieved.

The potential of using the Pen tool to precisely outline an object in combination with the flexibility of fill layers may cause many a sleepless night of Photoshop experimentation and adventures.

Stroking a Path

You can stroke a path with any of the painting, toning, and focus tools shown in figure 4.60. In compositing, you can use this lesser-known feature with the Blur, Burn, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, and Airbrush tools to refine image edges and darken areas of contact to create a contact shadow.

Figure 4.60. The choices for stroking a path.

Take a look at the coffee cup in figure 4.61 and notice that where the cup meets table there is a very small contact shadow—it is exactly this shadow that gives the cup its visual weight. Now take a look at figure 4.62. Do you see how the wine bottle seems to be floating over the stone background? It was dropped into the new background and doesn't have a contact shadow. Figure 4.63 shows the same bottle with a slight contact shadow that was created by stroking the bottom part of the bottle path with the Burn and Blur tools as described in the next exercise.

Figure 4.61. The contact shadow under the cup gives the cup a realistic visual weight.

Figure 4.62. Without the contact shadow, the wine bottle hovers.

Figure 4.63. The addition of the slight contact shadow allows the bottle to rest visually on the stone background.



Make and name a path for the wine bottle. Activate the wine bottle path and convert it into a selection. With the Move tool, drag and drop the wine bottle onto the stone background.

Choose View > Rulers and drag a guide down from the top ruler to mark where the contact shadow will start and stop. Use the Pen tool to trace along the bottom of the wine bottle, as shown in figure 4.64, and name the path. In this instance, you do not need to close the path.

Figure 4.64. Use a guide to help you judge where the contact shadow should end.

Add a new layer by clicking the New Layer button on the Layers palette, and name it Contact Shadow.

Working on a separate layer is akin to working on clear acetate, allowing you to tone down specific areas without affecting the background layer or, in this case, the wine bottle.

To create realistic shadows, use the Eyedropper tool to sample a dark color from the stone floor. Select a small, hard-edged brush at 10% opacity and zoom in on the bottom of the wine bottle (figure 4.65).

Figure 4.65. Setting the brush to 10% will let you carefully build up the shadow.

Click the Paths tab and activate the path of the bottom of the bottle.

On the Paths Palette fly-out menu, select Stroke Path and verify the Brush is selected as shown in figure 4.66.

Figure 4.66. Choosing the brush from the Stroke menu.

Note: Photoshop will reference the last painting tool you modified to be the tool in this window. You can always use the pull-down menu to select any of the other painting, toning, and focus options.

Click OK. Photoshop will stroke the active path with the tool you selected. Because you are working with a 10% brush, the effect will be very subtle. Repeat the stroking of the path two or three times until the shadow is visible. On the later strokes, I often reduce the size and hardness of the brush to make the center of the shadow darker than the edges of the shadow.

To see the effect, it is useful to hide the path by (Cmd + H) [Ctrl + H] to hide the extras—in this case the guide and the path. Return to the Layers palette and change the blending mode of the contact shadow layer to Multiply as shown in figure 4.67 and notice how the shadow visually drops into place. Adjust the opacity to taste and if need be, use the Eraser tool to clean up any extraneous areas.

Figure 4.67. The addition of the slight contact shadow lets the bottle visually rest on the stone background.


To stroke a path without using the Paths Palette fly-out menu, press the keyboard equivalent of the tool you would like to use and then press Enter or Return.

Creating Image Clipping Paths

You see images that are clipped all the time—the silhouetted washing machines or the bananas in the “two pounds for one-dollar” advertisements in the junk mail that fills your (analog) mailbox.

Figure 4.68 represents a photograph I took of a ship steering wheel at the South Street Seaport in New York City. The background is rather drab and distracting; I think the image would look better if the wheel were isolated on the page with a clipping path.

Figure 4.68. Selecting the steering wheel with the Lasso tool creates a ragged edge, while clipping the steering wheel with a path creates a crisp outline.

With a clipping path.

Image-clipping paths, commonly referred to as clipping paths, are vector-based information of the outline that is smoother than a pixel-based selection. Most importantly, image clipping paths are printed at the output resolution of the PostScript output device, so the edges will be very crisp.


Original image

Selected with the Lasso tool.

To create an image clipping path, follow these steps:

With the Pen tool, outline the object you want silhouetted, and name the path (figure 4.69).

Figure 4.69. Creating the initial path.

Use the fly-out menu on the Paths palette and select Clipping Path.

Choose the path from the drop-down menu and type in a flatness value (figure 4.70).

Figure 4.70. The image-clipping path isolates the steering wheel from the busy background.

The higher the value, the straighter and possibly choppier the curves will be, but as David Blatner and Bruce Fraser explain in their essential book Real World Photoshop, “You can almost always raise your flatness to between 3 and 5, never see the difference, and speed your printing times considerably.” In the case of the steering wheel, I used a flatness setting of 4.

Save the file as a TIFF or EPS. When you import the file into InDesign, PageMaker, or QuarkXPress, the object will be perfectly silhouetted.

After converting a path into a clipping path, you can still use it just like a “normal” path and refine it, stroke it, fill it, and convert it into a selection.

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