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I love paths. I love their flexibility, small file size, gracefulness, and even the meditative mindset I get into as I focus in on the image with the Pen tool mantra of “click, hold, drag.” But there are many times when I need the crispness of a path and the edge quality of a selection in one image.

Figure 4.71 illustrates an image with a variety of edge qualities. The sunglasses, arm and T-shirt are crisp, making them ideal Pen tool candidates. But the fluffy red vest and my hair blowing in the breeze are much too detailed, translucent, and random to be selected with the Pen tool. What is a Photoshopper to do? Combine paths and selections to take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Figure 4.71. The original photograph has a variety of edge qualities that need to be taken into account when making selections.


I made three paths—one for each lens and one for the body (figure 4.72). Notice how I carefully followed the contour of the sunglasses frame and my arm but went inside of the fluffy vest and hair.

Figure 4.72. Using a path as a foundation for an accurate selection.

After converting the body path to a selection by dragging it down to the Load Path as Selection button on the Paths palette, I zoomed in on the vest, and using the Magic Wand Shift-clicked on the edge areas of the red vest to add them to the selection (figure 4.73). The crisp edges of the glasses and the arm and the fuzzy detail of the vest are now contained in one selection (figure 4.74).

Figure 4.73. After converting the path to a selection.

Figure 4.74. Shift-clicking with the Magic Wand to add the vest edges to the selection.

I saved the selection as an alpha channel (figure 4.75) as explained in Chapter 3, “The Essential Select Menu.”

Figure 4.75. The alpha channel created from the path and Magic Wand selection.

After adding the hair to the alpha channel as explained in Chapter 8, “Selecting Hair and Fine Detail,” and loading the mask as a selection, I pasted a new sky into the image—but the image still doesn't look right. Take a look at the area on my sunglasses; the sky seen through the outermost sunglass lens is still the original sky and the new sky has oranges and reds. This is exactly the kind of image detail that can give away a composite (figure 4.76).

Figure 4.76. The original sky is still visible in the sunglasses—a dead give away of a shoddy composite.

To fix this incongruity, I converted the right lens path into a selection, clicked on the layer mask of the sky, filled the selection with 50% gray, and painted in additional tonal variations on the mask to mimic how the tinted sunglass lenses vary in translucency (figure 4.77).

Figure 4.77. After converting the right lens path into a selection, I filled and painted it with shades of gray to let some of the new sky shimmer though.

Combining soft and hard edges using the pixel-based selection tools (Lasso, Magic Wand, and Color Range) with crisp edges using the Pen tool is a fantastic method for creating convincing images.

Converting Selections to Paths

It makes sense that if you can convert a path into a selection, you can also convert a selection into a path. I'm not a huge fan of this technique, but it has helped enough people for me to include it here.


Select Mr. Cricket with the standard or Magnetic Lasso tool (as shown in figure 4.78 and as described in Chapter 2).

Figure 4.78. The original carousel ride figure…when you wish upon a star.

Open the Paths palette and click the fly-out menu; select Make Work Path, which will bring up the flatness dialog box (figure 4.79).

Figure 4.79. Use a low tolerance to create a more accurate path.

Because this is a method to create a work in progress path, use a Tolerance setting of 1.0, and click OK. The Tolerance setting determines how accurate the path will be—the higher the setting, the less accurate the path.

Use the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) to refine the path (figure 4.80).

Figure 4.80. Name the work path and use the Direct Selection tool to refine the path.


Paths add only 4Kb to 6Kb to a file, making them wonderfully efficient. But, because of their tiny file size, many people assume they should convert their alpha channels into paths to save file size. This is an urban myth that needs to be squelched wherever it raises its misunderstood head. Photoshop uses an efficient run-length encoding scheme to describe the masks, so when the file is closed, the masks hardly add anything to the file size. In addition, if you convert gradated alpha channels to paths you will lose the smooth edges and tonal transitions.

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