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Photoshop Tips from "Pixel Photographs"

  • Date: Jan 1, 1999.


  1. Photoshop Tips from "Pixel Photographs"

Photoshop Tips from "Pixel Photographs"

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  1. Ready-Made Selections
  2. At Least Twice the Size
  3. Photoshop 4's Interactive Adjustments: Saturation
  4. Photoshop 4 Tricks with Layer Masks
  5. "D & D" in Photoshop 4
  6. Turn Off That Cache!
  7. "Nondestructive" Retouching in Photoshop
  8. Photoshop 4's Filter, Fade Filter

Automating with Actions

Photoshop 4's Actions palette not only allows you to make single-click buttons as the Commands palette did; it also offers a way to record a series of Photoshop operations and play them back in order, on a single file or a whole folderful. Actions provide a great way to record processes that you or someone else will need to repeat on individual files or batches of images. You can also use them as tutorials to teach someone how to perform a task or create a special effect. And recording an Action for a complex process can also provide "multiple Undo's": After recording you can go back to intermediate steps and change them, then replay the Action from the beginning.

The easiest way to record an Action is to click the New Action button at the bottom of the Actions palette, perform the task you want to record, and then click the square Stop button to end the recording. Then you can play back the Action by selecting it in the Actions palette and clicking the Play button. But in Photoshop 4 not all functions are "Actionable," or able to be automated as part of an action.

  • Actionable functions tend to be functions that can be chosen from the main menu or its submenus.

  • Some commands won't record directly as part of a multistep Action. Instead they have to be recorded with the Insert Menu Item command.

  • Painting, drawing, and editing: You can't record strokes made with the painting tools or editing tools, but you can still use the Edit, Stroke and Edit, Fill commands to automate standard stroke and fill tasks.

  • Selecting: You can't draw selection boundaries with the selection tools. But you can make selections by color with Select, Color Range. And you can load a mask (a layer mask, a transparency mask, an alpha channel, or even a color channel) as a selection as you record. A current selection can be feathered, expanded, or contracted as part of an Action by recording the appropriate command from the Select menu.

  • Palette operations: You can't automate commands that can only be found in pop-out menus in the palettes (for instance, the Dene Brush command from the Brushes palette). But some commands that once were found only in the palette pop-outs have now also been added to the standard menus, so they can be included in Actions. Choices from the blending mode list and changes in the Opacity slider setting in the Layers palette can't be recorded either. So the only way to set the blending mode or Opacity of a layer in an Action is to do it when you first create the layer. You can use the icons at the bottoms of the Layers and Channels palettes in recording an Action, but not the Paths palette icons. You can use keyboard shortcuts for some palette operations for instance, to change the active layer in the Layers palette, but not for others--for instance, to change brush tips in the Brushes palette.

  • Meeting the requirements of the command: Of course, your Action will only work if the conditions of the file you're working on will allow it to work. For instance, if your Action includes a step that requires an active selection (as the Select, Modify, Contract command does), it won't work unless something is selected when the step is played.

  • Putting Actions within Actions. It would be nice if you could simply select, copy, and paste one Action into another in order to include it, but that isn't the case. You can, however, nest a finished Action within the one you're currently recording by playing the existing Action while you record the new one. As you record, click in the Actions list to select the Action you want to include, then press the Play button. This Action you played will be added as a step in the one you're recording.

Ready-Made Selections

Regardless of what layer is active, Command-clicking a layer's thumbnail in Photoshop's Layers palette loads that layer's transparency mask as an active selection. (Recall that the transparency mask is a selection that exactly fits the pixels present in a layer.) To add a layer's transparency mask to an already existing selection, Command-Shift-click. Command-Option-click to subtract the transparency mask from an active selection.

The same approach works for loading layer masks as selections just use the layer mask thumbnail instead of the layer thumbnail. Load paths or channels as selections by Command-clicking the thumbnails in those palettes.

At Least Twice the Size

When you're designing buttons for an on-screen interface, whether for multimedia or the Web, it's a good idea to start out with the artwork two or four times the size you think you want the buttons to be. This gives you several advantages: You can see more detail as you work; you can create effects that are much more subtle; you have enough pixels to make the buttons bigger than you planned if you change your mind; and if you ever need to print the button images, they'll reproduce better. JHD

Figure 1

Photoshop 4's Interactive Adjustments: Saturation

Using an Adjustment layer to apply the commands of the Image, Adjust submenu lets you change the setting for the adjustment later (by double-clicking the Adjustment layer's name in the Layers palette). For some adjustments, you can also get good results by changing the Opacity setting for the Adjustment layer.

Figure 2

Figure 3

When we set up the Adjustment layer to reduce the color in this photo for an antiqued, hand-colored look, we set Saturation all the way to zero. Then we could use the layer's Opacity slider to add color a little at a time until we got the effect we wanted.

Figure 4

Photoshop 4 Tricks with Layer Masks

In Photoshop 4 it's easier than ever to make layer masks. It all hinges on the little mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

  • To make a clear layer mask that lets its entire layer show, click the mask icon at the bottom of the palette; then you can add black paint to shape the mask and hide parts of the layer.

  • If a selection is active when you click the mask icon, the mask will allow the selected area of its layer to show, and will hide the rest of the layer.

  • Use Option-click to set up a fully opaque (black) mask or to hide the selected area of the layer and allow the rest to show.

  • By default a layer mask is linked to its layer, so if you move one, the other will move with it. To unlink so you can move them independently, click on the chain icon.

  • To toggle a layer mask off and on, Shift-click the mask's thumbnail.

  • To toggle a view of the mask instead of the layer itself, Option-click the mask thumbnail.

  • To copy a mask from one layer to another, in the Layers palette Command-click the thumbnail of the mask you want to copy (to load it as a selection), then click the thumbnail of the layer you want to add it to (to activate that layer as the target), then click the mask icon at the bottom of the palette.

Figure 5

"D & D" in Photoshop 4

Drag and drop operates a little differently in Photoshop 4 than it did in version 3:

  • To simply drag an active layer (or a selected part of a layer) from the "donor" image to the "target" image, grab it with the move tool, drag it into the open window of the target file, and release. It will land where you drop it.

  • If your donor and target images are two different sizes and you hold down the Shift key while you drag a layer or a selected part from one to the other with the move tool, the dragged donor material will be centered.

  • If your donor and target are the same size, pixel for pixel, holding down Shift as you drag with the move tool won't automatically center the dragged material. Instead it will "pin register" it, releasing it in the exactly corresponding position in the target image.

  • To center (rather than register) donor material in a target of the same size, first select all in the target image, then Shift-drag the donor material with the move tool and release.

  • Or you can select only part of the target, and the Shift-dragged donor material will be centered in the selected area.

  • Linked layers can now be dragged and dropped together.

  • With a selection active in the donor image, use a selection tool instead of the move tool to drag only the selection boundary, not the pixels.

Turn Off That Cache!

In Photoshop 4 be sure that in the Image Cache dialog box (choose File, Preferences, Image Cache) the Use Cache For Histograms option is turned off. When the cache is on, it provides a minimal performance boost to Photoshop, but it can cause the Levels dialog box to show an inaccurate histogram if you're viewing the image at magnications other than 100%. This can be a very serious problem when you're relying on Levels for assessing or adjusting color or tone.

"Nondestructive" Retouching in Photoshop

Using the retouching tools--rubber stamp, smudge, sharpen and blur, and dodge, burn, and saturation tools involves "hand-painting," which can be tricky, since it's hard to undo a mistake. Here are some ways to apply these tools so you don't permanently damage the image if you make a mistake, and so individual corrections can be selected and removed or repaired without affecting other hand-crafted changes:

  • Use the rubber stamp, smudge, or sharpen/blur on a transparent layer above the image, first setting the tool to Sample Merged in its Options palette.

  • The dodge and burn tools don't offer a Sample Merged option, but you can use them on a new layer that is in Overlay mode and filled with 50% gray, which is neutral in Overlay mode. (If you Option-click the New Layer icon to open the New Layer dialog box, you can set the mode and ll when you first make the layer).

  • As an "Undo safety net" with the sponge tool, it's a good idea to make a feathered selection of the area you want to work on and copy it as a new layer (Command-J), before you use the sponge. If you make a mistake, you can delete the layer, select and copy again, and sponge again.

Figure 6

Figure 7

Using a separate layer for dodging and burning

Figure 8

Photoshop 4's Filter, Fade Filter

Photoshop 4's Filter, Fade Filter command lets you reduce a filter's effect, but you can only apply it immediately after you apply the filter. If you can afford the file-size overhead of an additional layer, though, you can have the option of fading the effect later: Apply the filter to a duplicate layer, and then fade the effect any time you want by reducing the Opacity of the filtered layer.

Figure 9

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