WORKSHOP The pen tool can be a little daunting at first, but with practice, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and time by having more tools at your disposal: remember - choose the right tool for the job!
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The pen tool is a very useful way to accurately deep etched (or cut out) and image from its background or other elements. It’s a great tool to use when the quick selection tool just isn’t cutting it (no pun intended) - for example, when the tonal range of an image is so close to that of the background that the quick selection tool can’t make out on edge from another.
USING THE PEN TOOL FOR DEEP ETCHING
Make sure you SAVE AS to create a new file to work with, saving your original in case something goes wrong. Use the short cut “P” to select your pen tool. The pen tool works similarly to the pen tool in Illustrator – it creates angled and curved vector points. If you want to make an ANGLED vector point, just tap on the area of the image you want to select once, If you want to create an ANGLED vector point, click and drag until you see handles.
HINT: SHIFT + P will toggle you through the options for either the pen tool or the freeform pen tool. The freeform pen tool will let you draw like a brush, but for now, use the pen tool so you can practice manually creating angled and curved vector points.
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Open up the Bill Brandt Image in the workshop folder (source: https:// divtan.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/bill-brandt-redone.jpg)
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When you first open your image, it will open by dafault onto a locked layer called “Background”. Double click on this layer and rename “Original”. Click “OK.”
Begin to trace around the area you would like to select. To create angled vector points, simply click on the area with the pen tool once. If you want to make a curved vector point, click and drag with the pen tool. You will see handles appear, which you can use later to edit the points.
An example of angled vector point (top right) and curved vector points with handles (bottom right).
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With your pen tool selected, zoom very close into your image (command + space bar on Mac or control + spacebar on PC), so that you can clearly see the border you will be tracing with your pen tool. You can press your spacebar at anytime during the process to pan around your image as you go.
Once you have completed your selection (take your time!), you should then zoom in very close and check all of your work carefully. To edit your vector points, use the shortcut A to access your direct selection tool.
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HINT: The PATH SELECTION tool and the DIRECT SELECTION tool both use the shortcut A. Shift + A allows you to toggle between them.
Next, click on the “Quick Selection tool”, then right click and choose “Refine Edge”. The refine edge dialogue box will open. Make any adjustments necessary, but be careful - in this Bill Brandt image, the tonal range between the background and our figure is quite similar. In this instance, you might be better off just adjusting your vector points, but give it a ago anyway.
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Then, once you have your selection as good as you can get it with the pen tool, right click (or alt+ click on a Mac) and choose “Make a Selection”. Your outline should now become marching ants.
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If you want to back to your selection to adjust the vector points again, close the refine edge dialogue box, and then with your Quick Selection tool still active, right click and choose “Make Work Path”. This will convert your marching ants back to editable vector points, which you can adjust with the DIRECT SELECTION TOOL. Once you’re happy, switch back to the Quick Selection tool and follow the process again to get your marching ants.
CUTTING OUT YOUR SELECTION It’s now time to remove your selection from its background, and there are two main ways to do this (there’s a third, but we’ll get into that in a minute).
PROS and CONS: Choosing to ‘layer via a cut’ is a destructive edit that will completely remove any of the pixels you have selected from your original image and then move them to another layer. To reverse this, you can simply flatten the layer again, but then you just have to start all over again! Having said that, it’s a good way just to cut out what you need and then ditch the original layer (make sure you have a back up of your image before you begin!). “Layer via copy” will take your selection and all of the pixels included and create a new layer with a new copy of them inside. No damage is done to your original layer. You can simply hide this or delete as you see fit, but it’s just an extra safety measure, in case you need the original layer intact.
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Your first two choices are to “Layer via a cut” or “Layer via a copy”. To select either of these, make sure you still have your quick selection tool active, right click, and then choose either of these from the list.
THE PEN TOOL AND VECTOR MASKS
In the photo on the top right of this page, you will see the layer that we have been editing is selected - that means the pixels on this layer (and not the one above) are also selected. With this layer selected, click on the “Add Layer Mask” option (see the image to the right again, where it’s circled). The image on the bottom right shows you what happens when the vector mask has been created. Now try it for yourself!
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The other way you can hide the background is by using a vector mask: and the word “HIDE” is the operative word here. With a vector mask, everything except what you have selected is masked out of view. This means that no pixels have actually been cut or copied, but have simply been hidden behind the mask. This is a great non-destructive way to get rid of your backgrounds, and you can always use your brush to paint back in areas and edit as you like.