Using the Appearance Panel in Illustrator CC 2018

If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone who worked on Adobe Illustrator had a crush on the idea of layers, because they appear not only in the Layers panel, but in the Appearance panel. There are no less than three places where the idea of layering, stacking, or something similar appears in this program—the Layers panel itself, the idea of Sub-layers, and Appearance.

The latter uses the concept a little differently. This panel shows data only for the object (or group) selected, and it’s things like fills, strokes, effects (such as drop shadows), and so on.

Appearance panel

If you have an object selected, you can show the Appearance panel (Window–>Appearance) to see how its attributes are set up. A key point is that the attributes are “stacked” from top to bottom the way you see them, so having a fill above another fill can block the lower one from being seen.


If this happens, you can adjust, say, the transparency/opacity of the upper to partly show the lower, or change the stacking order by dragging the item up or down as you would any layer, sublayer, or other component, or remove the upper one entirely.

Then, editing the attributes is quite straightforward; clicking or double-clicking on most items will bring up the appropriate dialog box, and from there it’s pure vanilla.


When a group is selected, any attribute you change, add, or remove in the panel will affect the group as a whole. In order to do something with one member of the group, you either have to ungroup and select the item in question or otherwise narrow the selection down. This is an example of the kind of step-by-step mindset one often has to develop working with these kinds of programs, but it’s not hard to do.

The normal issue one runs into in doing all this is keeping track of where to go to do what. Changing layers and stacking order of objects and groups is done in the Layers panel; changing the attributes of objects or groups in the Appearance panel. Jotting this sort of thing down initially can help.

Creating Custom Tools Panels in Illustrator CC 2018

I’ve gotten so used to the Tools panel (or Toolbox, as we old-timers call it) in Illustrator as it has been for years that although we can go from single- to double-column for convenience on smaller screens, I hardly ever think about it otherwise. But one feature in Illustrator CC 2018 which is both novel and very much a help is the ability to create one’s own Tools panels—that is, to create custom collections of tools as one needs.

We could do something like this with the panels themselves for quite some time, separating and recombining them as we like. This made possible the idea of the workspace, and Illustrator comes with a bunch of those preinstalled. But not too long ago, someone at Adobe realized it would be helpful to be able to do the same with tools—after all, we occasionally find we need what might seem arbitrary but logical (to a particular user) collections of tools for drawing, selecting, etc.

Luckily, it’s dead easy.

Window Menu

There doesn’t even need to be a document open, but it helps to know what you’ll usually need. Simply go to the Window menu, Tools, and on the submenu, click New Tools Panel.

Dialog Box

The dialog box will ask what you want to call it, and you can type any name you like—though if you need to create more than one (and you can put together as many as you need), it’s a good idea to use names that more or less describe what each will be for.


Once it has a name, the main bit is old as the hills. Drag and drop tools from the main Tools panel into the new one, in any order (a little planning for convenience might be helpful), and there you are. And since this is a program-level feature, not a document-level one, the new collection(s) will be there on that copy of Illustrator from that point on, whenever needed.

Dealing with Dust Using History in Photoshop

There’s another trick for dealing with dust in Photoshop (to sort of continue from the last blog post), which takes a little setup but is even more subtle. It involves the History Brush tool, and the History panel. The advantage is that the corrections are very unobtrusive, especially if one takes the time to do them carefully. The disadvantage, such as it is, is that the recipe has to be followed rather carefully, which is why I’m taking the liberty of condensing it at the end of the post.

After opening the file, it’s advisable to save it as a PSD, and make a copy of the layer containing the artwork; work on the copy for safety.

Gaussian Blur

The first real step is to go to Filter—Blur—Gaussian Blur, and set it for 6-12 pixels (all numbers approximate; your mileage may vary).

Then, in the History panel, take a snapshot of this state (call it Blurred, or whatever you’ll recognize). After which, click one step up in the History (which will un-blur the art but leave the snapshot blurred). THIS IS A KEY STEP.

History Panel

Click the selector for the blurred snapshot (left side of panel) to indicate what the History Brush should work from. Then select the History Brush itself in the Tools panel.

Blending Mode

THE OTHER KEY STEP is this: When painting a dark spot with the History Brush, switch the blending mode in the Control panel up top to Lighten, and vice versa. So you’re lightening and blurring the dark spots, and darkening and blurring the light spots. Lightening or darkening makes them less conspicuous; blurring blends the repair in.





Don’t panic if you need to practice this one a bit. The recipe is a bit more complex, and has to be followed. But I can tell you it works, as I’ve used it myself many times.


Short version:

Open file, save as PSD if necessary, make copy of layer

Blur image (Filter/Blur/Gaussian, 6-12 pixels)

In History panel, take snapshot and name accordingly

Go back one step

Select blurred snapshot

Use History Brush tool to paint blur back in (Lighten mode on dark spots, and vice versa)

How to Deal with Dust in Photoshop Images

In the age of digital photography, dust would seem to be a thing of the past. Perhaps. But who knows how many pre-digital pictures still exist, un-digitized, and in need of cleaning? With this in mind, I’d like to show you how.

Before we had digital cameras, Photoshop, and so on, one would have to clean the film very carefully, print the picture, and use a kind of watercolor called spotting dye to touch up the (hopefully few) white spots caused by dust on the negative. (Yes, I did it.) It’s not too hard, but it is tedious, and requires patience and a steady hand. Photoshop, of course, removes the need to do the spotting by hand, but how to actually deal with the dust spots?

Dusty Wedding Pic

With an image open, you could just borrow nearby color with the Eyedropper tool, then use the Brush to tap color into the white bits. This does work. But there’s a slightly more subtle technique which works better, is a little faster, and doesn’t need any eyedropper-ing.

Selecting Dust Spots

First, select a few spots (to start with, do one or two at a time). You want to make your selections only about half again as large as the white spots. Any selection tool is fine; with roundish spots, the Ellipse Marquee tool works well.


Then, go to the Select menu, Modify, and Feather command. We want to feather the selection by at least a few pixels, though we normally don’t need much more unless the spot is big. About three or four pixels’ worth will do.


Next, we go to Filter–>Blur–>Gaussian Blur. What we want is to “smear” the “paint” immediately around the spot onto it, but soften the edges of the smear to make it very gradual, and therefore hard to see. This is where there might be a little experimentation; the nice thing about the Gaussian Blur is, one can control how much blur there is. Sometimes it works with just a few pixels’ worth; sometimes it can take as much as eight or nine. The tricks are to keep the initial selection just a little larger than the dust spot, and feather the edge (either before selecting, in the Control panel, or right after with Select–>Modify–>Feather) prior to blurring. We do NOT want sharp edges here at all.

And don’t worry if it takes some practice to get right. Maybe make a copy of the layer containing the picture, for insurance. Then go for it.

The Layers Panel in Illustrator–Tips and Tricks

In my last post, I mentioned that the Layers panel serves a more vital function in Photoshop than it does in Illustrator. No offense to Illustrator, of course! But there is a reason I said this.

In Illustrator, unless the user makes it happen, objects cannot “smear” together as if they were oil paint that doesn’t dry. So the need to separate things by layer for Photoshop-ish reasons does not exist. But the Layers panel in Illustrator does serve another, equally useful, function—that of organizer.

Doc and Layers Panel

In fact, there are two levels of organization we can see in a typical Illustrator document:

First, the layers themselves, which can be used to keep things together in the same fashion as having two or three storeys in a house. A real-life example might be a document intended for publication in Canada, which requires many documents, especially legal ones, to be bilingual. If one places all the graphics in one layer, all the French text in a second, and all the English in a third, one can easily show or hide the appropriate text for printing two versions of the document, and avoid having to create two separate documents, which would take rather more space.

Basic Layers

Second, within each layer, there can be objects whose “stacking order” (in which one object is above or below another) determines what we see or don’t see of each object. The layers’ stacking order can be changed by simply dragging any layer up or down within the Layers panel. Ditto the objects within each layer. So one might describe the Layers panel as a stack of stacks.

Layers and Stacking Order

The only downside to this story is that it can get a little complicated, especially when one has grouped objects within the layers. Groups, however, show themselves by indenting the objects within the group, and having twist/folding arrows to open or close the group, allowing objects within the group to be moved up and down within them.

But one point remains the same between Illustrator and Photoshop: Don’t create more layers than you need, for whatever reason. Each layer is almost a separate document within the file, and takes up a significant amount of room, so be sparing.

Using the Layers Panel in Photoshop–Tips and Tricks

The Layers panel is one of the most important members of the team; a lot of what goes on in Photoshop is related at least partly to which layer(s) you’ve selected, or want to select to do stuff in. So paying attention to this, and knowing a few things, will save you some work, and a little stress.

Unlike in its brother programs, Illustrator and InDesign, layers serve a vital function here—anything in a Photoshop layer is basically oil paint that never dries. So keeping things on separate layers till you’re SURE you don’t need to is good procedure.

Before painting, clone stamping, erasing, or anything else, especially if you’re in the middle of an important project, glance over to see which layer you’re about to affect. You can easily select the right layer by clicking its name once.


If you want to merge two or more layers, you can easily select them, even if they’re not adjacent, by clicking the one’s name and control/command-clicking the other(s). Remember, merging layers normally sort of “collapse” such that whatever’s on top, in the middle, etc. will stay looking that way when done.

Layers Visibility

Turning off a layer’s visibility is an easy way to avoid editing it when you don’t want to. Click the eyeball on the left of the layer name. But don’t forget to turn visibility back on when you *do* want to edit.

Locking Layers

Locking a layer is a better way to avoid editing, especially if you want to see how the layer interacts with its buddies while working in the others. You can lock the image pixels, the transparent pixels, the position of the layer, or all of the above (usually the most common) with the buttons at the top of the panel. Just remember, you need to unlock before editing. Duh. 😉


Linking layers together provides a useful capability—if two or more layers need to be positioned just so, relative to each other, do the positioning, select them, and link the layers with the button at the bottom of the panel; if you then move one, you’ll move all. Unlinking them is easy too. Same button.


Renaming them is easy—double-click the current name, type what you like, and hit Enter.

Finally, remember Photoshop creates new layers whenever you copy and paste, or cut and paste, or pretty much anything and paste. It’s conservative about this, so you don’t smear the “paint” from different elements together. Which means you can accumulate a LOT of layers. In fact, as far as I know, there’s no limit to the number you can have. (I got bored and stopped counting at two hundred and twenty.) So don’t be afraid to merge them when you’re done with separate elements—they add to the file size. And don’t create them just for the heck of it—again, the file gets bigger when you do this.

Using Paths to Make a Selection in Photoshop

An unexpected ally in making selections in Photoshop is the Paths panel.

Selecting a precise piece of an image can be tedious, even for a veteran user; understanding the selection tools does not provide instant expertise, and some images have such irregular content that it’s a touchy matter to set the right numbers for almost any of the tools. But the Paths panel lets the user at least partly bypass the problem.

Using the Pen tool, we can create a path (essentially a vector shape) within Photoshop. This also takes practice, but the nice thing about a path drawn with the Pen tool is that it can be modified almost indefinitely. (By analogy, I’ll date myself badly and mention Silly Putty.)

Basic Paths

First, we bring up our image, select the Pen tool, and start creating anchor points etc. for the path. This can take some time—in fact, it’s a good idea to go fairly slowly—but since we can clean up later, a rough shape will do. Naming the path is usually a good idea for reference, especially if you’ll have more than a couple.

Cleaned Up

The next step is to use the other vector tools to refine the path as needed: The Add and Delete Anchor Point tools to give the shape more or fewer anchor points, the Direct Selection tool to fine-tune the locations of the points and tweak the control handles, and occasionally the Convert Anchor Point tool for changing curve to corner, or vice versa.


Finally, we can select the path in the panel, go to the panel menu, and click Make Selection. We then have to specify the various options in the dialog box, and click OK.


This is one of those not-technically-complex-but-kinda-tedious features which requires a little practice. Working with Photoshop’s brother program Illustrator would give some additional footing on this too. Couldn’t say whether it’s the *best* technique, but it seems to work well with practice, and it’s not too hard to fine-tune paths.

Using the Baseline Grid with InDesign

One of the more subtle things that can be done with an InDesign document to make it look more professional—i.e. polished, consistent, easier to read—is to use the Baseline Grid. This relates to how the text is laid out and vertically lined up on the pages of the document.


The main requirement is that the text be reasonably consistent in terms of size and font from page to page; this is normal in most professional documents, so not hard to achieve.


Once the text has been placed and the text boxes fine-tuned for size, position, and so on, the feature can be set up in the Preferences (in different places for Windows and Mac, but the same dialog once there). The default color is light blue, probably because lined three-hole-binder paper uses the same color for various reasons. The Relative To option usually works better when set to go from the top margin, as most conventional business documents don’t have text outside the margins. And importantly, the Increment Every measurement should be the same as the leading (or line-spacing) of the body text (which, hopefully, is mostly the same font and size throughout the document). The whole idea, you see, is to have the text march down the page in nice, evenly-spaced lines, on both sides of a two-page spread.

Baseline Grid

Once you show the feature (via the View–>Grids and Guides submenu), View Threshold also matters, as one would not want this feature showing (and crowding the screen) if the text is too small to read. 100% is a good number, so the grid won’t show unless the page is life-size or larger on screen.


The other part which needs doing is that the text object has to be told to use the grid. Click in the text box with the Type tool, as we’re working with the text in there, NOT the container, select (usually) all the text in the story, and (the simplest method) bring up the Paragraph panel. Bottom right corner, the very last button will Align to Baseline Grid. That’s it.

Can this be automated? Can some of this be set in advance or by style? Certainly. Regardless, the Baseline Grid is fairly easy to use, and gives an almost inconspicuous, yet powerful, boost to the readability of the document—a real under-the-hood feature that still kicks like a turbocharger. 😊

How to Use Layer Styles in Photoshop

The use of Layer Styles (also known as Layer Effects) in Photoshop is fairly easy, but can add some pretty snazzy results. One of the most visually catchy is the Drop Shadow, which can make it look as if an object is in front of the rest of the artwork. Any of the styles can be applied in about the same way, but the Drop Shadow gives a good general example.

Layers set up

Usually the first thing is to assemble the artwork layers, since the effect is normally applied to the whole layer. As far as possible, get things positioned (though moving layers and items around does not mess up the layer effect).

Layer Effects box

Double-click  the layer thumbnail to bring up the Styles/Effects box, or select the layer and go to the Layer menu/Layer Style submenu and select the effect you want to apply.

At this point, the controls will vary widely according to which style you select, but here’s one point you don’t always hear about: If you want to open the box by double-clicking the layer thumbnail, remember to then click not the check mark next to the effect name, but the name itself. Why? Because if you click the check mark only, it will activate the effect but NOT bring the controls up. You’re saying you want to accept whatever defaults are already there. And usually, the user is looking for a particular fine-tune of whichever effect.

For our example, I want to make it look as if the gull is flying in front of the picture, almost as if he had somehow gotten free of the poster. So I can set the angle (from which the light comes) as 125 degrees (upper left), the distance (of shadow from object) at 150 pixels (so I can see it clearly as a shadow), the spread big enough to keep the edges soft, and the size (which is actually the blur) fairly large, since most shadows in this situation are not sharp-edged.

Drop Shadow effect in

Click OK, and it’s done. The Layers panel shows the Fx symbol, to let us know there’s effects in them there hills, and we can double-click the thumbnail or the Fx anytime to get back in and play around with it some more, or delete it completely and start over. Fully editable. Way cool.

Kerning and Tracking Adjustments in InDesign

A while back, I posted an item about text layout in InDesign. There’s another aspect of it I wanted to mention which might be of some further interest, namely kerning. This is usually defined as the fitting-closer-together of pairs of letters whose shapes make it aesthetically possible to do so. In some fonts, lowercase “f” and lowercase “i” make a kerning pair called “fi”, where the arch of the “f” can hang over the “i”. Capital “A” and capital “V” in many fonts work this way too.

Kerning control

Many fonts created today have what are called “kerning pairs” built into them. All you have to do these days is install the font in the appropriate folder, and any software which knows the signs, as it were, can kern the letters automatically. One of the typography-savvy questions you can ask a font designer or company is “How many kerning pairs are in the so-and-so font?”

Not all programs have the ability to see and use, let alone adjust, the spaces between letters, but InDesign does. The two variations are called “kerning” and “tracking”. The difference between them, basically, is whether you’re working with a pair of letters, or more than two. (The unit called an “em” is whatever the point size of the text, traditionally the width of the capital “M” in that typeface.)

Tracking control

Working with InDesign, the kerning and tracking controls have been made about as simple as possible. Once you’ve got some text written, select the letters/words you want to adjust, and click the Kerning or Tracking controls in the Control palette at top. Two letters can be kerned, more than two can be tracked. Remember that the adjustments are in very small increments, so if you’re experimenting with this for the first time, you may want to zoom in to see the effect a little quicker. As you may gather, negative numbers adjust letters closer together, and positive numbers further apart. If the number is zero for a selected pair or group, the adjustment is whatever the default says it should be.

Kern adjustment

Tracking adjustment

Okay, cool. So why would we want to adjust kerning or tracking? Occasionally, we may need to squeeze a piece of text a tiny bit closer together to fit it in a given space, or stretch it a little to fill up a couple of lines’ worth of blank space on a page. This is not a cardinal sin in DTP, but it should be treated with the respect due, say, superhot tabasco sauce, or ghost peppers: A little goes a long way. And one also has to remember that the human eye is a lot sharper than some people think, and if you go fiddling with the kerning and tracking throughout a document, it can be spotted pretty quick—the density of the text can be noticed at a subliminal level. No, I’m not kidding. And people will say “Look! They’re messing with the tracking!” Okay, maybe not, but it can be seen that something isn’t quite consistent across however many pages. So treat with caution.

How to Use the Selection Tools in Illustrator

Occasionally, new users of Illustrator have trouble understanding the selection tools; there are three, and each does something different. So knowing which to use for what is important. It’s not that hard to get the hang, with a little practice.

Main Selection Tool

The main Selection tool, usually referred to as just that, allows the user to select the entire object. For doing anything to the object as a whole, like changing fill color, edge color, etc., this is good. Furthermore, if one wants to change the object’s dimensions or position, it has to be selected as a whole object. So the Selection tool works for this.

Direct Selection Tool

The Direct Selection tool serves another purpose. If one wants to work on a part of the object, one anchor point, or one segment of the path which makes up the border, this would be the right tool. With the Direct Selection tool, one has to be a little more precise in where to click. Doing so on the anchor point works with that anchor point and the line segments to either side. Clicking on a line segment also selects the adjacent anchor points. This tool is more specific, and gives tighter control over selection. One can also drag to create what’s called a selection box around multiple anchor points, or any part of the object, to work with that part or parts.

Group Selection Tool 1  Group Selection Tool 2  Group Selection Tool 3

The Group Selection tool is a bit more complex, but it too has a method to the madness. When several objects need to stay in the same place relative to each other, they can be selected and grouped. Once they are, the Group Selection tool can select one object within the group (with the first click), a group within several groups (second click), or a set of groups together (third click). Again, the main problem some new users have is to click carefully, as the program simply interprets the clicks regardless. (We all sometimes double-click almost by reflex these days. After working with this program since the late Eighties, that bit still trips me up sometimes, so it’s not the user’s fault.)

Creating Alpha Channels in Photoshop

Making selections in Photoshop is fairly easy, but a large, complicated selection can take some time. And if it’s an area that needs repeated tweaks, such as for color balancing or lightness, it’s helpful if one doesn’t have to keep going back and reselecting thirty or forty bits and pieces. There’s a feature in Photoshop which can help, but seems almost hidden, in the Channels palette/panel.

Normally, we see the composite channel there (showing the full color image) and the individual color channels (RGB or CMYK, or other) giving a view of the components, which can themselves be manipulated if desired. But we can also store selections in there, in a form called an alpha channel.

Channels Palette

The use of the feature is quite straightforward. First, make whatever selection you need to. Remember you can switch from selection tool to selection tool, changing modes as needed, till you get the entire area you need.


Then, at the bottom of the palette, click the Save Selection as Channel button.

Save as Channel

You can easily rename the channel by double-clicking its name—a good idea, since it’s possible to have something like fifty channels in the palette, and even if none of the selections closely resemble each other, it’s less confusing, and very little additional work.


But what’s even more interesting is, you can fine-tune the selection in the channel by using a painting tool. If you activate the selection (alpha) channel by clicking its name, then select, say, the Brush tool, you can use the color white to add to or solidify the selection if you missed a couple of spots, or black to unselect areas you might have selected by accident.

Fine Tuning

And zooming in to do this carefully is a good trick too. Some people find this is easier for making selections, or at least cleaning them up. It does take a little more time, but since precise selection is often important to professional imagery, any technique you can use to improve the precision is a good thing.

How to Use Bitmap Mode in Photoshop

Of all the image modes in Photoshop, perhaps the least used today is Bitmap mode. It’s the “true” black-and-white mode, unlike Grayscale, which is what a “black-and-white” photograph really is. And Bitmap actually has a couple of advantages, though making proper use of the mode does take a little understanding.

A color picture first has to be changed to Grayscale mode to drop color out, and then one can convert to Bitmap. (If the user knows the image is going to be put in Bitmap, it’s advisable to keep it fairly high-resolution; since Bitmap only has two colors—black and white—compensating with more pixels helps keep the image from looking too grainy.) There are a couple of other things one can do to make a grayscale image better, but that’s another story.

Color Picture Convert Arrow Grayscale Picture

When Bitmap mode is called up, another dialog box asks a couple of questions. One is about resolution—usually this should not be changed. If the image already has adequate detail, it should be left alone. Increasing the resolution should be done beforehand, if at all.

Bitmap Dialog Box

The other is “Method”—how should the pixels be handled? This is the real question, as it affects the final appearance the most.

The first choice, 50% Threshold, looks at all the pixels in the image and applies a straightforward rule: If the brightness of the pixel is 128 or less, it turns black. If 129 or more (the possible range is from 0 to 255), it turns white. But this makes the picture look very harsh and blotchy, as it doesn’t take shading or grays into account.

50% Threshold Picture

The next choice, Pattern Dither, sort of does this. It tries to distribute black and white pixels a little more evenly (in a pattern, hence the name), and can create a fairly “readable” image provided the resolution is not too low. Some people consider this to look artistic, and in some cases the image turns out pretty well.

Pattern Dither Picture

Diffusion Dither, though, is a better choice for a result which looks more realistic. “Diffusion” means the pixels are scattered semi-randomly, the same way perfume gradually drifts through the air. “Dither” is defined as “The use of dot patterns to approximate colors not available in the palette.” (Wiktionary)

Diffusion Dither Picture

Halftone Screen is another matter, and produces something else again. Half-toning was used for a long time in producing newspaper photographs such that they looked like “true” grayscale images. What half-toning really does is to remake the image as a regularly-spaced pattern of dots of varying size to simulate grayscale, rather than bunching them together to make darker (or lighter, by spreading them apart) grays. How often this comes up today depends on what the print medium is going to be, but it’s not as useful for onscreen or conventional computer printing these days since half-tone techniques were developed partly to allow for rapid mass printing (newspapers, magazines) with relatively low-res, high-speed (therefore less expensive) processes.

Halftone Dialog Box Halftone Picture

The advantages to Bitmap mode are, first, it brings the file size WAY down, sometimes only a couple percent as big as the color version, or even less. (Only two colors, after all.) Ditto the grayscale version. Second, though it won’t have color, the detail and simulated gray shades can look almost as good as a true grayscale image, and take a lot less time to print. And finally, it’ll look decent on any printer, color or no. Picking the method is the only thing one usually has to worry about, and often the choice simply depends on the desired final use.

The Anchor Point Tool in Illustrator

When working in Illustrator, drawing with the Pen tool (producing Bezier curves) is a mainstay of many documents. (And in a couple other graphics programs, too.) But sometimes the tools that go with the Pen take a little time to get comfortable with. And the one I’ve been told is frankly a little confusing is the Anchor Point tool (which used to be known as the Convert Anchor Point tool, describing what it does).

You may know there are three main kinds of anchor points: Curve points, that have a smooth curve going in and coming out; Corner points, which have a sharp angle between two straight line segments; “Hybrid” points, curved on one side, straight on the other. Converting between them is easy, but using the tool may take a little practice.

Let’s say you want to convert from Corner to Curve.

Start with the Anchor Point tool

Switch to the Anchor Point tool, find the anchor point, put the sharp end of the V on it, hold down the mouse button, and drag. As you drag, you “draw out” control handles, which tell the curve what to do.

Drag to create handles

Some people think they need to do this and get them pointing in the right direction at the same time. Not necessary, though you can if you want.

The opposite is even simpler. To go from Curve to Corner, use the Anchor Point tool to simply click on the curve anchor point, and the control handles disappear. Done.

It’s creating a hybrid point that sometimes causes a little trouble, but it’s not really hard. Usually it’s easiest to create a Curve point first. Then switch to the Anchor Point tool, put the point of the V on the end of the control handle you want to get rid of, and click. (Don’t drag, though.)

Remove a handle

That side now becomes the Corner side, as it were. Dragging from the anchor point brings both handles back.

You can even “break” the connection between the two handles and simply grab one with the A.P.T., give a short drag clockwise or counterclockwise, and the two handles are now independent of each other.

Break handle connection

Or hold down the Alt key, and click a “broken” handle to restore the connection so the two now stay in a straight line again.

Practicing a little with the tool usually makes all this pretty easy. Just take your time.

Feathering a Selection in Photoshop

One of the must-have skills in Photoshop is the ability to make precise selections, since we indicate which parts of the picture we want to work with this way, and there are a number of techniques to do it. But equally important is the ability to feather, or “fuzz” the edge of the selection. Very few normal photographs are going to be so supremely razor-sharp in focus that a selection needs to be also, and even those that are will often not be super-high-resolution (that is, naturally a tiny bit fuzzy) anyway. Aside from any specific effects you want to achieve….

Open File

Once you open your file, you can start by making a rough selection with any tool—say, the Magic Wand or the Lasso. Then, either hold down the Shift key or select the Add to Selection button in the tool’s Options at top, and click or drag as needed to add the bits you want. (I admit I like the Magic Wand for a good many items, as it lets me make color-based selections quickly.)

Selection Made

Then, having made and fine-tuned the selection, we go to the Select menu, slide down to Modify, and click Feather in the submenu.

Select Menu Modify Feather Dialog Box

The number of pixels of feather you want to use will depend on a few things: The resolution of the image (the higher the res, the lower the feather number), the area you selected (larger selection=lower feather, generally), and what you want to do with the selected area (you tell me 🙂 ). For things like tinting, a lower number is usually better as you don’t want it to look like smeared paint. For blending effects like softening filters or other non-color-related ideas, a higher number would be good to soften the edge (romantic-portrait-type photos, for example).

It’s a simple effect, but a powerful one. And it doesn’t take too much practice to get a nice result. Besides, you can make a copy of the layer in question and play around with it till you get a good combination, then apply to the final draft.

Clone Stamping in Photoshop

The use of the Clone Stamp tool, in itself, is not hard to understand. It allows the user to “borrow” or copy a piece of picture from one spot to “clone” or paste elsewhere. But some people use it like a paintbrush, and clone big swaths of picture from one place to another—which looks obviously like cloning, or stereotypical “Photoshopping”.

So is there a trick to using the tool and not making things look visibly cloned? Actually, there is. It’s a little bit more work, but it’s not really difficult. It does depend somewhat on the picture and your goals.


Once you open the picture, examine it to see where you want to borrow from and copy to. (Here I use the example of making an elephant disappear—it’d be a cool stage illusion….)

Luckily, the surroundings lend themselves to the effect I’m going for. I start by setting the size of the tool, not too big, and the hardness (how sharp the edge is) to zero, so it blends nicely.

Clone Stamp Tool Settings

I do an Alt-click where I want to borrow from, then use a few clicks to “paste” from that area over the image of the elephant. Alt-click again, from a slightly different area, a few more regular clicks on the elephant, and continue on, each time starting with a different patch, till the modification is done.

Clone Stamping

The real trick—the main point of this kind of exercise—is to borrow a little from here, a little from there. Create the cloned area as a sort of patchwork, to get a somewhat random choice of bits from the “copy” area so the “paste” area actually consists of many small ones, chosen from no one particular part.

Mostly Gone

There is also some technique to clone stamping like this—some study of the image to determine which parts to borrow from and clone to, exactly how big the tool area should be based on the image and its resolution, and so on. But the main thing is to do a little at a time, and not too much from any one area. Nature is usually pretty random when she paints, so following her precept can give you a natural-looking result.

Adobe InDesign Text Layout Tips

Having done desktop publishing since 1985, albeit on an amateur basis, I’ve learned a few tricks which seem to help with things like layout. And the ability to control layout has come a long way since I started.

One is to understand that the appearance of the type can have an influence on the readability. Using sans-serif fonts, such as Helvetica or Arial, is better for online or screen documents, whereas serif fonts like Times New Roman or New Century Schoolbook works better for print; the serifs act as guidelines, much like those on a ruled piece of paper, to speed the eye along the text.

Serif and Sans Serif

Another is the use of leading (pronounced like the name of the element or the rock group, not the idea of “lead versus follow”); for some reason, some people seem to think that minimizing the leading, or vertical distance between lines of type, to pack more text onto a page, is a good idea. As Wolverine says in the film LOGAN, “Not okay!” It becomes almost unreadable, as the eye can’t find the beginning of the next line. Many fonts now have auto-leading ratios built in. These work reasonably well in the absence of any more specialized software or criteria.


There’s one thing we can adjust fairly easily in many DTP programs (I use InDesign here as an example): The gutter space between columns of text. It’s another of those pack-as-much-text-as-possible-on-the-page things which, again, is wrong. I’ve heard various guidelines promulgated as far as exact amounts or ratios of gutter to font size, but one broad rule of thumb I’ve found pretty viable is that regardless of font, font size, or proportion of height to width of letters, one should be able to fit a minimum of five to seven words per line in a column if possible—otherwise the writing looks rather like the visual equivalent of a song played from a scratched CD or a staticky radio broadcast…a few words, pause, words, pause, and so on. That kind of stop-and-start visual almost reminds me of trying to speak with hiccups, and can actually be irritating to someone trying to read it. (If it sounds to you like I’ve run into this sort of thing as an occasional proofreader and writer, you’re correct.) But at least InDesign makes these adjustments fairly easy.

Gutter Space

Are there actual rules or formulas for all this? Several. The specifics are easy to locate, but these bits here should provide a good start.

RGB vs CMYK–Which should I use?

Having taught and worked with Adobe Photoshop for many years, I get asked many basic but good questions about it by new users. One has to do with color, and the color systems we use in a picture. There are several that Photoshop can use, but the two most common are RGB and CMYK. The question: Which is best?

The fundamental difference between the two is, RGB is meant for use on screen, and CMYK for print. The terms used to describe how they work are “additive primaries” and “subtractive primaries”, which refer to how these systems show white. For RGB, imagine standing in a dark room with a white wall. Take three flashlights, with color filters (red, green, and blue) and shine them on the wall. Where the three colors overlap, they seem to make white light (the opposite of what a prism does with white light—see Pink Floyd’s album THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, specifically the cover—and the back cover.) So the three additive primaries add up to white.

Additive Primaries

With CMYK, the example is even simpler—a piece of paper going through a color printer may have areas where no ink or toner has landed. And the color of the paper we usually use? White, of course. So when the colors are held back, or subtracted, from a spot on the paper, that spot stays (or is) white.

Subtractive Primaries

But we need black ink too, because the dyes or pigments only sorta make black, and a normal eye can see this. So the printing folks added it for completeness.

In doing this, though, we get a couple of problems, and it takes a little thought to get round them. First, because the RGB system normally involves a screen that illuminates itself, it can show more subtle shadings of color than a piece of printed paper (which, unless you’re using radioactive inks—shame on you!—does NOT glow in the dark). The term Photoshoppers and graphic artists use is the “gamut”, which is wider/larger for RGB than for CMYK (where the ink/toner can smear a tiny bit and mess up the shadings). And a printout can’t show all the shades that a screen can. By definition, therefore, printout will always look a little less intense (“saturated”) than onscreen images.

Color Gamuts

And second, any Photoshop image saved in the CMYK system will use 33% more space on disk, regardless, than if saved with RGB. Why? Because the number of color “channels”, how many kinds of color there are in the picture at minimum, is three for RGB, and four with CMYK.

So which should we use?

If you’re scanning in a photograph you want to clean up and reprint (say, from the early 1900s), CMYK will work better, because what you’ll see on screen is what will come out of the printer. But if you’re scanning for archival purposes, scan in CMYK if possible to get a realistic version of the image, THEN change to RGB. Since RGB’s gamut is wider than CMYK’s you won’t lose any subtleties or shadings, but you will get a smaller file on disk. And you can scan in CMYK, do all your work, then save in RGB for later. Best of both worlds. Just have to make sure we understand the tradeoff of size, gamut, and storability.

Photoshop CC 2017 Property Panel Update

November of 2016 has seen an update to the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite which includes Photoshop. I have already posted one article on the changes to the New Document window and another article on the updates to the Liquify Filter.

The focus of this article will be on the changes to the Properties Panel in Photoshop CC 2017. The last couple of updates have seen improvements to the Property Panel, but this by far is the biggest change.

Take a look at this screen capture of the 2015.5 Property Panel in use.


The Properties Panel contains absolutely no information about the selected layer.

The same layer selected in Photoshop CC 2017 now includes x and y coordinates as well as width and height data.


Here is another example this time with a text layer selected. First in the 2015.5 release.


And now in the 2017 Update.


In addition to the x and y coordinates available previously we now can change the font, font size, alignment, and color. Additionally there is an Advanced button that will open the Character Panel.

All of these changes are designed to accomplish one thing, making each task more efficient by limiting the number of panels we need to open.

The Properties Panel update is a welcome change to Photoshop CC 2017.

Photoshop CC 2017 Face-Aware Liquify Update

If you remember the last update to Photoshop (Summer 2016) we shared a post about the new Liquify Filters Face-Aware feature. It turned out to be a wonderful addition.

The filter addition would naturally recognize the facial region and let you modify eyes, nose, mouth, and face shape. Working on a face or multiple faces became much easier.


But there was a drawback…there was only one set of adjustment tools for the eyes. Which meant the changes would be applied equally to both eyes.

Photoshop CC 2017 has addressed this issue and has fixed it. The Liquify Filters Face-Aware settings include two sets of controls for the eyes; one for the left and one for the right. Eye size, height, width, and tilt can be set for each eye independently.


Thank you Adobe. A great filter is now even more powerful and an easier to use utility.


Photoshop CC 2017 New Document Window

Sometimes the changes to an application are subtle, sometimes not so much. Last year’s Start Workspace in Photoshop was one of those not so subtle changes. Just a few weeks back Adobe’s Creative Cloud application suite updated to its 2017 version and Photoshop has added another one of those not so subtle changes.

Selecting File > New in the menu bar or the New button within the Start Workspace has resulted in dialog box similar to this for a number of years.


If you expanded the Document Type menu you were presented with several choices including; Clipboard, Default Photoshop Size, U.S. Paper, International Paper, Photo, Web, Mobile App Design, Film & Video, Iconography, Art & Illustration, Artboard , and Custom.


This is no longer the case. The New Document window is much larger and although some of the old menu categories remain the window is completely revamped.


Each of these presents a screen with a series of default sized blank documents, and also pre-built templates available through Adobe Stock.


Many of the templates are free and there is a search option that will take you to Adobe Stock online so you can look at the other options available.


Once downloaded the resulting file will contain a series of scenes, layers, or artboards and each item will be on its own layer ready to be used as you see fit.


All the custom options are still there but Adobe has added through Adobe Stock many start-up options. You don’t have to start with a black slate if you don’t want to.



Select and Mask Workspace: Photoshop 2015.5

Photoshop has continued to refine the selection tools available and the latest update, June 2016, is no exception.

Gone is the Refine Edge tool, or better yet, not gone but improved and placed in its own workspace.



I have two images I would like to combine and masking out the unnecessary bits of the second image pictured is a simple task which has been made easier. Once photo number two has been added as a new layer to the first image and sized so our participants are approximately the same size we’ll choose the Quick Select tool. Notice there is a new choice in the Options bar, a button labeled Select and Mask.



Clicking the Select and Mask Option takes us into a new workspace and lays out all of our tools in a new window. All the options you’ve used in the past with the Refine Edge tool are here and a few more. The View Mode now includes Onion Skin with a transparency setting that makes masking even easier than it used to be.



After all adjustments have been made clicking the OK button will apply the mask and return you your standard workspace.


I’ve seen a post or two on Adobe’s Community forum concerned that the Refine Edge tool was gone. Have no fear, it’s still there it has been renamed and resides in the Select and Mask workspace.

Creating Maxfield Parrish Clouds Using Photoshop

I was recently leaving the parking lot of a local business when the cloud formation in front of me reminded me of a painting by American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish. If you are not familiar with his work here is a painting called Ecstasy that was commissioned for the 1930 General Electric Mazda Lamp Calendar. The model was his daughter Jean Parrish.


The clouds I was looking at were beautiful and saturated with color because it was close to sunset. I grabbed my phone, took a picture, and went about my business. Imagine my disappointment when I looked at the photo later that same evening and this is what I had captured.


No worries…that’s one of the many reasons we use Photoshop.

Step number one was to get rid of the power lines, street lights, and poles. My tool of choice was the Spot Healing Brush with Content Aware active. Simply setting the brush size and dragging over sections of the poles and power lines with this tool and next thing you know; unsightly clutter removed.


I wasn’t 100% sure how much of the image I wanted to keep so the next thing that needed to go was the building in the lower left-hand corner. Selecting that area with the Rectangular Marquee tool and using Content Aware Fill was all it took. By the way, this was all being done to a copy of the background layer.


Now it was time to decide what part of the image stayed, and what would be cropped. If you think you might change your mind later don’t forget to uncheck Delete Cropped Pixels in the Options bar. That way all of the image is still available.


Now to enhance the image with one of those layers that almost any photograph will benefit from; a Levels Adjustment. Or some of you may prefer a Curves Adjustment. Either way we are adjusting the tonal quality of the photo. Removing the vale as it were, and tweaking our contrast. At this point I’m 90% there.


One more step and we are complete. Just a slight bump in saturation done by adding a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer.


When complete we have a sky that would be the perfect backdrop to any Maxfield Parrish painting. And all it took was a little imagination…and Photoshop.

Adobe InDesign CC 2015.4; Library Filtering

Using InDesign to create your publication is making your life so much easier.

The photo shoot for your upcoming article went well.

Then you realize in all the pictures taken there is one shot that didn’t happen. Timing, lighting, location…whatever it was, the image isn’t there.

Thankfully, the Creative Cloud includes Adobe Stock images. All that is necessary is opening InDesign’s CC Library Panel. It can be found in every Workspace except Printing and Proofing and even then can be opened by choosing Window > CC Libraries in the menu bar.


Once open, the Library Panel offers a search option at the very top.


Typing in a search term or phrase will return hundreds of results from Adobe Stock’s photos, illustrations, vectors, and videos. It certainly would be nice if I could narrow the results down to include only photos and vectors.

New to the June 2016 release of InDesign that request has been fulfilled. Immediately below the search bar you will now find a “Results from Adobe Stock” option with a spinner to the left that lets you expand your search choices to include four filters; photos, illustrations, vectors, and videos.


Checking the appropriate boxes will immediately narrow your search down to only photos, and vectors in our case. Less hunting, less work equals a more productive you.


Oh, by the way, even though this article is about InDesign this new search filter is also available in Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate, and Dreamweaver. Enjoy!

Face-Aware Liquify: Photoshop 2015.5

The Liquify filter has been part of Photoshop since version 6.0 which was released in September 2000. Over the years there have been a variety of improvements in this filter and the newest release is no different.

There is an entirely new facial recognition portion to the Liquify filter. It works on one face or many faces as long as they are full frontal views. It doesn’t work on profiles. There are separate settings for eyes, nose, mouth, and face size.

Let’s take a look at what it can do. We’ll start with a photo from Adobe Stock.









With a few adjustments to each of the four facial areas our original photo now takes on a new appearance. A narrower face, raising and narrowing the nose, thinner lips, and making the eyes a little smaller looks like a different person.