Using Photoshop — More Tips, Tricks, and Hints

Figured I’d mention a few other techniques which might be of use. Photoshop is almost a gold mine of cool tip after cool tip; I’d never deny it takes some practice to become comfortable with the program, so here’re some more.

Tip 4. Always be aware of the Layers panel if the image has more than one layer (not all images do). Particularly, which layer is selected. Whatever kind of edit you’re about to do, with whichever kind of tool, the layer selected is the one that’ll show the change. If it’s the “wrong” layer, you can undo, but it’s irritating. Better to know in advance, and choose the right layer up front.

Linking tip

Tip 4a. Once you’ve built a “structure” involving more than one layer, and want to keep all the pieces in the same places relative to each other, select the layers (Control-click on the PC, Cmd-click on the Mac—these let you select non-adjacent layers), and link them (using the panel menu at top right).

Fill tip

Tip 5. When adding color to an image, using the Edit > Fill command/dialog gives you easy access to both the blending modes (controlling how the color interacts with what’s already there) and the opacity (how solid the color you’re pouring will be). The blending modes could be a seminar on their own, but basically you can use them to produce all kinds of neat effects. And even just using the opacity control lets you add washes or “glazes” of color, if you need subtle changes in color. (Da Vinci would be delighted.)

Navigator tip

Tip 6. Don’t forget the Navigator panel. You can use the Hand tool and the scroll bars to get around in the file if you like, but the Navigator shows where you are and how close you’ve zoomed, so even if you prefer some other means of navigating, the panel is a good situation display.

Using Photoshop — Tips, Tricks, and Hints

Photoshop has been around for a while, and it’s a fairly sophisticated program, but there are some tips one can learn to work a little more efficiently no matter what your level of expertise.

1. A lot of the work we do depends on selection. Refining selections takes time; actually doing things with the selected area usually takes less. But when done working with a selection, don’t forget to DE-select it! Kind of like turning the oven off when finished cooking. (Ctrl- or Cmd-D is quickest.) Otherwise you might end up doing the right thing to the wrong part of the image.

Photoshop Channels

1a. If you have any idea you might be doing further work on the same piece of the image, save the selection (Select menu>Save Selection). You can store about fifty selections in there as selection channels (usually known as alpha channels), so there’s no need to skimp unless there’ll be a really big number of selected pieces that need lots of changes.

Photoshop Inverse

2. If you need to select all of something in an image, say a person, but the selection would take time, see if you can select the background or surroundings more easily—then go to Select>Inverse. Select everything except the hard part, then invert the selection. Voila. It isn’t always possible, but if the background of the image is relatively plain, give it a try.

Photoshop Hand

3. This is a really simple one, but I’ve had at least a few people tell me it was helpful: When finished working on something for the moment, switch to the Hand tool. The Photoshop equivalent of putting a stick shift in neutral, it means you won’t accidentally move something, or paint something, or otherwise edit something if you don’t mean to. When a Photoshop file is open, you have to have a tool selected, so if it’s a tool which won’t do any editing, it’s a safe choice when you want to pause. The Hand tool simply moves the image around in the frame if you’re zoomed in, but can’t edit. So it’s much harder to mess up the image with it selected.

Creating Themes in Microsoft PowerPoint

When preparing business presentations using PowerPoint, one needs more than usual to make sure the show has a coherent, consistent appearance; themes are an easy way to do this. Because the brain is wired to start understanding and working with pictures from infancy, keeping the graphic elements (backgrounds, fonts, colors) uniform in a presentation allows the audience to pay attention to and absorb the actual content, without distraction from other things.

Themes dropdown

To use themes, one merely needs to open a presentation and, on the Design tab, click the theme one wants to use. There are normally a few dozen installed with the program.

But it’s fairly easy to create a theme, and there are several reasons, most notably product branding (a company’s official set of fonts, colors, logo(s), etc.) which can prompt the need.

On the right side of the themes collection are the dropdowns for Color, Fonts, and Effects. We can’t edit the last group, but we can use it. Fonts and Colors, though, we can go in and set up in whichever combination we like.

Fonts dropdown

In Fonts, we can pick any pair we like—the same for title and body, or different, as the need dictates. Usually we name the combination distinctly so we recognize it or can use it for something specific.

Colors dropdown

As for Colors, we have to select several, since colors get more use than fonts regardless of the graphic elements we start with, but we still need to keep something like a coherent color scheme. Try thinking of it like painting a house: All the colors need to work together. (If your company has product branding standards, just go with the colors in there and you’re set.)

And when you get to Effects, about the only downside is we can’t easily create them and store them as part of the theme. But we can use the built-in ones.

Save Theme

Once all this is done, click the More dropdown button on the right side of the Themes list, slide down to click Save Current Theme, and give the new one a name and location. You can use Browse for Themes right above it, later, if you need to find it again.

Best of all, anyone else can use the themes too. And if you (or your company) has prepped a theme, they can push it out on your network in a matter of minutes, so everyone can use the same theme(s) and be as close to 100% consistent as possible.

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.

Object

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.

Group

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.

Tools

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.

Before

Before

After

After

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.

Feathering

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.

Blurring

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.

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.)

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.

Elephant

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.

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.