Monday, March 3, 2014

Twenty First Century Use Of The Pen Tool

I was talking to a friend the other day and he said he was getting into using the Pen Tool (P) in Adobe Photoshop (PS).  I must have had a quizzical expression on my face, because he said "What!".  I told him I didn't think anyone, who didn't already know how to use the Pen Tool (P), had bothered to learn how to use the it in this century.  I asked him to give me a little demonstration of how he was using the tool.  He's been known to develop his own hard way to do some simple things in PS.  Just in case you've come to PS during this century, let me give a short explanation on using the Pen Tool (P) in PS.  You place a dot to start.  Place another dot somewhere else on your blank page.  You'll see two handles come out from the second point.  You can pull them, stretch them, spin 'em around in circles or let them sit.  Put a third dot on your document and another two handles appear.  Pull one, twist one, do something to one of the handles.  You'll see that the straight line between point two and point three deforms depending on how you move the handle.  The line between point  one and point two remains fixed.  (As long as you didn't move the handles.)  What's happening between points two and three is called a Bezier Curve.  Back in the day (probably around PS 5 (not CS5 - just plain PS 5) it was essential that you learn to use the Pen Tool (P) to make a Selection.  Today there is a large variety of methods to make Selections.  The Pen Tool (P) is almost dead.  The Quick Selection Tool (W) with its Refine Edge feature just about eliminates the need for the Pen Tool (P) or reduces its functionality to touching up hard lines.  The way my friend was using it is another one of his "let's make something harder than it should be" tricks.  His method consisted of laying out a point, cutting off the leading handle and making his next point.  There is a valid reason for cutting off the leading handle, but it's to be able to make hard point turns (i.e. a 90 degree turn) in the direction you're plotting, not just going to the next point on a curve.  Basically what he's done is find the hardest way imaginable to use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L).  I used the Pen Tool (P) on today's image, but only for experimentational reasons.  To find out what I found and how I used the Pen Tool (P), hit the "Read More".

You may have guessed (or hopefully not) that today's image was messed with.  Actually, the Mad Hatter's Car was parked about four buildings away from where it appears to be in the image.  I used the Quick Selection Tool (W) to pick up the road, the shadow and the car.  Due to the paint job on the car, a few areas just didn't get selected properly.  Even with the Refine Edge feature of the QST.  I figured, "easy enough", a great place to play with the Pen Tool (P).  I brought up the Path Panel.  It's usually nested with the Layers and Channels Panels if you are in the Photography Preset Layout (if you don't see it, go to the Window dropdown and select  Paths).  Under the Pen Tool (P) you'll find the Delete Anchor Point Tool.  You're going to need it.
When you look at what the Quick Selection Tool did to define the selection you'll see dozens (or hundreds) of anchor points.  Every place the QST saw a slight deviation from straight, it dropped an anchor point.  Knock out anchor points until you get down to a couple dozen (or fewer) points.  (Make life easier by holding down the CTRL key and drawing a marquee over many points jumbled together and hit the Delete key.  That'll eliminate a lot at a time so you don't have to pick each point one at a time.) 
Once you have the situation in a controllable manner you can pick a point and use the handles to closely follow the curves of the object you're trying to select.  If you have to make a abrupt turn, kill the leading handle and start off in a new direction.  Big thing to remember is to use as few points as you can get away with.  Your trying to use the curves to create sweeping, flowing lines.  When you have everything set the way you want it, right click on the path in the Paths Panel and choose Make Selection.  You're now ready to go do whatever it was you wanted the Selection for.