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    Archive for August, 2008


    A very little known/underused feature of Photoshop is the Clipping Mask. Clipping Masks are used to “mask” out something so that you can only see a portion of a photograph. Unlike Layer Masks, a Clipping Mask will mask out what is in the layers above the mask, rather than below. Using Clipping Masks, you can create some really cool effects. The below picture is an example of just one of the effects you can achieve using Clipping Masks.

    postcard 300x225 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    This image was created by taking a picture of a palm tree, turning that into our clipping mask, and then laying that below an image of a sunset by a beach. Then text was added to the top-most layer, and the image was flattened. Simple as that. So let’s get to it!

    1. Setting Up Your Background

    The first thing we need to do is decide on a background. That’s the part of the image that’s going to show through our mask. I decided I wanted to go for a postcard type of look, so what better scenery than a sunset at a beach? So the first thing to do is grab your base image. I went over to and grabbed my sunset image.

    picture 311 i 300x225 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    For now, the only thing we need to do with this is to double-click it to “unlock” it so that we can manipulate it later. If you like, at this stage you can rename that layer to something more descriptive like “sunset.”

    That’s it for the base. Don’t worry, we’ll be going back to it shortly, but for now let’s set up the image that’s going to become our “stencil” or clipping mask.

    2. Setting Up The Clipping Mask

    When setting up a clipping mask, the thing to keep in mind is that the entire image is going to become a kind of stencil. Because of this, it will lose most of its details and it ends up looking more like a silhouette once you convert it to a mask. With that in mind, for this particular image I wanted to pull out just the palm tree from my source image, so I decided to desaturate it, then convert it to flat black and white so that I can more easily get the parts I want (the palm tree) and discard the rest. To do this, I used two features – Desaturate and Threshold.

    First let’s take our palm tree image:

    palm tree 2 225x300 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    Now the first step is to discard all the color information, because we’re not going to need it. To do this, go to Image->Adjustments->Desaturate. What you’re left with is a grayscale version of the image:

    palm tree grayscale 225x300 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    Next we want to take away the shades of gray so that the image is pure black and white. To do this, we’re going to use the Threshold command which you can find under Image->Adjustments->Threshold. When you select the command, a box will pop up that will allow you to adjust the Threshold level of the image:

    threshold 300x160 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    There is no set rule as to what numbers you should input into this box. Instead, make sure that Preview is selected, and adjust the slider to the left until you can see all the details of the palm tree. It’s okay if you have some extra black spots in there, because we can easily correct that. Be careful not to move the slider too far to the left, or you will lose too much of the palm tree detail. So after adjusting the threshold level, we’re left with an image that is pure black and white:

    palm tree bw 225x300 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    We’re almost finished preparing the mask, but we have one more thing left to do. Remember when I said that the entire image will act as our stencil? Well right now there is a ton of white in the picture, and if we converted it to a mask, the mask would take the shape of the entire image. Since we want a palm tree and not a big ugly rectangle, we’re going to have to remove the white.

    Because we’re not overly concerned with the detail, we’ll just use a very simple method to select the white so that we can remove it from the image. To do this, we’ll use Color Range. So go to your menu bar and choose Select->Color Range. This will bring up the Color Range dialog box that looks like this:

    color range 253x300 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    For this tutorial, you don’t need to be concerned about all of the settings. For our purposes, all you need to do is take the eyedropper tool and click on a white part of our original image. Be sure that your Background layer is not locked. If it is, hit Cancel and double-click it and hit OK. Then click Select->Color Range again. To select all of the white in the image, just click once in any area that has white. It may appear that nothing has happened, but what you’ve done is selected all the parts of the image that contain that color selected. Click OK and you’ll be returned to your image and all of the white will be selected. You’ll know this by the “marching ants” all around the white portions. If you don’t see the selection, then just double check that your Background layer is unlocked. If it is, double-click it to unlock it and then repeat the Color Range step. Now that you have all the white selected, just click the Delete key on your keyboard to remove it from the image.

    At this point, all of the white should be gone from your image and you’ll be left with a pure black palm tree and shoreline. If you have any stray black from the Threshold Level step, you can use the Eraser tool to remove it. Because there is only black in the image at this point, it will have a transparent background and the eraser tool will get rid of any extra. So now you should be left with this:

    palm tree mask 225x300 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    NOTE: If you need to save this image for any reason, you need to save it as either a .gif or .png file. Those two formats will preserve the transparency in the image. If you save it as a .jpg, it will fill all of the transparent areas with white and undo all your hard work.

    The last thing I want to do is resize the mask so that it fills a bigger portion of the beach image. Otherwise we’re not going to see a great deal of the beach through the mask. To do this, simply go to Edit->Free Transform (Ctrl-T) and drag the handles until the mask is the size you want. Hint: if you hold down the Shift key while dragging the handles, it will constrain the proportions so that the image scales proportionately. Otherwise, you’ll stretch out the part of the image that you’re dragging.

    Okay, so now that we’ve prepared the image for the mask, it’s time to actually convert it into a Clipping Mask.

    3. Creating The Clipping Mask

    Open your beach image if it’s not already. Next go to your palm tree mask image and click Select->All (Ctrl-A), then choose Edit->Copy (Ctrl-C), and finally Paste it into your beach image (Edit->Paste or Ctrl-V). You can close the mask image at this point, as we don’t need it any longer.

    So now you should have two layers in your beach image. The bottom layer should be your Background with the beach in it and the top layer should be your palm tree that you just pasted in:

    layers1 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    If your beach layer is locked (like mine is in the screenshot), then double-click it and hit OK. Now it’s time to convert that palm tree layer into the clipping mask.

    The first step is to take your beach layer and drag it ABOVE the palm tree layer. I know this may not make much sense but if you remember at the start of this tutorial I mentioned that a Clipping Mask will “mask out” what is in the layers above the mask as opposed to a Layer Mask that hides what is below it.

    So now that you’ve moved your beach layer above your palm tree layer, it’s time to apply the mask. There are two different ways you can do this. Either way works the same, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

    The first method is to right-click on the beach layer and choose Create Clipping Mask. You’ll notice that the beach layer is now indented with a little arrow pointing down to the layer that is masking it:

    layers21 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    The other method to creating a Clipping Mask is a little different. You drag your background layer above the mask layer as before, but instead of right-clicking and choosing Create Clipping Mask, you’re going to hold down the Alt key and move your cursor in-between the two layers. The cursor will change into an icon that looks like two little circles:

    clipping icon Clipping Mask Tutorial

    Just click once while the cursor has that icon and it will create the mask the same way the other method did. Again, you’ll see the beach layer indented with the arrow pointing to the mask layer.

    You should also notice that your beach has now disappeared and only the portion where the palm tree is can be seen. Congratulations! You’ve just created a Clipping Mask.

    At this point you may want to use the Move tool and move the palm tree around to your liking. I opted to put it towards the left side of the image so that you can just see the sunset peeking through the right edge. I want to be able to add text later on and I don’t want it to look too crowded. It’s purely a matter of taste, though.

    No matter which method you used to create the Clipping Mask, by now you should have an image that has a palm tree clipping mask that your beach layer can be seen through. The hard part is over, but we still have a little tidying up to do.

    4. Text Layer and Finishing Touches

    Right now your image has a large portion that is transparent. In order to complete the “postcard” look like in my example, just add a new layer (Layer->New->Layer or just click on the New Layer button in the Layers palette), and fill it with white. Then drag it all the way down to the bottom of your layers. Now you end up with something that looks like this:

    merged layers 300x225 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    It’s looking pretty good at this point. The last thing we need to do is add our text. Simply click on the text tool, choose a font that is appropriate for your image (I chose Gill Sans Ultra Bold Condensed at 48pt size), and drop in your text. After that, position the text where you want it, drag the text layer all the way to the top, and you’re done! I like to flatten the image (Layer->Flatten Image) when I’m satisfied with it and I know I’m not going to be making any more changes to it. This is the final image that we ended up with:

    postcard 300x225 Clipping Mask Tutorial

    I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. As you can see there are some cool effects that you can achive with the Clipping Mask feature of Photoshop. Keep in mind that you don’t have to use an image for the mask. You can even convert a text layer into one! Experiment on your own and see what you can come up with.

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    Ever see those cool avatars that people have on different message boards, myspace profiles, etc. and wonder how they make them? Well today I’m going to show you how with a photoshop tutorial that I had written a while back. I originally wrote this for Photoshop CS, but it still translates well for newer versions. This is what we’re going to be creating today:

    chosen one icon Photoshop Tutorial

    So without any further delay, let’s get to it!

    1. The Screencap

    The first step you’re going to take is to get the screencap. What I did was download the trailer and just cap it off of that. So basically we start with this:

    screencap small Photoshop Tutorial

    Here is the original screencap if you’d like to follow along. (Right-click and Save As)

    Now obviously your icon can’t be that big, so what I like to do at this step is to crop (croptool Photoshop Tutorial) the part of the image that I’m going to use:

    crop1 Photoshop Tutorial

    A tip that I find very useful is to hold down shift when you’re dragging the box around what you want to crop. By doing this you’re making sure that the crop selection is always a perfect square, and being that we’re shooting for a 100×100 icon, it’s easier to work with a square to start off with.

    At this point I like to resize the image to 100×100 so that I can get an idea of what it will look like when it’s finished. Other people like to work with it at a larger size and then resize it down. It’s really up to personal preference and what you’re doing to it. For our purposes though, we’ll resize it. Now the image should look like this:

    base Photoshop Tutorial

    Now that we have our base, it’s time to start making it into a cool icon!

    2. The Layers

    The first thing I did at this point was to rename the first layer to “base” so that I know what it is. I then copied that layer and sharpened it twice (Filter->Sharpen->Sharpen, then do it again or you can just hit Control-F). So now our layers look like this:

    layers Photoshop Tutorial

    I thought the icon was a bit dark, but I didn’t want to over do it, so what I did next was create a new layer, filled it with a pinkish color (#F8B5B6), and set it to Soft Light:

    layers2 Photoshop Tutorial

    What I ended up with looked like this:

    step2 Photoshop Tutorial

    It’s getting there, but it still needs a little something. I decided to make a funky art deco border brush (Right-click and Save As) to kind of frame out Obi-Wan’s face a little. The brush I made is 100×100 and looks like this:

    brush Photoshop Tutorial

    So what I did was create another layer above the others and using the eyedropper tool (eyedroptool Photoshop Tutorial), chose an orangish color from the image (#ED6247). Then I selected the new layer and clicked once to drop in the border. The border has a long vertical stripe along the right edge and it covered up too much of Obi-Wan’s face, so what I did was flip it (Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal) to get it to look right. I then lowered the Opacity of the layer to 53% and kept it as Normal. So our new layers should look like this:

    layers3 Photoshop Tutorial

    and the icon now looks like this:

    border Photoshop Tutorial

    Now it’s starting to look pretty good! It still needs text though, so that’s the part we move on to next.

    3. The Text

    For the text, I sometimes find it easier to make it in a separate image and define it as a brush. Going through the steps to make the brush is beyond the scope of this tutorial, so I’ll just give you a link (Right-click and Save As) to the brush I made so you can use it too. The basic steps I used to make it were to make three separate layers and using the font Baskerville Old Face, put in the “You were the” in 7 point size on one layer, the “Chosen One” in 12 point on another layer, and draw a line using the line tool on the third layer. Then choose Edit->Define Brush Preset, and you’re done! Okay, just grab the dang brush that I linked you to icon wink Photoshop Tutorial Anywho, back to the text in the icon. Create a new layer on top of all the rest to put our text into. Then again using the eyedropper tool (eyedroptool Photoshop Tutorial, I picked an orangish color for my text (#E34B3D). I then clicked towards the top of the image to drop in the text (don’t forget to load that brush). That layer should look like this:

    text Photoshop Tutorial

    The text looks good, but because it’s an orangish color it wasn’t as clear as I wanted it to be against the rest of the image. To fix this, the next thing I did was add a Drop Shadow layer style to that layer. I fiddled around with the settings and ended up with this:

    dropshadow 300x222 Photoshop Tutorial

    As you can see the Blending Mode is set to Multiply and the color I used I grabbed from the shadows to Obi-Wan’s  right (#451513). I also tooled around with the Distance, Spread, and Size to get the settings in the example. The only advice I could give you on the settings is to just preview it and play with it until you get it to a point that you like. The text at this point looks great, but now it’s a bit overpowering. So what I did was drop the Opacity of that layer to 75% and it looked perfect.

    Take a breath, because we’re just about done!

    4. The Finishing Touches

    The only thing left at this point is to get it ready for the web. We have already resized it down to an icon-friendly 100×100, so we can skip that step. At this point all you have to do is go to Layers->Flatten Image to get it down to a single layer, and then go to File->Save For Web. I chose full quality jpg for my settings, and we’re done! Once again, this is what the final icon looks like:

    chosen one icon Photoshop Tutorial


    That’s all there is to it. I hope this tutorial was clear enough to understand and follow along. Feel free to use the icon if you like. Here (Right-click and Save As) is a link to the final PSD file for you to play around with. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to try and help you. Thanks!

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