Drawing Paths

The Pen tool holds terrors for many people and that, unfortunately, deprives them of a very useful tool for creating precise paths that can be turned into shapes, selections, and masks. There is only one way to lose the fear and gain confidence: Practice using the tool for 10-15 minutes a day. With a little perseverance, you should be able to produce useable paths within a week, if not the first day.

Briefly, paths are made up of mathematically defined straight lines, curves, corner points, and cusps. Each end of a straight line, also called a segment, ends in an anchor point, and each end of a curve ends in a cusp. When a curved segment is selected, the anchor points display direction lines that end in direction points. Moving the direction points changes the curve's tangent (Figure 10-1).

in this chapter

O Creating and saving paths

O Moving, transforming, and stroking paths

O Creating and editing shapes

O Examining brush shape dynamics

O Painting dotted lines

O Painting quick hacks

Figure 10-1: A—Anchor point. B—Curve. C—Direction point. D—Direction line. E—Cusp or Smooth point. F—Corner point.

Curves can end in a smooth point or a corner point. Smooth points are used to conjoin two curves whose arc forms a circular path or traverse in obverse directions; the letters C and S, respectively, are good examples. Corner points are used to conjoin two curves whose arcs form an obtuse angle; the letter B is a good example (Figure 10-1). Smooth points can be converted into corner points, and vice versa, using the Convert Point tool (hidden under the Pen tool).

Paths can be open ended or closed. For example, a circular path is a closed path whereas a straight line is open at either end (Figure 10-2).

To get a feel for drawing paths, start by drawing straight lines. To do so, select the Pen tool (P), make sure that its option is set to Paths in the options bar (hover over the buttons and hold the pointer still to see their functions), click once, lift and move the pointer to another location, and click again. You have just drawn an open-ended path segment. To close a path, click the first anchor point. This is very similar to closing a selection.

If you make a mistake, you can delete the last anchor point by using Undo, or delete any anchor point by using the very appropriately named Delete Anchor Point tool.

When you draw a new segment, Photoshop creates a work path in the Paths palette behind the scenes and, as long as the work path is active, all new segments are added to it and become one path. To avoid confusion while practicing, save the work path by double-clicking it. This way, when you draw a new path, Photoshop will create a new work path if none is active. You can activate each work path one at a time to see your progression.

Figure 10-2: A—Closed path. B—Unselected anchor point. C—Open-ended path. D—Selected anchor point.

Next, try something more ambitious, such as a curve. Try drawing an S-shaped path, either a standing-up S or one lying on its side. To draw a standing-up S shape (refer to Figure 10-1), take the following steps:

1. Select the Pen tool and make sure that its options are set to draw paths, not shape layers, by clicking the second icon in the options bar.

2. Drag out a vertical guide from a Ruler (R).

3. Click the guide about a quarter of the way down and drag to the left in a straight line.

4. Click the guide halfway down and drag in a straight line to the right. When you see an even arc, stop.

5. Click the guide three quarters of the way down and drag in a straight line to the left. Stop when you see an even arc.

You have just drawn an open-ended, obverse arc containing two end points and a smooth anchor point in the middle, or, in layman's language, an S-shaped path. To manipulate the path, press Ctrl (Windows), ^ (Mac OS) to temporarily access the Direct Selection tool; then, drag on the direction points. Click the anchor points to access both direction lines.

You can move the direction lines independently of each other by pressing Alt (Windows), Opt (Mac OS) and then dragging the direction points. This effectively changes the smooth point to a corner point. When you now drag on the direction points, the direction lines should move independently of each other and influence only the arc below or above the anchor point.

To draw a path that requires corner points, after drawing a curve, press Alt (Windows), Opt (Mac OS) to temporarily access the Corner Point tool and click the anchor point (refer to Figure 10-1). Then continue drawing the path.

TIP One of the best ways to practice creating paths is by tracing the alphabet. For example, create a new document, view at 100% magnification, select the Type tool, choose a chunky font without serifs, such as Impact, type the letter A, resize until it fills the document window, and then trace with the Pen tool. Next, do the same to the letter B, and so forth. In no time at all, you will wonder why you were ever afraid of the Pen tool.

Here are a few pointers to bear in mind when drawing paths. They might just make that learning curve a little less steep.

■ Previewing Path Segments. The Pen tool has an option that lets you preview a path segment before you put down the next anchor point. It can be a help or a hindrance, depending on your ability to previsualize. To enable it, click the downward pointing triangle next to the Custom Shape button on the options bar and select Rubber Band.

■ Automatically Adding/Deleting Anchor Points. By enabling Auto Add/Delete on the options bar when you're drawing paths with the Pen tool, you can save yourself some time. When the option is enabled, you can add anchor points without having to select the Add/Delete Anchor Point pen tools. Simply hover over an active path segment and then click to add an anchor point, or hover over an anchor point and then click to delete it (the tool icon changes as you hover over path segments and anchor points). You can temporarily disable the option at any time by pressing Shift.

■ Picking Up a Path from where You Left Off. If you accidentally close a path before you've finished, when you click again you will start a new path. To pick up where you left off or to add a segment to a saved path, click in the last drawn anchor point and then continue drawing (Figure 10-3). The new segment will be conjoined to the old.

Figure 10-3: Picking up a path by clicking inside an anchor point.
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