A closer took at the Paths palette

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Paths are saved, duplicated, converted, stroked, filled, and deleted via the Paths palette (which, like all palettes, you can show and hide through the Window menu). You can even create a path from a selection by using the Paths palette. Without the Paths palette, your paths have no meaning or future and probably won't get into a good college.

Pick a path, any path

The Paths palette can hold as many paths as you could possibly want to add to your artwork. You can also see the six buttons across the bottom of the palette that you use to quickly and easily work with your paths. You can classify paths in the five different ways shown in Figure 11-17.

You might not use them all, but it's good to know the five types of paths:

I Clipping path: Clipping paths are used primarily with page layout programs, such as Adobe PageMaker and QuarkXPress. Much like how a shape layer's vector path determines what parts of the layer are visible, a clipping path identifies what part of the image as a whole is visible. You won't need a clipping path when you work with Adobe InDesign — simply create your image on a transparent background and place that Photoshop file into an InDesign document. To create a clipping path, first make your path, give it a name in the Paths palette (to save it), and then use the Paths palette menu command Clipping Path (as shown in Figure 11-18).

Figure 11-16: Tracing a uniformly colored object is a great job for the Freeform Pen using the Magnetic option.
Figure 11-17: The Paths palette is your key to organizing and controlling vectors in your artwork.

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Figure 11-18: Use the Clipping Mask command to create a clipping mask from a path.

l Work path: As you create a path, Photoshop generates a temporary work path. Unless you save your path, it is deleted as soon as you start to create another path or when you close the file. To save a work path, simply double-click the name field in the Paths palette and type a new name.

I Saved path: Much like working in the Layers palette, you can doubleclick the name of any path and rename it in the Paths palette. (You must rename a work path in order to save the path for later use.) After you give the path a name, it's safe from accidental deletion.

I Shape layer path: When a shape layer is active in the Layers palette, its vector mask path is visible in the Paths palette. If you want to customize a shape layer's path, you need to make the layer active first. When a shape layer path is visible, you can drag it to the New Path button at the bottom of the palette to create a duplicate. (It's the second button from the right.)

l Vector mask: When a regular layer has a vector mask assigned and that layer is visible in the Layers palette, the layer's mask path is visible in the Paths palette.

When creating a clipping path, leave the Flatness field (refer to Figure 11-18) completely empty unless your print shop specifically instructs you to use a specific value. The Flatness value overrides the output device's native setting for reproducing curves. Using the wrong value can lead to disastrous (and expensive!) mistakes.

To activate a path in the Paths palette, click it. You can then see (and edit) the path in the image window. With the exception of shape layer and vector mask paths, the paths in the Paths palette are independent of any layer. You could create a path with the Background layer active, and then later use that path as the basis for some artwork on, for example, Layer 3.

The Paths palette buttons

The six buttons across the bottom of the Paths palette (refer to Figure 11-17) do more than just simple palette housekeeping. Use them to create artwork from a path and to convert back and forth between paths and selections.

i Fill Path: Click a path in the Paths palette and then use this button to fill the area inside the path with the foreground color. If you fill an open path (a path with two distinct endpoints), Photoshop pretends that there's a straight path segment between the endpoints. The fill is added to the active layer in the Layers palette. If a shape layer or a type layer is selected in the Layers palette, the Fill Path button is not available. You can see a filled path in Figure 11-19.

Figure 11-19: Think about whether you want to stroke first (left) or fill first (right).

Figure 11-19: Think about whether you want to stroke first (left) or fill first (right).

i Stroke Path: Click a path in the Paths palette and then use this button to add a band of the foreground color along the course of the path. Most often, you can think of it as painting the path itself with the Brush tool. If you have a different brush-using tool active in the Toolbox (Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, Dodge, Burn, Eraser, and so on), the path is stroked with that tool. Like a fill, a stroke is added to the currently active layer in the Layers palette. You can't stroke a shape layer path. You can, however, duplicate such a path and stroke the copy on another layer. Take a look at Figure 11-19 to see how stroking and filling differ.

i Selection from Path: When you have a path selected in the Paths palette, you click this button, and voila! An instant — and very precise — selection is at your disposal. You can create a selection from any path. If you want to add feathering to the selection, use the Paths palette menu command Make Selection rather than clicking the Selection from Path button.

i Path from Selection: You can create a work path from any selection simply by clicking this button. If the path isn't as accurate as you'd like, or if it's too complex because it's trying to follow the corner of every pixel, use the Paths palette menu command Make Work Path and adjust the Tolerance setting to suit your needs.

i Create New Path: You use this button primarily to duplicate an existing path. Drag any path to the button, and a copy is instantly available in the Paths palette. When you click this button, you're not creating (or replacing) a work path but rather starting a new saved path.

i Delete Path: Drag a path to the Delete Path button, or click the path and then click the button. Either way, the path is eliminated from the palette and from your artwork.

The order in which you stroke and fill a path can make a huge difference in the appearance of your artwork. The stroke is centered on the path, half inside and half outside. The fill extends throughout the interior of the path. If you stroke a path and then add a fill, the fill covers that part of your stroke that's inside the path. As you can see in Figure 11-19, that's not always a bad thing. (Both paths are visible for comparison purposes — normally only one path is active at a time.)

Keep in mind that Photoshop doesn't really create vector objects. If you stroke or fill a path and then edit the path itself, the stroke and fill don't move with the path — they stay right where they are, as pixels on a layer. If you're used to working with vectors in Illustrator, this can be a nasty surprise.

Sometimes the easiest and fastest way to create a complex path is to make a selection and convert the selection to a path. You might, for example, click once with the Magic Wand, and then click the Selection from Path button at the bottom of the Paths palette. Remember to rename the path to save it!

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