Clicking and dragging your Way down the path of knowledge

All that theory about how paths work is fine, but you'll get a better understanding by playing around with the Pen tool. Open a new document (any size, resolution, and color mode will do) and select the Pen tool. On the Options bar, click the middle of the three buttons to the left (as shown in Figure 11-13) so that the tool creates work paths rather than shape layers, and then start clicking around. Randomly click in various places in the image, adding new straight path segments as you go.

Figure 11-13: Select the left button to create a shape layer, the middle button to create a work path.

Use the middle of the three buttons to the left in the Options bar when you want to create a path. Use the left-most of the three buttons when you need a shape layer. The button on the right, for adding pixels to the current layer, is used only with shape tools.

I'm sure Picasso would be proud, but it's time to let go of your new artwork and move on — press Delete (Mac) or Backspace (Windows) twice. The first time deletes the most recent anchor point; the second time deletes the rest of the path.

Now, in that same canvas, start click-dragging to create curved path segments. Watch how the distance and direction in which you drag controls the segment's curve. Just because it's fun, try a click-drag and, with the mouse button held down, move the mouse around and around in a circle. "Path Jump Rope!" Press Delete/Backspace twice to delete the path.

Now, to get a feel for how to control your curved path segments, try this:

1. Choose FileONew to open a new document.

2. Choose 800 x 600 from the Presets pop-up menu.

A reasonable size to work with, it should fit on your screen at 100% zoom.

3. Show the Grid.

Press (apostrophe; Mac) or Ctrl+' (apostrophe; Windows) to show the Grid in the image. The Grid makes it easier to control the Pen tool as you drag. You can also show the Grid with the menu command ViewOShowOGrid.

4. Select the Pen tool in the Toolbox.

5. Click and click-drag as shown in Figure 11-14.

Don't worry about precision — you won't be creating a work of art this time. Click on the dots; where you see a dashed line, click-drag in that direction for approximately that distance.

Figure 11-14: You don't need to be precise; just more or less follow the four patterns.

You've just created four of the more useful scallops and curve sets! These sorts of paths can be used in a variety of ways, including stroking, filling, and creating selections (all of which I discuss later in this chapter) to create decorative borders and artistic elements in your images.

You should know about a couple of other features of the Pen tool before you move on. With the Pen tool active, take a look at the Options bar (or look at Figure 11-15, which shows the Options bar).

Figure 11-15: The Pen tool has a couple of tricks up its sleeve!

Figure 11-15: The Pen tool has a couple of tricks up its sleeve!

When you have the Freeform Pen option selected in the Options Bar, you click and drag around your image, creating a path as you go. It's much like painting with the Brush tool or drawing lines with the Pencil tool — wherever you drag the tool, the path is created.

The Freeform Pen offers the Magnetic option, too. When you need to make a path (or selection) around the outside of something of uniform color in your image, using the Magnetic option forces the path to look for and follow edges. Take a look at Figure 11-16, which shows an example of an appropriate use for the Freeform Pen and the Magnetic option.

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