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Covers: Use of pen tool, creating layers, adding layer styles.
Software: Adobe Photoshop 9 CS2
Hardware: Wacom tablet
User Level: Beginner
Forum Thread: Here


In this tutorial I am going to explain how I use the pen tool to cut out images from screenshots to make impressive looking images for use in banners, logos or just for fun.

I have struggled in the past with the lasso tool, magic wand tool and even the eraser to cut out sections of an image from its background. Since discovering the correct use of the pen tool tasks have become much easier and much quicker. Hopefully after this tutorial you will benefit from it too.

Let's begin...

First of all you are going to need an image to work with. The image I have chosen to work with is a screen capture of an M113 APC from VBS1. For this tutorial you can use an image of your own choosing or the one provided below. To use the image below (recommended) just right click on it and `Save As..`

With Photoshop open and the selected image in your work space and we can begin.

First of all you need to select the Pen tool:

With the Pen tool selected click on Paths:

Using the pen tool offers two different methods of cutting out a selected area. To keep it simple and not bore you with too many details, one method draws a straight line between two anchor points and the second method creates a curved line between the two anchor points.

Method 1

Select a point on your image where you want to start tracing and left-click once and release, this will place an anchor point where you clicked:

By placing more anchor points around the image you will see a line being traced around it:

Obviously, you will already see that the more anchor points you place the more precise the cut will be.

If you make a mistake and mis-place an anchor point dont worry - By holding down the CTRL key and left clicking the mouse button you can move the anchor point to the correct position. If you wish to delete an anchor point simply right click over the anchor point you want to remove and select `Delete Anchor Point`.

If you wish to place anchor points at 45 degree angles use the SHIFT key when placing.

Method 2

In method 1 when you initially click (and release) in your image you create an anchor point, method 2 differs slightly in that when you click to add your anchor point you keep the mouse button depressed and drag to create direction points:

You should drag the direction point the way you want the curve to go, this method will take a little practice to master but does give better results.

You can see from the image below that by placing only 5 anchor points and using direction points I could cut out a full wheel:

...Another method?

Well, not exactly but its a combination of the two. By using method 1 and placing anchor points around your image, you can then go back and create curved lines between the points.

Here you can see I have placed 14 anchor points around some external equipment on the top of the vehicle:

You can see that cutting this out would leave it looking very rough, well lets fix it.

Select the Convert Anchor Point tool:

Click on an anchor point and drag away from it to create a curve, you can then use the control handles to manipulate the shape of the curve.

Here is the same image with the anchor points edited to allow curves:

You can see its alot rounder (although I didnt use the best example images)

Heres what the cut out looks like before and after the Convert Anchor Point tool was used:

So there you have various ways of using the Pen Tool, but you still need to know what to do once you have traced your image.

Using whatever method suits you best, continue to place anchor points all the way around the vehicle until you meet the first anchor point you placed:

To end the tracing and finalise the selection right-click somewhere on your image and choose `Make Selection..`

By choosing `Make selection..` you will be presented with a window of options, Just click OK

(I wont go into the options in this tutorial but feel free to experiment with the feather radius etc.)

You will now see `marching ants`around the vehicle indicating you have made a selection:

You can now do a wide range of things with the selection but for this tutorial we are simply going to place it on a white background and add some simple shadow.

Invert the selection by pressing SHIFT+CTRL+I, you will now see that the `marching ants` are no longer around your vehicle but they are now around the background - that is what we want. Press the DELETE key and the selected background should disappear:

The image looks great as it is just being placed on a white background, but for this tutorial we will show you how to make a layer from the image and add some simple shadow.

You should still have your background selected, if not dont worry we will do this now,

Select the Magic Wand:

Click anywhere in the white background part of the image, you will see the `marching ants` are once again surrounding your white background.

Press SHIFT+CTRL+I to inverse your selection, you will see your vehicle is now selected by the `marching ants`.

Copy the selection by pressing CTRL+C then Paste it again by pressing CTRL+V, you should now see you have created a new layer (Layer 1) in your layers palette:

Right-click on `Layer 1`and choose `Blending Options..` from the menu, this will present you with the Layer Styles window.

Click the `Drop Shadow` box and set the Opacity, Angle, Distance, Spread and Size as they are in the image above.

As I said this is a very quick and simple way of adding shadow, feel free to play with these setting and see what effects you can achieve.

You will notice In the tutorial that I didnt cut out the antenna from the vehicle, if you wish this could be added by using the wide range of tools Photoshop offers.

Here is my final result..

I thought the image was a bit too bright so I opened up the Hue/Saturation window (CTRL+U) and dropped the saturation level down to -40.

Not a bad final result for 5 minutes work, other methods would have ceratainly taken me longer.

If you have any questions or comments on this tutorial or if you simply want to show off your final result, you can do so in THIS THREAD on the forums [registration is required to comment - its free]

- JB™

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