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13 Key Elements to Mastering Photoshop – Part 3

posted by Matt Ward on Aug 25, 2009.

In this third post in this series, we look at the final five elements of Photoshop that I feel you should know if you want to start mastering Photoshop. These include the Clone Stamp, filters, paths, text and blending modes.

This is the third and final post in a series outlining what I believe to be some of the most important elements than any Photoshop user needs to know if they want to begin mastering Photoshop. Part 1 of this series focused primarily on Layers and their related elements. In Part 2, we looked at brushes, selections, channels and blending modes. Today, we will be talking about the Clone Stamp, filters, paths, text and Smart Objects.

9. Clone Stamp

The Clone Stamp is one of those tools that may not seem all that important or useful when you first start using Photoshop, but don’t be deceived. It is an incredibly powerful tool which I have been using almost every day since I first took the time to really sit down and learn about it.

This tools is brush-based, meaning that you can select different brush heads and set all your brush properties in the same way that I outlined in my discussions of brushes in Part 2 of this series. You can even select different blending modes to control how the pixels interact with each other. However, with the Clone Stamp, you must first take a sample from your existing image. You can then paint that sample directly on to your canvas, essentially cloning the pixels.

The biggest use I have found for this is replicating textures. If I need a texture to cover a particular area, but don’t have enough pixels, I can often use the Clone Stamp to clone a portion of the texture and expand it’s overall area. It can also be used to work blemishes out of a texture, such as knots in wood.

10. Filters

Unlike the Clone Stamp, I think that filters are probably one of the very first things that a lot of Photoshoppers learn when they are first introduced to the program. This is probably because they allow you achieve dramatic effects quickly and easily. Adding a lens flare is as easy as running the filter, placing the flare and adjusting a few properties.

You can also filter out noise, blur and sharpen an image, add lighting effects and create a variety of distortions and artistic effects. With the amount of control offered with the many of the filters, they do offer a great deal of versatility, and it is worth working through the different filters and learning how to use them.

A couple things to note, though. While all of the filters are available in RGB mode, this is not the case in the other colour modes. With both CMYK and LAB modes, about half of the filters become unavailable. The same is true of Multichannel. In Greyscale mode, only a few filters are unavailable, but Indexed mode, none of the filters are available.

The other thing to keep in mind is that very rarely does a single filter constitute a finished design. They may have dramatic effects, but they should only ever be considered a single tool in Photoshop’s wide arsenal.

11. Paths

Yes, the Photoshop is blurring the lines between the worlds of raster graphics and vector graphics, by including the ability to create and manipulate paths. This helps bring many of the benefits of vector-based artwork directly into Photoshop. You can now create paths and shapes that are fully editable and scalable.

The easiest way to make simple paths is with the various shape tools – the Rectangle Tool, Ellipse Tool and Polygon Tool, for example. Go ahead and give it a shot. What you will immediately find is that Photoshop does not create a path in the same way that a true vector program like Illustrator would. In Illustrator, the shape would exist as its own entity, with its own fill and stroke colours. In Photoshop, what you get is a solid colour Fill Layer, masked off by a Vector Mask (similar to a Layer Mask, but path-based rather than pixel-based).

Paths are actually maintained separately from your layers, and interact with the raster parts of your document primarily through Vector Masks, or by making path-based selections. This helps to maintain a clear distinction between paths and pixels, while making paths available for generating selections.

You can also create your own paths using the Pen Tool, which is one of the several different methods that exist for extracting an object from its background. If an object in a raster images has nice clean lines, you can use the Pen Tool to trace around it, creating a new path based on those outlines. You can then use that path to creating a selection for extraction, or to apply a vector mask to simply block out the background.

So, though it may seem odd to have Paths in Photoshop, they are an incredibly useful tool that you should take the time to learn about.

12. Text

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about text, but it is an important feature. Fortunately, unlike some older imaging software that I have used, Photoshop renders text as text, not as a collection of pixels based on text. This means that when you add a text layer, it remains fully editable,  and renders smoothly no matter how much you scale it up or down.

Photoshop also has options for setting the leading, tracking and kerning of your text, along with the indents and hyphenation of paragraph text, all of which adds a great deal of flexibility.

Of course, Photoshop is no replacement for a proper layout application like InDesign, which really allows you to fine tune your text. That being said, however, there will be surely be times where you will need to add some basic text elements in Photoshop, and getting to know your way around the program’s various text options will allow you to make your text look as great as the rest of your design.

13. Smart Objects

Last, but certainly not least, we have Smart Objects. If you are not working with Smart Objects already, you should be. They are the height of non-destructive editing and manipulation, not to mention cross-application integration. They might also be my absolute favorite element of Photoshop.

Basically, as Smart Object is a document within a document. Keeping within the scope of Photoshop itself, we can think of a smart object as a sub-document within your existing document. This sub-document is contained and displayed within a single layer, and in many ways functions just like a layer. However, they have a few extra features:

First, Smart Layers are scalable. You can shrink the contents of smart layer down and then increase it size again with absolutely no loss in quality. This is because when you shrink it, you are shrinking the space in which Photoshop displays your sub-document. You are in no way changing the original pixels themselves.

Second, Smart Objects are interconnected. If you duplicate a Smart Object within the same document, you are basically creating another link to the same sub-document. If you then open the document through either the original layer or the duplicate layer, any changes you make will be reflected in both layers. This can actually be a super useful feature, but it is important to remember if you are trying to create a new, separate Smart Object. To do this, right click your original Smart Object and select New Smart Object via Copy.

Third, Smart Objects can make use of these wonderful things called Smart Filters. Smart Filters are basically just like normal filters, as we discussed above, with the added benefit of being non-destructive. They are applied the same way as any other filter. The Smart Object will automatically convert them to Smart Filters, which can be saved, modified, deleted and even masked out using a Layer Mask! You can also apply multiple filters to the same Smart Object, stack them and reorder them. Needless to say, this provides enormous flexibility and editability when using filters.

Really, these three things alone are enough to make Smart Objects an absolutely incredible aspect of Photoshop. But there’s more. Smart Objects can also contain vector data. This means that you can create a vector image and import it directly into Photoshop as a Smart Object, allowing you to resize it and apply filters at will. You can also edit these Smart Objects, which will flip you over to Illustrator, then save them and see your changes immediately reflected in Photoshop.

And as if all that was not enough, you can use RAW camera files as Smart Objects too, with many of the same advantages. RAW Smart Objects allow you to save all the original shot information and the access and modify it via Adobe Camera RAW at any point. Again, this is incredibly useful for designers who use a lot of their own photographs.

If you get nothing from the previous 12 elements, I hope you get this one. Smart Objects are invaluable. Learn to use them effectively, and it will save you both time and aggravation. I promise.

So there you have it. Over Part 1, Part 2, and this Part 3 of this series, we have looked at what I think are 13 elements that any Photoshopper should know if they want to start mastering this incredibly complex program. There are other elements, of course – such as the Healing Tool, various transformations, gradients, the Blur, Smudge and Sharpen tools, and many of the newer 3D features – but if you can master these 13 elements, you should be well on your way to unleashing the power of Photoshop.

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

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About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Jun 16, 2010

clippingimages says:

Nice tips man…real handy for all…thanks for sharing

Sep 12, 2011

Pham Tu says:

Thanks man!

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