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Create sharp-edged vector masks for better edits in Photoshop

Added on Monday 1st of November 2010 03:54 am EST
 

Application:

Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

 

Although Photoshop is a powerful application, it can be difficult to use raster masks for flexible clean-edged image editing. However, by using Photoshop’s paths and vector masks, you can easily edit just the image areas you want for excellent results. 

 

To demonstrate how to create and work with a vector mask, we’ll:

     Discuss the differences between vector and raster masks to understand the advantages of using vector masks.

     Open an example and create a vector mask to demonstrate how to draw one.

     Use the vector mask to apply an effect to a layer to show its effectiveness.

 

 

 

Masks are great aids in editing photo images and artwork because they allow you to work on or edit specific areas of an image. A mask isolates an area of an image by protecting it from editing. There are two types of masks you can produce in Photoshop: layer masks and vector masks. Layer masks are made with raster paint tools, and vector masks are made with vector path tools. Whenever you need to create a clean, sharp-edged shape for use as a mask, as shown in Figure A, a vector mask is the one to use. Let’s begin with a short discussion about vector masks and then open an example and create a vector mask.

 

 

A

 

Why choose vector masks?

Vector masks are defined using a path. Paths in Photoshop are created in a variety of ways by using one of the shape tools, the Pen tool, or a selection tool. Not only do vector masks produce sharp-edged mask shapes, but they’re also resolution-independent and easily edited with the Pen and Path Components tools.

 

Open an image file

The simplest way to draw a vector mask is with one of the shape tools. To follow along using our example, download the file mug.zip from the URL given at the beginning of this article, and extract the file mug.tif. (Images provided by Jim Whitcomb.)

 

To draw a vector mask:

1.       Launch Photoshop and open the file mug.tif, as shown in Figure B. To apply a vector mask to a layer, you must first unlock the Background layer.

2.      Double-click on the Background layer, and the New Layer dialog box appears.

3.      Enter Mug in the Name text box, and then click OK.

 

B

 

Create a vector path

You can create vector paths using a variety of tools. Since the shape tools create vector work paths without the need to connect all the points, let’s use one to quickly draw a path.

 

To use a shape tool to create a path:

1.       Select a shape tool, such as the Ellipse tool, from the Tools panel, and then click the Paths button on the tool Options bar.

2.      Drag an elliptical path, like the one shown in Figure C, on your image.

3.      Choose Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path to apply a vector mask in the shape of the ellipse that you just created, as shown in Figure D.

 

C

 

D

 

Photoshop adds a vector mask thumbnail to the Mug layer in the Layers panel, as shown in Figure E. If you wish at any time to disable the vector mask, Choose Layer > Vector Mask > Disable (or [shift]-click the mask thumbnail) and a red X appears across the vector mask thumbnail, as shown in Figure F. When you do this, the full image in the Mug layer appears again without the mask.

To enable the vector mask again choose Layer > Vector mask > Enable (or [shift]-click the mask thumbnail again) and the vector mask is restored. If you wish to remove the vector mask altogether, you can either:

        Select Layer > Vector Mask > Delete or,

        Select the vector mask thumbnail and drag it onto the Delete Layer button located at the base of the Layers panel.

When the Delete Vector Mask dialog box appears, click OK.