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One of the handiest features in Photoshop is the ability to make a path. Paths give us several capabilities that we normally wouldn’t have with any other method. There are plenty of practical uses for paths in Photoshop, and they are an essential part of any designer’s arsenal.

Mask Out Objects for Publishing Software

One of the most important things that you can do with a path is determine exactly what is masked out of an image when working with Quark or InDesign. Many times, we will import flat images with backgrounds that we don’t want or need. We simply want the object and nothing else. We could be adding a graphic to one of our designs and it might have a white background. The problem is that if we place this graphic over another image or a color other than white, the white background will show up, making our design unattractive.

Image-background.jpgThis image is a Cantex Reducer and belongs to Cantex

In Photoshop, you have 2 possible methods for creating a path around an object. You can use the marquee tools, Lasso Tools, or the Quick Selection Tools to make a selection of the image, or you can use the Pen tool to draw a path around an object. In the Paths Panel, double-click the work path, and you will have the option to save/name the path. Name it something that makes sense, and save the document itself. Then, when you bring it into Quark or InDesign, you can specify how you will clip the image. Choose Object> Clipping Path, and choose the embedded path at your option.

clipping002.jpgThis image is of the clipping path menu location and belongs to me.
point-to-path-03.jpgThis image is of the menu where you select the path and is mine.

Now, your image is cut away from its background, and you have nice, clean edges.

Image-with-background-removed004.jpgThis image is of the reducer with the background removed an is my screenshot.

The only problem with using the Selection Method is that it ends up creating a massive amount of anchor points that are unnecessary but when you create your own path, it can be much more precise. See the figure below.

Path-vs-Pentool-005.jpgThis image is of the comparison between 2 paths, and is mine

Make a Selection

A great tip with Photoshop is that when you have created a path around an object, you can go into the Paths Panel, right-click on the flyout menu, and choose “Make Selection”. This will take the path that you have created and convert it to an active selection. The great thing about paths and selections are that you can convert them back and forth, so you can make a path a selection and a selection a path.

flyout-menu-Selection.jpgThis image is of the flyout menu where you turn a path into a selection and is mine

Import Illustrator Artwork As Paths

You can create your artwork in illustrator, if you are more comfortable creating shapes in Illustrator, and when you have your artwork setup how you like it, you can hit Command/Ctrl + C to copy.

rings-ai-007.jpg
rings-selected-ai-008.jpgThese 2 images are of overlapping ring shapes in illustrator and are mine.

Then switch over to Photoshop and hit Command/Ctrl + V to paste, but Photoshop will ask you how you would like to import your artwork. You have 3 options: A Smart Object, Paths, or Pixels. If you choose paths, you can manipulate the paths just like you would any other path.

rings-pasted-ps-009.jpgThis image is of the menu that pops up when you path from Illustrator into Photoshop and is mine

Also, if the artwork you have imported from Illustrator is made up of a lot of separate paths, Photoshop will translate those instantly. Anything that is a segment in Illustrator converts to its own separate path in Photoshop.

rings-ps-paths-010.jpgThis image is of the ring paths as they look in Photoshop

Modify Type in a Controlled Manner

You can convert type to a shape, which is essentially made up of editable paths. This is a great way to create custom typography, because you have a great level of control over every detail. You can edit and add to the path and precisely manipulate the type however you wish. You can add anchor points, remove them, convert sharp points to rounded ones and you can use Bezier points to bend and round out areas of your shape.

Type-Shape-Edited.jpgThis image is of Garamond type that has been converted to a shape and then altered and is mine.

Create Vector Masks

Vector masks are more desirable than raster masks, because they will stay sharp even when scaled up. You can scale them and manipulate them precisely, which gives you an advantage over raster masks. You can also control the density of your masks and blur them, even though they are vectors, and you can do all of this inside of Photoshop.

Conclusion

Knowing paths and how to use them in your workflow really makes your life as a designer much easier. You can create crisp graphics, import shapes from Illustrator, and you can even create scalable masks with them. They are an essential part of any designer’s bag of tricks. They save you time and give you much more control than the Lasso or Marquee Tools.