Digital Digest
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  • Basics you MUST Learn!
  • Toolbar Basics
  • Selections (pt 1-4)
  • Layers, Layers, Layers!
  • Using Filters
  • Drawing Lines & Shapes
  • General Basics
  • Setting Colour & Resolution
  • Preferences
  • Using Text
  • Resizing & Distorting
  • Adjustment Layers
  • Using Channels & Masks
  • Advanced Techniques
  • Colour Correction
  • Photographic Retouch etc...
  • Art & Design Theory
  • Colour & Harmony Theory
  • Light, Shadow & Texture
  • Perspective
  • Drawing Technique
  • Glossary
  • Glossary

    Adobe Toolbar Basics

    If you've just started Adobe Photoshop for the first time you will be presented with this rather scary screen below. It has many switches, lights and knobs and probably appears quite bewildering! Others of you who have used quite complex art or graphics packages before may actually feel the opposite and that it looks overly simple and in fact doesn't even look like it could do all that much at all. Don't be mislead, Photoshop's controls are highly streamlined so that it appears to be quite childish when in fact it's designed for professionals. The powerful tools are tucked away while the simple ones are a buttons click away.

    Note: It helps if you have Photoshop open while reading any of my articles, then you can switch screens and try things as I explain them.

    As I always joke to people, if everything else fails, read the manual! I say this because I never read the manual unless I absolutely have to! No one wants to read through a huge manual. Manuals are designed to be very thorough and tend to be very boring and unhelpful. The best way to get started is to play about with the controls! This is how everyone I know ever got started with Photoshop. It would be hard to totally mess things up by playing with the controls and most of them have an option to restore the default settings - so have a go!

    The following information is a basic tour that should help you get a rough idea of what everything does. For now I will not add any big details because I think its more important at this stage for you to get a feel for the work environment. Again don't be afraid to play about with the controls.


    The Menus

    As with every Windows program we have the drop-down menus at the top of the screen (shown in the picture below). Almost all of the options in these drop-down menus are designed to affect the whole picture in one shot!

    We have the options (from left to right):

    File: this menu contains all the options for opening pictures to edit in Photoshop. It has import options and scanner options and also the option to start a new picture. If you want to open a picture on your computer you can choose File > Open. And if you would like to draw a new picture you select File > New. You get the idea.

    Edit: this menu deals mainly with general editing functions such as cut, copy & paste. It also has options for resizing the picture, editing colour and filling in large areas of colour. In Photoshop many options you cannot use will be grayed out. This is because you usually have to do something else before you choose that particular option from the drop-down list.

    Image: this contains the main image manipulation options. These include the brightness and contrast correction tools, the levels, hue, saturation etc., and a whole bunch of other really advanced and complex options. It also contains options such as rotating and cropping the image. Don't worry, I will explain these more advanced options in more detail in other articles.

    Layer: we will spend much more time on layers later but suffice to know that layers can be imagined like the transparent plastic sheets (cell's) used to make cartoons. There is no animation, but an image can be built up from many of these plastic "layers". This is a very useful idea because you can do changes to your picture without affecting the original picture underneath!

    Select: In Photoshop it is possible to select only certain parts of a picture to edit and change using its selection tool (found in the tool box). I will deal extensively with using selections in another article, but for now all you need to know is that this drop-down menu offers additional options for use with those selections.

    Filter: this offers the option to use various special effects on the picture such as blur, sharpen, crystallize, distort and so on. There's usually not much to learn about using these filters, give them a try and see what effects you can get. If you want to undo what you have tried just go to: Edit > Undo or press CTRL+Z. Then you are free to try another filter.

    View: this is a less used menu; it deals with rulers, guides and lets you zoom out of the picture quite quickly.

    Window: this looks like lots of options but it actually lets you turn off or on all those floating windows (palettes) that are hanging around your screen. It just makes it easier to see your picture sometimes. Try them and you'll see what I mean.

    Help: help opens Adobe Photoshop's help files. You should also remember that if you hover your mouse pointer over any button or control in Photoshop and leave it for a second, a message will pop up telling you what it does. Like this:

    Notice how hovering over a button shows what it is supposed to do.


    The Main Tool Bar

    To the left you can see Photoshops main Tool Bar. This is where you select your drawing tools such as pencil, paintbrush, airbrush etc. To select a tool just left-click it's icon with the mouse button and try it on your picture.

    Notice also that some of the icons on this tool bar have a small arrow in their bottom right corner. This means it has additional options. If you left-click the mouse button and keep holding it down for a couple of seconds it will open a list of other options under the same tool. This can be seen in the picture below, holding down the pencil tool gives the options to swap to the paintbrush tool.

    So why didn't they have one icon for the pencil tool and one icon for the paintbrush tool then? Basically because its easier this way. The pencil tool and the paintbrush are so similar that putting them in separate boxes would just make the toolbox larger and more confusing. It's logical that tools with similar functions should be bundled up together under the same icon. To illustrate further the marquee tool is used to select area's of the picture for editing. Holding down the marquee tool brings out the option for a rectangular marquee, elliptical marquee, single row marquee and single column marquee tool. Its obvious that all these options belong to the same family of marquee tools. So by bundling them together in this way makes them easier to find and makes the tool box more compact.



    Okay, enough of the waffle already, start drawing some stuff. Choose the airbrush tool (encircled in red below) and draw a few squiggly lines. Do the same with some of the other options. Don't worry if you don't understand a tool, just switch to the next, I will explain them all in more detail later.


    The Options Bar

    Choosing any tool, such as the airbrush or brush tools, and just painting on screen is fine, but it doesn't offer a lot of control you just click and draw. Did you notice that whenever you click on a tool a new set of options will appear on a bar across the top of the screen. An example of this is shown in the picture below:


    After selecting the Brush tool from the main tool box the Options Bar displays all the ways you can customize that brush. Looking at this example (from left to right) the Options Bar first shows the icon of the tool you have selected. Clicking on the picture will offer the option to restore the default original settings of either this tool or every tool. This is a lifesaver when you are first learning because it take away the fear of messing things up.

    Note: in previous versions of Adobe Photoshop this Options bar was actually a very small palette on the right of the screen called, strangely enough, "Options". Nevertheless it worked in exactly the same way as the new bar does. Since this Options palette / bar is one of the most used tools its only natural that it should have been made more prominent.

    The next, very important option, is the brush size option. For a pencil it will offer the pencil size, for the airbrush the spray size etc., you get the idea. Clicking on the arrow (left picture) brings down a list of ready made brush sizes. The ones with numbers under them have numbers to indicate their larger size. Double-clicking the left mouse button on the brush (right picture) lets you create a custom brush size.

    To make a custom brush is easy enough. Give it a name and choose the Diameter (size). There are a few additional options, such as Hardness which define how soft the edges of the brush will be and you can alter the roundness to make the brush oval shaped and rotate it by changing the angle. Just play with the controls and when you are done click the close icon in the top right. Once the brush is made it will be listed as a new brush in the other menu (left picture).

    Notice the difference between a hard brush (left squiggle) and a softer brush (right squiggle).



    Okay, back to the options bar again. The Mode option is something that is also usually there on every drawing tool. I do not want to clutter this article with explanations of what each mode does but suffice to say that choosing different mode options is like choosing to apply a certain special effect to the brush. For example, try choosing Dissolve and you will see a bitty spray effect when you paint with the brush. To go back to normal, choose the Normal option again.


    These Mode options are not just a bunch of fancy extras they can be very powerful tools for photo editing and painting so a little playing with them will pay off. I will explain how to use these in other articles. What each effect does is also explained in detail in the Photoshop user guide anyway.



    Now we come to a very, very important option - the Opacity setting!


    This options sets how strong the brush colour will be (Opacity means how transparent a colour is). At 100% it is solid colour at 50% it is semitransparent and at 1% its barely visible.

    Notice the difference between a brush with an opacity of 25% (left squiggle) and a brush with 100% opacity (right squiggle).



    The reason this option is so important is because when you start editing photos you will soon see that unless you start with a very low opacity the alterations you do will be too strong. Exact control over opacity is the key to good retouching with almost any tool. Before we move on its useful to note that the opacity option is called various names for different tools. For example, for the airbrush tool it is called pressure (air pressure of course).

    Finally a common option is the one found on the far right of the Options Bar - this is the Fade option.


    Clicking on it offers the ability to fade either the size of the brush, the pressure of the brush or the colour of the brush.

    This option is here to allow you to mimic the way a real brush would work. It doesn't need much more to explain. In the example below we have one line on the left with no brush fade on it and one on the right with a brush fade of 30 steps.

    All the options I have spoken about so far are some of the most common options you will come across on the options bar. Again I cannot stress enough that playing with the controls will help you get used to it quicker. Please remember that the options bar gives options to customize whatever tool you are using. The options will be different for most of the other tools. I would like to explain each and every tool but I think doing so would be confusing and counter productive. It is much better to learn how to use new tools by actually using them. So instead I will explain these features in other guides, and you will also learn how to use them by actually using them rather than just being told what they do =o)


    The Four Palettes

    On the right of the Adobe Photoshop screen you will see four windows or palettes. These offer mainly information and control over the whole picture. These palettes can be customized but lets not start confusing the setup just yet. Okay, let's take a brief tour of them...

    Navigator & Info Palette


    The Navigator and Info palette contains two tab buttons at the top to switch between the Navigator tool and the Info tool. The Navigator tool is basically a quick way of zooming in and out of your picture so you can paint small details easier. You can type in the zoom percent or you can move the slider bar to zoom in or out. You can also click the middle of the preview screen and drag the screen about to zoom in to any area quickly, try it!

    The Info tool gives details like the X and Y position of your mouse cursor on the screen and the colour the mouse pointer is hovering over. It also shows the size of any selections you may grab. Note that in this case the picture is using the colour type known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK). This colour type is used in printing but usually Photoshop uses RGB as used by computer monitors.


    Color, Swatches & Styles Palette


    Again the tab buttons swap between the Color, Swatches and Styles palette. In Photoshop there are many ways to choose colours so don't get confused by them, they all do basically the same thing. The colour palette lets you change the red, green and blue values to create any colour possible on a PC screen. To do this just move the slider bar left and right or enter the numbers into the boxes. The little arrow at the top right of the palette offers the option to switch between RGB and CMYK etc., colour modes.

    The Swatches palette are just a place where you can store commonly used colours like you would paint pots. Any pot can be deleted by right-clicking on it and selecting delete or selecting it and hitting that dustbin (trashcan) icon at the bottom. You can also make new colours to store there by hitting the icon at the bottom next to the trashcan. Swatches are only really useful when you need to use a specific colour a lot like, for example, when you need to write text in a set colour or fill in the backgound with a special colour.

    The Styles palette is a new edition to Photoshop and would take a while to explain correctly. Basically there are sets of effects that can be applied to a picture. You can do a combination of common effects that you use to a picture and save it as a style. Then instead of having to choose lots of effects to achieve the same result you can just use the style that you saved.


    History & Actions Palette


    The History palette is a very, very useful tool. It contains a listing of everything you did from when you started editing a picture (the length depends on your computers memory etc). At the very top is when you started and at the bottom is the last change you did. By clicking at any point in the listing takes you back or forward in time. This is like an extended undo option and can be a real life saver when you do something wrong - use it, use it, use it!!

    The Actions palette is another new addition to Photoshop and again is a little too complex to explain here. For now its enough to know that you can save groups of common actions together into a single action. For example, you may want to resize, rotate and blur a group of images. If you record an action of you resizing, rotation and blurring a single image and save it as an action, then whenever you select a new image you can resize, rotate and blur it at the click of a button!


    Layers, Channels & Paths Palette


    The Layers, Channels & Paths palettes are all quite involved and again require more detailed explanations. Layers are one of the most useful of all the tools in Photoshop, you must learn to use them! Use them all the time even when you don't think you really need to! They will both save your life and make life easier, and without them it would be very hard to do a great many things. The idea behind layers are simple enough. As I already explained before, Layers can be imagined like the transparent plastic sheets used to make cartoons. In the Layer palette the top most layer is at the top and the bottom layer is at the bottom. New layers can be added or deleted. Groups of layers can also be merged into a single layer and so on.

    The Channels palette. As you probably know any image is made up of a combination of Red, Green and Blue light; or for printing purposes it is made from Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The Channels palette lets you separate your picture into these colours. Clicking on the Red one will show only the red colour from your picture. Clicking on the Green will only show the Green and clicking on the Blue will only show the Blue. The same applies to CMYK of course. By clicking on any of the Red, Green and Blue channels will bring up its colour, then whatever editing you do to that picture will only effect that colour. This may not sound useful but will be very helpful later on when you need to correct colour or sharpen an image that is very grainy. There is also a little more to channels than this though. The channels options let you add additional channels! These are used to add certain effect, spot colours and so forth, but I will explain more about that another time. These "extra channels" are usually called "Alpha Channels".

    The paths palette keeps track of the lines you draw with the pen tool. The paths tool needs to be understood because it can be very useful, but it would take too long to explain all that here. For now its useful to know that the pen tool draws vector graphics like Adobe Illustrator or those high end CAD design packages. Defining such line paths allows us a great deal of control over what we need to draw.

    Hopefully now you will be better equipped to attack Adobe Photoshop for the first time. It helps to know basically what most controls do even though you may not know all the in's and outs. These things take time to learn so be patient and mess about with the interface until you think you are ready to move onto the next set of guides. Good Luck! =o)



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