Selections, channels, alpha channels, layers, layer masks, shape layers, vector masks, paths, clipping paths, clipping masks. The list goes on. As Photoshop becomes increasingly complex, Photoshop userseven those with years of experiencemay feel dizzy with confusion. It's no wonder then that understanding the differences between channels, paths, and layersand perhaps more importantly, understanding when to favor one approach over anotherhas become a burning issue for many Photoshop users.

Essential skills for any Photoshop user include making clean, efficient selections, and being able to recall those selections at any time as well as targeting specific areas of an image by tone or color. All of these skills require knowing what to select, and how, whether you're a power or novice Photoshop user. Knowing what to selectand howis the basis for successfully producing cutouts, photo montages, tonal correction, color correction, or just about anything else you plan- to do with an image. Selections and selection techniquesincluding those that don't use Selection toolsare a useful lens through which to view and understand Photoshop no matter what your level of Photoshop proficiency.

The first, simple premise of this book is that channels, paths, and layersand their various offspringare all essentially the same. They all allow you to select and work on specific regions of an image. I use the term select in its broadest sense, whether it be in using the Selection tools or Pen tools to isolate part of your image; using any of the myriad layer options to float, move, reveal and conceal, and position parts of a composition independently; or making image adjustments that identify specific tonal or color ranges within an image. With this definition, channels, paths, and layers can all be considered Selection tools.

The second premise of this book is that channels, paths, and layers differ significantly. Their features overlap in many areas, but each has its own internal logic and conventions. Channels, paths, and layers allow you to edit your images selectively but in different ways and with different results. While a definitive "correct" approach is rare, usually some ways are better, others worse. Understanding how channels, paths, and layers work is crucial to developing an instinct for what the better ways arethat is, the most flexible, efficient, and best-looking approaches to common Photoshop problems. Choosing the appropriate tool can save hours of frustration, and mean the difference between a clean selection and a sloppy selection, a convincing image and an image that looks like it was composited using a rusty hacksaw and wallpaper paste.

Photoshop has evolved radically and beautifully since its launch in 1990. Today's Photoshop offers an unparalleled degree of creative control that is easily learned. But considering all the things you can do with Photoshop, its interface is a marvel of simplicity and intuitiveness. Where confusion exists, it's often because new features have not supplanted old features, but rather peacefully co-exist with them. So, for example, you can still apply image adjustments the "old way," but you're often better off applying them with an adjustment layer. To anyone who has followed the history of Photoshop, this evolution is logical. To those of you who may have skipped a version or two of Photoshop, you probably have some gaps and some areas of confusion.


When discussing keyboard shortcuts in the program, I list the Macintosh versions first. In every shortcut used in this book, the Command key translates to the Ctrl key and the Option key translates to the Alt key.

Who Should Read This Book?

To get the most from this book, you should be comfortable working in the Photoshop interface. You should understand basic Photoshop concepts such as using palettes, selecting tools, and applying filters. If you're brand-new to Photoshop, you might do well to pick up a comprehensive book like Adobe Photoshop CS2 Classroom in a Book (Adobe Press). If you have some experience working with Photoshop selections, channels, paths and layers, many of the concepts and features explained inside may already be familiar to you. What may not be clear is how they relate to each other, how they are different, and when you should use them. By the time you've read this book, when someone asks, "What's the difference between channels, paths, and layers?" you should have an answer.

How to Use This Book

The chapters are arranged in order of complexity, starting with making basic selections and advancing to making complex channel masks. I'd like it if you started from the beginning and worked your way to the end. But I won't be offended if you just dip in and out to get the information you're after.

The web files icon denotes that a downloadable file is available.

I've included many step-by-step examples throughout the book, and the web files icon denotes that a downloadable file is available. To use these files, download the appropriate chapter folder from the book's companion web site at You may also have images of your own that are equally suitable.

Your feedback is important. Feel free to email me with your comments about this book. Tell me what you liked, but also tell me what I got wrong or what I left out.

Nigel French

Adobe Photoshop Unmasked

Adobe PhotoShop Unmasked. The Art and Science of Selections, Layers, and Paths
Adobe Photoshop Unmasked: The Art and Science of Selections, Layers, and Paths
ISBN: 0321441206
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 93
Authors: Nigel French

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