Photoshop Basic 2

The script for the Photoshop Basic Workshop is intended exclusively for use in class at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and should serve as a reference work for all course participants. It may not be passed on to third parties.


Color Range

For a complex color range selection, the image editor likes to reach for the Color Range dialog of the Select menu, because it gives us a visual control option. Let’s take a closer look.

If I want to make sure that only the red tones of one apple are selected, I activate the corresponding area selection before calling Color Range.

> Select / Open Load Selection, Channels: „Apple“.

> Select / Open Color Range.

Let’s try to orientate ourselves in the dialog.

> Open the Select menu.

In the upper area there is a pop-up menu with numerous entries representing concrete color selection targets.

  • We could directly select the red part of the image here. But we don’t want to make it that easy for ourselves.
  • Here we can select the three tone value ranges Highlights, Midtones and Depths.
  • Skin tones can be captured here.
  • The Out of Gamut setting allows us to select all those pixels in the image whose chromaticity lies outside the CMYK color space.

None of this interests us at this point. We want to capture the red tones of the apple in a different way.

Please match your dialog settings with mine so we all start from the same point.

> Select: Sampled Colors, Localized Color Clusters check, Fuzziness 75, Range 100%, Selection Preview None.

To target the red tones of the apple, we first activate Sampled Colors. The small eyedropper symbol next to the entry already gives us a hint about the procedure: We make sure that the first eyedropper button is highlighted in the right panel of the dialog and then click a middle red tone of the apple directly in the image.

In the preview field of the dialog, tone values now appear whose brightness levels provide information about how strong the color selection will be in the different zones.

The basic principle of the optical control option thus given is as follows:

  • The brighter a pixel appears in the preview field, the stronger it will be selected when the process is complete.
  • The darker the pixel, the weaker it will be selected.
  • White areas will consequently be 100% included in the color selection.
  • Black areas will remain excluded from the selection.

The preview created by the first click indicates that not all red tones of the apple have been captured so far for sure. We still need to add more shades of red.

To expand the color selection, we have primarily two tools at our disposal: the Fuzziness slider and the Plus eyedropper.

For the sake of simplicity, we can compare the Fuzziness with the tolerance value of the magic wand. Just as with the magic wand, by entering a value we determine how much the pixel coloriness may deviate from the coloriness of the clicked pixel in order to still be included in the color selection. High fuzziness allows more pixels, low fuzziness allows fewer pixels.

> Move the Fuzziness slider.

> Finally, set it back to 75.

Using the plus eyedropper, we add more areas to the current selection preview by simply clicking. Since we already know the shortcut for adding new selection areas, we will not activate the plus pipette of the dialog, but do this as usual by Shift-clicking or Shift-dragging.

> Add more red tones by multiple shift-clicks.

> Add more red tones by shift-dragging.

  • Shift-clicks are used to add zones to the selection individually.
  • Shift-drag is used to add whole areas to the selection. In fact, you often work with both techniques to get a perfect color selection.

The Localized Color Clusters checkbox enhances the result of adding when shift-dragging. Since the reds of the apple we want to capture are sometimes very different from each other, the checkbox should be enabled. In fact, it is always checked for me.

Once we have made an acceptable preselection, the Fuzziness slider helps us smooth the transitions between selected and unselected areas.

> Use the Fuzziness control to smooth the selection ranges.

> Set the Fuzziness control to 0 and wind it back up to an acceptable value.

The goal of the measures we gradually set in the Color Range dialog is to mark all the reds we are targeting white or bright.

If we overshoot the target with our measures, we deselect unneeded selection areas by option-clicking and/or adjust the Fuzziness slider again.

> Deselect areas by Option-clicking.

> Finally, smooth the color selection with the Fuzziness slider.

For the sake of completeness, the Range slider should also be mentioned. With the help of the Range slider, we determine whether the selection creation should focus on the entire image section or only on neighboring areas. The Range slider thus represents the Contiguous checkbox of the Magic Wand Tool’s Options bar.

The criterion Neighborhood hardly plays a role in the usual procedure in the Color Range dialog. Therefore, the value is usually set to 100% for me.

If we are satisfied with the selection result shown in the preview box, we finish the process with an OK and the perfectly designed color selection is active in the image.

> Color Range: OK.

With a little practice, the Color Range dialog becomes a quick-to-use HiEnd tool for creating color selections. The main asset of the dialog is of course the visual control.

We will learn many more selection techniques throughout the workshop. Selection creation, as we said, is one of the most important tasks of the image editor in Photoshop.

To conclude this first round of selection techniques, let’s look at a few items in the Select menu.

For this purpose, let’s bring up again our already edited Exercise file 1 for viewing.

> Exercise file 1

Select menu

> Open Exercise file 1 and Fit on Screen (cmd+0).

> Open Select menu.

Since no selection is currently active in the image, only a few entries of the Select menu are accessible.

Select all

With Cmd+A for Select All the whole image content can be selected. One does not need this command very often. However, the key shortcut is easy to remember just in case.

> Cmd+A and deselect via cmd+D.

Now let’s load one of the saved selections of the bucket into the image and then take another look at the Select menu.

> Select / Load Selection, Channel: „Bucket_L“.

> Open the Select menu.


Significantly more entries of the menu are now accessible. Among others also the important command Inverse.

The only task of the Inverse command is to invert the selection. Admittedly, this does not sound very spectacular. Nevertheless, the command is indispensable in many cases. And that’s why we teach our hand the key shortcut Cmd-shift+I right away.

> Inverse via cmd-shift+I.

Good to see, the ants are now not only marching along the subject borders, but also along the window border. The selection has been inverted, i.e. everything in the image is now selected, except the bucket.

> Fill area via option+backspace and undo.

We can see the full value of the inverse command if we let the aforementioned oak tree in the field with its 2 million leaves appear again in our mind’s eye – an area selection task that cannot be accomplished with the Lasso tool.

But what if, to our good fortune, we find that the crown of the tree is silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky? In this case, the area selection of the oak crown can be created by taking the detour of selecting all the blue tones of the sky and then inverting the color selection using the Inverse command.

Often it is actually easier to select the opposite of the actual selection target than the target itself. With a subsequent selection inversion only the last step is done.

> Apply cmd-shift+I several times.

> Finally restore the bucket selection.

Transform Selection

Sometimes it is necessary to transform an existing selection and for this we naturally use the Transform Selection entry of the Select menu.

> Select menu / Transform Selection.

Transforming a selection means changing the shape of the selection, i.e. scaling, rotating, tilting and even distorting the selection.

> Scale and rotate selection.

We will not deal with transforming a selection in detail here, mainly for two reasons:

  1. Selections are rarely transformed in practice. One strives to create a perfect selection right from the start. A subsequent correction by transformation usually does not yield the desired results.
  2. Later in the workshop, we will have ample opportunity to explore the important tool of transforming and its shortcuts, when we start transforming image parts themselves and not just their selections.

However, I wanted to mention the possibility of transforming selections. There will come a time in your image editing life when you will need to use this option.

We leave the transform mode by pressing the esc key. Let’s leave the selections as selections for now and move on to a completely different topic.

Color definition

The use and handling of colors in Photoshop opens up a wide range of tasks. It is not always a matter of modifying colors, i.e. coloring or recoloring parts of an image. In many cases, colors are also used as such, e.g. they are applied with the help of a painting tool.

For whatever reason and however colors are to be brought into the picture, the starting point is always the definition of the desired color.

Color picker for foreground color

The first place to start defining colors is the Foreground Color Picker. The Foreground Color Picker is located at the bottom of the toolbox and can be opened with a simple click.

> Open Foreground Color Picker.

The Adobe color picker mentioned earlier comes into view. You remember: We had set this as our default color picker in Preferences.

Let’s try to orient ourselves in the dialog first.

In the left panel you can see a large color field. As long as we haven’t made a new color selection, the color section is determined by two factors.

  1. The current color, i.e. the color that the Color Picker has shown so far …
  2. … and by the choice of a color aspect. Currently the colors are sorted by the Hue aspect.

A click into the color field represents one of several possibilities to specify a color.

> Click into the color field.

The color marker marks the selected color in the shown color section. When sorted by hue, the color field shows a single hue in all its brightness and saturation levels.

If we want to have a completely different hue displayed in the color field, we control it using the color slider.

> Dragging the Color slider.

Clearly seen by the change of the values in the numerical input fields: Of the three aspects that characterize the appearance of a pixel, only the hue changes. Saturation and brightness remain unchanged.

The preliminary result of the color definition can be read from the preview field and compared with the original color below it.

Once we have found our target color, we may need to adjust the saturation or brightness. We could move the color marker in the color field accordingly. With this method, however, we will not succeed in changing the saturation alone and not the brightness at the same time. If we want to change only the saturation of the current color selection, but not the brightness, we activate the Saturation radio button.

> Activate the Saturation button.

> Drag the slider of the saturation bar.

The bar now contains all the saturation levels of the selected hue and allows us to set the desired saturation value for the hue by dragging the slider, without affecting the brightness value. 

To select a suitable brightness level, the radio button of the Brightness aspect is activated accordingly.

> Activate the brightness button.

> Drag the slider of the brightness bar.

> Finally, activate the Hue button again.

Let’s take a look at the color spectrum in the bar. It is easy to see that we are dealing here with the primary colors, i.e. the spectral colors of the white light visible to us humans.

> Select the basic color blue in the color bar.

> Select a rather dark, less saturated blue in the color selection field.

Please note my procedure now.

> Move the marker in the color field.

I move the color marker, step by step, slowly upwards to the right towards the highest saturation level of the hue. At a certain point, a small warning triangle flashes near the color preview.

What is Photoshop warning me about here?

The Out-of-gamut alert indicates that the selected color is outside the CMYK color space, i other words it indicates that the color I’m about to select cannot be printed at the intensity it currently appears on the display.

The swatch below the Out-of-gamut alert icon displays the closest CMYK equivalent.

> Click on the CMYK equivalent swatch.

So this is how the selected shade of blue will look in the print result. What I can say for sure about the replacement color is that it will not cause any problems in printing. Whether or not I can accept the significant drop in color depends on my own or my client’s requirements. In any case, I will not be able to bring the originally chosen, highly saturated blue onto paper using classic four-color printing.

At this point, I would like to point out once again that the described situation merely means that a brilliant color like our highly saturated blue cannot be reproduced using the classic four-color printing. Other printing processes such as true-color printing or certain high-end digital printing processes can certainly reproduce our desired color.

The input fields of the Color Picker are used to define colors by entering exact color values.

  • If a color is to be defined with exact RGB values, we use the RGB input fields. Especially web designers like to use this option.
  • Directly below the RGB input fields, the so-called hex code can be entered or read. The hex code is in fact only a coded designation of the RGB values. The first letter-number pair of the string stands for red, the second for green and the third for blue. The web designer uses the hex code for color definition in HTML.
  • And another asset for web design: The checkbox Only Web Colors reduces the number of colors available in the color field to the 216 so-called web safe colors. A restriction, however, that is no longer used in our days.

> Activate and deactivate the checkbox Only Web Colors.

  • We do not have to deal with the Lab input fields in the Basics Workshop.
  • As expected, the CMYK input fields are of great importance for defining printable colors. By entering exact values, I ensure that the foreground color corresponds to a well-defined CMYK color.

Let me explain this particular point a little further. In graphic design, one of the common ways to define colors is by specifying CMYK values. This is done for two main reasons: First, print output is still an important goal, and second, defining color according to CMYK represents something like the lowest common denominator.

In order to keep a well-defined CMYK color constant in all applications and across all programs, it is necessary to work with the exact color values in each case. This is also the case in Photoshop. And this is what the CMYK input fields are for.

If, for example, the famous 100-100 red is to be used, we enter the CMYK values 0-100-100-0.

> Enter Cyan 0, Magenta 100, Yellow 100, Black 0 and OK.

With OK we finish the color definition. The 100-100 red is set as foreground color and we can work with it immediately.

We draw a rectangle selection and fill the area with the selected color by pressing option+backspace.

> Draw selection with Rectrangular Marquee Tool.

> Fill area with option+backspace.

Now we want to check if the 100-100 red was really applied. This is done by looking at the Info palette.

If the Info-Palette is not displayed, we bring it into view by selecting the corresponding entry of the Window menu. As said before, the Window menu contains all the palettes available in Photoshop.

> If necessary, select Window / Info.

Since the Info palette is an important source of information for the image editor, it always remains displayed.

Now we may have to activate the CMYK display in the upper right panel.

> Open the menu of the upper right panel and select CMYK Color.

To read out the color values, we now simply move the cursor over the red area. To our surprise we find out that unfortunately we do not have the 100-100 red in front of us.

The reason: our image is not in CMYK mode, but in RGB mode, and that means that the 100-100 red defined in the Color Picker is only applied in the form of its RGB equivalent in the image. And this deviates slightly from the exact four-color definition. However slight the deviation may be the color difference will be visible in the print result.

From this insight we derive an important rule for working with colors in Photoshop: Exactly defined colors can only be reproduced accurately in the color mode for which they were defined.

  • If I want to use an exact RGB color, I must do so in RGB mode.
  • If I want to use an exact CMYK color, it must be done in CMYK mode, and so on.

This does not mean that the use of CMYK color definitions in RGB mode is forbidden. It just means that in such a case I cannot expect an accurate reproduction.

Let’s open the Color Picker again to familiarize ourselves with another function.

> Open Color Picker for foreground color.

Colors that you want to use more often and over and over again basically only need to be defined once in the Color Picker. With the Add to Swatches option we can add them to our personal color palette.

> Click button Add to Swatches.

If we press the Add to Swatches button, a dialog opens where we don’t have to do much more than assign a name for the color swatch to be added to the color swatches.

> Color Swatches Name: „0-100-100-0“.


Let’s now take a look at the color swatches. If you can’t find the swatches in the vertical dock, you can bring them into view by selecting the corresponding entry of the Window menu.

> Window / Swatches.

In the Swatches palette, all our saved color definitions are stored locally in the form of color swatches. So is our 100-100 red. Here you can see it at the bottom of the color field list.

If your Swatches palette shows the color swatches without naming them, we switch from the thumbnail view to the list view in the palette menu.

> Select Small List in the palette menu.

The Swatches palette is a color palette in the narrower sense.

In addition to the self-generated color swatches, you will also find a number of standard color collections here, which can be quite useful from time to time.

> Expand CMYK collection.

And in the palette menu you can use the import function to add further color collections.

> Open the palette menu.

The search field at the top of the palette makes it much easier to find clearly defined colors.

> Enter “Cyan” in the search field.

Now all color swatches are displayed whose name contains “Cyan”. Clicking on a color swatch sets the color as the new foreground color.

> Click on the color swatch CYMK Cyan.

> Enter “0-100” in the search field and click on the color swatch.

This way you can quickly find our 100-100 red and apply it as foreground color.

If you want to set the color as background color, click the color swatch while holding down the Option key.

> Enter in the search field: “Green” and Option-click on the color swatch RGB Green.

The last used color swatches are listed in the Recent bar. This option also speeds up finding colors in the palette.

> Collapse all color collections via Cmd-click.

> Click color from the Recent-Bar.

If a color swatch is right-clicked, a small context menu opens, which, in addition to numerous entries of the palette menu, also offers the option to delete a color swatch.

> Right-click 100-100-Red and delete.

To add the current foreground color to the Swatches palette, we don’t necessarily have to return to the Color Picker. That also works by pressing the Create new swatch button at the bottom of the palette. However, I rarely take this route.

> Press the Create new swatch button and cancel again.

Those who often and repeatedly need or want to fall back on certain colors will love the Swatches palette.

I would like to mention two more color selection options, which play only a minor role in my personal workflows, but have their justification.


Let’s show the Color palette and have a quick look at it.

> Window / Color.

The Color palette offers us three options for color definition.

  • We can call the color pickers for foreground and background color directly in the palette.
  • We can adjust the color by using the sliders or by entering values.
  • And we can select a color from the spectrum located at the bottom of the palette.

In my opinion, the palette only makes sense if I have it permanently displayed. Because nothing I’m offered here wouldn’t be offered to me by the Color Picker.

In any case, I find it practical to be able to determine the color system of the spectrum itself in addition to the color system of the sliders.

> Open the palette menu.

> Activate CMYK Spectrum.

If we activate the CMYK spectrum in the palette menu, only CMYK colors are displayed in the color field. Selecting any color from the spectrum will then always provide a color that can be reproduced in four-color printing.

HUD Color Picker

For a quick, non-binding color selection, we can also use the HUD Color Picker. As a prerequisite, we must already have a painting tool in our hands. Let’s activate the Brush Tool in the toolbox.

> Activate Brush Tool.

The great advantage of the HUD color picker is already hinted at in the name that hides behind the acronym. HUD stands for Heads-Up-Display. We are therefore dealing with a field of view display, which ensures that the painting process is hardly disturbed by the color selection. If the key command Cmd-option-ctrl is pressed when clicking in the image (Windows: Shift-option-right click), a color selection tool opens at the clicked position, which is easy and intuitive to use.

> Cmd-option-ctrl click.

As long as we keep the three keys pressed, we can make our color selection at our leisure. We proceed as follows: First we select a basic color in the outer color circle. Once this is done, we drag the cursor to the color field in the middle and adjust the hue according to brightness and saturation.

> Select any color.

> Continue to hold down the keys.

During the determination process, the cursor shows the eyedropper symbol and a two-part ring that sets the zone apart from the surrounding color areas for better evaluation. The neutral gray, lower half of the ring supports the color assessment. The top half of the ring shows the original foreground color in case the new color needs to be matched to it.

The HUD Color Picker is especially appreciated by illustrators and painters as an uncomplicated and quick way to select colors.

Eyedropper Tool

And now I would like to introduce you to a very important and therefore frequently used color selection tool: the Eyedropper Tool.

With the Eyedropper Tool you can set a color from the image as foreground color by a simple click.

> Activate Eyedropper Tool and click a middle orange of the boat.

> Option-click the middle green of the boat.

Holding down the Option key will naturally set the background color.

The eyedropper cursor appears in the center of the sampling ring, reflecting the familiar scheme. Neutral gray on the outside for better color assessment. The lower ring segment shows the original foreground color, the upper, the current choice.

In the options bar of the tool, a sampling range for the color definition can be defined.

> Options bar, expand Sampling Size menu.

> Select 3 by 3 Average.

3 by 3 Average, i.e. the average value of a capture zone of 3 by 3 pixels seems to me to be a reasonable choice for most applications.

Since the eyedropper is very often accessed during a painting session, it proves convenient that the tool does not have to be activated directly in the toolbox, but can also be temporarily accessed by pressing the Option key.

Let’s access the Brush Tool once again.

> Activate and apply the Brush Tool.

> Temporarily activate the eyedropper by pressing the Option key and select color.

> Apply Brush Tool again.

The simple key shortcut allows us to pick up color much faster than would be possible by changing tools.

We have now learned about numerous, quite different options for defining colors. You will find that all of these options make sense in different workflows. Which tool you use from time to time will depend on the type of work you are doing.

For precise color selection, the classic Color Picker is recommended, access to standard colors is facilitated by the Swatches, and painting or illustrating can be done quickly using the HUD color picker and the eyedropper.

Color application

Now let’s look at a few different ways to apply defined colors to the image. Let’s open Exercise file 3.

> Open Exercise file 3

We have a tool for applying colors right in our hands. However, we will deal with the Brush Tool in detail at a later time.

Before that, I would like to introduce you to another way of applying color. Let’s create a consistent starting situation for this by setting all the same hue as the foreground color.

> Activate the eyedropper temporarily by pressing the Option key.

> Set the light green of the light green pen as the foreground color.

We now want to use this light green for color filling using the general Fill dialog.

Fill & Blending Modes

The Fill dialog is opened via the Fill entry of the Edit menu.

> Select Edit / Fill.

This little dialog is quite something, as we will see in a moment. Let’s first make the settings for the default color fill.

> Open the Contents menu.

In the Contents menu there are various contents to choose from. Besides the foreground color we just set, we could also choose the background color or a completely different color (Color…) here. We could apply a pattern or a snapshot (History). And the tonal values black, white and the famous 50% gray are also available for disposition. Since we took the trouble to set a foreground color, let’s choose this as our content. Let’s complete the settings without much ado with the Blending Mode Normal and a 100% opacity and give OK.

> Contents: Foreground Color, Blending Mode: Normal, Opacity: 100% and OK.

The image has turned into a green area. The color was applied opaquely without regard to the conditions, as if a bucket of thick paint had been poured over the image.

For this kind of paint application we already know the key shortcut. As a reminder, it is Option+Backspace.

This crude way of applying color is not always desired. Let’s undo the fill by Cmd+Z and take another look at the Fill dialog.

> Cmd+Z and select Edit / Fill.

> Opacity: 50% and OK.

If we set the opacity to 50%, the foreground color is only half as strong. The result does not surprise us. We call this a glazing color application.

Blending Modes

Since we want to look at a few more ways of applying color in the following, we will bring our image back to its original state each time after an application with Cmd+Z.

> Cmd+Z and select Edit / Fill.

> Set Opacity back to 100%.

> Open the Blending Modes menu.

The blending modes are used to adjust the color application to the image. By selecting a specific blending mode, a very specific coloring effect is created that takes into account the conditions of the image.

In fact, the Blending Mode menu is of great importance in Photoshop and we will encounter it in many places as we tour the program. You cannot be spared an intensive examination of its possibilities.

But don’t worry, we only want to familiarize ourselves with the basics of the Blending Mode application here and will therefore only deal with a few selected blending modes.

Let’s try to find a structured approach.

Generally speaking, the choice of a blending mode causes the application of a blend color to a base color and leads to a result color. In our case, the light green of the foreground color acts as the blend color. This is applied to the base colors existing in the image in a specific way.

The list is divided into different sectors. In the first sector we find the entry Normal. The Normal mode is the standard mode: at 100% opacity, each pixel receives the blend color as the result color, i.e. it is completely recolored.

Darken modes

The second sector starts with the Darken mode. The entries of this sector all suggest that the result will be colored and darkened at the same time. Let’s take a look at that in a moment.


> Blending Mode: Darken and OK.

By applying the Blending Mode Darken, our image was affected by the foreground color in a very specific way. But what exactly happened?

The Darken command compares the brightness values of the pixels in the color channels.

  • Pixels that are brighter than the blend color are replaced by it.
  • Pixels that are darker than the blend color remain unchanged.

We can see this quite well in two places in particular: The white background has been completely replaced by the light green blend color. The darkest parts of the black pencil, on the other hand, were not affected by the green.

The darkening process is rather crude. The brightness values of the pixels alone determine whether and to what extent they are modified.

Now let’s undo the application and look at the next entry in the list of blending modes.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Multiply and OK.

Also when multiplying, the brightness values of the blended color are compared with those of the base color in the single color channels. However, in contrast to darkening, the values are multiplied, i.e. they are offset against each other.

  • The resulting color is always a darker color.
  • Also when multiplying, white is completely affected, whereas black remains unchanged.

In fact, for all blending modes of the Darken sector, black turns out to be a neutral color, i.e. it is never changed. This is important information.

Darkening the image while applying a color using the Blending Mode Multiply gives a result of that is quite close to glazing over. A classic use case is the creation of a drop shadow. We will take a closer look at this later.

> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Open the Blending Mode list.

The next entries Color Burn and Linear Burn also provide very specific results of offsetting the blend color against the base colors. We will not look at this in detail now. But this much can be said: Burn is based on a darkroom technique in which certain parts of the image are darkened and their color contrast strengthened by the application of an additional portion of light.

Color Burn

Darkens the base color with the blend color using the color information in the color channels and by increasing the color contrast. Mixing with white does not result in any change.

Linear Burn

Darkens the base color using the color information in the color channels and by reducing the brightness. Blending with white results in no change.

Darker Color

Compares the sum of all channel values of the blend and base color and displays the color with the lower value, i.e. either the base color or the blend color. So no color mixing takes place. All pixels that are lighter than the blend color are completely replaced by it, all other pixels remain unchanged.

If we compare the Darken sector with the Lighten sector, we notice that the entries promise the opposite of each other. The Darken is opposed by a Lighten, the Multiply by a Screen, the Color Burn by a Color Dodge, and so on.

Lighten modes

And this is exactly how it behaves: the Blending Modes of the Lighten sector each lighten the original colors of the image in a very specific way while introducing the blend color.


> Blending Mode: Lighten and OK.

The Lighten command compares the brightness values of the pixels in the color channels.

  • Pixels that are darker than the blend color are replaced by it.
  • Pixels that are lighter than the blend color remain unchanged.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Screen and OK.

When using the blending mode Screen, i.e. when negatively multiplying, the reciprocal values of the blended color are offset against those of the base colors in the color channels.

  • The resulting color is always a lighter color.
  • Black is completely affected, while white remains unchanged.

For all blending modes of the Lighten sector, white acts as a neutral color.

The effect of Screen is similar to projecting several slides on top of each other. Classic use cases are the creation of glows, halos, overlays, brightenings of all kinds, which are to be accompanied by a coloration.

> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Expand Blending Mode list.

Also the next entries Color Dodge and Linear Dodge give very specific results of the offsetting of the blended color with the base colors. As a side note, dodge is modeled after a darkroom technique in which certain parts of the image are lightened and reduced in color contrast by shortening the exposure time.

Color Dodge

Lightens the base color with the blend color using the color information in the color channels and by reducing the color contrast. Blending with black results in no change.

Linear Dodge

Lightens the base color using the color information in the color channels and by increasing the brightness. Blending with black results in no change.

Lighter Color

Compares the sum of all channel values of the blend and base color and displays the color with the higher value, i.e. either the base color or the blend color. So no color mixing takes place. All pixels that are darker than the blend color are completely replaced by it, all other pixels remain unchanged.

Lighting modes

I would like to title the next sector Lighting Modes. An indication of the characteristics of these special blending modes is already given by the frequent occurrence of the term “Light” in the entries. These blending modes are primarily used to simulate lighting situations.

Let’s use two or three lighting modes to get a first feel for their application. Let’s start with Soft Light.

Soft Light

> Blending Mode: Soft Light and OK.

The result simulates a lighting situation as produced by a diffuse spotlight with a pretensioned green lighting foil. The original colors remain present, but everything is bathed in a soft green.

  • Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color.
  • If the blend color is lighter than the middle gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged.
  • If the blend color is darker than the middle gray, the image is darkened, as if it were burned.
  • Blending with pure black or white produces a significantly darker or lighter area, but does not result in pure black or white.

Hard Light

> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Hard Light and OK.

The result of using the Blending Mode Hard Light simulates a lighting situation as created by a hard spotlight with a pretensioned green lighting foil. The base colors are strongly over-illuminated by the blending color, and everything is bathed in an intense green.

  • Multiply the colors positively or negatively, depending on the blend color.
  • If the blend color is lighter than the middle gray, the image is brightened as if it were multiplied negatively.
  • If the blend color is darker than the middle gray, the image is darkened as if it were multiplied.
  • Offsetting with pure black or white results in pure black or white.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Overlay and OK.

With the application of Overlay a copying into each other of the blending modes Multiply and Screen takes place. The special thing about it: The highlights and the depths of the original color are preserved, the color effect takes place only in the midtone range.

Lighting effects, photo filter effects, color tinting, these are the genuine application areas for this kind of blending modes.

At this point a note:

It is not absolutely necessary to know exactly what happens in the application of this or that blending mode in purely technical terms. What we do need to learn, however, is to get a feel for what effect is produced when this or that blending mode is applied. Trial-and-error is a very practical approach.

If I want to create a drop shadow with a certain color effect, for example, I first use the Blending Mode Multiply. If the result leaves much to be desired, I cancel the application and try the Darken command. If this doesn’t give an acceptable result either, Linear Burn follows. Sometimes I am also satisfied only with the application of Color Burn. If not, I must try to achieve my editing goal by another means.

> Cmd+Z.

The best way to learn how to use the blending modes is to apply the different modes successively until you are satisfied with the result.

To conclude the discussion of this extensive menu, let me give you an example of what happens when you use the blending modes. Basically, different aspects of the colors and the image are blended together. 

For example, we heard about brightness values and color channels acting as parameters. If we direct our attention to the qualities of a pixel, this can be further specified. A pixel is characterized by three aspects:

  1. By the hue,
  2. the saturation of this hue
  3. and by the brightness (luminosity).

We refer to this as the HSL scheme. The acronym stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminosity.

These three basic aspects can be modified separately. We will encounter the HSL scheme and its derived features in many different places in Photoshop. Let’s take a look at how it is expressed using very specific blending modes.

HSL modes

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+backspace.

> Expand the Blending Mode list.

At the bottom of the Blending Mode list you will find the terms just mentioned. Each of these entries applies exactly one pixel aspect and ignores the other two.


In other words: Hue combines the hue aspect of the blend color, in our case the light green of the foreground color, with the saturation aspects and the brightness aspects of the pixels.

> Blending Mode: Hue and OK.

Let’s play through this further to get to the point where it should become clear what is happening here.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Saturation and OK.

Saturation combines the saturation aspect of the blend color, in our case the saturation of the foreground color, with the hue aspects and the brightness aspects of the pixels.

Please note that no colorization is applied. Only the saturation of the light green foreground color is applied.

Since this measure increases the overall saturation in the image, we can assume that the saturation value of our light green is higher than the saturation values of the base colors in the image.

To avoid any misunderstanding: This approach is not chosen to increase or decrease the saturation in the image. Photoshop offers much more suitable tools and features for this purpose. Our sole concern here is to explore what results the three different pixel aspects produce when applied.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Luminosity and OK.

Luminosity combines the brightness aspect of the blend color, in our case the brightness of the foreground color, with the hue aspects and the saturation aspects of the pixels.

In other words, all the pixels of the image now have the brightness of the foreground color, and that means they are all now equally bright.

How should we interpret this strange result? The image seems to have lost its drawing, its chiaroscuro, what ultimately makes it a photograph. All that remains are the colors and saturations of a single brightness level.

This result clearly shows us what makes the picture a picture: it is the brightness that provides the drawing.

I think all this will become even clearer once we have applied the last blending mode of the HSL sector.


> Cmd+Z.

> Open the Fill dialog by shift+Backspace.

> Blending Mode: Color and OK.

Color combines the hue aspect and the saturation aspect of the foreground color, with the brightness aspects of the pixels. The drawing of the image remains untouched, it is just given a hue and a saturation. And this process is called coloring.

For a better understanding, let’s keep in mind how so-called black-and-white photos were colored at that time.

  • A black and white photo consists of different brightnesses and nothing else. These brightnesses are also called tonal values.
  • If you want to colorize the photo, you apply color with a brush. The choice of color determines the hue.
  • And intensifying the color application, that is, applying more color, increases the saturation.

To avoid a possible misunderstanding here: If you want to colorize or recolor an image, you rarely use the Blending Mode Color of the Fill dialog. Photoshop offers much more sophisticated tools and techniques for this. We’ll take a closer look at that later, too.

In our study of the Hue, Saturation and Luminosity blending modes, we were primarily interested in getting to know the three pixel qualities and demonstrating how they interact with each other. The HSL scheme is one of the most important concepts of image processing in Photoshop and is derived from the basic concept of the image par excellence.


For the sake of completeness, let’s take a quick look at the Stroke dialog of the Edit menu. As a starting point for this application we will use any lasso selection, because we will create a stroke by filling a contour.

> Create an arbitrary selection with the lasso.

> Select Edit / Stroke.

We choose a moderate contour thickness, say 20 pixels. We should not care about the color now. And the location of the stroke at the selection edges is also up to you.

> Width: 20, Color as is, Location: Outside.

> Open the Blending Mode menu.

We can also access the complete Blending Mode menu for the contour fill.

> Blending Mode: Normal, Opacity: 100% and OK.

This concludes our discussion of the Stroke dialog. However, I would like to add a note about this: Most of the time I don’t use this simple tool for contour filling, whose applications are quite crude, but use a small workaround in combination with a path creation. We will also deal with this at an appropriate time.

> Exercise file 1

Brush Tool

Now let’s take the brush. The Brush Tool is our main tool when it comes to adding color to the image through a painting process.

> Activate the Brush Tool in the Toolbox.

> Set a brush stroke in the image.

The brush applies foreground color and although we all use the same foreground color, the application will sometimes be very different. This is because we are using the Brush Tool with parameters that differ from each other. As always, we need to make the necessary adjustments to the tool before using it to achieve the desired results.

A look at the Brush Tool’s options bar will familiarize us with the main parameters we need to take care of.

We’ll leave the general preset picker aside for now. A click on the second button of the options bar opens the much more exciting Brush Preset Picker.

> Options bar: Expand Brush Preset Picker.

The setting options available here are quickly explained. We can specify the brush tip size and we can specify a hardness of the brush tip.

> Size: 100px, Hardness: 100%.

> Brushstroke somewhere in the image.

Both qualities have a significant influence on the shape of the brush tip and thus on the shape of the brushstroke. In the lower part of the palette, various standard brush tips are available for selection.

All in all, the Brush Preset Picker doesn’t offer very many options for fine-tuning the tool. In fact, I rarely use it. When I do, I call it up by right-clicking in the application area. Anyway, that’s faster.

> Right-click in the image to open the Brush Preset Picker as a context menu.

> Size: 200px, Hardness: 0%.

> Brushstroke somewhere in the image.

The main palette for defining the shape of the brushstroke and numerous other parameters is brought up by clicking on the third button of the options bar.

> Options bar: Open Brush Settings.

Brush Settings

The Brush Settings is a regular palette that, like all other palettes, can be found in the Window menu.

Since we need to make settings in the Brush Settings very often, it’s a good idea to have the palette handy at all times. I don’t want to have to expand the palette each time by pressing the appropriate button on the options bar, but assign it a fixed place in the vertical dock. Advantage: The palette always opens in the same place. Even little things like that speed up the workflow.

Pay attention to the way I place a palette in the vertical dock.

> Open Brush Settings in the Dock.

> Grab the name tab and pull it out of the dock.

A free floating palette can be grabbed at the top palette end or at the name tab and moved. If I move the palette over the dock, light blue lines appear to help me place it precisely.

> Place Brush Settings just above the Brushes palette in the Dock.

I put the Brush Settings in a drawer along with the actual Brushes palette. This makes sense, since I usually use both palettes alternately in the same work context.

> Expand Brush Settings, collapse it, and expand it again.

Let’s reset the current palette settings so we can all assume the same state when exploring Brush Settings.

Let’s also make sure that the top item in the list in the left panel Brush Tip Shape is active.

> Palette menu: Clear Brush Controls.

> Activate Brush Tip Shape if necessary.

Now let’s check the settings of the options bar. These must also be the same for all of us so that the following steps produce comparable results.

> Options Bar: Mode Normal, Opacity 100%, Flow 100%, Smoothing 0%, Angle 0° and all buttons disabled.

Brushes Palette

Before we can apply the Brush Tool, it’s a matter of choosing a suitable tool tip and fine-tuning it, as I said. A click on the corresponding button of the Brush Settings palette brings up the Brushes palette.

> Click the Brushes button in the Brush Settings.

The Brushes palette contains dozens of standard tool tips to choose from. In addition, other tool tip sets can be loaded into the palette. And all my self-created tool tips can be saved here as well.

We don’t want to delve any further here, so we’ll go with a simple standard tool tip.

> Select the tool tip Round hard, Size: 30px.

> Click Brush Settings button.

We select Round Hard and return to the Brush Settings palette by pressing the corresponding button.

The Brush Tip Shape view also offers a whole range of brush tips to choose from. Incidentally, the most recently used tool tips appear at the very top of the panel, with the current tool tip marked by a light blue frame.

In the lower palette area we make the first settings for adjusting the brush tip. Here we can set the size, i.e. the pixel diameter of the tip, determine its hardness and define a few more parameters.

Let’s start with a brushstroke of the unchanged standard tip Round hard.

> Brushstroke Round hard somewhere in the image.

Now let’s modify the size and hardness of the tip and apply it again.

> Size: 400px, Hardness: 0%.

> Brushstroke somewhere in the image.

You can call size and hardness the main parameters of the tool tip. Once you have chosen a tip for brushing, it is often just a matter of constantly adjusting these two values during the application. Sometimes the stroke must become wider, sometimes narrower. Sometimes it should be softer, sometimes harder. Having to modify these two aspects each time in the Brush Settings or in the Brush Preset Picker is anything but convenient.

If size and hardness are to be determined by entering exact pixel values, we are not spared this procedure. In practice, however, such precision is seldom required. In most cases it is enough to adjust the two parameters visually and for this we use an important key shortcut.

We hold down the Control and Option keys (Windows: Shift-option-right-click), click in the image and drag to the right to increase the tool tip size and drag to the left to decrease the tool tip size.

> Close Brush Settings palette.

> Ctrl-option+click and drag to the right.

> Release keys and apply Brushstroke.

> Ctrl-option+click and drag to the left.

> Release keys and apply Brushstroke.

We hold down both Control and Option keys, click into the image and drag down to make the tool tip harder and drag up to make the tool tip softer.

> Ctrl-option+click and drag down.

> Release keys and apply brushstroke.

> Ctrl-option+click and drag upwards.

> Release the keys and apply Brushstroke.

So we don’t have to open a palette and drag sliders to do what we want to do, we do it directly in the image. The painting process is hardly disturbed by this. The acceleration of the workflow is enormous.

Let’s familiarize ourselves with a few other tool tip parameters. To do this, we’ll create a medium size hard tip and unfold the Brush Settings palette again.

> Expand the Brush Settings palette again.

> Size: 300px, Hardness: 100%.

> Apply Brushstroke.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the outline of the hard brushstroke is a bit knobbly. This has to do with the spacing, among other things. Especially with very hard brush strokes, this effect is often unpleasant to the eye. We can counteract this by reducing the spacing.

> Reduce the spacing to approx. 15%.

> Apply Brushstroke.

To find out what the Spacing actually does, we increase its value until the Brushstroke virtually disintegrates into its individual parts.

> Increase the spacing to 200%.

It turns out that a brushstroke is actually created by brush tips applied in close succession. With the spacing we determine the distance between the individual tips in the stroke.

With a very high spacing value we can consequently achieve a dotting.

> Apply Brushstroke.

Let’s set the spacing back to the default value of 25%.

> Decrease Spacing to 25%.

We can change the angle and roundness of the tip by entering various values or by manipulating the preview box.

> Manipulation Preview Angle about 45°, Roundness about 30%.

> Apply Brushstroke.

In no time at all, we have turned a round hard tip into a pen tip like those used in calligraphy.

Clipping Tool Tip

We will now create a very special tool tip. And since we work with it very often and don’t want to set the parameters every time, we will also save this tip in the sequence.

> Size: 30px, Angle: 0°, Roundness: 100%, Hardness: 90%, Spacing: 15%.

We have created a relatively small, very compact tool tip that has a smooth but not too hard outline. In fact, it is not primarily used in the Photoshop workflow for painting, but is mostly used for selecting. We’ll get into the subject of this in depth later.

To save this important tip, we press the Create new brush button at the bottom of the Brush Settings palette.

> Press the Create new brush button.

> Name: “Clipping_30px-90h-15sp”.

We assign a relevant name to be able to identify the tool tip later. The Brush Size and the Tool Settings should of course be saved. We do not assign a color, because we want to select one ourselves if necessary.

> Press OK.

Where can we find our clipping tool tip if we want to use it next time? Of course, where all the tool tips that are at hand are gathered: In the Brushes palette.

> Switch to the Brushes palette.

> Activate the brush tip and close the palette.

> Apply Brushstroke.

Now let’s learn two basic operations of using the painting tool.

We create a straight horizontal stroke by pressing the Shift key and dragging while holding down the Shift key.

> Shift-click-drag from left to right.

Accordingly, we create a straight vertical stroke by pressing the Shift key and setting a vertical brush stroke while holding down the Shift key.

> Shift-click-drag from top to bottom.

To get a straight line at any angle, we need to do things a little differently. We click a starting point into the image with the paint tool and release the mouse button.

> Click the starting point.

Now we move the cursor to the desired end point of the line, press the Shift key and click again with the paint tool into the image.

> Press Shift and click the end point.

Photoshop automatically connects the two points with a straight line.

To give you a little taste of what the Brush Tool can do in Photoshop and how far it exceeds the capabilities of a conventional brush, let’s venture a little further into the Brush Settings.

> Open the Brush Settings palette.

We select any pictogram-like tool tip, e.g. the leaf or similar. We increase the size to about 200px diameter and set the spacing to about 200% as well.

> Select Pictogram tool tip, size 200px, spacing 200%.

And now we activate the Shape Dynamics by clicking on the name entry in the left column of the palette.

> Brush Settings palette: Activate Shape Dynamics.

With the help of Shape Dynamics we determine the shape of the single tips within the stroke.

With Size Jitter we can determine how much the tool tip size varies during application.

> Set Size Jitter to about 70%, Control: Off.

Please note the change of the brush stroke in the preview strip.

We can set a minimum diameter for the tips.

> Set Minimum Diameter to about 10%.

And we can set the change of the angle and roundness of the single tips in the course of the brushstroke.

> Angle Jitter: approx. 30%, Control: Off.

> Roundness Jitter: approx. 50%, Control: Off, Minimum Roundness: approx. 25%.

Let’s boldly go ahead with the fine tuning and now also activate the scattering.

> Activate Scattering.

> Scattering: approx. 400%, check Both Axes, Control: Off.

With the help of the scattering the single tips are moved out of the center line of the brush stroke. And with the settings for Count and Count Jitter we can increase the clustering of the tool tips in the stroke and provide for some irregularity in the process.

> Count: 4, Count Jitter: approx. 30%, Control: Off.

> Apply Brushstroke.

With a few tweaks in the Brush Settings we have created a scattering pattern brush. I think it is clear from this simple example that there are almost no limits to the creation of a specific painting tool in Photoshop. Of course, we can’t explore this wide field in more detail in the Basics workshop. But I promise to take you deeper into this very appealing subject in the advanced workshop.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to take a few steps in this area yourself. You’ll find experimenting with different tool tips and tool tip settings is quite fun.

Let’s take a quick look at the Brush tool options panel. 

The contents of the Painting Modes menu won’t surprise us. What we learned about in the Fill dialog is, of course, also available for the Paint tool. Let’s take a quick look.

> Palette menu: Clear Brush Controls.

> Brush Tool: Select Round hard in the Brushes palette, Size 300px, Spacing 15%.

> Foreground color: Light green.

> Brushstroke, Options Bar: Mode Multiply.

One, I think, quite reasonable peculiarity of the brush’s painting modes is that they only have an effect in the background layer. When painting in a real layer, the brush painting modes are overruled by the blending modes of the layer.

> Layers palette: Press button Create a new layer.

> Brushstroke, options bar: Multiply mode.

We notice that the painting mode set in the options bar is not applied to the empty layer and the brushstroke is done in Normal mode at 100% opacity instead.

Only the selection of a Blending Mode for the layer containing my Brushstroke will apply the effect I was looking for.

> Layers palette: Blending Mode Multiply.

Since I always leave the contents of the background layer untouched – I’ll explain the reasons for this in more detail later – and do the painting exclusively in real layers, the brush painting modes play a minor role for me. So we can set the painting mode of the brush tool in the options bar back to Normal.

> Brush stroke with options bar: Painting Mode Normal.

Similarly, assign an opacity in the Options Bar. Opacity can be controlled independently via the brush options and via the slider in the Layers palette. Most of the time, however, I just reach for the opacity slider in the Layers palette and keep it at 100% in the Options bar.

Let’s briefly try controlling opacity via the brush options anyway.

> Layers palette: Blending Mode Normal.

> Options Bar: Brush Opacity 50%.

> Paint Brushstroke back and forth without setting it off.

If the maximum of the set opacity is reached within one and the same stroke, no further color buildup takes place.

The Flow value determines the speed at which paint is applied, i.e. paint buildup occurs. Let’s set the opacity in the options bar back to 100% and see the effects of decreasing the flow value.

> Options bar: Brush opacity 100%.

> Options bar: Brush Flow 25%.

> Paint Brushstroke back and forth without stopping.

> Lastly, options bar again: Brush Flow 100%.

Now let’s take a look at one more option that supports the strokes, to finish our work with the painting tool.


In the options bar of the painting tools, you can activate something like intelligent smoothing, which virtually guarantees a steady hand when brushing.

With a smoothing value of 0%, intelligent smoothing is deactivated. If you increase the smoothing value, Photoshop supports the strokes while painting. The higher the value, the smoother the hand. Let’s set the smoothing value to the maximum of 100% to feel the effect clearly.

> Round hard point about 100px.

> Options bar: Smoothing 100%.

> Activate Stroke Catch-up, Activate Adjust for Zoom. 

> Draw Curves.

The color is applied with a certain tracing effect. The cursor position precedes the tool tip. Photoshop uses this distance to calculate a smooth brush path. The magenta brush leash makes the process visually tangible.

  • Stroke Catch-up means that the paint application is filled up to the cursor position as long as the mouse button is pressed. The paint application stops as soon as the mouse button is released or as soon as the cursor position is reached by the stroke.
  • Adjust for Zoom prevents erratic strokes by adjusting the smoothing to the selected zoom level. Smoothing is moderately reduced when the image is zoomed in strongly, and moderately increased when the image is zoomed out strongly. Always good.

Please explore the rest of the smoothing palette settings once yourself.

We disable smoothing by setting a smoothing value of 0%.

> Options bar: Smoothing 0%

If you are interested in illustration, painting and Photoshop Art, you can’t avoid an intensive study of the painting tool. It would take a workshop of its own to explore the possibilities offered by the painting tool even halfway.

An indispensable prerequisite for making progress in this area is working with the pen tablet. The mouse is a clunky tool. Despite smoothing support, fine strokes and real brushing are just as difficult to achieve with the mouse as with the touchpad. This can only be achieved with the pen in the hand.

Finally, let me emphasize it again:

We never set our brushstrokes directly in the background layer. The background layer always remains in its original state. We always brush in real layers, whose blending modes, whose opacity we can adjust and also correct again at any point in the image processing.

> Run through layer blending modes.

> Try out various layer opacity settings.

The best thing about this is that if at any time we find that we no longer need the layer content, we simply press the Delete key and everything is fine again.

> Remove layer by pressing the Delete key.

History, Undo and Revert

At this point I’d like to take a quick look at the Revert options.

Being able to revert to a previous editing state is an extremely important workflow aspect, especially in Photoshop. The reason for this is that the image editing workflow is anything but linear. Again and again, the image editor finds herself forced to take small detours, to try out alternatives, to experiment. Trial-and-error is a fundamental part of the Photoshop workflow.

We can restore previous states in three ways: By pressing Cmd+Z, by using the Revert command, and by operating the History palette. Let’s start with Cmd+Z.


There is not much to say about this simple option. The command can be found at the top of the Edit menu, as in all other programs, and is always triggered using the famous shortcut.

> Press Cmd+Z twice.

By repeatedly using it, we step further and further back in the history, which can also be seen directly in the History palette.


> Expand the History palette.

> Press Cmd+Z twice more.

The last 50 working steps are recorded in the History palette. These can be scrolled backwards there by pressing Command Z or selected specifically by clicking the desired entry.

> Click any entry approximately in the middle of the history list.

We remember: The number of history states, as the stored work steps are called, can be modified in the Performance subitem of the Preferences. I consider the default value of 50 to be absolutely sufficient. Please note that the increase of the number of history states is bought with the binding of free RAM, which sometimes leads to a deterioration of the performance of the program.

At the moment when a new step is set, the subsequent history states in the list are deleted.

> Brushstroke somewhere in the image.

Toggle Last State

In addition to Undo, the Edit menu also contains the Redo command. Photoshop also offers a third command to operate the History palette. The command Toggle Last State has a very special meaning in image editing.

> Press Cmd-option+Z several times.

Cmd-option+Z switches back and forth between the last two editing states. Nothing could be better for assessing progress in image processing than direct comparison. Toggle Last State stands for exactly this possibility and is used very often by the image editor.

The importance of Undo, Toggle Last State and the History palette should have become sufficiently clear. But we have one more restore option at hand in Photoshop: Revert.


The Revert command is found in the second sector of the File menu. Revert causes the image to return to the last saved version. Let me explain the context a bit more …

Image editing is usually a time-consuming activity, i.e. to achieve the desired results, often a whole series of steps is necessary. Even if program crashes have become a rarity in the meantime, the image editor must always expect them. She will therefore be well advised to save the results she is satisfied with to the hard disk by pressing Cmd+S.

If the further work steps should then prove to be not purposeful, there is a quick and uncomplicated way to return to the last already accepted status by issuing the Revert command. By the way, Revert can also be triggered by pressing function key 12.

But what is the benefit of Revert? Reverting to the accepted status could also be done in the history palette. Yes, but only if the last save was made within the current 50 steps listed there. So Revert represents to us the very valuable ability to return to an accepted state of the image beyond the horizon of the History palette.


Now let’s get acquainted with another useful feature of the History palette that does something similar. With the help of the so-called snapshots, editing states that have been found to be good can be recorded in the History palette. Since we can’t go into it too intensively in the Basics Workshop, we’ll just point out one very special snapshot here …

When you open an image in Photoshop, the program automatically creates a first snapshot of it. Here you can see it at the top of the History palette as a bar with a thumbnail.

If you want to return to the state of the image when you opened it, i.e. to undo all the image processing that has been done since then, simply click this first snapshot bar.

> Click First Snapshot.

The sheer number of alternatives for restoring previous image processing states indicates the importance of this topic in the workflow. So you should familiarize yourself with the options just presented right from the start. This creates flexibility and security when working.

Pencil Tool

Let’s create a new hard brush stroke.

> Size: 100px, Hardness: 100%.

> Brushstroke somewhere in the image.

The drawer of the toolbox where we found the Brush Tool contains a few more fill tools. We will only take a closer look at the Pencil Tool.

The Pencil Tool works in the same way as the Brush Tool. So let’s focus on the differences between the two tools.

> Activate Pencil Tool.

> Size: 100px, Hardness: 0%.

> Any brushstroke anywhere in the image.

No matter what hardness setting we choose, the Pencil Tool, like the crayon in real life, will invariably produce hard strokes. And a closer look at the contour of the brushstroke reveals what maximum hardness means …

> Zoom in on Pencil and Brush Tool strokes.

The Pencil stroke shows a qualitative deficit in comparison with the equally hard Brushstroke of the Brush Tool. The absolutely hard contour of the Pencil stroke has an unattractive aliasing, which the Brush Tool can soften by slightly trembling the contour. This smoothing effect, which the Brush Tool masters in contrast to the Pencil Tool, is called anti-aliasing.

Because of this shortcoming, the colored pencil is not the first choice for brushing. In traditional image editing, one hardly resorts to this tool. Nevertheless, it is interesting for certain tasks in web design or illustration: Whenever individual pixels need to be recolored, whenever absolutely hard horizontal or vertical lines need to be drawn, its weakness proves to be its strength. For the latter, however, the spacing must be greatly reduced.

Paint Bucket Tool

The Paint Bucket Tool is hidden behind the Gradient Tool in the toolbox.

> Activate the Paint Bucket Tool.

> Mode Normal, Opacity 100%, Tolerance 50.

> Click in the middle red of the bucket.

With the Paint Bucket Tool we pour paint into the image. The question that arises in view of the result is: According to which criteria is the coloring done here?

A look at the tool’s options bar enlightens us: The color fill is based on the tolerance value set there. Photoshop checks the color of the pixels in the immediate vicinity of the clicked pixel. If their color is within the range of the tolerated deviation, the pixels are recolored, otherwise not.

The procedure of the Paint Bucket Tool thus corresponds to that of the Magic Wand Tool, with the difference that at the end not a color range selection is created, but a color filling in a certain tolerance range takes place. Our attempt to recolor the red of the bucket leaves something to be desired.

The actual effects of the application are obviously difficult to assess. For this reason, the Paint Bucket Tool is hardly one of the image editor’s favorite tools.

Gradient Tool

With the Gradient Tool we create color gradients. In a gradient, two or more colors blend into each other.

> Activate Gradient Tool.

Before we can apply the Gradient Tool, we need to make a few settings in the Options Panel.

First, we need to make a decision about whether we want to create gradients in the classic style or in a non-destructive way. We’ll choose the new default setting Gradient in the small Options menu. Photoshop thus creates gradient layers that remain fully editable.

> Options panel: In the options menu, select Gradient (non-destructive).

The handling of the Gradient Tool has changed dramatically with this innovation (release in Photoshop 2024). From now on, gradient creation and modification are no longer done in a stand-alone Gradient Editor, but live in the image and in the Properties palette.

Let’s set a few more parameters and then create a gradient.

> Options Panel: Gradient Preset Picker/Basics: Foreground to Background; Shape: linear; check Dither; Method: Perceptual.

> Set a relatively short gradient in the center of the image.

My current result shows a linear gradient from foreground to background color. The color change occurs at the 50% mark. Linear means: The drawn gradient line is normal to the individual color lines in the gradient.

Besides the linear one – the first button in the options bar – we can also choose other gradient shapes. The second button activates the radial gradient.

> Options bar: activate radial gradient.

The gradient will be updated immediately. If you want to change the appearance of the gradient, drag the control elements in the image or modify the parameters of the corresponding Properties palette.

> Drag the three control elements and move the radial gradient to the center of the image.

The scale and the position of the midpoint of the gradient can also be adjusted in the Properties palette.

> Open the Properties palette: set the scaling to 25% and the midpoint location to 60%.

The Properties palette provides access to the gradients of the Gradient Preset Picker, but also offers numerous features that allow you to edit the current gradient in all its details.

Before we take a closer look, let’s ask ourselves an important, general question:

For which use cases are gradients intended?

Gradients are often used when creating backgrounds. Illustrators sometimes even use gradients intensively. But are gradients always found only in artificial subjects or do they also occur in nature?

> Hide gradient layer.

In fact, photos consist of nothing else. Gradients wherever you look. We claim that the top of the boat is orange. But if you look closely, this orange is given in the most different gradations, which merge into each other. A single gradient orgy. And the same applies to all other elements of the picture. In photographic images, we hardly ever see true monochrome areas, but we do see gradients everywhere.

Not infrequently, the image editor creates artificial gradients to simulate natural gradients. Let’s think, for example, of a shot with a gray, cloudy sky. If we want to make a bright, beautiful day out of it, one task will be to draw in a sky blue. This can by no means consist of a monochrome, light blue area. Anyone who likes to look at the air knows that the blue of the sky just above the horizon line is different from that at the zenith, that the blue in the east is different from that in the west. And as evening falls, other colors gradually blend into the complex gradient situation. All this must and can be artificially created in Photoshop with the help of the gradient tool, if a natural impression is to be conveyed.

The Gradient Preset Picker contains only a few usable standard gradients. In the majority of use cases, we are required to create a gradient ourselves. We usually start from a standard gradient, such as Foreground to Background, and determine the desired appearance using the setting options of the Properties palette.

> Gradient Properties palette: Gradient Preset Picker Foreground to Background.

> Style Linear, Type Solid, Method Perceptual, Smoothness 100%.

We select Linear as the gradient style. The Type Solid and 100% Smoothness provide a compact, smooth gradient.

> Gradient Properties palette: Open the Method menu.

The small Method menu contains several entries with which we determine how gradients are created. The default setting Perceptual produces natural-looking gradients as they are actually perceived by the human eye.

The left color marker currently represents the foreground color, the right one the background color. If we want to change a gradient color, we open the Color Picker by double-clicking on the corresponding color marker.

> Gradient Properties palette: double-click the left color marker, define a new color and click OK.

The edited color marker is highlighted now. This indicates that the color marker is active. If we move the color marker a little to the right, the change is immediately implemented in the gradient.

> Gradient Properties palette: Move foreground color marker to the right.

We can also set the position of the color marker by entering a numerical value for the location.

> Gradient Properties palette: Set Location color marker to 40.

The same applies to setting the position of the color midpoint.

> Gradient Properties palette: Activate gradient midpoint by clicking on it, set Location to 60.

If we want to add another color to the gradient, we move the cursor in the palette from below to the preview bar and click as soon as the plus arrow appears.

> Gradient Properties palette: Add color marker in the left area and move it all the way to the left to the beginning of the bar. 

> Double-click the color marker and apply the new color.

Using the Opacity Controls we can add transparency to the gradient. For example, we can make the color gradient fade out.

> Gradient Properties palette: Activate right transparency marker.

> Opacity 50%, Location 90%.

After we have finished the gradient so far, we briefly consider whether we only need it for the current application or whether we want to keep this specific gradient for the future. If the latter is the case, we press the Save Preset button of the Gradient Properties palette.

> Gradient Properties palette: press Save Preset button, name: “MyGradient” and OK.

> Open Gradient Preset Picker.

The saved gradient appears at the bottom of the list and stays there for us.

It will remain there until we decide to delete it.

> Right click “MyGradient”, Delete Gradient… and OK.

Working with gradients is nothing unusual in Photoshop. But it turns out, on closer inspection, to be not as frictionless as you might think. Gradients are made up of subtle gradations of color. As long as there are enough color gradations in the gradient, everything runs smoothly in the truest sense of the word.

In reduced color spaces, such as the CMYK color space, there are sometimes not enough color gradations available for certain color constellations to form a smooth gradient. The gradient then breaks off at one point or another. This leads to the unsightly formation of stripes, which we call banding.

A first, simple way to reduce banding is to dither the gradient, i.e. to disturb the gradient. And that’s exactly what the little checkbox Dither in the options bar is for. So please always dither the gradient application.

We can’t go into this in detail in the Basics Workshop. However, I would like to point out that we will take a closer look at banding and how to combat it in the Advanced Workshop.

Fortunately, banding occurs only occasionally. So we don’t have to be afraid of it in principle, and we can create and use gradients as and where we want.

Eraser Tool

If we have messed up the whole image, we choose one of the restore options to return to a previous state. However, when it comes to correcting inaccuracies or mistakes made during the brushing process, we reach for the eraser.

In fact, I rarely use this tool. We will talk about the reasons for this later. Nevertheless, let’s take a quick look at the tool.

> Activate Eraser Tool in the toolbox.

> Options bar: Mode Brush, Opacity 100%, Flow 100%.

> Apply Eraser Tool in the background layer.

The result of applying the Eraser Tool turns out a little surprising. Where we expected an erasure of the color application and a reappearance of the untouched image, a fill with background color occurs.

The reason for this is that we are working in the background layer. If we were erasing in a real layer, the eraser behavior would match our expectations. However, in the background layer, the eraser fills the hole it scratches in the image with background color.

Actually, we already made a mistake by editing the background layer. Remember the rule about never editing the original. Anyway, by checking the Erase to History checkbox in the Eraser Tool options bar, we force the tool to erase back to the first snapshot in the History palette.

> Options bar: Check the Erase to History checkbox.

> Apply Eraser Tool.

> Expand the History palette.

The brush icon in the snapshot bar of the History palette indicates that applying this so-called history eraser restores the first snapshot. Since the Snapshot preserves our intact image, the eraser in the background layer now behaves exactly as would be expected of a real eraser or in a real layer.

Let’s take a quick look at the latter as well.

> Bring up the Layers palette.

> Create a new layer by clicking on the Create a new layer icon.

> Apply Brush Tool in the layer.

> Options bar: Disable Erase to History checkbox.

> Apply Eraser Tool in the layer.

For my part, as I said, I rarely use the Eraser Tool. And even its two variants that can be found in the same drawer of the toolbox – the Background Eraser Tool and the Magic Eraser Tool – are not among my favorite tools. Illustrators would probably not agree with my opinion. In the Illu workflow, at least the classic Eraser Tool has some importance.

Detail retouching

Let’s open a new chapter in the workshop. Let’s open exercise file 4. 

> Exercise file 4

So far we have learned about tools for creating selections and tools for adding and deleting color from an image. The tools we will now take a closer look at are used for completely different tasks.

Let’s take a look at the Clone Stamp Tool.

Clone Stamp Tool

> Open the drawer of the Clone Stamp Tool in the toolbox.

You will have noticed that some tool names in the drawer are accompanied by a letter. This is, of course, the keyboard shortcut with which we can quickly activate the tool in the toolbox.

The Clone Stamp Tool is activated by pressing the S key. The Lasso by pressing the L key.

> Pressing S.

> Pressing L.

If there are several tools in one drawer, as is the case with the lasso, for example, the variants can be activated by shift-pressing the same letter.

> Shift-press L.

> Shift-press L again.

> And repeated shift-pressing of L.

The assignments of the keyboard shortcuts to the tools is mostly meaningful.

Therefore it is very easy to activate the Type Tool, the Marquee Tool, the Brush Tool and many more tools with keyboard shortcuts.

> Pressing T.

> Pressing M.

> Pressing B and Shift-pressing B until finally the Brush is activated.

Let’s return to the Clone Stamp Tool by pressing S.

> Pressing S.

Since the Clone Stamp Tool works much like a painting tool, let’s first of all choose a suitable tool tip. For our purposes, the following parameters will be useful …

> Options Bar: Open the Brush Preset Picker.

> Round soft, Size 250px, Hardness 0%.

Now let’s match the rest of the parameters in the options bar.

> Options Bar: Mode Normal, Opacity and Flow 100%, disable all effects, Checkbox Aligned on, Sample Current Layer.

With this we have more or less created a normal setting for the tool.

The application is not ad hoc, but successive in two steps.

With the help of the Clone Stamp tool we can clone parts of the image. The first step is to determine which parts of the image should be cloned. And we do that by a simple Option-click of the desired image part.

> Press the Option key.

As soon as we hold down the Option key, the cursor turns into the crosshair-like capture icon.

For example, if we want to clone the ladybug, we Option-click on the ladybug.

> Option-click Ladybug.

Once this is done, we can release the Option key. The capture process is complete.

The actual application is now done in a second step. We proceed in the style of a painting process, but we do not apply color, but a clone of the captured image part. We try to transfer the complete motif with a single brush stroke.

> Place the ladybug clone on the left below the original position.

Finally, let’s return to the original situation with Cmd+Z.

> Cmd+Z.

Please pay attention again to what happens during the cloning process.

> Place the ladybug clone again on the same place and keep the mouse button pressed longer.

While the clone is placed at the destination, a thin crosshair shows the source location. The crosshair cursor moves synchronously with the actual cursor. This shows that the source location and the destination location are rigidly aligned.

If I want to place a second clone at a different location in the image, this alignment of the source location and the destination location will get in the way of my plan. This is easier shown than explained.

> Release the mouse button and move the cursor to another place in the image.

> Place clone.

The distance and the direction between the destination and the source location are kept. So now we don’t clone the ladybug, but just another part of the image.

This fixation is not always useful. If the ladybug is to be placed in the image several times, we would have to option-click it again after each brushstroke. However, this inconvenience can be avoided by a simple measure.

To release the fixation, it is sufficient to deactivate the Aligned checkbox of the options bar. Please pay attention to the position of the crosshair during the brushing process.

> Return to the initial state via Snapshot History palette.

> Options bar: Disable aligned checkbox.

> Option-click Ladybug.

> Place ladybug clone in single file several times in the image.

The crosshair cursor seems to be stuck at the original source location. With each new placement, another clone of the original subject is created.

Not all ladybugs want to walk in single file. Please take a close look at what happens when I place a ladybug in front of a different background.

> Place ladybug clone in the lower right of the sandy skin area.

> Expand the environment of the subject a little.

In the ladybug’s surroundings, light skin is applied. This is not desirable in this way. But how should Photoshop decide which subject we are actually concerned with and where its borders are? The ladybug is not recognized as an object by Photoshop.

With this, we have made an important experience in dealing with the Clone Stamp Tool: The tool does not aim at a motif or an object, it only clones pixel areas. And for this reason, the Clone Stamp Tool is not primarily used to duplicate motifs, but to transfer image textures. The task complex to which the Clone Stamp Tool and similar tools are assigned is called Retouching.

The Stamp Tool is used to remove dandruff from the suit’s shoulders, to squeeze out pimples, to perform natural hair transplants, and to make glitches and small image defects disappear in the broadest sense.

In practice, therefore, one is more likely to reach for the stamp tool when it comes to retouching away the ladybug and less often when one wants to duplicate the ladybug motif.

And there is another reason for this: clones are usually easy to identify as such. In nature, there are no exact copies, as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz already knew. Conversely, it can be stated: Wherever we are confronted with an exact copy, an artificial intervention has undoubtedly taken place. This is a problem that must be actively countered by image processing aimed at realism.

Let’s return to the initial situation in the image and try to remove the ladybug as inconspicuously as possible using the Clone Stamp tool.

> Return to the initial state via Snapshot History palette.

> Options bar: Re-enable Aligned checkbox.

> Remove ladybug with the Stamp tool.

To ensure unobtrusive retouching, the sample must be chosen carefully. Only skin areas that promise a seamless fit will be considered for transposition. The sample taken at the source location must therefore have textures, colors and tonal values that are compatible with the target location and its immediate surroundings.

For all our efforts to achieve unobtrusive retouching, we cannot be satisfied with the current state. The cloned pixel spot carries the stigma of being an exact copy. Especially in the texture area, the exact repetitions prove to be quite disturbing. To fix the flaw, it is appropriate to remove at least the most prominent of the repeated structural elements. So we touch up our retouching in a few places.

> Reduce the tool tip via crtl-option+drag-left.

> Touch up the retouch in a few places.

A basic rule when working with the Clone Stamp Tool is: the less, the better. Let’s review this briefly.

> Increase the tool tip via crtl-option+drag-right a bit.

> Repeatedly click into the image at the same place.

Repeated use of the Clone Stamp tool at one and the same spot ends up in an undesirable blurring of the border area of the processed pixel spot. The reason for this is, of course, the soft tool tip.

Unfortunately, the problem cannot be avoided by working with a hard tool tip. Such a tool would leave undesirable traces, namely hard edges in the processed area.

So we will choose the size of the soft tool tip so that we can achieve the retouching goal with as few clicks as possible, at best with just a single click or brushstroke.

Moreover, what applies to painting must also be observed when retouching: We never take action in the background layer. All retouching tasks should also be done in a separate layer.

Let’s return to the initial state and repeat the retouching in the right way.

> Return to the initial state via Snapshot History palette.

> Create a new layer by clicking on the Create a new layer icon.

> Hide the background layer.

Since the new layer does not contain anything that could be used as a clone sample, we have to allow the tool to get the sample content from other layers – in our case from the background layer.

To do this, we just need to specify a new sample source in the options bar.

> Show background layer again

> Options bar: Sample All Layers.

> Remove Ladybug with the Stamp tool.

> Hide the background layer and show it again.

The retouching is separate from the background layer in the form of an independent layer and can thus be easily improved or removed again at a later time. The original remains intact.

Now let’s use exercise file 5 to open another image that we want to enhance with the Stamp tool.

> Exercise file 5

We want to remove the topmost character with the stamp tool.

> Remove character with the stamp tool.

The result leaves much to be desired. Our approach leaves clear traces of work. But what is the reason?

In fact, no modification of the settings of the Stamp tool can fix the error. And even more careful stamping will not bring any improvement.

The problem we face here is based on the lighting situation and the three-dimensionality of the object on whose surface we are retouching. Both aspects create a complex gradient zone that is difficult to retouch with the Clone Stamp tool.

Moreover, it is impossible to find a suitable sample anywhere that can be transposed inconspicuously. In short, the very simple Stamp tool encounters a complex situation that requires more than just transferring a pixel spot.

If we want to achieve an inconspicuous retouching result, the sample must be adapted to the lighting situation of the target location. A requirement that the Clone Stamp Tool cannot fulfill.

Patch Tool

Let’s return to the initial situation and try to solve the task with another retouching tool, namely the Patch Tool.

> Return to the initial state via Snapshot History palette.

> Activate the Patch Tool.

Using the Patch Tool requires some preliminary considerations. First of all we have to define in the options bar in which patch mode we want to proceed.

> Options bar: Open the Patch menu.

> Patch: Select Normal.

You can choose between Normal and Content-Aware. In our case, we just want to cover a clearly defined zone with a patch. The source location and the target location have the same texture. In other words, Photoshop doesn’t have to invent pixel textures, it just has to adjust the sample to the lighting situation of the destination. So we choose: Normal. By the way, this applies to most use cases.

Then we still have to decide whether we want to change the source or the target. You will immediately understand what is meant by this as soon as we apply the tool. In many cases, changing the source is the better option.

> Options bar: Enable Source.

Once we have made the necessary settings, the next step is to select the pixel spot to be retouched using the Lasso-style Patch Tool.

> Select the character with the Patch Tool.

Now we move the selection area. The goal is to find a patch that has the same texture as the immediate area of the zone to be repaired.

> Move the patch and hold it in hover.

Let’s hold the selection in hover to analyze the situation. The character is currently covered by a patch that has the bottle texture but a completely different light situation. We had gotten as far as this by using the simple stamp tool.

Please pay close attention to what happens to the patch when we release the mouse button now.

> Release the mouse button.

Photoshop adjusts the patch to the light situation of the new location, so it adjusts the hue, brightness and saturation of the patch to the immediate environment. The retouching is perfect.

With the Patch Tool we have a tool that can handle complex lighting situations in retouching. The Patch Tool is used whenever larger areas need to be retouched.

Let’s also remove the middle character with the Patch Tool.

> Remove the middle character.

Healing Brush Tool

When it’s more about retouching spots or smaller zones in complex environments, let’s use a tool that combines the advantages of the Clone Stamp Tool and the Patch Tool: the Healing Brush.

> Activate Healing Brush Tool.

The Healing Brush is used in the style of the Clone Stamp Tool. So we specify a soft tool tip of suitable size, define a suitable sample zone as usual with an Option click, and paint over the area to be retouched with a single Brushstroke if possible.

> Options bar: Mode Normal, Source Sampled, Checkbox Aligned on.

> Tool tip: round soft, Size 150px.

> Option-click Sample Zone and apply.

We have now become acquainted with three tools that basically allow us to pursue the same goal, namely to achieve an inconspicuous retouch. Each of these tools is intended for a very specific application scenario. So the redundancy is not due to different preferences of different image editors, but to the specific requirements of different retouching tasks.

  • For simple retouching tasks that do not require any consideration of gradients existing in the image, the Clone Stamp tool comes in handy.
  • Spot retouching in environments with a complex gradient situation can be handled with the Healing Brush.
  • If larger areas need to be retouched, you can use the Patch Tool.

Each of these three tools has its advantages, but also its limitations in use. The Healing Brush is also not universally applicable. If we try to remove the cord with it, for example, we quickly discover where the Healing Brush fails.

> Healing Brush: round soft, Size 100px.

> Option-click Sample Zone and apply to the bottle outline.

The peculiarity of taking tonal values and color values from the immediate surroundings always ruins the use of the Healing Brush if the immediate surroundings differ in color from the retouching zone. The same applies to the Patch Tool, by the way. The Patch Tool will also fail in such cases.

> Undo with cmd+Z.

> Remove the string with the Healing Brush until just before the bottle contour.

For the last bit of retouching, as we now know, a tool change is necessary. The lighting situation allows us to reach for the simpler Stamp tool. With the help of a lasso selection that protects the bottle contour, we now complete the retouching.

> Create a lasso selection of the remaining retouching area.

> Clone Stamp Tool: round soft, 50px.

> Option-click Sample Zone and apply.

Remove Tool

Let’s return to the initial state and have a look at the Remove Tool.

> Return to the initial state via Snapshot History palette.

> Activate Remove Tool.

The Remove Tool is an AI-assisted retouching tool that works wonderfully in many cases to remove unwanted image details.

> Options bar: Size 100.

> Circle all three characters with a single brushstroke.

The result leaves nothing to be desired. Admittedly, it does not always work so perfectly. But the tools are constantly being developed. AI support in Photoshop is now on the rise. It’s already becoming apparent that AI will be of enormous importance, especially for image editing. And I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

By the way, we’ll learn about a few more features in the workshop that demonstrate the potential of this advanced technology.

But first, let’s open up Exercise 7 and take a look at a few other retouching tools.

> Exercise file 7

Retouching is not always about eradicating blemishes or image errors.  Photoshop has a number of tools ready for us that aim at completely different aspects.

> Open the Blur drawer of the toolbox.

The Blur drawer contains three tools whose names unmistakably announce their function: Blur, Sharpen, and Smudge.

Blur Tool

Let’s start with the Blur Tool. We set a suitable tool tip and define the relevant parameters in the options bar.

> Activate Blur Tool.

> Set tool tip via ctrl-option: Size 250px, Hardness 0%.

> Options bar: Mode Normal, Strength 100%.

As with almost all retouching tasks, a round, soft tool tip is required here so as not to leave any editing marks. In the options bar we select the Normal mode. We set the value for Strength to 100%. The latter, however, is only used here in the workshop in order to be able to bring out the blur effect quickly and clearly. In practice, we usually work with reduced strength for better control of the application.

Once the tool settings are done, we start to blur the left eye of the kitten.

> Blur the left eye by repeatedly clicking or brushing.

Unlike the Clone Stamp Tool or the Healing Brush, the Blur Tool pays off with repeated clicking and brushing. We apply the tool until the desired blur effect is achieved.

Here in the workshop we may proceed mindlessly, but please pay attention to the Sample All Layers checkbox in the Options bar. This tool group also allows retouching in a separate layer. The original of the background layer should, as I said, remain untouched during any editing.

Sharpen Tool

The counterpart to the Blur Tool is of course the Sharpen Tool.

> Activate the Sharpen Tool.

> Set tool tip via ctrl-option: Size 250px, Hardness 0%.

> Options bar: Mode Normal, Strength 100%.

Now let’s sharpen the eye of the kitten again using the Sharpen Tool. Again, repeated clicking or brushing is required.

> Try to sharpen the left eye by repeated clicking or brushing.

The result is anything but satisfactory.

> Zoom in on the two cat’s eyes.

On the one hand, it should be noted that the two tools produce the opposite effect in each case, but are only very limitedly capable of undoing what the other one has done.

On the other hand, the actual function of the two tools is revealed to us …

  • Blurring dissolves the contours in the image.
  • Sharpening emphasizes the contours in the image.

We’ll talk about both of these issues in more detail later, when we get to grips with the corresponding filters.

Each retouching starts from the current state. This means that the retouching can only be as good as the current conditions allow.

Unfortunately, one cannot expect to bring completely blurred images into an acceptable state of sharpness. The opposite problem of getting sharp images soft, on the other hand, can usually be solved quite well.

> Options bar: Mode Normal, Strength 30%.

> Sharpen the right cat’s eye with a single brushstroke.

> Zoom out via cmd+1.

> Cmd-option+Z Toggle Last State.

Smudge Tool

With the third tool in this drawer, the Smudge Tool, we can smudge pixel mass as if we were dipping our finger in wet paint. With cleverly chosen tool settings, it is possible to perform small operations locally. Stretching and compressing, lengthening and shortening are typical tasks that can be done with the smudge finger. Let’s lengthen the whiskers a bit for practice.

> Activate Smudge Tool, round soft, Size 50px, Options bar: Strict 50%.

> Lengthen whiskers.

The Dodge Tool, Burn Tool and Sponge Tool tackle completely different retouching tasks. The application of these three tools does not change the pixel position, but targets specific pixel properties.

Dodge Tool

The Dodge Tool and its counterpart, the Burn Tool, target the tonal values of the image. So it’s about editing the brightness, specifically lightening or darkening it.

Let’s apply the Dodge Tool right away to get to know the effect of brightening. Our goal is to gently lighten the inside of the auricles. As always, we need to make the tool settings before retouching.

> Activate Dodge Tool, round soft, Size 100px.

As usual, we use a round soft tool tip of moderate size. In addition, we need to make three important settings, all of which are strongly influenced by the local image situation.

> Options bar: Expand Range menu.

First, we have to decide in which tonal value zone the intervention should primarily take place – in the shadows, in the midtones or in the highlights. If we decide in favor of the midtones, this logically means for the shadows and the highlights that they will be less affected by our measures.

> Options bar: Select Range Midtones.

Now we still need to determine the intensity of the exposure. The term Exposure makes clear what the name Dodge Tool might have already given us an idea of: We are dealing here with a traditional darkroom technique, or its equivalent in the digital darkroom Photoshop.

In traditional processing, the photo technician achieves a local brightening in the subject by briefly interrupting the exposure beam. This is usually done by briefly holding a piece of cardboard directly over the area to be brightened. The symbol of the Dodge Tool is a charming reminder of this technique, as the cardboard was usually attached to a piece of florist’s wire.

The exposure value of the Dodge Tool thus determines the strength of the brightening effect in the application. We always choose it low, usually no higher than 5 or 10%, and amplify the effect by repeatedly clicking or brushing until the desired brightening has occurred.

> Options bar: Exposure 5%.

The third important determination we still need to make is to protect or not protect the tones. With the Protect Tones checkbox checked, we are ensured that a minimum amount of drawing is preserved in the shadows and highlights. This prevents the edited area from becoming completely white or black, even if we specifically target the highlights or shadows. In addition, the checkbox also prevents color shifts. Protect Tones is therefore usually a good recommendation.

> Options bar: Activate Protect Tones.

> Lighten ear tones by repeated brushing.

Burn Tool

> Activate Burn Tool, round soft, Size 200px.

As already mentioned, we can simply understand the Burn Tool as a counterpart of the Dodge Tool. Accordingly, the Burn Tool is used to darken local areas of the image. And also the Burn Tool has evolved from a traditional darkroom technique, the post exposure.

If a certain area of the photo is to be darker in the processing than is the case on the negative, the photo technician overexposes this area slightly. In order to exclude the already perfectly exposed areas on the photo paper from the post-exposure, she usually covers them with her hand or fingers during the process.

I don’t need to say anything more about the Burn Tool’s settings, they are the same as those of the Dodge Tool with the signs reversed, so to speak. Let’s carefully darken the legs of the kitten a bit.

> Options bar: Range Midtones, Exposure 5%, Protect Tones.

> Darken legs by repeatedly brushing.

Since working with the Dodge Tool and the Burn Tool usually goes hand in hand in certain cases, it proves helpful that one tool can be temporarily activated starting from the other tool by simply holding down the Option key.

> Lightening with the Burn Tool while holding down the Option key.

Sponge Tool

> Activate Sponge Tool, round soft, Size 400px.

The third tool in this interesting drawer is used to edit the saturation locally, specifically to decrease or increase it. The desired mode is to be selected in the options bar. We want to make the orange in the kitten’s face glow, so we set the mode in the options bar to Saturate, i.e. increase saturation.

> Options bar: Mode Saturate, Flow 10%, activate the checkbox Vibrance.

With the Flow value we determine the speed and thus the intensity of the application. The same applies to the Sponge Tool: Repeated brushing at a low flow value makes the tool more controllable.

Whenever it is necessary to achieve a gentle increase in saturation, it is advisable to activate the Vibrance checkbox. Vibrance adjusts different saturation levels to each other while increasing the saturation. This provides a more moderate and therefore more realistic result.

> Apply Sponge Tool to the face of the kitten over a large area.

What the three retouching tools just discussed lack is the ability to do the retouching in a separate layer to spare the original: There is unfortunately no Sample All Layers checkbox in the options bar. How can we still ensure that the original remains intact?

We duplicate the background layer, or the part of the image to be processed, and work on the duplicate.

To conclude the discussion of the retouching tools, I would like to point out one important aspect that is common to working with all these tools:

Retouching tools are used exclusively and only ever locally. If tools intended for local use are used over a large area, it is difficult to avoid work marks that you inevitably make when brushing.

If you want to lighten or darken, saturate or desaturate, sharpen or blur larger areas, you can use the corresponding filters or adjustment layers.

> Open the Filter / Blur menu.

> Open the Filter / Sharpen menu.

> Layers palette: Adjustment Layers menu.

We will talk in detail about the most important filters and adjustment layers later in the workshop.

Photoshop and type

Let’s now turn to a rather ambivalent topic in Photoshop and take a look at what the program has in store for us in terms of text creation and editing.

The Type tool and its features do not need to be discussed separately in our workshop, since it behaves largely like the corresponding tools we know from other programs. At first glance, the Type tool in Photoshop is hardly any different from the ones available in Illustrator or InDesign. In fact, however, we are dealing with something quite different in Photoshop when it comes to text creation. More on that in a moment.

Horizontal Type Tool

Let’s take the Type tool and create a short line of text. 

> Open the Type Tool drawer and activate the Horizontal Type Tool.

The Horizontal Type Tool is our default text creation tool. All other tools in the toolbox drawer can be safely ignored.

We select a font size of 36pt in the options bar. This is just for consistency in the workshop. We could set the font size as well as all other font parameters after setting the line.

> Options bar: Font size 36pt.

> Click somewhere into the image.

With a click into the image we set a text marker as usual. The famous first words of the dummy text “Lorem Ipsum” appear. This is the sign for us to start typing.

> Enter “The quick brown fox”.

As long as the text marker at the end of the line is blinking, we can enter more text. If we want to finish the text input, we press the Enter key or, in the absence of such a key, the shortcut Cmd+Return.

> Press Cmd+Return key.

Pressing the return key without the command key causes a line break in text mode, as you know, so it is not suitable for completing text creation.

Now that we have a first line of text set, we can begin to deal with the idiosyncrasies of creating text or using type in Photoshop.

A look at the Layers palette shows that the text is floating in its own text layer above the background layer. So our original was not affected by the input. Furthermore, the presence of the text as a text layer gives us unlimited editability. A click with the Type tool anywhere in the line makes the text marker blink again and the text can be edited as usual.

> Click with the Type tool in the line.

> Double-click “brown”, replace with “blue”.

> Double-click “blue”, options bar: assign alternative font style.

> Press Cmd+Return.

If the text mode is not active, but the text layer is selected in the layer palette, all formatting settings will be applied to the whole line.

> Options bar: assign alternative font, font size 48pt.

Vector vs. pixel

I mentioned at the beginning that we’re dealing with something very peculiar when creating text in Photoshop. If we zoom in on our line, it becomes immediately clear what I meant.

> Zooming in on the text.

Photoshop is a pixel-oriented program. The consequences of this for font rendering are clear to see. The letter shape is interpreted as an image. The letter outline cannot be anything but pixelated in Photoshop. The vector outline shape of the letter, which is the basis of the representation, can only be guessed anymore.

What was not noticeable at a zoom level of 100% (72 pixels come to rest on an inch) turns out to be a problem when enlarged. In fact, the insufficiency of the font rendering in Photoshop cannot be remedied by any means.

Sure, we can try to improve the anti-aliasing by trying different settings in the corresponding menu of the options bar.

> Options Bar: Anti-Aliasing Sharp.

> Options bar: Anti-Aliasing Mac LCD.

In the end, the pixelated impression of the font outline can only be softened. And that is at least better than nothing. Let’s temporarily turn off the anti-aliasing to see what we can expect otherwise.

> Options bar: Anti-Aliasing None.

> Options bar: Anti-Aliasing Smooth.

> Zoom out via cmd+1.

As I said, in the 100% zoom level the blemish is not noticeable. The web designer is therefore quite happy with the font display in Photoshop. Things only get hairy when it comes to printing the image including the text. The required print resolution of 300dpi is by far not sufficient to accurately reproduce the font outline in the print image. Text always appears slightly blurred as an image. What constitutes type in typesetting, namely absolutely hard, clear contours, cannot be achieved in Photoshop.

Is the print designer therefore forbidden to set text in Photoshop? Of course not. During the layout phase, she accesses all the possibilities of graphic work in Photoshop. This simplifies and speeds up the design process. However, she will be careful not to keep text elements in the image when she finally exports it for printing as a TIFF or EPS.

Photoshop does allow vector data to be embedded as such in the image during EPS export and promises that it will appear with a hard outline in high-end print output.

> Cmd-option+S, Format EPS, Save Copy as.

> Reference to checkbox Include Vector Data.

However, this promise is only worth as much as the prepress that has to fulfill it. So if you want to be on the safe side, leave it alone and avoid text in an image that will be exported for print.

Text formatting

Using the Color Picker of the Options Bar, we can assign a new color to our text.

> Open Color Picker, select any bold color and close it with OK.

The options bar of the text tool offers a few formatting options. In practice, one is rarely satisfied with this. Even in Photoshop, you usually use the better equipped Character palette for this.

> Open the Character palette.

Since I always need to access the Character palette, I keep it in the vertical dock. The Character palette contains all the tools for adjusting typography, formatting, editing tracking, kerning, and more. We can dispense with a discussion of all these options in the image editing workshop, especially since we should already know how to use them from more appropriate programs for text composition.

> Expand Paragraph palette.

We do not need to discuss the Paragraph palette any further at this point. However, I would like to point out two effect features whose use in Photoshop enjoys great, sometimes too great, popularity.

Warp Text

> Options Bar: Press the Create Warp Text button.

> Open the Style menu.

The Warp Text dialog allows you to warp text. To do this, select the desired style from the menu and modify the application by using the three sliders. The dialog is intuitive to use, so it doesn’t need to be explained in detail. You can start right away and try out a few different styles.

> Style Rise: Horizontal, Bend +75, Horizontal Distortion -50, Vertical Distortion -5 and OK.

Since text can be warped in the same way in Illustrator and InDesign, you haven’t produced anything in Photoshop that can’t be recreated in either output program.

Layer Style

The second effect feature I wanted to touch on briefly is accessed by double-clicking the text layer bar in the Layers palette.

We don’t want to explore the very extensive Layer Style dialog in depth at this point. We are only interested in creating one or two nice text effects.

For orientation: In the left column, various effect scenarios can be activated, which can then be modified with the setting options of the two panels to the right of it.

First, let’s all activate the Bevel & Emboss entry together.

> Activate Bevel & Emboss.

This can be used to add flattened edges and a 3D effect to the letters of our text. So the effect brings out something that is known in the trade as bevel and emboss.

We reset the effect to the default setting …

> Press the Reset to Default button.

… and now start to shape it according to our own wishes by making various specifications from top to bottom. First we choose a style and define a technique.

> Style Emboss, Technique Chisel hard.

We increase the embossing depth and determine the direction of the light incidence.

> Depth 350%, Direction Up.

We specify the width and sharpness of the embossing.

> Size 10px, Soften 0%.

With this we have defined the shape of the embossing.

In the Shading panel, of course, we need to adjust the lighting. We can fine-tune the angle and the height of the light incidence, also manually by moving the point in the circle.

> Angle 120°, Altitude 30°.

By choosing an appropriate shape we can assign a gloss contour.

> Gloss Contour Cove Deep.

And finally we determine in which way and with which color light and shadow influence the surface of the letter shapes.

> Highlight Mode Screen, Opacity 70%.

> Shadow Mode Multiply, Opacity 60%.

It will not surprise us that we once again encounter the Blending Mode menu here.

If we want to overdo it, we now add a drop shadow to the embossing. And we’ll reset this to the default setting as well.

> Activate Dropshadow and Reset to Default.

We could now design the drop shadow along the proven path by setting the parameters from top to bottom. But first we have to define a color and find the right blending mode. In addition, we need to define the shadow density, the angle of the shadow fall and the distance of the drop shadow from the object.

As far as color, blending mode and density are concerned, I’m content with the default settings at the moment. Angle and distance I determine manually by moving the drop shadow directly in the image.

> Move drop shadow manually: Angle about 135°, Distance about 20px.

Determining the shadow size ultimately affects the hardness of the shadow: the larger, the softer.

> Size 10px.

And Spread, i.e. the trapping, defines at which point the shadow starts to fade out, i.e. to become soft.

> Spread 5px.

If we are satisfied with our effect settings, we can already give our OK and close the dialog.

> OK.

A look into the Layers palette shows that our text layer has been enriched by some additions. The thumbnail shows the Warp Text icon, indicating that the text has been warped. The warp effect can be modified by clicking again on the Create Warp Text button in the options bar.

> Options bar: Create Warp Text Button click and cancel.

The Layer Styles appear directly below the actual text layer bar and can be individually deactivated and reactivated there. A double click on a Layer Style entry opens the corresponding Layer Style to make it accessible for further editing.

> Double-click Dropshadow and cancel.

Text effects should always be used sparingly and, above all, only where they are justified and plausible. As is often the case, less is more.

By the way, Layer Styles can be applied not only to text layers. Even conventional layers can be pimped with them. The web designer appreciates this, for example, when designing buttons or other graphic elements.