Q: What’s the difference between a layer mask and a clipping mask?
A: The key difference is what causes areas of a layer to be hidden: a layer mask uses shades of gray while a clipping mask uses transparency. In addition, a layer mask is added to a layer, while a clipping mask is a separate layer that can mask one or more layers. To hide portions of a layer using a layer mask, paint with black.
To create a clipping mask, add a layer below the layer(s) you want to be masked and make sure that this layer contains transparency. For example, putting a photo “inside” a type layer is a common use for a clipping mask. Add a type layer below the photo you want to mask, click on the photo layer, and from the Layer menu, choose Create Clipping Mask. The photo layer is clipped (masked) by the transparency of the layer immediately below.
Q: There are some functions in Photoshop that don’t have a keyboard shortcut that I wish had a shortcut. Is there a way to create my own keyboard shortcuts?
A: In effect you can, but in reality you must edit the existing keyboard shortcuts to allocate a shortcut to a different function. Go to Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts to access all the available commands, and navigate to the function to which you’d like to add a shortcut. For example, in order to allocate a shortcut to Add a Layer Mask, set the Shortcuts For drop-down menu near the top right of the dialog to Application Menus, and go to Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All in the middle section of the dialog.
Click to the right of the command and enter the shortcut you want to use, remembering that you’ll most likely have to reallocate an existing shortcut. In this example, we want to use Shift-Command-L (PC: Shift-Ctrl-L) and when we enter that shortcut, a warning appears: “Shift-Command-L (PC: Shift-Ctrl-L) is already in use and will be removed from Image>Auto Tone if accepted.” When you see a warning like this, you must decide if you’re okay with switching the keyboard shortcut from its existing use to the new command. If you are, click the Accept button and from now on the shortcut will be reallocated to this new function.
Hint: If you reallocate a bunch of shortcuts, you may want to create a saved set of keyboard shortcuts. Do this by clicking on the middle icon directly underneath the Set drop-down menu in the Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus dialog.
Q: What’s the best way to bring an Illustrator file into Photoshop?
A: It depends on whether or not you have Adobe Illustrator—if you do, there are a few options, but first let’s talk about if you don’t have Illustrator, and are given an .eps or .ai file. To add that file to a document, you can use File>Place Embedded (Place Linked would only be of real benefit if you had Adobe Illustrator). After choosing the file, you’ll see transformation handles on the placed graphic that allow you to resize the file before finalizing the placement (by pressing Enter). The placed graphic will be on its own layer as an embedded smart object. That means there are limits on your ability to edit the graphic, so this is best used for situations where you simply have to add—but not edit—an Illustrator graphic.
It’s also possible to open an Illustrator file in Photoshop, recognizing that by doing so, the vector file is rasterized to whatever size you enter in the dialog that appears when you open an .eps or .ai file. That means that although you have more editing capability than an embedded smart object, you’re limited in terms of sizing.
If you have Illustrator, there’s another option that’s often “best” in terms of editability. First, open the file in Illustrator and then select and copy the graphic. Switch to Photoshop and paste it into a document. A dialog will appear giving you various choices, but Smart Object is the choice that gives you the option to continue to use Illustrator to edit the file. After clicking OK in the Paste dialog and pressing Enter to finalize the size, a vector smart object is created. That means that a two-way editing pathway has been created between Photoshop and Illustrator: double-click on the vector smart object thumbnail to return to Illustrator to edit the graphic. Make a change, save the file, and when you return to Photoshop the graphic updates.
There’s one more choice you can make as an Illustrator user that’s particularly useful for commonly used graphics: in Illustrator, add the file to a library in the Libraries panel (Window>Libraries) and then access the same library in Photoshop and drag the file into a document.
Q: Is it possible to create angled guides?
A: Guides can only be either horizontal or vertical, but you could create a layer and use the Line tool (nested under the Rectangle tool in the Toolbar) to add an angled line. To make this line the same color as typical Photoshop guides, enter 3bffff in the # (hexadecimal color) field in the Color Picker for the Foreground color. Then you can use the lock commands at the top of the Layers panel to make the line act more like a guide—remembering that unlike a real guide, these lines will appear in the final document and print unless you hide or delete the layer.
Another possible option is to use a feature “hidden” in the Vanishing Point filter. First, add a blank layer to your document, then use Filter>Vanishing Point. In the filter dialog, use the Create Plane tool (C) to draw the outline of a grid, making sure that the grid is blue (rather than red or yellow) using the Edit Plane tool (V). You can use the Grid Size option to change the number of grid lines. Then use the drop-down menu just to the right of the Edit Plane tool and choose Render Grids to Photoshop. Click OK and the grid that was drawn in Vanishing Point will now be on its own layer and can be locked to use as a guide (as in the previous technique).