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Photoshop Q&A

by | 3 years ago

Q: Is there any way to change the size of the brush without mousing to the Options Bar for the Brushes or Brush Settings panels?

A: There are a couple of options for changing the brush size without going to the Options Bar. First, you can use a one-key shortcut: press the Right Bracket key () to decrease the brush size. You’ll have to repeatedly press those keys to continue to increase or decrease the brush size.

The other option is a more visual approach using something called the HUD (Heads-up Display). Hold down Control–Option (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Right-click) and drag to the right to increase the brush size, and drag to the left to decrease the brush size. Along with seeing a visual representation of the brush size, a small box shows the actual size, as well as Hardness and Opacity settings.

Q: How do I reset my Foreground and Background colors to black and white?

A: The simplest (and quickest way) is to press D (for default)—but that doesn’t work if you’re in the middle of working with the Type tool (T). The other option is to mouse over and click on the small symbol right above the Foreground color swatch near the bottom of the Toolbar.

Q: Is it possible to use a photo as a layer mask? I thought it might be interesting to use an image as a mask rather than painting on the mask. Can that be done?

A: The quick answer is yes, but there’s a bit of a trick to it. First of all, remember that a layer mask is grayscale, so if you choose a photo to use as a mask, it’ll be a grayscale version of that photo—and it’ll work the same way as a mask: black conceals, white reveals, and gray is partial. With all that in mind, here’s how you use an image as a mask.

Open the image that you want to use for the mask, press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to Select All, followed by Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to Copy your image. To be able to paste onto the mask, you have to view the mask itself, which you do by holding down Option (PC: Alt) and clicking once on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel. Now you can press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to Paste the copied image onto the mask. Use Free Transform (Command-T ), if necessary, to resize the image, and press Enter to commit the transformation. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect. Then you can click on the layer thumbnail to see the results.

A couple of notes: First, like any mask, there are limits to how you can edit your pasted image mask. You cannot use smart filters or any other nondestructive methods. Second, with many pasted images, the effect on the layer will look better if you invert the layer mask. You can do that by clicking on the mask thumbnail to make it active, and then press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I).

Q: When I pause the cursor over one particular field in the Character panel, it says, “Set the leading.” What is “leading” and when do I need to change it from (Auto)?

A: Leading is the amount of vertical space between lines of type: often called line or paragraph spacing in other applications. Just for trivia’s sake, the term comes from the strips of lead that traditional typesetters used to add more spacing between lines of type.

Auto Leading is typically 120% of the font size; for example, 10-point type would have a leading of 12. You’d change the setting for leading to increase the spacing, for example, to emulate double-spaced text. In this example, the original text with Auto leading (left) was changed to a leading of approximately twice the font size (right).

A word of warning: If you increase the leading dramatically for large-sized type, it will likely stay at the large leading setting even when you change to a smaller font size. Putting the setting back to Auto in the Character panel is a good way to “reset” the leading.

Q: I unchecked the “Delete Cropped Pixels” option for the Crop tool. How do I “get back” the information I cropped if I want to try a different crop?

A: Go to the Image menu and choose Reveal All; the original canvas size will be shown.

Q: I want to add some feathering to a selection. Is there a way to preview feathering so I know what number to use as a setting?

A: Unfortunately, the Feather command doesn’t have a preview option, but there’s a way to simulate the result of feathering in a way that’s easier to see. Make your selection and then press Q for Quick Mask mode. You’ll see a red overlay around your selection.

Then go to the Filter menu, choose Blur>Gaussian Blur, and enter whatever amount of feathering you want to use (e.g., use a Radius of 30 pixels to feather 30 pixels).

After applying the filter, go back to regular mode by pressing Q again, and your selection will now have a feathered edge. Using the Gaussian Blur filter in this way is virtually identical to using the Feather command.

Q: What is an alpha channel and what would I use it for?

A: Every document contains channels, and the number of channels is dependent on the mode of the document. A Grayscale image has one channel (Gray), RGB has four (RGB, Red, Green, and Blue), and a CMYK document has five (CMYK, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). Any additional channel that’s created is referred to as an alpha channel.

Alpha channels contain grayscale information that’s most often used to “store” information. For example, if you’d made a complex selection and wanted to be able to use that same selection again without having to select it over again, you’d use Select>Save Selection to create an alpha channel to store that selection information.

That alpha channel looks very much like a mask, with white areas representing the selection and black areas representing the areas that weren’t selected.

—CREDIT: Larry Becker

To make a selection from that alpha channel, just hold down Command (PC: Ctrl) and click on the alpha channel thumbnail in the Channels panel, or use Select>Load Selection to choose which alpha channel to load.

Note: Adding alpha channels will increase the size of the saved file.

If you have a Photoshop question that you’d like Dave Cross to answer in the pages of Photoshop User magazine, send it to letters@photoshopuser.com.