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Photoshop: Pen Tools Versus Lasso Tools

Photoshop Knockout Options

By Damien Andrews

Photoshop offers users myriad ways to accomplish almost any desired task. Usually, despite available options, Photoshop users find one method that they like to use to accomplish something, and then they stick with it. There is one obvious advantage to this approach: the user knows, and is comfortable with, the selected method. The disadvantage to this approach to using Photoshop is that sometimes other methods would be faster, or yield better results – or both.

To knockout or isolate an irregularly shaped portion of a photograph, two Photoshop tool sets stand out: the Lasso Tools and the Pen Tools. There are three Photoshop Lasso Tools: Lasso Tool, Polygonal Lasso Tool and Magnetic Lasso Tool. There are five Photoshop Pen Tools: Pen Tool, Freeform Pen Tool, Add Anchor Point Tool, Delete Anchor Point Tool and Convert Point Tool. All of these Photoshop tools are available from the Tools Palette.

The Photoshop Lasso Tools are absolutely easier to learn how to use, and easier to use. The Photoshop Lasso Tools are excellent, and well suited to many knockout tasks. The Photoshop Magnetic Lasso Tool can be a real godsend when knocking out a high contrast subject in a photograph. The Photoshop Polygonal Lasso Tool makes quick work of knocking out hard-edged, straight-line shapes The basic Photoshop Lasso Tool is fast and easy, and allows users to simulate curves by using numerous anchor points, but it can't really create a curve.

The Photoshop Pen Tools are the ultimate knockout tools in Photoshop, but they are absolutely harder to learn to use. At first, they are also more difficult to use, but that dissipates quickly as the user repeats knockout processes and implements the various formidable powers of the tools.

To use the Photoshop Pen Tools, start with the basic tool: the Pen Tool. Create a new layer and start to draw the shape you want. If you're not getting the look you want, check the options for the Pen Tools. Your Pen Tool can be set to Shape Layers, Paths and Fill Pixels. One of these settings will be precisely what you want.

When using the Photoshop Pen Tool, if you are at a point in the shape that requires a curve, simply hold down the left mouse key, click where you want the point and slightly drag the cursor before releasing. Two handles will appear that will later allow you to adjust the curve several ways.

If you need to place a curve or angle where you neglected to in the original outlining, use the Add Anchor Point Tool. The Photoshop Convert Point Tool allows you to change points from those that can be made into curves and those that cannot. It's very fast and handy, once you get the hang of it.

Unlike the Photoshop Lasso Tool, the Pen Tool creates paths that can be altered in any way imaginable – and at any time during the process or later. You can access the path you made in Photoshop in the Layers Menu under Paths. At the bottom of that box you'll find no less than six options for your paths – including delete and copy.

The Pen Tools in Photoshop are incredibly powerful tools. And with some time spent learning about them, users can achieve a whole new level of quality in their knockout work. Further, once a user becomes acquainted with even the basic Photoshop Pen commands and options, using the Pen Tools becomes eminently preferable to using the Lasso Tools for most knockout work. Better results, faster – the Photoshop Pen Tools win!


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