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Drawing a Selection with the Pen

One of the most confusing tools for novice Photoshop users is the Pen. This tool enables you to make a selection around an object by using a vector drawing approach. It's useful, for example, when selecting around an organic shape such as the rounded curve of a piece of fruit or the curves around the edge of a statue.

Using the Pen, you can create editable curved lines as well as straight lines. Select the Pen tool in the toolbox and click at various points around your image to make your selection.

To make a curved line at a particular point, click and hold the mouse pointer at that point and drag to display the handles that let you create a Bézier curve in the line segment just prior to that point. By dragging in or out on the handles, you can make the curve larger or smaller; by rotating the handles, you can adjust how the curve is positioned. When you're done, click at the next point and drag to make another curve or continue to the next point to create a straight line.

To create a selection around an approximately circular object might take only a few points because the shape and positioning of the curves can be controlled quite precisely using the handles at each node, as shown in Figure 9. When you have the basic selection in place, you can alter the nodes to fine-tune the selection; just click the Convert Point tool in the toolbox and click on a node to adjust it. To move a node, hold down the Ctrl key (Command key on the Mac); the mouse pointer will change to the Direct Select tool, which is used to reposition a node. (Alternatively, you can click the Direct Select tool in the toolbox.)

Figure 9

Figure 9 The Pen takes some work to understand, but it's a great choice for making selections around curved shapes.

To add a node to the path, right-click the path (Control-click on the Mac) at the position where you want to add a node; then choose Add Anchor Point from the context menu. To remove a node, right-click the node (Control-click on the Mac) and choose Delete Anchor Point from the menu.

When you have the selection in place, display the Paths palette by choosing Window > Paths; notice that the selection has been created as a Work Path. To convert it to a selection, click the Work Path and click the Load Path as a Selection tool at the bottom of the Paths palette. You can now switch back to the Layers palette and continue working with your new selection.

There is also a Freeform Pen, which has a Magnetic option available on the Options bar and which works very much like the Magnetic Lasso. It enables you to freehand-draw around the edges of an object; the path will snap to the line that it detects you're drawing around. The significant difference between the Freeform Pen and the Magnetic Lasso is that the Freeform Pen's path has editable nodes on it—the Magnetic Lasso shape is not directly editable in the same way.

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