Category Archives: Illustration Research

Using Vectors in Photoshop

I have a very unsteady hand with both the mouse and my tablet and sometimes I need precise flowing lines.  The best way to do this is to use “Vectors” ie the “Pen tool”.  These are not so bad when you get the hang of them but I needed a lot of tutorial help to get my head round how Photoshop works with these.


The Pen tool uses Bezier Curves to make any complex shape you like.

You can place the shape approximately and edit once the curve is complete.  Start with the fewest anchor points you can get away with.  Note: You need one for each change in direction of the shape you are bounding.  To make smooth curve then the direction lines need to be at a tangent to the curve you are making.  The length of the direction line determines how much influence the associated action point has on the curve.

Pull out the handles and make the direction lines as tangential as you can then modify the length to roughly describe the curve you want.

Then locate the next Anchor Point.  If the curve bounds a closed shape then to complete hover the starting point till a little circle appears then left click to confirm.

  • Left click to locate an “Anchor Point”.
  • Release without dragging for Straight lines.  (I tend to drag anyway as I find them difficult to add later – I’m sure there is a better way than making a new anchor and deleting the old one.)
  • Hold and drag you will get the “Handles” for “Bezier Curves”. Handles consist of “Direction Lines” with “Control Points” at the end.
  • Use the “Path Selection” tool to move the vector curves you have made
  • Use the “Direction Selection” Tool (White Arrow button) to edit the “Handles”. You need to click the button then click anywhere on the curve outline except the action points to activate the Path.
  • Once highlighted, click on an Anchor Point to show its handles or on the curve between to see the two Direction lines/control points affecting that curve.  Click and drag the control points to edit the curve.  Keep the direction lines tangential to the curve at the anchor point to keep a smooth transition.
  • If a corner is wanted Alt-Left click the Control point in question and it will allow the two direction lines round that anchor point to move independently.
  • To remove an anchor point right click on the anchor point and choose “Delete Anchor Point”
  • To add an anchor point right click roughly where you want it and “Add Anchor Point”

There are two modes: “Shape layers” or “Paths”.  Paths are temporary things to help you draw the outline of something.  Shape layers are permanent smart objects of a single colour. You must select the mode before you start making your curves.

PATHS –  I use paths like this to make boundary shapes for textures I need to trim in conjunction with the magic wand fence.

  • Make your shape using the pen tool (Pen Button)
  • The pen menu will appear.  Mine is at the top of my window.  Choose the Path button.
  • Modify using the shape to get it just how you want using the “Direction Selection” Tool.
  • Create a new layer & make it active
  • Choose an appropriate pen or brush for your outline
  • Right click and choose Stroke Path & the tool you want to make the outline with (Note: if you want a good boundary to use the magic wand on then make the pencil or brush thickness at least 2px).  Also check you have chosen a contrasting colour to the background for your outline otherwise like me you wont know its worked.
  • Delete the path you made by Rick clicking and choosing “Delete Path” (Sadly you have to as you can’t hide it and you cant get out of vector  path mode till you do.  Let me know if you have found a way to store your vector paths.)

SHAPE LAYERS – I use shape layers to make graphic images using plain colours (Rather like making collages).  In this mode the paths are put on their own layer so you can keep them and modify them when you want.  Sadly so far I can’t see how to use them to make complex fences or how I can add an image rather than a plain colour.  The shape is used to create a mask.

  • Make your shape using the pen tool (Pen Button)
  • The pen menu will appear.  Mine is at the top of my window.  Choose the Shape Layer button.
  • Modify using the shape to get it just how you want using the “Direction Selection” Tool.
  • Double-click on the colour square in the layers panel to change the colour
  • Highlight the mask square in the layers panel to change the shape
  • You can use the “blending options” in the layers panel to add a gradient or emboss drop shadow, stroke etc.
  • You can also make groups called smart objects – I haven’t tried that yet but the videos below show you how.

Good Video Tutorials:

  • Raster/Vector/Bezier Curves –
  • Paths –
  • Shape layers – Part 1 – and Part 2 –

Blending Colours in Photoshop

Blending Colours:

  • Paint the two colours you want to blend next to each other
  • Drop the flow rate to about 50%ish
  • Paint over a bit of one colour with another
  • Use the eyedropper to save the resulting colour continue using the resulting colour
  • Repeat process with that new colour and one of the original colours to make another shade and so on till you have blended successfully between the two colours.

Shortcut Keys while using the Brush tool:

  • Alt – Eyedropper
  • [ & ] – Increase and decrease brush size
  • ctrl- & ctrl= – Zoom in and out
  • Spacebar – Pans

CHANGING BRUSH COLLECTIONS –  You can change your brush collection by clicking the down arrow in the horizontal Brush menu at the top of the window then clicking the right arrow.  The reset will give you the default brushes, Load will give you your custom brushes and there is a list of other collections below those on the drop-down.

MAKING BRUSHES –  Make Brush profile in black then fence and save by going to Edit->Define Brush Preset


  • Delete everything from Swatches Palette window.
  • Make and name your new swatches.
  • Save the palette using the top right icon on the swatches palette (down arrow & 4 horizontal lines)
  • Choose “Save Swatches”
  • Note it will not show in the swatches list until you restart Photoshop also deleting from the swatch palette won’t delete it altogether unless you save the .aco file for that palette without them in. So can delete to make new palettes with safety.

Good video Tutorials about Painting in Photoshop:

Software review -POSER

What is Poser?

Poser allows you to take existing content and arrange it into posed scenes for Digital art and 3D animations. You can make compose scenes, dress and do minor adjustments to your avatar then pose or animate it. There is a lot of stock content available to help you do this. You adjust the lighting and the shadows of the scene.

Poser used to make an animation sequence:

Cost on date of posting: Poser 9 $249.99, Poser Pro 2012 $499.99

Poser file formats: .pz3, .pzz, .pmd

Imports: BHV motion, pxf, lightwave, wavefront obj, dxf, 3ds.

Exports: all the above plus RIB, VRML, Collada (Pro only) & png, tif, bmp, tga, jpg, psd.

Other things to review: Daz Hexagon, Blender, Photoshop 5 extended, Daz 3D max, Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max.

Questions to answer: What is Python? Both Blender & Poser use it.

On Fonts

I am researching Fonts at the moment and I came across two websites: one just giving a useful list of web-safe fonts and the other beautifully illustrated about the origins of fonts.  I list them here for me to refer to and you to enjoy as well.

On Illustration Research

Initial thoughts & objectives

In order to illustrate my book/s, I need to be able to make the illustrations. The simplest way would be to ‘make’ avatars in Second Life and ‘pose’ them in a scene and then snap the pictures. The downside of this is you are limited to what other people have created and the limited rendering quality of Second Life. I want to take things a big step further and create my own scenes, closer to the scenes in my head.

I am not an appalling artist and have a creative background but I am not good either – AND really out of practice. So lets start with the tools. I have Photoshop, Hexagon, Gimp & Blender (both open source ie free to use). I can make an object in .obj format in Hexagon or Blender and import it into Photoshop. Thats the shape covered. I can make textures in Photoshop.

More complex objects can be made in Blender and both Hexagon & Blender can make UV maps. Yes I know a little about UV maps which allow you to link your texture to your object in the right places. Then there are bump maps, specular & something else and I have to pay attention to the normals! As for weighted rigging of the objects so they move right – its all going to be a lot to learn. I know also that swapping from one program to another can be tricky if they dont have compatible import and export formats. Even if they have the right formats the operations can downgrade the model. As for weighted rigging of the objects and the attachment of animations so they move right – its all going to be a lot to learn.

Take all my posts as the mad ramblings of a self training student – a network of half understood information.

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