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Learn about creating Density Masks in this Adobe CS3 Print Workflow training video series.
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In this next lesson we are going to create a density mask. If you have dreaded using the Pen Tool to make silhouette you are not alone, most people hate using the Pen Tool and it makes a hard artificial edge. So we are going to let Photoshop help us out and we are going to use channels to accomplish this.
Choose File>Open, navigate to your project files folder where ever you saved that folder. Go into Chapter 01 an this time open up dandalion.psd and you might notice that I am using PSDs, I am not using TIFFs or EPSs. One of the advantages of heading toward InDesign with files that you are creating in Photoshop is that you don't have to flatten them, you don't have to save them in TIFF and EPS formats, InDesign understands PSDs and you can have a whole lot more fun with PSDs than you can with TIFFs. Click Open and here is our dandelion.
Our goal here is to silhouette this dandelion, so that we can float it in to an InDesign page and have it be on top of other content. So you are glad I am sure that I told you we are not going to use the dreaded Pen Tool to try to do this; frankly, you just really couldn't do this.
Now you might notice, if you look in the Channels Panel that this is an RGB image. You will also see that in your title bar, it tells you that this is an RGB image and if you are headed for print with this that may make you a little nervous, but we can work in it in RGB and then when we were done we will save it as CMYK. Our goal here is to create a mask that silhouette the dandelion from the background and it might be worth taking a look at the way the very basic mask works, so that you have a sense of where we are headed with a much more complicated mask.
Choose the Rectangular Marquee Tool from the Tool Panel and just click-and-drag and create a rectangular marquee. When you see the marching ants and that is the accepted technical term; that means that you have what's called an active selection.
We are going to save this in a masked channel so that we can take a look at it. Go up to Select and down at the very bottom of that drop down menu, choose Save Selection. It's going to ask you to giver it a name, we don't really have to, we will just except the default, click OK, and now look at your Channels panel. You will see that you now have a new channel and this is what's called an Alpha channel, and that's why it is named Alpha 1 and all that means is that it's not part of the appearance of the image, it's not part of what constitutes the color content of the image, it's something that's, sort of, stored of to the side for us to use later.
There are multiple reasons to use alpha channels. Most of the time you are using the alpha channel for a mask. Sometimes you are going to be doing complicated color corrections and you are going to work, finish, pick back up again tomorrow, you don't want to have to try to draw exactly the same selection. If you have drawn a selection you want to use again, a great way to save is to store it in that alpha channel.
Alpha channels also come in handy if you do any, sort of, video work. They can be used for compositing, for combining image information with other images or videos with other videos, but in this case we are going to take a look at this alpha channel just as a way to get an idea how basic masks work.
Let's deselect first; go up to Select, near the top choose Deselect. Now click on the name Alpha 1, not on the eyeball block to the left of it, but on the name Alpha 1. Pretty simple mask, it's just a white opening in a black background. So think of it this way, think of a stencil like you cut out a stencil so that you could spray paint something through it. The cardboard part of the stencil is the solid part through which no paint can pass and then the opening in that stencil is what you can paint through or what you can see through. And in this case, the black background of this alpha channel corresponds to the cardboard part of that stencil, the white area corresponds to the hole through the stencil.
Click back on the name RGB, so that you are back talking to the color component of the image and let's load that mask and let's see what it lets us do. Go back up to Select, choose Load Selection, if we had multiple alpha channels already created in this document we would have a list to pick from, but we just have the one. Click OK, I know we are right back to the crawling ants, but I wanted you to see the correlation between crawling ants and what we store for future use in that alpha channel.
If you select your Paint Brush from the Tool Panel and just paint in the image, you will see that where you paint is limited to the area of that selection. So it's like an opening in a stencil, it protects the rest of the image. Be glad that we have undos. Go up to Edit, and right up under the top, choose Edit>Undo or you are probably already used to using Ctrl+Z on Windows, Command+Z on the Mac. So just to show you how a simple mask works.
Let's deselect, go to Select near the top choose Deselect. This is not the mask we are going to use in this image, it' just an example so let's get rid of it. Go over to the Channels Panel, click on Alpha 1 and at the lower right of the Channels Panel, click on the little trash can and that will delete that channel. It wants to know if you really want to delete it, you can roll up and click on the Yes button or an easier way is to just hit your Enter key.