Photoshop Tutorial: Isolating Images & Layered Composites

I recently licensed a new fabric collection, "Ambrosia Fruit", and was able to accommodate  all requests to change the scale of elements, combine attributes from selected patterns and eliminate items altogether with minimal effort.

When preparing work for art licensing, if each element is created as a separate layer it will allow for maximum versatility.  With artwork developed in layers, you have the freedom to change the colorway, reposition or eliminate components and change the orientation of the artwork with ease.  In order to create the layered art files, your painted images must be separated from their backgrounds so they can then be arranged to fit the desired format.

Isolating images
The first step is to import your art into your computer.  I scan each painted element at 300 dpi so that my images are high resolution and can be enlarged if necessary to fit the needs of each licensee.

Next, I open the scanned document in Photoshop and prepare to remove the background.  To do this I duplicate the artwork layer so that my original scan is left unchanged.  This way I always have an unchanged version to which I can revert should it be necessary.  I then click the "eye" beside the original layer to turn it off. This allows me to see the changes I make to the duplicate layer.  If I left the underlying layer "on" then it would show beneath the active layer and I would not be able to distinguish between the two to know what parts of the upper layer have been removed. 

Here is where an essential device is introduced; a Wacom Tablet.  I use a Wacom Intuos4 model.  Also available are models at the upper end of the price-range that actually show your image on the tablet so that you are working directly on the image rather than viewing the image on your monitor while using the tablet on your desktop. Bamboo tablets are at the lower end of the scale when it comes to price.  With these you can use a pen or your finger as if it were a track pad on a laptop if you purchase the "pen and touch" type.   I mention the Wacom tablet because it will allow you to be more accurate as well as more productive and is worth the investment for the professional designer.  It means the difference between developing your art with a brush or pen versus a brick (mouse).

With pen in hand, select the lasso tool (or polygonal lasso for straight lines).  

On the upper left of your screen you will see a series of buttons that control the actions of the lasso.  From left to right, the first button creates a new selection.  To add to the selection choose the second button.  To subtract from the selection opt for the third button.  The last button is "intersect selection", which you won't need for this task.  Because the goal is to remove the background, I prefer to select the background rather than select the object that I wish to keep.  You can see below that I have selected the "add to selection button".

I can either delete as I go, to see the progress, or I can wait until the entire background is selected before removing the background.  By working in small selections using the add-to feature I can undo small mistakes with edit>undo or I can step backward to undo multiple times.  If I tried to select the entire area in a single step I would take a giant step backward with undo.  In addition to the lasso tools you can use the eraser with the brush size of your choice.  The lasso tool creates a smoother and crisper edge than the eraser.  Save the isolated image.

Working with layers
When creating your layered art, simply drag the isolated image into the layout.  Drag layers up or down in the layers palette to reorder as desired.

Creating harmony among layers
When importing layers from several sources, you may find that they do not look unified or seem to be laying on top of the background.  To correct this, soften the edges of the isolated images by using the magic wand tool to select the empty area surrounding the image.  Then choose select>modify>feather: 3px.

Additional modifications that may be needed to create harmony among layers from a variety of sources are color balance, levels, hue & saturation and others.  These image adjustments can be found under edit in your PS tool bar.  I usually make these adjustments as separate layers so that the element is not permanently modified (non-destructive editing) and I can modify or eliminate adjustments as needed.  To apply an adjustment as a separate layer, select the element you wish to modify then choose layer>new adjustment layer and then pick from those available.  The new layer will appear above the element layer.  The new layer will affect all layers below unless you create a clipping mask so that it only applies to the layer lying directly below.  You can find this action by clicking the drop-down menu in your layers palette as shown or choose layers>create clipping mask from the tool bar.  Lock the element and the adjustment layers together by selecting both and clicking the chain link at the bottom of the layers palette.  This way if you drag the element to a new file the adjustment layers will move as well.

For further study: DIY Creating Website Graphics
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