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Tools: The Freehand Selection Tool
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Tools: The Freehand Selection Tool
Created by: Prof

This series of tutorials is oriented toward helping those new users of PSP 9 to learn the basics of this great graphic program. The tutorials are written to introduce the basic features, tools and palettes and build upon one another. Also, the tutorials may be used as a reference for using particular tools, palettes and features of PSP.

The Selection Tools: The Freehand Selection Tool

In the previous tutorial on the Selection tool we overviewed the Tool Options palette for the Selection tool. If you have not read that tutorial please use it as a reference for using the Tool Options palette.

Purpose and Goal of this Tutorial:

In this tutorial we will be reviewing the Freehand Selection tool, the Selections menu and we will be working with a photograph to explore how to use the Freehand Selection tool and its options.

  • The Selections Menu
  • The Freehand Selection tool and its Options: Edge Seeker, Freehand, Point to Point, Smart Edge
  • Examples using a Photograph:
    • The Freehand Selection tool and Feathering
    • The Point to Point option and Smoothing
    • The Edge Seeker and Smart Edge options

Download File Download File
In this tutorial we will be using a photograph that you can download with the zip file on the left. Save the file to your computer, and unzip it to a folder of your choice. Then just open the photograph into your PSP. Duplicate it with Window || Duplicate (Shift+D), close the original photo and work with its copy.

The Selections Menu

The Selections menu has many useful options to manage and manipulate selections. We will cover most of the basic options that you will tend to use. The other options are more advanced and will be covered another time.

  • Select All, Float and Defloat work together to create a selection around a complex shape, particularly one that has areas within areas. This set of options only works for the selection of a shape that is on a transparent background.
  • Select None deselects a selection. One can also use Ctrl+D to deselect.
  • Invert will invert a selection. If you have a selection surrounding a shape and then invert it, the selection will be all but the originally selected shape.
  • Promote Selection to Layer is the same command one can access when right-clicking on a layer in the Layers palette. This command moves the selection to its own layer.
  • Modify has many additional options to modify a selection.

The Modify Options

We will be exploring only a few of these options in this lesson.

  • Expand and Contract will increase (expand) or decrease (contract) selections making them bigger or smaller.
  • Feather works like the Tool Options 'Feather' option.
  • Inside/Outside Feather was a new feature in PSP 8 and allows different ways to feather an existing selection.
  • Smooth will take a drawn selection and smooth out its curves.
  • Remove Specks and Holes is a very useful option particularly when creating transparent backgrounds.

In the following examples we will be using a number of the Selection menu and Modify menu items.

Freehand Selection Tool

New Image     Flood Fill Tool     New Raster Layer

Freehand Selection Tool

Move Tool

The Freehand Selection Tool

The Freehand Selection tool is used to draw non-symmetrically shaped selections or draw selections in a free-hand style. One might also use the Freehand Selection tool to draw a selection around an object in a picture or graphic (though there are other tools better suited for that task).

For the example illustrated on the left, we will use the Freehand Selection tool to draw an interesting, non-descript shape. We will also use the Selections menu to invert the selection. And, we will use a technique to move the selection on the canvas.

Open a new image, 300 x 300 Pixels (or any size wanted), 16 Million Colors, transparent background. (Creating a transparent canvas allows us to later manipulate this background layer. Otherwise, if you create a new image with a background color, right-click on the layer in the Layers palette and choose 'Promote Background Layer' from the context menu.)

Flood-fill this selection with a solid color (I used white).

Create a new raster layer (Layers || New Raster Layer).

Select the Freehand Selection tool on the Tools toolbar. {Note that the Tool Options palette for the Freehand Selection tool is very similar to the one of the Selection tool except the Selection Type has four options: Freehand, Point to Point, Edge Selector and Smart Edge). We want 'Freehand' as the Selection Type.

Use the Freehand Selection tool to draw any kind of selection wanted. I used a circular motion starting at the top of the canvas and spiraled down, and then brought the end back up to the starting point. If you release the mouse button before connecting the start and end points of your selection a straight line will be drawn for that part of the selection.

If you want to move the selection to a different position on the canvas, activate the Move tool, then right-click anywhere into the image and drag the selection to the position wanted.

Flood Fill Tool

Select a color, gradient, or pattern of your choice and flood-fill the selection with it. I used a light blue gradient with a Sunburst Style.

Do not yet deselect!

Now let's save the selection in case we need to use it again for some reason. Go to Selections || Load/Save Selection || Save Selection To Alpha Channel. In the 'Save Selection To Alpha' dialog window, you can either name this selection or just keep the default name and click on Save. (Discussion of this action below.)

Invert the selection: Go to Selections || Invert.

Select another color, gradient or pattern and flood-fill this selection as well. I used a red gradient with a Sunburst Style. Also, you might have to flood-fill smaller selections.

Now deselect with Selections || Select None or Ctrl+D.

New Raster Layer     Move Tool     Flood Fill Tool

A Feathering Example

We can enhance our image some using the Selections menu. There is an option that allows us to feather our selection after a selection has been drawn rather than setting the Feather option in the Tool Options palette. We will also move the original selection slightly and flood-fill it with black and create a 3D-like image.

To use the original selection which we saved to an Alpha Channel we recall it with Selections || Load/Save Selection || Load Selection From Alpha Channel and in the dialog window select our selection.

To feather the selection we go to Selections || Modify || Inside/Outside Feather. In the dialog window check the "Outside" and set the "Feather amount" to 25. Click on OK.

Invert the selection: Go to Selections || Invert.

Use the Delete key to delete the background. Notice how the color now blends into the background.

Recall the original selection: Go to Selections || Load/Save Selection || Load Selection From Alpha Channel.

Create a new top layer (Layers || New Raster Layer).

Select the Move tool, right-click anywhere into your image and drag the selection slightly down and to the right.

Flood-fill this new selection with black.

In the Layers palette, set the Blend Mode of this layer to "Overlay".


Commentary on the Freehand Selection Tool and the Selections Menu Options

The Freehand Selection tool is quite easy to use to create odd shapes. The Selections menu is a powerful feature of PSP. One of its features is the ability to save a selection to an Alpha Channel. Then, when saving an image as a .psp or .pspimage file, the Alpha Channel is also saved. Thus, when you create selections, often it is wise to save them to the Alpha Channel even if you never use them again because there will come a time when you will wish you had saved a selection to use again.

The Modify options in the Selections menu are also a powerful feature. We used just the Inside/Outside Feather feature which allows one to feather a selection even after an initially unfeathered selection is drawn. We chose the Outside option to feather our selection though one could feather the inside of the selection or feather both.


The "Point to point" Selection Type

The "Point to Point" option works by clicking on a point, going to another point with the mouse and clicking there, clicking again on the next point and continuing in this fashion until the complete selection is drawn at which time one right-clicks to set the selection. One has the same three modes of drawing a point to point selection (replace, add, remove) as with any other Selection Type.

One uses the 'Point to point' Selection Type to draw or trace around different types of shapes or to draw different shapes. One interesting option, in addition to the Feather option, is the Smoothing option. The higher settings (maximum setting is 40) will tend to draw curved lines rather than straight lines. Thus using Smoothing one can draw contours.

Although there are other Selection Types that most often one will use to draw around objects in a graphic or photo, one can use 'Point to point' as well but making the points located closely together. Also, if drawing around an object, it might be helpful to zoom into the graphic to see larger areas for the point to point.


Point to Point Example No. 1

The top shape is drawn with Smooth = 40. The bottom example is drawn with Smooth = 0.

One can have some fun playing with 'Point to point' to draw various kinds of shapes and curves.


Point to Point Example No. 2

For this example you may use a photograph of your choice or you may download this one with the download file above. Whenever you use a photograph, duplicate it so that you preserve the original, then just work with the duplicate photo. To duplicate a photograph or graphic go to Window || Duplicate or press Shift+D.

This picture is actually a 600 x 450 image which is only resized for the illustration. The photograph was found at a web site maintained by Jon Sullivan: http://www.pdphoto.org.


Freehand Selection Tool

Flood Fill Tool

I first used the Freehand Selection tool with 'Point to point' to create a selection around the flag. I had zoomed into the image to be quite large so that I could see the edges of the flag. I also for the most part used very short point-to-point strokes in order to get a better selection around the flag.

I then right-clicked on the layer in the Layers palette and chose 'Promote Selection to Layer' from the context menu. This put a copy of the flag on a new layer. Now I deselected (Ctrl+D).

I then highlighted the bottom layer and deleted the photograph leaving just the flag on the new layer.

I selected a gradient with Sunburst and flood-filled the bottom layer to create my own background.

Then, I highlighted the flag layer. Now I had to select the flag again; this time I did it by going to Selections || Select All (Ctrl+A), then to Selections || Float (Ctrl+D) and last to Selections || Defloat (Ctrl+Shift*F).

Now I used the Smooth function of the Selections menu: First to Selections || Modify || Contract setting the 'Number of pixels' = 1. Then to Selections || Modify || Smooth:
– Soothing amount = 200
– Corner scale = 1
– Anti-alias = checked
– Preserve corners = checked

Then I inverted the selection (Selections || Invert) and pressed the Delete key in order to smooth the edges of the flag, then deselected with Ctrl+D.

Of course one could now add additional enhancements such as slightly rotating the flag so its back side was more vertical and then add a flag pole or one could use other backgrounds. The basic technique of using 'Point to point' to create a selection around an object and then promoting it to its own layer is a good technique to master.


The "Edge Seeker" and "Smart Edge" Selection Types

Both these Selection Types perform much the same function of finding the edges of an object. At times one wants to remove the background from a photograph and/or to extract an object from the photo or graphic. If the background is not a solid color then one of these two Selection Types will perform the action well.

Both have similar options as all other Selection Types. The Edge Seeker has a 'Range' option which refers to the number of pixels from the edge that the tool then works. This Selection Type works best when the colors between the edges and background are subtle while the Smart Edge works best when there is higher contrast between the edges and the background.

The Edge Seeker type also looks more like a point-to-point drawing in that you will just see a line, but when you move to another point on the object the selection will seek and shape to the edges. The Smart Edge tool will have a rectangular box between the points and like the Edge Seeker, when moving on to another point, the line will seek the edge.

Both types can also use the Feather and the Smoothing options, and these options work the same way as in all other Selection types. The main technique is to click on points of the edge of the object, and when completing the selection to either double-click or right-click to set the selection. Also, make it a routine action to save the selection to an Alpha Channel (Selections || Load/Save Selection || Save Selection To Alpha Channel).


Open Image

Zoom Tool     Freehand Selection Tool

New Raster Layer     Flood Fill Tool

Example using the "Edge Seeker"

Start with a fresh duplicate of the flag photograph.

Activate the Freehand Selection tool and use the 'Edge Seeker' Selection Type with Feather and Smoothing = 0 and Range = 10.

Zoom into the photograph to better see the edges and draw a selection around the flag by clicking on an edge to start, then moving to another point on the flag and click and continue to move around the flag until completing the selection. Where the flag has curves and indentations make the clicks short. Right-click to close the selection.

In the Layers palette, right-click on the Background layer and choose 'Promote Selection to Layer' from the context menu.

Save the Selection to an Alpha Channel (Selections || Load/Save Selection || Save Selection To Alpha Channel).

Go to Selections || Modify || Smooth and set:
– Smoothing amount = 200
– Corner scale = 12
– Anti-alias = checked
– Preserve corners = checked

Go to Selections || Modify || Inside/Outside Feather, check 'Inside' and set the Feather Amount = 10.

Invert the selection (Selections || Invert). Then hit the Delete key once or twice (at the most) to smooth and feather the edges further.

Now deselect (Ctrl+D).

Highlight the bottom layer and create a new layer (Layers || New Raster Layer). Then choose a color, gradient or pattern for your background and flood-fill the new layer with it. (I chose the 'Duotone Light Blue' gradient set to Sunburst, checked the Texture box and used the 'Canvas Coarse' texture.)

In the full (top) illustration on the left it is hard to see the texture due to its size but the bottom image only shows a small section of the full-sized photograph where you can see the texture well.


Final Comments

In this tutorial on using the Freehand Selection tool we explored the four main Selection Types Freehand, Point to Point, Edge Seeker and Smart Edge. The 'Freehand' Selection type is often used to create odd shapes and using the options one can create either straight or curved edges of the selection. The 'Point to point' is often used to also create odd shapes as well as to select an object of a photograph or graphic. The Edge selection types are usually used for selecting objects in a photograph or graphic.

We also used the companion items of the Selections menu to Deselect (Select None), Invert, and Modify a selection. The Modify option has ways to expand/contract selections, to feather and to smooth selections. Don't forget about the option to save a selection to an Alpha Channel.

When working with photographs it is good practice to duplicate the original photograph to preserve the original. Also, it is good practice to always save a selection to an Alpha Channel. And, importantly, it is also good practice to save the image as a .psp or .pspimage file before saving it as a .gif or .jpeg file.

Enjoy – Prof –