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Programming Art's Tutorials

The Photoshop Top 10
Keep in mind this list is always changing in our heads as well as on this page, so check back often. And if you have something to contribute [or contest], please post it and we will give you full credit and a spot on the list if we like your idea. Also keep in mind this list was written for Windows users, Mac users only need substitute Command for Control and they're in business. Here it is:

1. Keyboard Shortcuts: Learn them for any tool you find yourself using on a regular basis, and use them for your favorite homemade actions as well. The only thing better than all of the time you will save is that you can stay focused on your art and not the toolbars. [Some important ones: CTRL+J to duplicate your current layer, J for airbrush, M for marquee, [] to cycle brushes, CTRL+D to deselect, Alt or CTRL+Backspace to fill with the foreground or background color.]

2. Tileable Images: Invaluable for 3D and web work, making an image tileable is easy. Make your image, and then run Filter > Other > Offset. Pick a good 50 or so pixels [usually about half of the image size] in the horizontal and vertical offset, but most importantly check Wrap Around. After the image offsets, clean up any seams that become visible with a Rubber Stamp Tool [S]/ Smudge Tool [R] combination. The final product will be a seamless tileable image. [Check to make sure with an extra offset or two.]

3. The Cut All Under Selection Action:
This one's for those of you who develop software or create web graphics, but it can also be useful otherwise. Create an action with the following order of commands: 1. Make Layer [Shift+CTRL+N], 2. Merge Visible [Shift+Alt+CTRL+E], 3. Copy [CTRL+C], 4. Delete Current Layer. Assign this action to a convenient keyboard shortcut like Shift+F2. Now all you need to do is select anything in a document and run your action. Everything visible to you under the selection is copied, regardless of the current layer you're working with, or how the layers are grouped. This is a MAJOR timesaver when copying anything repetitively from Photoshop into other applications [Director or Imageready, for example]. For example, set up an alpha channel with a button selection, and you can cut out all of your button states in a flash. To help you out I've included my action file here.

4. Select Everything in a Layer:
This one is sometimes overlooked but proves incredibly useful. To make a selection from everything in any given layer, simply CTRL click on the layer.

5. Making Brushes:
A very useful but underused [by some] function of Photoshop is to create your own brushes. Create a new document of the size you want your brush to be. Now, using grayscale [color brushes are converted anyways], draw your brush [a single tree or a small lick of flame for example]. Select the area, and in the brushes palette click on the small arrow pointing to the right in the upper right corner. Select Define Brush, and your selection is now a usable brush for any of the tools.

6. Lens Flare Control:
Although normally overused, lens flares can add to an image. To get more out of your flares, create your flare [Filter > Render > Lens Flare] in an all-black layer. Then set the layer type to Screen, and only the flare will be visible, giving you a perfectly cut flare layer. The only drawback: it won't appear over white.

7. Lighting Effects Filter:
In addition to offering to cool lighting based effects, this filter can be incredible for textures as well. Just make an interesting grayscale texture or design, select it all, and save it as an alpha channel. Now, with the layer you want the texture applied to selected, go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. In the dialog under Texture Channel, select your alpha channel and add some lights for varied and interesting results.

8. Stars:
Sometimes you just need a good star field, and Photoshop has a good way to make them. Fill a layer with black, and add some noise with Filter > Noise > Add Noise. A value of 120 or so with the Monochromatic box checked usually works well for me. Now add a series of brightness/contrast adjustments [Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast]. For the first, use a brightness of around -60 and a contrast of around +80. Now hit OK and do another Brightness/Contrast adjustment. This time -100 Brightness and a Contrast of +70 will look pretty good. You can continue in this manner, each time setting the brightness to -100 and adjusting the contrast until you like your stars [for me, I only needed one more adjustment at -100 and +45]. Another great thing about this star field is that you can make the layer type Screen, and you have a perfect star field with no black background showing through. You can then make any kind of sky you need for under the stars. [Make this process into an action for instant star fields]

9. Copying to the Same Place in Another Document:
If you need to copy a layer into the same position but on a different document [for example an exit button in the same location for all screens in a program], just open the documents side by side and hold Shift while dragging the contents of the layer. The layer data will be in the exact same location on the new document.

10. Duplicating Portions of a Layer:
With the Move Tool [V] selected, you can hold Alt and drag to duplicate whatever you are dragging for a quick timesaver.

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