The Path Selection Method - Adobe Photoshop

Sometimes you need to create a matte that cannot be easily selected with any of the methods I mentioned earlier. The selection may be too complex or you may want to be able to change the matte quickly, yet maintain precision. Using paths can solve this dilemma.

Paths are vector-based Bezier curves. If you have used Adobe Illustrator or its equivalent type of illustration graphics program, you are probably already familiar with vector paths. That I use the term “dealing with” in reference to paths should alert newbies to the common perception that paths take a bit of getting used to. It may take some practice, but the results are well worth conquering the learning curve.(And really, they’re not that bad.)

In this scenario you are working on a scene where a swarm of computer-generated bugs were supposed to fly across the screen. The director thought that the scene looked too flat and wants some of the bugs to go behind a few of the leaves. She circles the leaves she wants separated and e-mails the image to you. Figure below shows you the directions.


  1. Take a look at Leaves.tga in Figure below
  2. Your image to work with.

  3. Select the Pen tool or press P. Click the tip of the big leaf in the upper group.A small square appears where you clicked. You may want to use Command++ (Win: Ctrl++) to zoom in and the spacebar to switch to the hand to pan around to get a better look. Using these shortcuts does not affect your Pen tool.
  4. Now go farther down the edge of the leaf and drag to create your second vertex. See Figure below.
  5. Dragging creates smooth curves. Only clicking creates straight lines between the vertices.

    Notice how the line connecting your two vertices curves as you drag. Two square points attached to your vertex look like a seesaw. These are called handles. They reflect and affect the curvature of your path.

  6. Try creating a path partway up the leaf’s edge.
  7. Continue creating an outline of your intended matte.
  8. It takes a bit to be able to know where to place vertices based on the characteristics of the Bezier curve. Even so, you’re probably wondering how this can be faster or better or even precise!

  9. Stop where you are and edit a few of the vertices. Hidden above the Pen tool is the Direct Selection tool, which you can see in Figure below.
  10. You can find the Direct Selection tool above the Pen tool.

    You can use this tool to reposition any vertices and to adjust its handles. When you are ready, switch back to the Pen tool and continue the path.

    I worked all the way around one leaf, but you could have gone around the three leaves together. You can see this in Figure below.

    I worked around one leaf

  11. When you come back around toward the beginning of the path, click the first vertex to close the path.
  12. You’re probably wondering where this path is being stored and how you can hide the ugly lines.

  13. Click the Paths tab, which is grouped with Layers and Channels in Figure below.
  14. The Paths tab is way down here.

    You see a working path. This is a temporary path, so save it for repeat use.

  15. Go to the path’s pull-down menu and choose Save Path. See Figure below.
  16. Save the path, since it’s temporary.

  17. In the resulting dialog box, enter any name for the path.Great. So you have a path.Now what? How does this make a matte for me? Patience, young grasshopper. You could do many things with a path. You could have Photoshop automatically stroke the path to create an outline. You could fill the closed path shape with any color. You could make the path a selection and create a matte from it. I’ll take door number three, please.
  18. Make sure your path layer is selected. Go to the Path’s submenu and choose Make Selection to bring up a dialog box.
  19. Set the feather radius to 1 and make sure that the Anti-Alias option is checked. Click OK.
  20. Now save the selection as a new channel by going to Select > SaveSelection and giving your new channel a name in the ensuin Save Selection dialog box. Voilá! You have a matte.

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