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Lesson 2: Spreading the Canvas

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics

Open Sesame!

In Lesson 1, you saw the types of images you can use in Photoshop and learned a bit about file formats. Now it's time to roll up your sleeves, fire up Photoshop, and get down to work.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to get started with a new Photoshop file. I will cover how to prepare the canvas for work and how to set basic preferences that will define how your images look and print. In addition, you will learn about a Photoshop fundamental, color mode, and why understanding how Photoshop works with color is vitally important. Let's get started!

Unlike most applications, Photoshop does not greet you with a new document window when you launch the program. The reason for this is very simple: the majority of work you'll be doing in Photoshop will be on existing files -- images that you've imported from the Web, a scanner, or a digital camera.

What you will see when you launch Photoshop is a bevy of tools:

  • The Toolbox: A collection of painting tools
  • Palette Groups: Four tabbed windows containing options that allow you to modify the way images look

Figure 2-1 shows your workspace. This is where you will create and work with files.

Figure 2-1: This is the Photoshop workspace.

To begin a new file, choose File > New. You will see a new dialog box. Begin a new file by entering a name in the Name field (Figure 2-2).

Figure 2-2: This shows the New File Dialog box where you can open a new page.

Image Size and Resolution

The Image Size fields in the New dialog box allow you to choose the size of your image, using one of several units of measure. The width and height dimensions you enter here determine the size of the window that will open when you've finished filling out the dialog box. Give yourself a generous workspace. If you change the image dimensions here, the actual size of the file will change accordingly. The default dimensions for a new window are usually 6 by 4.5 inches, which is a good place to start.


We'll talk a lot about resolution in the coming lessons. Resolution refers to the quality of an image, measured in dots per inch (dpi). When you're talking about resolution, higher is better. More dots per inch means more information (detail and color). But that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to opt for the highest resolution when working with images. For one thing, computer screens support considerably lower resolution than the printed page. Your computer monitor can display 72 dpi, but a laser printer can print images (or text, for that matter) at 300 dpi, 600 dpi, or even more. See where I'm going with this? If you're creating images that will appear on the Web, it's not as important to use maximum resolution. On the other hand, if your image will appear in a book, magazine, or other printed document, use all the resolution you can get.

Why not just use super-high resolution all the time? The major drawback to using such files is that they are much larger than lower-resolution versions of the same file. That's undesirable when you're creating images that will appear on the Web. Big files equal long download times.

Color Modes

The popup menu below the resolution setting in the New dialog box is called Mode, as in color Mode. The Mode menu gives you the ability to change the type of color that appears in the image. We'll talk at length about the different types of color modes and how to use them effectively in Lesson 6. But for now, you just need to know that the default is RGB (red, green, blue). The RGB color spectrum (Figure 2-3) is displayed by computer monitors (and television screens, for that matter). Monitors and TV screens generate primary colors of light by bombarding the surface of the screen with electrons. The human eye views the mix of red, green, and blue as many different colors.

Figure 2-3: The RGB color spectrum.

The final set of buttons in the New dialog box are the Contents options. The one you choose determines the background color of the Photoshop canvas on which you will be working. If you click Background Color, you will be given the chance to pick a color. Leave White selected to keep things simple.

Finally, you're ready to click OK. When you do, an empty document window appears (Figure 2-4). Notice that the window includes rulers on the top and left sides.

Figure 2-4: The Active window: your canvas ready for work.

Opening Existing Files

In Lesson 1, I described some of the major file formats supported by Photoshop. If you double-click on files in these formats from Windows Explorer or the Macintosh Finder, Photoshop will usually launch and open the file. Depending upon how your computer is configured, another application may launch instead. If that happens, just quit the other application and open the Photoshop application. Choose File > Open and then navigate to the file you want in the Open dialog box.

If double-clicking an image file launches some other application, you may want to configure your computer so that Photoshop is the default application for opening not only its own .psd files, but .gif, .jpg, and .tif files, too. If you have a Windows computer, select the file and choose Properties from the File menu or by right clicking. Then change the program associated with that file. If you have a Mac, use Control Panels > File Exchange.

The Open dialog box (Figure 2-5) displays all the files in formats that Photoshop can open. The Thumbnail feature puts a miniature version of the file in the Open window so that you can quickly get an idea what the image looks like. If there isn't a thumbnail, simply click on Create, or just click Open to view the file at full size.

Figure 2-5: The Open dialog box on the Macintosh looks a bit different than the Windows version, but the two work the same way.

Moving On

Now you know just about everything you need to prepare your workspace and to create and locate files that Photoshop can use. In Lesson 3, you will learn more about tools and palettes and how to change image size. Plus, in the highlight of Lesson 3, you will get an introduction to Photoshop's wonderful tools.

Before we get to the next lesson, please check out the quiz and assignment. If you have any questions, don't forget to post them on the message board. Even if you don't have questions, it's worth visiting the message board to touch base with your instructor and see what your fellow students are up to.

Next Lesson: Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics Lesson 3: Tools and Palettes

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