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Tutorial: Photoshop’s Curves Tool (Part 01)

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Again I am sick of fussing over scans and cleaning stuff that won’t get translated or typeset for the next eternity, so I’ll write up a tutorial on the Curves Tool instead. I am spurred on by a conversation in IRC about how I’m the only cleaner Luco has ever heard of using the curves tool on a regular basis. Taking this with a grain of salt I figure it’s an indication that maybe a lot of people don’t know how to use it, or can’t see it’s advantage over levels. It’s easy to see how the advantages can be overlooked, since they essentially do the same thing.

In this first part I’m just going to show the windows and give a basic idea of what the buttons and things do. I’ll write a second part demonstrating how to level a page walkthrough style since just saying it won’t do the process justice.

The Windows

This is the Curves window:

clipboard01

From top to bottom:

  • Preset is a dropdown box that lets you choose from any presets that you may have saved. The default ones are all but useless, so you have no business here if you don’t save presets like I do.
  • Channel shows you which color channel you are operating in. If you’re not being stupid, 9 out of 10 times it’ll just say “Gray”. Exceptions are when you’ve stacked adjustment layers on top of one another.
  • The curve and pencil buttons indicate the selected method of inputing into the window. You shouldn’t need to use the manual input (pencil) but if you want to see how it works try it. It’s self explanatory.
  • The grid window (or graph, plane, field, whatever the hell it’s called) shows the color spread of the page; blacks on the left, whites on the right. The line through the middle is a median, and you can pull it around to fuck with colors. More on this later.
  • I have no idea what the hand and arrows button does. I’ve never needed it.
  • Droppers are used to select a color and make a range of colors either black of white (gray is disabled in grayscale). More later, and why I don’t use them.
  • I don’t know what show clipping does exactly either, but I’ve never needed it.

That’s about it. There’s the Color Options drop down table, but you shouldn’t need to touch those. About the only thing left is the preview tickbox, which just toggles an immediate preview of the curve’s effect on the page. Very useful for comparison purposes. Oh, there’s an Auto button, but you should probably never touch it

I showed you the full window, but if you’re smart you’ll use adjustment layers instead of applying it straight onto your work layer. It’s also got buttons the regular window doesn’t.

Here it is:

clipboard02

Things this has that the regular window does not:

  • A third button for input method which I’ve never seen selectable before
  • A row of buttons varying in usefulness. From left to right:
    • Go to an add adjustment layer window. Useless.
    • Expand the window a bit. Might be useful if you’re going blind.
    • Clip the layer to the layer below it, removing it’s effect from the layers below the one it’s clipped to.
    • Toggles layer visibility. Super useful.
    • Makes the layer invisible as long as the button is held. Also super useful.
    • Reset the layer. Great if you added a lot of points to the line and want to blow it all up.
    • Delete the layer.

You can also access a menu in the top-right of the window for a bunch of other options, like savings presets and such. the preset selection drop down is still there, it’s jsut named “curves” for some reason.

End Note

This is a quick run-through of the tool’s windows, and I  it’s enough to get anybody that’s motivated to not feel as intimidated as before. I’ll still write a second post showing how to use it in a general sense, but it needs to be used differently depending on the individual scan.

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Written by PIR

April 2, 2009 at 15:42

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