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Photoshop

This page explains how to use Adobe Photoshop to create vRigger gear images. The instructions should also apply to the less expensive Photoshop Elements software, but they were written using Photoshop CS6. Video Watch a video about creating your own gear.

Photoshop is a powerful, yet undeniably complex, software program. Refer to Photoshop's Help for more information.

1
Get a digital image of the gear

You will need a digital image of the gear. In many cases you will be able to find an image on the internet (e.g., try Google's Image Search). If you do use an image from the internet, make sure that you don't violate copyright laws.

If you photograph the gear:

  • Use new, unscratched gear.
  • Place the gear on a plain background with a contrasting color (e.g., a white piece of paper).
  • Do not get too close to the gear or your camera may be unable to focus.
2
Crop the image in Photoshop
  1. In Photoshop, open the file that was obtained in Step 1.
  2. Press C to select the crop tool.
  3. Use your mouse to drag the cropping rectangle so it isolates the gear (leave some space between the edge of the gear and the cropping rectangle—you'll do the final cropping later).
  4. Press Enter to complete the cropping.
3
Unlock and rename the background layer
  1. Locate the Layers palette in Photoshop (shown here). If it isn't displayed, make sure there is a checkmark next to Layers in Photoshop's Windows menu.
  2. Double click on the italicized word "Background".
  3. The New Layer dialog will appear.
  4. Type "Gear" and click OK.

(This step will remove the padlock from the layer.)

4
Add a new layer
  1. At the bottom of the Layers palette, click on the New Layer button (or press Shift+Ctrl+N).
  2. This creates a new layer, named "Layer 1", above the layer named "Gear".
5
Move the new layer
  1. Using your mouse, drag the new layer (named "Layer 1") to below the layer named "Gear".
6
Rename the new layer
  1. Right-click on the layer named "Layer 1" and choose "Layer Properties..." from the menu.
  2. In the Layer Properties dialog, type "Yellow" and click OK.
  3. The Layers palette should look similar to the image shown here. Note that the layer named "Yellow" is selected (i.e., it is a darker gray than the layer named "Gear").
7
Set the background color

Set the color to yellow:

  1. Locate the color "Swatches" palette in Photoshop. If you don't see it, make sure there is a checkbox next to Swatches in the Windows menu. (You may also have to click on the little maximize button in the upper right corner of the palette to see the color samples.)
  2. Click on the pure yellow swatch.

Fill the background with yellow:

  1. With the layer named "Yellow" still selected from Step 6, press Ctrl+A to select the entire layer.
  2. Press Alt+Backspace. This fills the layer named "Yellow" with the currently selected color (yellow).
  3. Look at the example Layers palette shown here. Notice that the box to the left of the "Yellow" label is now yellow.
8
Save the file
  1. Press Ctrl+S to save the file.
  2. Photoshop should default to saving it as a Photoshop format file (with the psd file extension). That's what you want.
  3. Name the file something relevant (Carabiner-D.psd).
9
Erase the background

The next task is to erase everything except the gear itself. These instructions explain several Photoshop tools that you can use to erase the background. The eraser tool is the easiest, although some of the other tools are more powerful. Note that these instructions summarize complex Photoshop commands--please refer to the Photoshop Help for details.

General

Perform these steps regardless of which Photoshop tool you use to erase the background:

  1. Click your mouse on the layer named "Gear" in the Layers palette to selected it. Edits you make in Photoshop will now only effect the picture of your gear and not the yellow background layer.
  2. Press "Ctrl-[+]" to zoom in and "Ctrl-[-]" to zoom out.
  3. Use the scrollbars to move the image.
  4. Press Ctrl+Z to undo changes if you make a mistake. Depending on the tool you are using, the undo command will often undo everything you changed since you last pressed your mouse button, so it is a good idea to release the button occasionally.

The goal is to erase everything on the Gear layer except the gear itself. Take your time, be careful, and zoom in very tight. Undo your changes if they aren't perfect.

Eraser Tool

The eraser is the easiest of these Photoshop tools.

  1. Select the eraser from the Tools palette (or press E).
  2. On the toolbar, set the Mode to Pencil.
  3. Using your mouse, carefully erase the area around your gear. The area you erase will turn yellow as you see the yellow layer that is behind the gear layer. (For example, on the image to the right, we are erasing the blue behind the gear and seeing the yellow background.)
  4. You can change the size of the eraser by pressing the "[" and "]" keys.

To accurately use the eraser, you should be zoomed in (press "+") more than the example shown here. That makes it easier to move the eraser along the edge of the gear.

Magic Wand

The magic wand is a powerful Photoshop tool. It is the tool we usually use. However, it does take experimentation to get it to work correctly.

  1. Select the magic wand from the Tools palette (or press W).
  2. On the toolbar, select the Contiguous box. If you don't select this box, areas on your gear may be selected and erased.
  3. Click on the background area (i.e., blue in this example). Photoshop will select everything that has a similar color to the location you clicked. In the example shown to the right, we clicked inside the carabiner so Photoshop selected everything with a similar color that was inside the carabiner. However, our example background is extremely uniform which made this possible. You can change the Tolerance setting on the toolbar to change how "similar" the color must be for Photoshop to select it. Lower numbers require more similarity (so less area will be selected) and higher numbers allow more difference between the colors (so more area will be selected). The "correct" number depends on the differences between the gear and the background color, the homogeneousness of the background, and the location you clicked. Typical Tolerance settings are between 20 and 80 (we usually start with 20).
  4. After the area has been selected, press Delete.

The magic wand is an awesome tool, but be careful. If the Tolerance is set too high you may accidentally select part of your gear (usually near the dark edges of your gear). If it is set too low most of the background may be erased, but not the crucial area where the gear and background meet. Sometimes it is helpful to use the magic wand to erase areas where the background and gear are very different in color (because it is quick) and then use a manual tool (like the eraser or the polygonal lasso) to manually erase areas where the gear and background have similar colors (often in the gear's shadow).

Polygonal Lasso

The polygonal lasso lets you manually select a non-rectangular area. The polygonal lasso selects the area as a series of small, straight lines. If the magic wand doesn't select the area, we usually use the lasso.

  1. Select the polygonal lasso from the Tools palette (or press U).
  2. Zoom in very close.
  3. Click on the border between the gear and background. This starts the selection process.
  4. Click again on the border. This selects a straight line between the two clicks. Repeat this process to select the area as a series of small, straight lines.
  5. Double-click your mouse when you are done selecting—this connects the first and last points. (Be careful, because this last line is drawn directly between the start and end points; it is usually best to click near the first point before double-clicking.)
  6. Press the Delete key.

Marquee

The marquee is an easy way to erase rectangular sections of the image.

  1. Select the marquee from the Tools palette (or press M).
  2. Click and drag your mouse to select a rectangle that does not include your gear.
  3. Press the Delete key.

This command is only marginally helpful. It doesn't let you erase close to the gear's edge (unless the gear has vertical and horizontal lines).

10
Save the file (again)
  1. If you are happy with your changes, press Ctrl+S to save them. If not, Undo your changes.
  2. Note that Photoshop does have multiple levels of undo, although unfortunately the default Ctrl+Z in Photoshop alternates between Undo and Redo (strange). You may need to use the Repeated Undo command in Photoshop's Edit menu.
  3. Now is a good time to save a backup file! That way if you have a problem in the remaining steps, you can always return to this point.

At this point, the gear should be displayed on a pure-yellow background (i.e., 255 red, 255 green, and 0 blue).
 

11
Resize the image

Choosing the optimum image size is difficult. In general, you should size small items so there are approximately 50 pixels per inch. For example, if a carabiner is 3 inches long, the image should be approximately 150 pixels long. When you create the gear using vRigger's Gear Builder, you'll use the Gear Builder's "gear sizing" options to set the final sizing. If you use 50 pixels per inch, you'll end up setting the "reducer" to approximately 75 percent. (So you can set the pixels per inch in Photoshop to 50 and then work in Photoshop using inches.)

You should make people and larger items, like a tripod, approximately 900 pixels tall and use a 50 percent reducer in the Gear Builder (they'll then be displayed in the Gear Builder as approximately 32 inches tall which is appropriate).

The downside of larger imager is they make the vRigger files larger and may cause vRigger to run more slowly.

  1. Save a backup copy of your image if you didn't already do so in Step 10.
  2. Press Alt+Ctrl+I to display Photoshop's Image Size dialog.
  3. Make sure the "Constrain Proportions" checkbox is checked.
  4. Change either the width or height to the desired size (as discussed above). (Both dimensions will change when you change either, as the proportions are constrained.)
  5. Click OK.
12
Reduce Yellow Outline (optional)

Sometimes gear that you create will display in vRigger with a yellow outline. This can occur if Photoshop uses anti-aliasing around your gear (e.g., the carabiner). This causes the yellow background to bleed through the gear. Because the yellow is no longer "pure," it is not treated as transparent.

Anti-aliasing No-aliasing

This next step ensures that the yellow cannot bleed through your gear. We suggest that you skip this step initially and then perform it only if your gear has a yellow outline.

  1. Click your mouse on the layer named "Gear" in the Layers palette to selected it.
  2. Press W to select the magic wand.
    • Set the Tolerance on the toolbar to 2.
    • Remove the checkbox from the Contiguous checkbox on the toolbar.
  3. Click on a yellow area (i.e., not on the gear). This should select everything except the gear.
  4. Press Shift+Ctrl+I to invert the selection. Now only the gear should be selected.
  5. This is an option step that is rarely necessary: From Photoshop's menu bar, choose Select, Modify, Expand. When prompted for the number of pixels, enter "1". This enlarges the selection by one pixel.
  6. Click your mouse on the layer named "Yellow" in the Layers palette to selected it.
  7. Press the Delete key. This removes the yellow from the selected area (i.e., the gear).

The goal of this step is to remove any yellow from behind the gear which might "leak" through semi-transparent pixels on the gear. If you used the optional "Step B" (above), the image should now look similar the carabiner shown here. The optional step created a small space between the carabiner and the yellow background. (Photoshop displays a checker-board pattern to indicate that this area is blank,) This area will be automatically changed to white when the image is saved as a bitmap.

13
Re-crop the image
  1. Press C to select the crop tool.
  2. Use your mouse to again drag the cropping rectangle. This time you just need to leave a few pixels on each edge. If the cropping rectangle "jumps" to the edge of the image or the edge of the gear, hold the Ctrl key pressed as you drag the cropping rectangle (this disables Photoshop's "snapping" feature).
  3. Press Enter to complete the cropping.
14
Save the file (again)
  1. Save the file now. The next few steps save the file with different names and in different formats. If you forget to save it now, you may have to repeat a lot of work.
15
Save the file as a bitmap

This step saves the image in the bitmap format. This is required by vRigger's Gear Builder.

  1. Choose File and then Save As.
  2. Press Tab to move to the Format box.
  3. Press B to select the BMP (bitmap) format.
  4. Press Shift+Tab to return to the File name box.
  5. Enter the name of the file. (This should usually be the same name as the psd file, so you may need to delete the " copy" text that Photoshop annoyingly adds.)
  6. Click OK.
  7. When prompted for the BMP Options, select 24 bit and click OK.
16
Rename the Photoshop file

You now need to create the little icon image. We don't want these changes to overwrite our existing Photoshop file.

Choose Save As and save the file with the original name plus "-Icon" (e.g., "Carabiner-D-Icon.psd"). This should default to saving in the Photoshop format.
 

17
Change the background to white
  1. Using the Color Swatches palette, click on the color white.
  2. Using the Layer palette, select the layer named "Yellow".
  3. Press Ctrl+A to select the entire layer.
  4. Press Ctrl+Backspace to fill the layer with the current color (white). Yeah, it is a little weird having a layer named "yellow" that is now completely white, but that's okay.

The area behind your gear should now be white.

18
Resize the image
  1. Press Alt+Ctrl+I to again display the Image Size dialog.
  2. Make sure the "Constrain Proportions" checkbox is still checked.
  3. Now change the largest value, either the width or height, to 32. In the example shown here, the height of 112 should be changed to 32. (The other number, the width of 82 in this case, will automatically be changed to a number less than 32.)
19
Resize the canvas
  1. Press Alt+Ctrl+C to display Canvas Size dialog.
  2. Set both the width and height to 32 (one of these should already be 32).
  3. Click OK.

You should now have a 32x32 pixel image of your gear on a white background. The image should not be distorted (which will happen if you confuse the Image Size, Alt+Ctrl+I with the Canvas Size, Alt+Ctrl+C).
 

20
Save the file (again)
  1. Press Ctrl+S to save the file in Photoshop format using the current (i.e., "-Icon") file name.
    Be careful that you do not save this icon file over your previous file.
21
Save the icon as a bitmap
  1. Choose File and then Save As.
  2. Change the format to BMP (bitmap).
  3. Enter the name of the file as the name as the Photoshop with the "-Icon" extension (e.g., "Carabiner-D-Icon.bmp").
  4. Click OK.
  5. When prompted for the BMP Options, select 24 bit and click OK.

You are now done working with Photoshop. It is a powerful program, but it certainly has a steep learning curve!

22
Create the gear in vRigger
  1. Start vRigger.
  2. Display the Gear Builder (Ctrl+Shift+A).
  3. Click the New button.
  4. Enter the name of the new gear file (e.g., "Carabiner-D.rra").
  5. On the Graphics page, click on the Load main image button and select the bitmap you created in Step 15 (e.g., "Carabiner-D.bmp") and then click on the Load icon image button and select the bitmap you created in Step 21 (e.g., "Carabiner-D-Icon.bmp").
  6. Fill in the information on the various tabbed-pages. (Be sure to look at the instructions that are displayed in the lower-right corner of the Gear Builder as you fill in the information and to click on the Help button for assistance.)

Video Watch a video about creating your own gear.