Photoshop's Shear Mastery

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Photoshop 6 gives you an easy way to warp, wrap, and bend text using the aptly named Warp Text feature. But you're not limited to bending text in Photoshop. Anything can be warped if you know which tool to use.

A recent question from Michael Standlee (of Michael Standlee Design) inspired me to experiment more and more with bending and warping objects. It seems that we've had the near-perfect tool for the job all along, right there under our noses. (Or under the Filter menu, to be more precise.) Let's take a look at using the Shear filter (Filter > Distort > Shear). To start, let's explore the filter's dialog box.

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To the left is the meat of the dialog box, the control line. Much like using the Curves adjustment dialog box, you place and move points on the line. In this case, however, the bends in the line represent warping of the image.

To the right at the top are the OK and Cancel buttons, along with a button to reset the dialog box to its default values, which are shown and which have no effect on the image. (Shear will remember the last-used settings.) At the bottom of the dialog box is a preview window. The preview is restricted to this window and is not shown on the image itself.

The center of the dialog box is where you'll find the only tricky part of the Shear filter, the choice of options for Undefined Areas. Parts of the image are considered "undefined" when the original pixels are moved away from an edge and there are no neighboring pixels to replace them. As you warp an image, pixels move past the edge of the selection and can be wrapped around to the other side of the selection:

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As a point is added, the control line becomes a curve and the image is curved to match. The side of the bear's face moves off the screen to the left and, with the Wrap Around option selected, it reappears on the right. If the option is changed to Repeat Edge Pixels, the effect is substantially different at the edges of the selection:

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Notice how the right-most column of pixels are "stretched" as the image is warped to the left.

When working with photographs, neither option is particularly attractive. Avoid the problem of repeating or stretching edge pixels by making a selection that includes an adequate area of transparency on either side of the image. How much is enough? When warping in only one direction, as shown so far, you need enough transparent area to accommodate the pixels being warped (to the left, in these examples) and a minimum of a single column of pixels to the right (with Repeat Edge Pixels selected). You can, of course, expand your selection (or canvas) to include a large area of transparency on either side and then crop the sheared image afterward. Here, the image was expanded to accommodate the anticipated warp:

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Because of the transparency, the Undefined Areas option is insignificant – wrapping and repeating transparency results in the same thing: transparency.

When working with shapes or patterns, the choice of wrapping or repeating might be very important. In this example, the middle portion of the image was selected and the Shear command applied. Wrapping the edge pixels from the left side back around to the right side of the image maintains the pattern.

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Multiple points can be added to the Shear filter's control line and the filter can be applied with great effect to gradients.

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Now, for a practical application, let's look at how the Shear filter can be used to simulate applying an image to a curved surface. The challenge in this example will be to create a curvature for the text to match that of rim of the cup.

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We need a couple of steps of preparation before we try to apply the Shear filter:

  1. The Shear filter cannot be applied to text. Therefore the type layer must be rasterized (rendered) first. The command in Photoshop 6 is Layer > Rasterize > Type.
  2. The entire image must be rotated sideways so that we can apply the filter. (Image > Rotate Canvas > 90º CW in this case.)
  3. Make sure that the layer which contains the type (or other pixels to be warped) is active.
  4. Use the Commands Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and View > Show > Grid to provide a reference for the amount of shearing required.
  5. Make a selection that is centered on the type vertically, and extends past to the left and right to accommodate the effect.
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Using the grid as reference, we can see that in the width of the text (in this case, since it's rotated, the height of the text from the "P" to the "s"), the cup's rim dips approximately one-third the height of the letter P. In the Shear dialog box's preview window, we can use the transparency grid to help us guess-timate the approximate curve.

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After applying the filter, we reverse the rotation (in this case, using Image > Rotate Canvas > 90º CCW), and position the text where it looks best.

Then, of course, you'll want to add some finishing touches:

  1. In images that simulate long distances, application of a slight blur to the outer edges can be effective.
  2. If you're adding a colored logo or colorful text, work with the layer blending modes to get the highlights and shadows to match. (This won't work with black or white text.)
  3. You can use the toning tools (Dodge and Burn) to simulate highlights and shadows (again, with the exception of black and white).
  4. If you've used black or white text, you can simulate reflections and highlights using the Eraser tool set to a very low opacity and with a soft-edged brush, as we've done here.
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While Photoshop 6's new Warp Text capability is fun (and handy) you do have a tremendous amount of control for warping rendered type and other images with the Shear filter. Remember that the text must be rendered first (unlike the Warp Text feature), and keep in mind that the Shear filter works left-&-right, not up-&-down. The command Image > Rotate Canvas > 90º CW and the command Image > Rotate Canvas > 90º CCW can come in very handy.

NOTE: Those having trouble with the Warp Text feature should remember that the Character palette's menu can be used to remove Faux Bold from selected text or from a type layer.

This story brought to you by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP).

Copyright 2001 KW Media Group. Photoshop is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems, Inc.

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