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Swirls of Summer

April 26, 2006 by
Cookie Cutter tool + Custom Shapes = fun photo frames
Cookie Cutter tool + Custom Shapes = fun photo frames

I'm continually amazed at the functionality and goodies buried within Photoshop Elements. Take the Cookie Cutter tool for example. It's sole purpose in life is to place your photo inside a shape, just as if you'd taken a real-life cookie cutter and firmly pressed it onto your photo: you get a "cut-out" photo with that shape (scrapbooking, anyone?).

Now, at first glance the built-in Cookie Cutter shapes (which are really Custom Shapes) probably won't light your fire. There's a heart, a butterfly, a snowflake and 27 other non-exciting choices:

See what I mean? There are, however, *hundreds* of truly nifty Custom Shapes just begging to be loaded, and when you use them with the Cookie Cutter tool, it's a perfect recipe for serious photo framing fun. Here's how.

Load 'em up

Since I don't have any kids of my own (save for my devine girl-kitty Samantha), I bought a couple over at iStockphoto.com (a super cute pair of little girls sitting on a beautiful beach). Much less expensive than actually procreating ;)

Step 1: Pop open the photo in Elements and as always, let us protect ourselves from ourselves and duplicate the background layer by pressing Command + J (PC: Ctrl + J). Go ahead and turn off the visibility eyeball, because we won't need this layer unless we really mess up.

Step 2: Grab the Cookie Cutter tool by pressing Q (yeah well, C was already taken by the Crop tool).

Step 3: Hop up to the options bar at the top of your screen and press the little triangle next to the Shape icon to summon the Custom Shape fly-out menu. Choose All Elements Shapes as shown below and just watch your palette explode!

You can use Custom Shapes in various ways: either as a photo frame with the Cookie Cutter tool like we're doing today, or by themselves by selecting the Custom Shape tool itself and drawing one on a layer of its very own, filled with the color of your choice. But for now, let's focus on pairing them with the Cookie Cutter tool in order to make a frame.

Step 4: Scroll down this wonderfully long list of shapes until you see something exciting, like the swirling sun thing at the bottom left of the screenshot above. Click the shape once to select it.

Step 5: While you're loitering up there by the options bar, you may notice something called Shape Options (shown below). Here you may dial in a specific size for the shape (be sure to include the unit of measurement as I've done below), you can elect to draw the shape from the center outward, among other things.

  • By entering a pixel amount in the Feather box, the outer edges of your photo will be soft and feathery (the higher the number, the softer the edge). We won't do that here, but that's where it lives if you want it.
  • By placing a checkmark in the Crop box, Elements will dutifully crop the size of the entire document down to the dimensions of your shape. We won't do that here either, but that's what it does.

Draw it out

Step 6: Mouse over to your document and draw the shape over the photo. Release your mouse button and you'll see familiar resizing handles on all corners, just like if you had invoked Free Transform. Feel free to resize, reposition, or rotate the shape as you see fit using the handles (circled below). Press Return when you get it just right. NOTE: Until you press Return, you can resize and rotate the shape with no quality loss because it's a "shape" and not actual pixels just yet.

TIP: Hold the Shift key to contrain proportions while dragging the handles.

Add a background

Step 7: Command click (PC: Ctrl click) the new layer icon in the Layers palette to create a new layer *below* the one we currently have selected.

Step 8: Pick a color for your background by clicking the top color chip in your Toolbar. Typically I'll either grab the Eyedropper tool and pick up a color from the photo itself for the background, or just slap it on a nice white. Once you have the color chosen, simply press Option + Delete (PC: Alt + Delete) to fill the new layer with color.

And tack on the obligatory drop shadow

What can I say? It has to be done; it's Photoshop law :)

Step 9: Select the photo layer in the Layers Palette. From the Styles and Effects Palette (which should be perched directly above the Layers Palette) choose Layer Styles > Drop Shadows, as shown below. Click once on the drop shadow icon of your choice.

Voila! Here's what we get:

Isn't that pretty? Oodles and gobs of creative possibilities here. So the next time you want to do a little something special to a photo, remember to reach for the Cookie Cutter tool and load (explore!) all those built-in Custom Shapes. Enjoy!