Understanding Photoshop is a biweekly column that takes an in-depth look at how digital photographs are built and manipulated. It is a college-level course in plain English for free at Photofocus. To learn more see this article.

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The Puppet Warp command is similar to the Free Transform command in that it allows for selective warping of a layer. The technology works by creating a geometric mesh that lets you dramatically warp specific regions of an image. The command takes a little getting used to in order to create natural results, but it can be quite useful because the image will automatically adapt so vital areas are preserved during scaling.

1. Open the image Puppet.psd.

This image has already been masked to isolate the elephant to its own layer; you’ll learn more about masking later The background has also been filled in using the Content-Aware fill command, which you’ll learn about later.

2. Select the layer named Elephant.

Fig 04_28_Puppet1

3. Choose Edit > Puppet Warp. Photoshop draws a polygonal mesh to allow the object to be distorted.

4. In the Options bar, adjust the mesh settings to create a refined mesh:

Fig 04_29_Puppet2

  • Mode. Photoshop offers three levels of elasticity for the mesh. Normal is fine for this image.
  • Density. Choose More Points to increase the precision of the warp (it will take more computer processing time).
  • Expansion. If needed, you can contract or expand the mesh. The default value is usually best.
  • Show Mesh. At times you may want to deselect this to see the image without the visible mesh applied.

5. Click on the image to add control pins. Add pins to areas you want to transform as well as points you want to anchor in place.

Fig 04_30_Puppet3

Use the figure for guidance. Add pins to the trunk and in a few places on the elephants body. Add additional points as needed as you manipulate the figure.

6. Experiment with dragging pins to warp the elephant. Try to curve her trunk and reposition her legs:

  • Drag pins to warp the mesh.
  • Try adding pins to keep nearby areas intact.

Fig 04_31_Puppet4

  • If an area doesn’t overlap properly, you can click the Pin Depth buttons in the Options bar. These can be used to control how much something overlaps.
  • To remove a pin, right-click on it and choose Delete Pin.
  • If unwanted warping occurs with a pin, select it, and then hold down the Option (Alt) key and drag.

Fig 04_32_Puppet5

7. When youre satisfied with your transformation, press Return (Enter) or click the Commit button in the Options bar.