How to paint on a detail in Photoshop, and then remove everything except the detail.

A simple tutorial on how to paint on a detail in Photoshop, and then remove everything except the detail:

It’s really really simple to do this, not that you’d know it from the convoluted and complex masking procedures which are the only things you’ll find via a Google search. Photoshop has a Quick Mask mode to do it, and using it doesn’t involve going anywhere near the Layers stack palette.

1. First make sure you are working on a Layer. Quick Mask won’t work on a Background, only on a Layer.

2. Press “Q” on the keyboard to go into Quick Mask mode. There is no massive pulsating red overlay to show that you’ve entered this mode, so you may not even realise you’ve entered it. But you have. You can also enter it by clicking at the bottom of the tools-bar…

3. On the tools-bar, select the Brush tool and make it a hard brush at 100% normal opacity.

4. Now paint on the detail you wish to preserve. You know you’re in Quick Mask because you’ll automatically be painting in a red semi-transparent paint…

5. Then press “Q” again, the red will vanish and you have your selection…

Then hit the “Delete” key and all but the painted-on detail is removed, leaving only a bit of background behind it.

You can paint as many bits of detail as you want at one go, and so there’s no need to do them one at a time.

Real-world usage case-study: You have two line-art layers and (using an Action) have knocked out white from the top one, leaving only the lines. Selecting the top layer, you want to keep only a few nice ink lines from it, and quickly delete everything else. You don’t want to get all fiddly with the Lasso tool, just to select the lines you want to keep, when you have a perfectly good pen-tablet pen and paintbrush tool to do the job precisely and easily. Here’s a basic demo…


How to have a picture conform to a shape in Microsoft Publisher 2013

If you place a picture inside a shape in Microsoft Publisher 2013, the picture cannot then be moved and repositioned within that shape. In order to get such very useful repositioning capabilities inside a shape, we instead need to apply the shape to the picture (rather than the picture to the shape).

Here’s how to do that:

1. Drag-and-drop to insert a picture onto the page, and keep it selected. On the top menu, find the pink “Picture Tools” tab. On this locate the “Crop” icon, and click the arrow underneath it. This will open “Crop to shape”, where you can select the shape you want the picture cropped to.

2. Adjust your shape as desired. Don’t worry about squishing up the picture inside it, as we’ll fix that in a moment.

3. Done? Ok, now right-click on your desired picture-shape and select “Format Picture”. Select the “Picture” tab, and “Shape Effects”.

4. Now switch to the un-labelled ‘Paintbucket’ icon tab. Choose “Picture fill”, then tick “Lock Aspect Ratio”, then click “OK”.

5. Now select a new picture and drag-and-drop it onto the picture-shape you made. The new picture won’t be squished up like your starting one, because you just told Publisher not to try to conform the picture’s aspect ratio to the shape.

You now have controls that let you grab-and-drag the picture to precisely reposition and scale it inside the shape. Just click-select the picture, rather than the frame-shape it’s inside…

6. If at any time you again need to reposition the picture inside the shape, you have two choices: i) either drop the same picture back in again, and start over; or ii) find “Picture Tools” again and click on the main Crop icon (not the little arrow under it).

7. If you want a stroked line around your shape-picture, you right-click on it and choose “Format Picture” | “Colours and Lines”. Then you can format the edge like any you can with the autoshapes.

How to remove stray speckles in Photoshop

Got tiny random speckles or dots or spots, on the white background of comics pencils or inks? Want to easily remove these in Photoshop?

THE PROBLEM: One of the problems with scanned pencil or ink line art, and also sometimes with Poser’s old-style ‘toon outlines’ in the Firefly renderer output, is the tiny speckles found on the white background. The closer your Poser camera gets to a character, the more the speckles appear on the final render, it seems.

HOW TO DETECT THE PROBLEM: Often the speckling is very small and may pass unnoticed until it messes up your workflow. For instance, when an artistic filter grabs the speckles as well as the lines, or when they are still noticable on the final composite. Once the scan or render is in Photoshop, one can fairly easily tell where the speckles are. Make the scan or render a layer, knock out all white and then Stroke the layer edges with 4px red. The speckle dots show up clearly, as you can see here…

SOLUTION ONE (free): Switch to the Eraser tool and ‘have at’ those pesky spots manually. Not much fun and there are better things to do with 20 minutes of your time… per frame… cross a 600 frame comic…

SOLUTION TWO (free): Native to Photoshop is the Filters | Accented Edges filter. Try an Edge Width of 2, Edge Brightness about 28, Smoothness 5. There are two options here: i) hold back the Edge Brightness to 25 and they’re not entirely cleaned, just made very faint. Or ii) at a setting of 28 you totally remove them, but at the cost of making the lines thin. But thin lines are not a problem, if you can then run them through something which turns then into fatter ink lines thus…

SOLUTION THREE (free): Native to Photoshop is the Filters | Dust and Scratches removal cleaner. This is not ideal, and seems a bit of a crude old tool. It appears to work by blurring rather than actively selecting all ‘isolated dots, smaller than x pixels’. Line work will often turn rather grey after cleaning, and the picture will fuzz. But it does work and the speckles will be removed. Not ideal.

SOLUTION FOUR (free): The imaging experts at Polaroid released a free Windows tool to automatically clean up the dust on old Polaroid scans and similar photographic archival scanning of old slides. It worked by intelligently finding and masking each speckle. It then instantly removed the speckles. This freeware is long-gone, officially… but the great guys at kept a copy for the world! pdsr1_0.exe can still be downloaded and still works fine for me in Windows 8.1.1. It’s standalone Windows freeware, simple to use but with user input on what speckle size to grab hold of, and it can also pass the final cleaned version over to Photoshop.

Drawbacks are: i) it ‘knows nurthing’ about PNG files; ii) it’s often difficult to stop the dust identification process from nibbling into the drawing/ink lines; iii) there’s no way to export the mask to Photoshop. As such, while it’s great for photos it’s not ideal for cleaning up line-art.

SOLUTION FIVE (paid): Martin Koch’s CleanUp Line Art plugin. Computationally identifies and deletes stray isolated dots and dashes in a line art image, at a specified pixel radius. 12 Euros with a free trial. I couldn’t get this working on 32-bit Photoshop CS6 on a 64-bit Windows system. Error messages lead me to suspect that its memory access coding means it will now only run under a 32-bit Windows install. This shows what it could do, removing strays without affecting the rest of the image…

SOLUTION SIX (paid): A slick modern Photoshop plugin is SRDx, and it had a Windows version about 18 months ago. The drawback is that, while it used to be a somewhat affordable $29, it now costs $49. It has a specific OpenCL 1.2 requirement for your graphics card. I could be wrong, but it appears to work like Martin Koch’s CleanUp Line Art by intelligently identifying stray specks ‘larger than x pixels’ and masking them. There’s a trial if you want to test it.


There are also about a half dozen ‘noise-buster’ Photoshop plugins for photographers, but they seem to aim to deal with camera sensor fuzz and chroma fireflies in the shadows, and thus don’t deal with quite the same problem.

Possibly some of the more advanced Mask plugins also have some kind of intelligent edge-detection of stray dots, but I want something simple and easy to use and I’ve always found them way over-complicated in the past.

Outside Photoshop, one possibility to look at for speckle removal and extraction on line-art may be the free open source Inkscape.

Some scanner software is said to come with speckle and dust reduction/removal software.

For Poser users, a switch away from using the old Firefly ‘Toon Outlines’ is now feasible, with the new Comic Book Preview mode giving good clean inks depending on what Display mode and lighting you’re in. However, ‘Toon Outlines’ is still useful as it gives you every single line on the 3D model and each line can be weighted in the Materials settings.


As a sometime photographer and old picture restorer it’s nice to have found the free Polaroid software, which works well and quickly for photos. But for what I need Photoshop’s native Accented Edges filter seems fastest and most effective. Though for most paper/pen artists it may slim down their hand-drawn lines too much.

For the future, it would be nice to have a Photoshop plugin that could transform a weighted spread of round tone dots into Moebius-style hand-drawn ink dashes. One could then run something like Pixeology’s Artistic Halftone into a shadows render layer, and then transform the resulting round dots into wobbly ink shading, thus…

The dots would become something neat like this, rather than smushy grungy cross-hatching…

Ideally, such a tool would auto-detect the gradient ramp and curve of the original shadows layer and also the angles of the outer edges, and then orient the individual dots-to-dashes to flow nicely. That’s the key drawback with engraver plugins, that they have no method of intelligently placing the shading lines onto a figure approximately as artist would have done. I see in several research papers that image processing researchers are working on this, but it doesn’t yet appear to have become a Photoshop plugin. Akvis Decorator might be able to do something like that, though I’ve only ever tried it with omnidirectional plain material and even then it takes an absolute age to run.

How to pad a drop capital in InDesign

Here’s a very simple explanation of a solution for a common stumbling-block encountered by new users of InDesign. A Google search currently takes people who make such a query to vastly over-complicated Adobe support pages.

How to add padding between a drop capital and the body text, in Adobe InDesign:

1) Select and highlight your starting letter, and set it up as your drop capital letter in the usual way.

2) Then place your cursor between the drop capital and the main text that you want to ‘pad’ away from the drop cap. Do not select the capital letter itself.

3) On the top menu bar you can now use this kerning control item to pad your drop cap away from the body text…

The result of a setting of 75…

How to import .ABR brush tips to Krita brushes in Krita 4.x

How to import .ABR brush tips to Krita brushes, using Krita 4.x

1) Get your .ABR files downloaded and save them where you can find them. Select and copy.

2) Launch Krita. Go: Top menu bar | Settings | Manage Resources.

3) On the right-hand side Of the Manage Resources window are a row of buttons. Click the bottom one, Open Resource Folder. This will open Windows Explorer to C:\Users\YOUR-WINDOWS-USER-NAME\AppData\Roaming\krita and then you double-click on the Brushes folder to open it. Paste your .ABR brush file(s) in that Brushes folder. Close the Explorer window and return to Krita.

4) Open a new canvas, and select the Brush tool. Any Brush will do, but the Heart Stamp brush seems a good choice because (unless you’re a pony artist) it won’t matter if you mess it up. In its Tool Properties toolbar, click on the brush’s preview icon to edit the brush’s characteristics. Select “Brush tip” on the list at the left-hand side, and then click the Import.

Doing this should perpetually import the .ABR ‘s brush tips and make them available to all brushes in Krita that allow access to changing the Brush Tip settings. Close and relaunch Krita to test if the .ABR tips installed permanently.

5) Now when you go to the Tool Properties | Brush Tip for a brush you can scroll down the preview library thumbnails to see your new set of textured brush tip options (the ones imported from the ABR file). These tips can be applied to any suitable brush and saved.

Note that .ABR brushes for Photoshop will of course loose their complex dynamic operations in Krita. You’d need to load them in Photoshop, test, jot down some notes about what the brush is doing in terms of its behind-the-scenes mechanics and settings, which give it the look it has in Photoshop. Then you’d try to re-create the same dynamics in Krita, with the same brush tip.

How to quickly remove text from speech balloons in Photoshop, and translate text

I’ve found a useful new online tool, Free Online OCR which can produce good results from a rough and relatively small JPG. Cloud-based OCR from image text is of course quite common, but not a service that can accurately processes hand-printed comics lettering.

I fed it this picture…

…and instantly got back this…


Not bad, and the correct text block had been automatically selected. It’s near miraculous, compared to the useless mess output by Microsoft Office’s Onenote, when given a capture of the speech balloon wording section even at a 200% enlargement.

Only minimal clean up was then needed from the output, even from this low-res JPG…


The service has been around for a while. I was alerted to’s abilities via a long-ago user comment…

“Its most wonderful feature is, without any doubt, an uncanny ability to read texts in (jpg) comic book strips and render them speedily and with incredible precision”.

My guess would be that the software is either made by someone in the comics translation scene, and/or the machine-learning behind it has been specifically trained on old comics.

It’s wholly free, no registration or annoying captchas are required. The service’s free limitation is “15 files per hour / 15 pages for multipage files”. Users buy extra credits to do longer documents.

The OCRd text I got was then run through Google Translate and slightly tweaked for clarity of meaning…


Regrettably we still don’t have desktop software that can: i) automatically identify text, translate and then remove the source text, ii) fill with resulting empty space with a blend of the background colour that the text was on top of, then iii) lay in the translated text in editable form and with a similar comics lettering font. Project Naptha is a browser addon that may, in time, do something similar. But it only works in Chrome (and won’t work in a Chrome-based browser such as my Opera). It was tested in Chrome, but the inline translation is apparently an “experimental feature” and this totally failed to work, giving error messages. Naptha’s text erasure and inpainting worked moderately well though, and speedily…

It squizzed a bit of the edge, though. It was able to recognise the text in the top panel, and it even recognised the big swirly display lettering was lettering and made a very rough stab at OCR-ing it. In practice, though, without the translation option Naptha is not that much use. There’s nothing similar as a Photoshop plugin, that I know of. The usual suggestion of using Photoshop’s Content-aware Fill is utterly useless on such tight selections.

Instead this is what you do in Photoshop on a normal comic with closed balloons and dialogue boxes, to speedily erase the lettering:

1. With the Magic Wand, click on the background of the speech balloon(s) and boxes.

2. Expand the resulting automatic selection by 12 (or whatever you need to have the lettering not be selected), then contract by 8 (or whatever you need to bring the selection back to be just inside the speech bubble). The expand/contract sizes will likely depend on what size you have your scans at. The above frame is 1169 pixels wide.

You now have a nice selection, easily made without any fiddling around with the lasso tool…

3. With the selection still active, Filter | Blur | Box Blur at 2000 (the maximum setting). The lettering is effectively removed. On huge scans you might need to run this a couple of times.

4. Keep the selection active and add back just a little Noise to simulate paper grain. Slightly adjust the balloon’s brightness to match the remaining edge of the original balloon colouring.

5. Add in your translated text with a suitable font. Blur the super-crisp lettering slightly to blend with the scan.

Once you know what works on your scan size the process can of course be encapsulated into a Photoshop Action.

We can’t be more than a few years away from a Photoshop plugin that will handle all this, including auto-selection of balloons and boxes, auto-erasure, and the workflow will include translation and then ‘paste in place’ auto-replacement of the original text. All the user will then need to do will be to edit the translation for sense and word-emphasis. Until then, the process is still a bit of a lash-up with manual elements in the workflow. The most time-consuming part is laying in the translated lettering, tweaking the line-wrapping and fitting the text block exactly to the space.