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Complete Idiot's Guide to Paint Shop Pro 7

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All 16.7 Million Colors of the Rainbow

In This Chapter

  • How computers handle color

  • Working with a limited color palette

  • Selecting colors

  • Re-using colors

Whenever you create an image, you deal with color. This is the case even if the image is in black and white—well, black and white are colors, aren't they? Granted, they aren't very colorful colors (the white crayon was never the most useful crayon in the box), but they are colors nonetheless.

The Big Box of Crayons

Your computer can handle a lot more than black and white. It can handle more colors than you can name (which isn't that surprising; after naming about a dozen colors you're apt to find yourself stretching for terms like ecru and aquamarine and Pepto-Bismol pink). How many different colors can your computer handle? A bunch. Sixteen million, seven hundred and seventy-seven thousand, two hundred and sixteen—to be precise. That's a lot of crayons. It's also a very strange number, but there's a reason for it, as you'll see shortly.

Is Your Screen Holding You Back?

Even though the hardware of almost every PC sold for years can show 16.7 million colors, some displays have been configured to show only 256 (or even fewer!) colors. To check your system, right-click your Windows desktop and choose Properties from the pop-up menu. On the Display Properties dialog box that appears, click the Settings tab. In the Colors field, select True Colors (24 bit). While you're checking this out, make sure that the Screen Area is set to 800 x 600 pixels or higher. If Windows doesn't let you have that large a screen area and True Colors at the same time, you might have to settle for High Color (16 bit) in the Colors field. Click OK. (Your system might tell you that you have to reboot your machine before these settings take effect.)

Primary Colors

You might remember primary colors from your grammar school days, filed somewhere in your brain along with the chief export of Albania (chrome) and the capital of Liechtenstein (a capital L.) By mixing together the three primary colors of light you can make any color. Your computer monitor works on a similar concept. Every point on the monitor has a dot of red, a dot of green, and a dot of blue. By adjusting the brightness of these dots, different colors can be made. To make purple, for example, your computer makes the blue and red dots bright, but leaves the green dot dark.

Why 256?

Computers count using binary, a system using only 0 and 1 rather than using the numbers 0 through 9. Using eight binary digits, the computer can count from 0 to 255.

Each colored dot can be set to any one of 256 levels of brightness, anywhere from 0 (the dot is off) to 255 (the dot is as bright as can be). To make black, for example, all three dots are set to zero. To make bright white, all three dots are turned to full, 255. When you set the red to 200, and set the blue and green to 100, you get a dull red. Every combination makes a different color, and with 256 settings for each color, the number of combinations is 256 times 256 times 256, which multiplies out to that 16 million number.

This is about at the limit that the human eye can discern. Using a thousand different levels for each color wouldn't make the images look any better.

Picking Colors

Move your pointer over the Available Colors display of colors at the top of the color palette (as seen in Figure 3.1). In the Current Color display below it, you see a rectangle of the color you are pointing to, as well as the amounts of red, green, and blue in that color—marked R, G, and B, respectively. (If you see H, S, and L instead, choose File, Preferences, General Program Preferences. Click the Dialogs and Palettes tab, and click the Display colors in RGB format option.)

Figure 3.1 The color palette probably looks a lot more colorful on your screen than it does in this black and white picture.

Click a color in the Available Colors display, and it is displayed in the Foreground/Stroke Solid Color panel. It should also be displayed in the Active Stroke Style panel. If not, point to the Active Stroke Style box and hold the left mouse button down. Four buttons will appear. Release the mouse button, and then click the left-most of the four buttons (it looks like a paint brush). The color you selected is now your main color. If you were to start painting, it would be in that color.

Right-click on the Available Colors area, and that color is displayed in the Background/Fill Solid Color panel. It should also be displayed in the Active Fill Style panel. If not, point to the Fill Style box and hold the left mouse button down. Four buttons will appear. Release the mouse button, and then click the left-most of the four buttons (the one that looks like a paint brush). This is a secondary color. When, for example, you use the shape-drawing tool to draw a circle with an outline, the outline will be in the Stroke color (stroke means outline, in art-speak) but it will be filled inside with the Fill color.

Put a check in the Lock check box. Without this check, the colors would change whenever you picked a different art tool from the Tool palette (which can actually be handy, since that also means that when you switch back to that tool, it still has the color you last used with it).

Stylish Pseudonyms

The fine folks who created PSP gave each of the Style panels two names. The upper one is called the Active Stroke Style panel when using it with some tools, and the Active Foreground Style panel with other tools. This is just too confusing, so in this book I'll always refer to it as the Active Stroke Style panel, no matter what tool is being used. Similarly, I'll always refer to the lower panels at the Active Fill Style panel, even though the fine PSP folks sometimes call it the Active Background Style panel.

Precise Picking for Pickier Pickers

Picking the exact color you want from the Available Colors display is not only difficult, it can be impossible. This is because the area only has space for less than five thousand of the sixteen million possible colors. If you don't have any images open, or if you're working on an image that was set to let you use all 16.7 million colors (as we set up that smiley picture to be), you can use a much richer color selection tool.

Color Fast

Right-click the Stroke or Fill style box instead of clicking it, and you'll be shown 10 standard colors and several of your most recently used colors. Click one of these, and you're on your way.

Click on the Active Stroke Style panel, and the Color dialog box shown in Figure 3.2 appears. (This same trick works with the Active Fill Color box.)

Click any spot on the hue wheel to choose the basic color you want. The box inside the wheel shows a range of versions of that color, with different amounts of light and color saturation. Click the spot on the box that shows the color you want.

Figure 3.2 The Color dialog box has so many options, you get to pick how to pick your colors as well as picking the colors themselves.

You can also quickly get one of 48 preset colors by clicking the Basic Colors grid. If you frequently find yourself using colors that aren't on the Basic Colors grid, select that color using the color wheel, and then click Add Custom.

You can also select a color by entering the red, green, and blue values into the fields marked Red, Green, and Cheese Sandwich. (Oh, okay, I made that last one up.) You can return to the existing stroke color by clicking Old Color.

After you select your color, click OK! That color is now your new foreground/stroke solid color (unless you clicked your Active Fill Style to begin with, in which case this is your new background/fill solid color). And here's a neat little trick: To quickly switch your Active Fill Style and Active Stroke Style, just click the little arrow that's on the lower left of the Styles display!

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