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How to make a graphic signature or avatar using Photoshop Elements—fix a too narrow screencap.

Photoshop Elements tutorial for siggies, signature graphics, avatars - how to make an avatar

How to take a squished, distorted screencap and make it into a fabulous signature graphic or icon, using Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Sometimes a DVD player does not display the DVD picture properly—the aspect ratio (proportions) are off, leaving everything in the picture looking distorted, skinny and narrow. The absolute best way to fix this is to set up your DVD player properly, so the problem does not exist at all (but showing you how to do that is outside the scope of this tutorial). If, however, you are stuck using a screen capture ("screen cap") that has squished proportions, this tutorial will show you how easy it is to fix it! In addition, you will learn how to do some simple editing and correction on a less-than-perfect image.

smooshed image richard armitage
Before: Squished and too dark.
fixed north and south signature file
After: Unsquished, lightened, and made "arty!"

Unsquished ahead: Let's get started! First, open your smooshed file in Photoshop Elements. (Photoshop Elements 3 was used for this tutorial.) Then, create a duplicate "layer" of your picture by going to "Layer >> Duplicate Layer." An identical copy of your image will be layered on top of your original image in the "Layers palette" (usually to the lower right of the screen).

Then, press Apple +T (Control + T for Windows) to bring up the "Transform" tool. You will see that there is an outline all around your image, along with "brackets." Drag one of the side brackets out until you unsquish (stretch out) your image. (Note: If you need more room to stretch out your image, go to "Image >> Resize >> Canvas Size" and add extra length or height to your image. More on Canvas Size later.) If you want to escape the "Transform" tool, press the "Escape" key (usually in top left corner of keyboard).

"Unsquishing" an image is an inexact science and requires some guesswork. If you can, find another picture of the subject that you are trying to correct and try to match their proportions. You may not get it perfect, but let's be honest—some attempt at fixing it is better than doing nothing!

smooshed
Drag the edge of the image out (using a "bracket," circled in red) until the face looks less squished and more normal.

Now you will see that you have two layers in your Layers Palette—one squished, one fixed up. Do nothing at this point—just save your document as a PSD (Photoshop) file and continue working.

At this point you may want to crop out unwanted elements in the image. Press the "C" key to activate the Crop Tool. Your mouse pointer will turn into a little strange square brackety shape. Click and drag over your image, creating a square or rectangle over the section of the image you want to keep. Drag the edges of this rectangle around to adjust the width or height. Press "Return" or "Enter" to crop the image.

Photoshop Elements Layers Pallette
Layers: The fixed up (non-smooshed) layer lies on "top" of the unfixed image.

Lowdown on Layers: You'll notice in your Layers Palette that the "unsmooshed" version of your image is on top of the original image. Also notice that there is a symbol of a paintbrush to the left of the unsmooshed (top) layer. The paintbrush symbol is always next to the layer that is currently being worked on, or edited (in addition, the "active" layer is always highlighted in blue). In addition, both images have an eyeball symbol to the left of them. This means that they are visible. (You can turn "visibility" on or off in Photoshop by clicking on the eye symbol, but we won't need to be doing that in this tutorial.)

levels pallette in Photoshop Elements

Now we're going to lighten up and fix the image, because it's obviously too dark (this is a common problem with DVD screencaps). With the "fixed" layer still active (remember, it's got to have a little paintbrush symbol by it in the Layers Palette), press Apple + L (Control + L in Windows). This will bring up the Levels feature. Your goal here is to lighten mostly the middle tones of the image, while leaving the darkest tones of the image intact (we don't want dark grays instead of blacks).

In Levels you'll see some little arrows (in the above illustration, I have some of them circled). For this particular image, everything was too dark. So, I had to drag the white arrow (circled in blue) over to match the spot where the white point should be on the Histogram (red arrow points to this spot). Often you will need to drag the grey arrow (circled in red) to the left to "open up" (or lighten) the mid tones in the image. Move and tweak the three little arrows in either direction to see how they change the tones in the image. To lighten, drag an arrow to the left—to darken, drag it to the right. When you think that the lights and shadows are where you'd like them, click "OK" to exit Levels.

GO TO PAGE TWO OF PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS TUTORIAL >>

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