I think the best way I can describe Puppet Warp in Photoshop is to compare it to laying a large bed sheet on a hardwood floor. The sheet would have an image printed on it and if you wanted to reshape the image, you’d simply place your finger on the sheet somewhere and drag. The specific area of the image would move and it would bring some of the rest of the sheet with it. If you can picture this in your mind, you’ll have absolutely no problem using Puppet Warp.
In today’s post, I’d like to cover a few of the aspects that have to do with the Puppet Warp feature of Adobe Photoshop. In all honesty, this really isn’t a very difficult tool to use at all. While it does take some practice to make it effective with any project you might decide to use in in, you can get the swing of things fairly quickly. All it takes is to learn a few different control levers of the tool.
I’m going to keep things as straightforward as possible. I’ll open a picture into Photoshop and activate the Puppet Warp feature. From there, I’ll describe the different aspects of the tool and let you know what they do. Then, I’ll push and pull different areas of the photo so you can get a good understanding of what you can do with it as well.
The Demo Photo
Since the tool I’ll be discussing today is called “Puppet” Warp, I thought it would be fun to use a picture of an actual puppet. I think this is a Robin Hood puppet, but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s appropriate for the context.
Activating Puppet Warp in Photoshop
To take advantage of Puppet Warp in Photoshop, you’ll need to make sure the layer you’re working in isn’t locked. Since I just opened this image, it’s currently considered the Background layer, which has a small lock icon next to the layer name in the Layers panel. To unlock the layer, I’ll simply click on the lock icon. That will unlock the layer as well as change the layer name to Layer 0. Since that’s not a very fun name, I’ll double click right on it and type in Puppet. Then, I’ll hit Enter on my keyboard to apply that change.
Next, I’ll head up to the Edit > Puppet Warp menu item and click.
From there, I’ll see a web of sorts cover the entire image.
just be warned, if the layer is locked, you won’t be able to click the menu item. It’ll be grayed out and inactive.
The Puppet Warp Options Bar
The second you activate this tool, you’ll notice the options bar up top change. You’ll have a few different items to choose from and to customize. Let’s first take a look at the options bar.
Next, I’ll go over some of the different options to give you an understanding of what they do.
Mode: This setting controls how elastic the mesh over the image will be when one of the pins is pulled. The default setting is Normal. Rigid keeps the mesh somewhat tight and Distort amplifies any movement you make when you click and drag on a pin. Below are three examples. The first is Normal, the second is Rigid and the third is Distort.
While there isn’t much difference between the Normal and Rigid settings, just know that while working in Normal, you’ll notice more of the image being dragged with the area you’re pulling. With Rigid, most of the image will remain behind. The dragging feel tighter. With Distort, all bets are off and the entire image moves, even if you pull the pin just a slight amount. If you want a dramatic effect when using this tool and would like to warp the entire area, go ahead and choose the Distort option.
Density: Inside the Density drop-down box, there are three options. The first is Fewer Points, the second is Normal and the third is More Points. With the screenshots below, I’ll show you how the mesh looks with each of these settings. The first will be Normal, the second will be Fewer Points and the Third will be More Points.
When working with points inside of the mesh, the results of your pulling is affected by how dense the mesh actually is. The fewer the points, the more area that will be dragged around. If you want to have an effect on only a small area for precise control, you’d want a higher density of points. Remember, when you use the More Points option, there’s is a lot more information your computer will have to process, so anything you do will take longer to complete.
Expansion: This setting controls the outer edge of the mesh. The default setting is 2 pixels, which keeps the original image aligned with the original edges of the canvas. If I were to click the slider for this control and pull it all the way to the left so it read -20, this is what I would see around the edges of the image.
If I were to do the same thing, but pull the slider all the way to the right, so the Expansion setting was +100, this is what I would see.
Notice the edge now. While this doesn’t seem to make a huge difference when you aren’t warping anything, it does exaggerate your results when you start clicking and dragging pins.
Show Mesh: While working with the tool, you can choose to either show or to hide the mesh overlay. If I keep this box checked, the mesh will show. If I remove the check from this box, the mesh will disappear. This is especially handy if you’re working with a tight area and really need to clearly see whatever it is you’re warping. In the screenshot below, I added a bunch of pins in one area. They show more obviously because there is no mesh in the way of their visibility. If you’d like to hide the pins themselves, you can hold down the H key on your keyboard. Just realize that this is temporary and when you let go of this key, the pins will appear once again.
Pin Depth: Let’s go back to the sheet on the floor example again. Say you place some pins near the upper right corner of the sheet and one final pin in the corner itself. If you grabbed the pin in the corner and pulled the sheet back towards the center, the corner would fold over the sheet so the corner is visible. Conversely, if you grabbed the corner and tucked it under the sheet, you would be hiding the corner. Photoshop gives you a similar ability with the Puppet Warp tool. By clicking the Set Pin Forward button, you would be, in effect, keeping that area of the image higher up than the rest. If you selected the pin and then clicked on the Set Pin Backward button, you’d be hiding that area of the image behind the areas where other pins reside. The best way to demonstrate how this works is to show the corner example. In this first screenshot, I set the corner pin so it’s lower than the two accompanying pins. Then, I pulled the corner pin towards the center of the image.
Do you see how the corner is being tucked under the area of the other two pins? Now, if I select the corner pin by clicking on it and click on the Set Pin Forward button up in the options bar and then pull the corner pin in the same direction, I’ll find that the corner of the image is folded over on top of the rest of the image.
This will definitely take some practice to get used to it, but it’s a worthy feature to have available, especially when working with objects that have been clipped out of an image or when working with vector graphics.
Rotate: You have two options to rotate an image around a pin. You can either set the Rotate option to Auto and click and drag an image to any rotation degree you wish with your mouse, or you can set this option to Fixed and type in the degree of the rotation you’d like it set to. If this option is set to Auto, you’ll notice that the image sort of goes nuts when you begin applying and dragging pins. I prefer to set this option to Fixed for the ultimate control. If I need to rotate the image at all, I’ll type in what I want it set to. In the screenshot below, I chose 10 degrees.
Now, no matter how many pins I apply to this image and no matter how I tug them around, the image won’t rotate any more.
How to Actually Warp an Image
In this final section, I’m going to show you the very basics of how to warp an image using the Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop. Basically, all you need to do is click on an image where you would like to hold it still. In these areas, by clicking, you’ll be adding pins. Consider these pins to be something like thumbtacks. If you apply a thumbtack to the sheet example, those areas will be stuck to the ground. If I add two pins to the working image in this post, I’ll secure those areas. If I go ahead and click to add a third pin and keep it active by not clicking on anything else (indicated by a white dot at the center of the pin), I can consider that a piece of tape on the sheet. If I stick some tape to the sheet and pull, that part of the sheet will move, while the other two pins stay put. Let me show you visually.
I circled the pins in red. The center bottom pin is the active one and the one I pulled straight down. By doing this, I pulled the entire center down, as seen by the checkerboard background up top.
It’s really not any more difficult than that. Of course, other things will come into play when using this tool, such as what the image is that you’re working with and whether or not it’s a Smart Object. Anything like this is beyond the scope of this post, but I may revisit this topic in the future to cover them. For now, I encourage you to experiment with this feature inside of Photoshop. You may have a use for it in the future and when that time comes, it’ll be extremely helpful if you have a bit of experience with it.
I hope I clearly explained the basics behind the Puppet Warp feature inside Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!