Using Alpha Channels
Create Big Blinkie Templates

Created January 17, 2003 Copyright SuzShook
Made "Version-Independent" March 2009
Property of SuzShook

This tutorial is my own creation;
however, most of the techniques used in this tutorial, I have learned from others!
Therefore, if you recognize any contribution you have made, I thank you!
And I thank you as well for respecting this as my work by not posting it,
in whole or in part,
in any other location without written permission from me!

Individuals and PSP graphics groups are invited to share my tutorials with others with TEXT LINKS ONLY.
You can e-mail me to let me know you are adding one or more of my tutorials to your list if you like -
it's always fun to know who is doing them!

The Simple Big Blinkie tutorial has been enormously popular, prompting me to create 4 additional templates to go along with it! And I'm still getting requests! So, I thought I'd write a "how-to" tutorial showing YOU how to create your own templates. And at the same time, this will be a lesson in using the alpha channels to store selections! Have fun learning about the alpha channels and creating your own big blinkie templates!

I make my tutorials as brief as possible, without the customary paths, details, and how-to's. For those veterans among you, this will be welcome! But for those less familiar with PSP, I included a "Glossary" that contains all the details omitted in the tutorial. If you need a little extra help, check the Glossary section. Just click on the button below - the Glossary will open in a new window.

PSP glossary button

This tutorial assumes you have a working knowledge of Paint Shop Pro at the intermediate level (or advanced beginner level with the Glossary). It was originally written in and for PSP Version 7, and now made "version-independent". Screen shots for this tutorial can come from any version of PSP - where there are significant differences from version to version, a green "Version Note" will be included, along with multiple screen shots if necessary.

Where a note/tip refers to a version of PSP and all higher versions, a + sign will be used to indicate this. For example, if a note/tip applies to PSP X and higher versions, I will use the convention "PSP X+".

If you try this tutorial, and find something is inaccurate for your version of PSP, please EMAIL ME to let me know so I can fix it!

Screen shots in this tutorial are resized - your work will be larger than this!

Supplies - For this tutorial, you will need the following:
  • Paint Shop Pro - any version. The latest version of PSP can be found at the Corel site HERE.

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OK, now we're ready to begin! Grab your mouse and let's get started!

Remember to save often!

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Alpha Channels! Since part of the reason for writing this tutorial is to introduce you to alpha channels, this step will be a brief explanation of these critters! If you know all about them, skip down to Step 2 - otherwise, read on!

An alpha channel is merely a storage area within a Paint Shop Pro image, a special area for the storage of selections and/or masks! An alpha channel saves information (about a mask or selection you've created) as a greyscale bitmap within the image. Starting in PSP 8, the limit in the number of alpha channels was raised from 25 to 99 - that should be enough for most projects. If you try to save the 100th selection, the Save Selection to alpha Channel option will be greyed out. You will have to delete an existing alpha channel before adding another. If you do not want to delete one of your alpha channels, you can save the selection to disk.

Alpha channels are very handy and give more precise results than using the Magic Wand tool to get selections. They are particularly useful on irregular shapes, complex selections, and any selection that has had antialias applied to smooth the edges. Another really cool thing about using alpha channels is they're available whenever you open the PSP image in which you saved them. And they're not only available to the image that contains them, but to any other image open in the PSP workspace at the same time! It's like a mask/selection lending library!

When you save the image in PSP format, the alpha channels are saved with the image, and will be available when you open the image again! If you save the image in JPEG or GIF format, and do not save it in PSP format, when you close the image, the channels and all the information they contained are gone forever! Zippo! Disappeared! All your work down the drain! So, if you go to the trouble to retain information in those alpha channels, save the image in PSP format! Incidentally, the PSP format is the only format, to my knowledge, that allows the user to save information in multiple alpha channels!

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to save a selection to an alpha channel - saving a mask is identical. In fact, selections saved to alpha channels can be loaded as masks, and masks, as selections, should you want or need to do that! And one more thing about saving selections to alpha channels - be aware that even after you have saved the selection, it is still selected in the image!

With all this in mind, let's move on now to using those alpha channels!


The secret to making Big Blinkie templates is to start with an image whose width and height in pixels are BOTH multiples of 12! I'm using an image which measures 312 pixels by 72 pixels, but you can use any size, as long as the dimensions are multiples of 12. One of the square templates I made is 204 pixels on each side, and the other is 300 pixels on each side. The two rectangular templates are 252 pixels by 120 pixels, and 468 pixels by 60 pixels! You'll note that ALL of those dimensions are divisible evenly by 12! Choose your dimensions, and open an image with those dimensions. Flood fill with white - this just makes seeing what you're doing easier.

We'll start by making the center of the blinkie. Select all, and modify the selection, contracting by 12 pixels. Save this selection to an alpha channel by choosing Selections...Load/Save Selection...Save Selection To Alpha Channel. On the Save Selection To Alpha screen that pops up, type in the name for the new alpha channel in the Name panel (red arrow below):

save to alpha dialog

This is going to be the center of the blinkie, so I called it "center" - original, huh! Click the Save button, and you've saved this selection! Using meaningful names for your alpha channels helps tremendously when you go to reload selections later! You can use the PSP default names (Selection #1 through Selection #99), but these are not very descriptive names!

Before you deselect, flood fill with any shade of blue - this is just to make it easier to see where you're adding the blinkie squares! Here's what your image should look like now:

big blinkie model

Deselect now and save your image!


Set your foreground to red - any shade will do. Choose View...Change Grid, Guide & Snap Properties. In the Current image settings panel of the Grid,Guide & Snap Properties dialog (red arrow below), change both Horizontal and Vertical grids to 2, the Units to Pixels, the Color to black, and the Snap influence to 15:

grid and guide properties

Choose View...Grid to enable the grid. This will facilitate adding the blinkies immensely! We need to zoom in just a bit to make our work easier, so press the + key on the numeric keyboard five times - this should give you a 3 to 1 zoom! At this zoom level, each grid "box" is exactly 4 pixels by 4 pixels - exactly the size we'll be making our blinkie components! Throughout the rest of this tutorial, I'll be referring to each of these 4x4 squares, or blinkie components, as blinkies! Hope this doesn't confuse anyone!

Enable the Paintbrush tool, resetting to the Default settings, and then changing the following settings:

Shape (Square)
Size (4)
Hardness (100)
Step (25)

Add a new raster layer, calling it "blinkie1", and paint in a blinkie square, starting at (4,4).

Note:The coordinates listed on the status bar at the bottom of your screen represent the center of the paintbrush, and will say (6,6)!

Skipping 2 "boxes" in the grid between blinkies, add a few more blinkies across the top, and a few down the side - we'll copy and paste them to complete the blinkie. Here's what your work should look like:

blinkies painted in

With the Selection tool set to rectangle, surround the 4 or 5 blinkies you made along the top of your image:

blinkies selected

Click inside the selection - this will select just the blinkies themselves:

blinkies selected

Now copy the selection (CTRL + C) and paste as a new selection (CTRL + E), moving this new set of blinkies along the top into the correct position - the selection is sort of "stuck" to your cursor until you left-click to release it! Continue pasting this same copied selection as a new selection (CTRL + E) until you have blinkies all along the top! In the right corner, be careful that the last set of pasted blinkies is positioned correctly - you may have to overlap previous blinkies to do this! Here's the right corner:

right corner

Do the bottom the same way!

The sides are rather short - you may just want to use your paintbrush to fill these in! Or you can use the same method you used for the top and bottom - select the blinkies you put along the left hand side, copy them, and then paste as a new selection until you have all the blinkies in place!

Deselect. Now select all, and float the selection - all the red blinkies on this layer will be selected! Save this selection to an alpha channel just like you did in Step 2 above, calling this new channel "blinkie1".

Save your work!


Change your foreground color to green for the next set of blinkies, and add a new layer, calling it "blinkie2". Repeat the same procedures as in Step 3 above, except this time, shift your blinkies over to the right 4 pixels - the center of the first blinkie on this layer should be at coordinates (10,6) - check the status bar for placement. Here's what your new blinkies look like on the left corner:

blinkies row 2 - left corner

Be careful with the blinkies along the sides - there should always be 2 "boxes" on the grid between any 2 blinkies on the layer! Here's the right corner:

blinkies row 2 - right corner

When you have completed this layer, select all the green blinkies, float the selection, and save to an alpha channel just like before, naming this one "blinkie2".

Save your work!


Change your foreground color to yellow and add a new layer, calling it "blinkie3". Repeat the procedure above, filling in the last set of grid "boxes" - here's the left corner:

blinkies row 2

Select all the yellow blinkies on this layer, float the selection, and save to an alpha channel, naming this selection "blinkie3".

And that's it - you've created your template! Before you save your template (as a PSP file, of course), you need to delete the 3 blinkie layers, and on the bottom layer, press the DELETE key to delete the white and blue backgrounds. It's a template, so "nothing" should show when you open it, but all the selections are saved to alpha channels.

Now save your big blinkie template image, and you've got a template you can use over and over again! Remember, the alpha channels are saved with the image only when you save it in PSP format! In the next step, we'll see what those alpha channels look like.


Let's just talk a little bit about using the information stored in those alpha channels! In this tutorial, you created a big blinkie template, with information stored in four of the alpha channels. All you have to do to make a new big blinkie image is open the template, duplicate (to preserve the original), and choose Selections...Load/Save Selection...Load Selection From Alpha Channel to retrieve the selection information you stored there!

Note: To actually create a big blinkie using this template, see my Simple Big Blinkie tutorial!

At the beginning of this tutorial, I mentioned that the selections stored in alpha channels are available to all images open in your PSP workspace. To illustrate this, before you close your big blinkie template, create a new image. Now choose Selections...Load/Save Selection...Load Selection from Alpha Channel. Note the "Load from document" Load Selection From Alpha dialog - it will list the name of your blinkie template image (and any other image you have open that contains alpha channels)!

On my workspace, I have three templates open: ss-bigblinkieheart.psp, ss-bigblinkie204x204.psp, and the template created in this tutorial, which I called createbigblinkietemplate.psp. Here's what my Load Selection From Alpha dialog screen looks like:

load from alpha dialog

Notice the Alpha Channels window (red arrow above). If you click on the "Load from document" drop-list, you will see a list of all open documents that have information stored in alpha channels - in this case, createbigblinkietemplate.psp, ss-bigblinkieheart.psp and ss-bigblinkie204x204.psp (red arrow below):

load from alpha dialog

You can select any one of the available documents as the source of a needed selection! Just below the "Load from document" window is another drop-list - click on this drop-list to see all the alpha channels contained in the selected document (red arrow below):

load from alpha dialog

Also notice the Preview window (green arrow above), which contains a thumbnail preview of the highlighted selection (in the Alpha Channels window). Being able to choose the selection visually is a big plus, especially if you have several selections, or if you did not choose meaningful names when you saved them!


To delete an alpha channel, choose Image...Delete Alpha Channel. The Delete Alpha Channel dialog contains a drop-list with all the alpha channels in the current document (red arrow below):

delete alpha channels dialog

If you want to delete all alpha channels, check the "Delete all alpha channels" checkbox (blue arrow above) and click the Delete button (green arrow above). To delete only certain alpha channels, make sure the "Delete all alpha channels" checkbox is UNchecked, click on the drop-list to select the channel you want to delete, and click the Delete button.


Finally, one last note. When you load a selection from an alpha channel, that does not remove it from the alpha channel! It's still there, should you want to load it again! Nor does loading a selection from an alpha channel from one image to a new image move or copy the alpha channel to that image.

Read those last three sentences again - they're really important. I'll wait here while you digest this information.

To illustrate this, use the new image you created at the beginning of STEP 6 above. You should still have your blinkie template that you created in this tutorial open - if you've closed it, open it again. Activate the new image, and load one of the selections from the alpha channel of your template image, for instance, the "center" selection. You now have that selection loaded in your new image - you "borrowed" it from the blinkie template image, which stored that information! If you close your blinkie template - go ahead, do it - and then choose Selections...Load/Save Selection, you'll notice that the Load Selection From Alpha Channel choice is greyed out. Though you loaded the selection from the alpha channel, you did not load the alpha channel, and this image contains no alpha channels!

And the blinkie template you just closed still has all four of its alpha channels - it did not "lose" the "center" alpha channel when you loaded it into the new image. Open the blinkie template again and check this out - try loading the "center" alpha channel again - it's still there!

I hope this has clarified for you how to use the alpha channels to save selections, and how to retrieve those selections from the alpha channels! Have fun making big blinkies templates and using alpha channels!

If you have any problems, comments, or questions, please do not hesitate to Email me.


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