Add a Smile with Photoshop Puppet Warp

Adobe Photoshop CS5 offers a new feature called Puppet Warp that allows you to slenderize, uplift, or transform anything in an image. By stretching, squeezing, and twirling pixels around anchor points, you can alter things in any way you can imagine. Here’s how:

1. Open the image you want to transform in Photoshop CS5.

Puppet Warp can’t be applied to a Background layer, so you need to either change the layer to a regular layer or duplicate it. It’s always a good idea to protect the Background layer by duplicating it and then working on the new layer.

2. To duplicate the background layer, press Ctrl-J or right-click the layer and from the fly-out menu, choose Duplicate Layer.

3. To open the Puppet Warp control panel, from the menu bar, choose Edit -> Puppet Warp.

You see a mesh screen appear over your image, like this:

Especially with faces, you will want to work in a more detailed way. The more dense the mesh, the more points you will be able to add.

4. To increase the Density, from the control panel above, click the drop-down arrow in the Density field and change it from Normal to More Points.

Next, with the Mode adjustment, you’ll need to limit the amount of distortion that occurs around your adjustments.

5. In the control panel, change the Mode drop-down option from Normal to Rigid.

Choosing Distort increases the area that is affected around the points when you push, pull, or rotate; on the other hand, choosing Rigid causes the surrounding  mesh to move less and gives you more control over fine details.

Now, before you start stretching and rotating things, you need to make sure all the edges of the image stay put. You’ll add “rivets” all along the edges with control points. (This may not be necessary if you are distorting an object that is on a layer by itself and is surrounded by transparency.)

To make a control point, all you need to do is click.

6. To anchor all the edges of the image, click around the edges to add control points.

If you accidentally add a point you don’t want, you can click it and then press the Delete key; alternatively, you can Alt (Opt – Mac) click any point to make it go away in a single step.

Your image will now look something like this:

Next, identify and anchor the other things you don’t want to distort. When working with faces, you usually want to maintain identifiable features by fixing bony structures in place.

7. Click to add more anchor points to cheekbones, eye sockets, nose, and chin:

Note: You don’t have to click on the mesh to add a control point.

Now, you’ll add more points to push and pull parts of the image and distort them to your liking.

8. Identify an area you want to stretch or squeeze, and add a point next to it. Then, press and drag.

Note: If you make a mistake,you can  press Ctrl with Z to undo.

Any point can be moved in any direction. If you want to evenly distort larger areas, add several points near each other.  Shift-click to select several and then press and drag them as a group:

9. Continue to alter the image by using some points to lock down areas, and others to do the changing. 

Lift eyebrows, tilt lips, etc. Go all out and make an avatar, if you’d like!

A few hints:

  • You’ll want to zoom and pan while you work. However, Puppet warp will not allow you to change tools without committing or cancelling your modifications.  That said, instead of changing tools, use the Ctrl key along with the + key to zoom, and Ctrl with –  to pan. Likewise, if you have especially nimble fingers, you can press Ctrl simultaneously with the Shift key and Space bar and then click to zoom. Adding Alt (Opt – Mac) to this handful will pan out your view.
  • When doing detailed adjustments, you will probably want to hide the mesh. To do so, simply click the Show Mesh checkbox. The mesh disappears, but your control points remain.
  • You can convert the layer to a Smart Layer before you begin to add Puppet Warp. This puts the Puppet Warp on a separate layer, enabling you to modify the puppet warp later. To convert to a smart layer, from the Menu bar choose Layer -> Smart Objects -> Convert to Smart Object.

10. To accept all your changes, click the checkmark in the control panel. To cancel all your work, click the Cancel button next to the checkmark.

There are a number of options that we haven’t mentioned here. To learn what you can do with pin depth, expansion, and rotation, view  or


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