One of my first “fun” Photoshop books was The Photoshop 3 Wow! Book by Jack Davis and Linnea Dayton. Jack and Linnea demonstrated a host amazing techniques for digital illustration in a very straight forward way that made Photoshop approachable. The big deal with Photoshop Version 3 was the introduction of Object Layers. Now you could composite an image by keeping all of its elements within one image. In earlier versions you had to save mask and selections as separate files. So making a “simple” drop-shadow would take at least four steps and at least three separate files!
The next big deal innovation was in Photoshop version 5 which introduced Effects Layers. Now you could create a drop-shadow with a click of the mouse, all within one Layer. Since that time, 1998, the Effects Layer has evolved into Layer Styles. Now, along with the Preset Manager, you can create your own effects and organize them into groups. However, as with all great power, it must be used responsively! Here are a few basics to consider.
First, and very important, when you apply a Layer Style to a Layer, it effects the whole layer. So if you apply a Drop Shadow and a Bevel & Emboss to an object on that layer, any object placed on that Layer will receive the effect. Okay, that makes sense. But let’s say you have an object like a circle and you want to cut out a shape in the middle of the circle. The hole will now take on the effect. This is because the edge of the object defines the boundary of that effect.
Next, with all versions up to Photoshop CS5, Layer Styles have a stacking order. This really isn’t a big deal until you get to the three Overlay Styles, Color Overlay, Gradient Overlay, and Pattern Overlay. These three do not interact with each other, so the Style that’s on top hides the one below it. Color Overlay hides Gradient Overlay, which hides Pattern Overlay. A new feature in CS6 is the ability to re-order the Layer Style stack. So this is no longer an issue. However, when working with versions older than CS6 there is a work around. Simply go the the Layer Menu item, then Layer Styles/Create Layers. Photoshop will create individual layers from the Style. Now, you can work on each layer separately, reorder them, or create a Layer group.
The element, Blending Options, is a basic “style effect” that usually goes overlooked by many users. With Blending Options you super charge the power of standard Blend Modes in the Layer Panel. Not only do you get the usual ability to change the Blending Mode of the layer and its Opacity, but you can also selesct which Channels will be blended, blend the effect of a Group, use Layer and Vector Masks on an effect, and finesse the blend of either the layer you’re working on or the one below it.
Finally, once you have created your effect you can save it as a preset in the Layer Styles Panel to use again. Once you have your preset style you simply click on it to create the total effect on any object in a layer. You will also be able to find many Layer Style presets on the web that you can load into Photoshop. To load new Styles simply go to the Styles Panel and click on dropdown menu at the upper right corner of the Panel and select Load Styles. Here are a few sites to explore:
- The Designer’s Hub
- Layer Styles from the Adobe Exchange A free Adobe ID is needed for this site
- Free Layer Style Presets from About.com
- PSD-Dude Layer Styles
One quick tip, when you find Layer Style presets you really like. After you load the effect, look at what it is doing so you can learn how to manipulate future effects yourself. The Layer Style dialog box is fairly dense and can be overwhelming. Check what all those sliders, numbers and tonal curves are doing to create those WOW effect.
So as Jack Davis said back in the last century, you too can create a ”One Click WOW!” using the power of Layer Styles.