Basic Layer Effects in Photoshop CC

By Peter Bauer

Here are the basics of each of Photoshop’s ten layer effects, showing the options available in the Layer Style dialog box for that effect in an insert, as well as one or more examples.

Bevel and Emboss

Perhaps the most fun of all the Photoshop layer effects, Bevel and Emboss is a quick and easy way to add a 3D look to your artwork. You can apply a Bevel and Emboss layer effect to text or to buttons for your website. You can also use this effect to create more complex elements in your artwork, examples of which appear in this figure.

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When you feel the need and have the time to let your imagination frolic through the fertile fields of Photoshop fun, filters are first, but the Bevel and Emboss layer effect follows fruitfully. Take the time to play with the various settings in the Bevel and Emboss pane of the Layer Style dialog box to see what they do.

Add a new layer, create a simple shape (perhaps with one of the shape tools), select Bevel and Emboss from the pop-up menu at the bottom of the Layers panel, and experiment. (One caveat: You won’t see any change in your layer with the Stroke Emboss style unless you’re also using the Stroke layer effect.)

Stroke

Each of the insets from the Layer Style dialog box in this section’s figures has a one-pixel black Stroke layer effect applied. Adding that tiny stroke helps set off the dialog box from the background.

Not only is Stroke a handy and practical production tool, but it’s also a wonderful creative effect, too, especially when you use it in conjunction with other layer effects. For example, a stroke of a contrasting color is a great way to redefine the edge of your object when working with an outer glow and an inner shadow.

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Inner Shadow

You can do a couple of things with the Inner Shadow layer effect, as you can see in this figure. Compare the two sets of options. On the left, a soft, light-colored inner shadow using the Screen blending mode softens edges.

On the right, a hard inner shadow, using a dark color and the Multiply blending mode, produces a totally different look. Despite what your eyes might be telling you, the layer effect is applied to the red shape on the upper layer.

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Inner Glow

The Inner Glow effect is much like a nondirectional Inner Shadow effect. As you can see here, an Inner Glow can be the base for a neon glow style. (Add an Outer Glow effect, perhaps a Stroke effect, and there you go!)

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You can also develop some rather amazing styles by using the Inner Glow and the Inner Shadow in combination. Using similar Size settings and varying the colors and blending modes lets you overlay a pair of effects in combination. And when you play with Inner Glow and Inner Shadow in combination, don’t overlook the Contour variations.

Satin

The Satin layer effect uses the shape of the object to produce a wave-like overlay. As you can see in here, it’s more effective with type and complex shapes than it is with large plain shapes.

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Color Overlay

The key to using the Color Overlay layer effect is the blending mode. When you use Normal, in effect, you paint all the pixels on the layer with the selected color. To blend the color with the original artwork or other effects (such as pattern overlays), choose an appropriate blending mode — Multiply with dark colors, Screen with light colors — or simply experiment with blending modes.

Although you’ll generally find Color Overlay most useful for simple shapes in artwork and on web pages, you can certainly use it for more exciting effects. The original is in the upper left, and each example shows the color, blending mode, and opacity selected. Remember that when you use a layer effect, you can later return and alter or remove that change from your image.

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Gradient Overlay

Unlike the Gradient Map adjustment, which applies a gradient to your image according to the tonality of the original, the Gradient Overlay effect simply slaps a gradient over the top of the layer content, using the blending mode and opacity that you select.

You also control the shape of the gradient, the angle at which it’s applied, and the gradient’s scale. And don’t forget that a Gradient Overlay using the Normal blending mode and 100% opacity will hide any Pattern Overlay effect.

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When working with gradients, you click the triangle to the right of the gradient sample to open the Gradient panel. You directly click the gradient sample itself to open the Gradient Editor.

Pattern Overlay

Like the Color Overlay layer effect, Pattern Overlay relies on the blending mode and opacity settings to determine how the artwork (pattern) that it overlays interacts with your original artwork.

As you see in this figure, you can scale the pattern, align it to the upper-left corner of your image (with the Snap to Origin button), and link the pattern to your layer so that the appearance of your artwork doesn’t change as you drag the layer into position. Click the triangle to the right of the sample pattern to open the Pattern panel and then select a pattern.

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Outer Glow

The Outer Glow layer effect is much like a non-directional shadow when applied using a dark color. However, it also has a variety of uses with a light color and the Screen blending mode. As you can see in the figure, it has practical and whimsical uses. (Please remember that in real life, stars do not appear between the horns of a crescent moon!)

In the Structure area at the top of the Outer Glow options, you can select the blending mode and opacity, add noise if desired, and select between a color (click the swatch to open the Color Picker) or a gradient (click the sample to open the Gradient Editor).

You define the size and fade of the glow in the Elements area. The Technique pop-up menu offers both Softer and Precise — try them both. And don’t overlook the options at the bottom, in the Quality area.

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Drop Shadow

A drop shadow is a great way to separate the content of one layer from the rest of the image, as you can see by comparing the two versions of the artwork in these figures. In effect, the content of the target layer is copied, converted to black, and placed behind your layer.

The blending mode and opacity determine how the shadow interacts with the layers below. You decide how much to offset and blur the duplicate with the sliders. (Remember that this is a layer style, so no extra layer is actually added to your image.) You’ll generally want to leave the Contour option of your drop shadows set to the linear default.

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