Explore Photoshop’s Layer Style Dialog Box

By Peter Bauer

The first step in creating custom layer styles is to become familiar with the individual layer effects. Each of the ten effects available in the Layer Style dialog box has its own set of options. Most of the basic default values are very good starting points.

You might need to change only a color or perhaps adjust a Size, Distance, or Opacity slider. You can, of course, do lots and lots of customizing for some of the effects.

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In the column to the left in the Layer Style dialog box, you can select a check box to apply the effect, but you need to click the name of the effect to open that effect’s options pane. In the figure, the check marks show that this particular layer style includes a bevel, a stroke, color and pattern overlays, and a drop shadow.

The options pane for Bevel and Emboss is visible, as you can tell by the highlighting in the left column (not to mention the subtle Bevel & Emboss in bold at the top-center of the dialog box).

And in the far right of the Layer Style dialog box, note the Preview check box (upper right, which shows what the layer style will look like) and the small sample just below. That sample shows how your style will look when applied to a square about 55×55 pixels.

Take a look at the bottom of the Layer Style dialog box to see the buttons Make Default and Reset to Default. In addition to saving a new layer style every time you hit upon a winning combination of settings, you can make those favorite settings the default. Change your mind later? One click is all it takes to reset to Photoshop’s defaults.

As you read the descriptions of the various sets of options, keep in mind some generalities about a few key options that you’ll see a number of times:

  • Color Selection: When you see a color swatch — a small rectangle or square, usually near the Blending Mode option — you can click it to open the Color Picker and select a different color.

  • Noise: When you see the Noise slider, you can add a speckling effect to help diffuse a glow or shadow.

  • Contour: Glows, shadows, and the like can be applied linearly, with a steady fade from visible to not visible. Or you can elect to have that transition vary with a nonlinear contour. Generally speaking, nonlinear contours can be great for bevels, but linear is usually best for shadows and glows unless you intend to create concentric halos.

  • Angle/Use Global Light: You can change the angle for several layer effects by entering a specific angle in the numeric field or by dragging in the circular Angle controller. If the Use Global Light check box is selected, you change all the angles for that layer style.