How to Give Depth to Flat Art in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Give Depth to Flat Art in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

Sometimes, you need Photoshop CS6 to give your art a little shine and shadow to bring it to life. You can do this by creating and saving your selections as alpha channels and filling them with translucent color. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a simple piece of artwork to use as a basis for your shadows and highlights.

    This ball was created using two layers and the Elliptical Marquee tool to create different-sized circles, each filled in with a different color.


  2. Choose Window→Channels.

    The Channels panel appears.

    Keep this panel visible because you’ll be creating new channels for the highlights.

  3. Select the Pen tool from the Tools panel and create a path for the highlight.

    The pool ball now has a path for the highlight, assuming the light source is coming from the upper-left corner.


  4. Choose Window→Paths.

  5. Click the Load Path as Selection icon (a dotted circle) at the bottom of the Paths panel.

    Your work path disappears and a selection marquee appears.

  6. Choose Select→Save Selection.

  7. Name the channel. Make sure to select New Channel under Operation and click OK.

    An additional channel appears in the Channels panel. This new channel is the alpha channel you saved.

  8. Click the Create a New Layer icon in the Layers panel. Double-click the layer name and rename it.

    Putting your highlights and shadows on separate layers is important so that you can apply different opacity settings and also retain the ability to tweak them later.

  9. Choose Edit→Fill, select the White option for Contents, and leave all the other options at their default settings. Click OK to close the Fill dialog box.

    Your highlight is now filled with white. Don’t worry; it won’t stay this opaque.

  10. In the Layers panel, adjust the Opacity setting to 50%.


    The highlight now appears translucent.

  11. Select the Pen tool and create a path for the highlight on the bottom of the object.

    Make sure the path matches up to the edge of the object. Use the Direct Selection tool if you need to adjust the anchor points or curve segments of the path.

  12. In the Paths panel, click the third icon from the left at the bottom of the panel.

    The work path disappears, and a selection marquee appears.

  13. Choose Select→Save Selection. In the Save Selection dialog box that appears, name the channel. Make sure to select New Channel under Operation and click OK.

    Another alpha channel appears in the Channels panel.

  14. Repeat Steps 8 through 10, but adjust the opacity to only 30%.

  15. Use the Pen tool to create a path for the smaller shadow.

  16. Load the path as a selection in the Paths panel and choose Select→Modify→Feather. In the Feather Selection dialog box, enter 3 pixels and click OK.

    The idea is to give the shadow a softer edge.

  17. Repeat Steps 6 through 10, but fill the selection with black, rather than white, and adjust the opacity to 20%.


  18. Use a selection tool to add a cast shadow.


    Above, the Elliptical Marquee tool created an ellipse at the base of the ball, which was feathered at 25 pixels before being saved.

    The cast shadow needs to have really fuzzy edges, thus the large number of pixels for the feather.

  19. Repeat Steps 8 and 9, filling the selection with black.

    If your cast shadow layer is above your object, you have to change the stacking order and move your shadow layer so that it’s below your object.

    Now that you’ve spent all this time on the front end creating your alpha channels, you can save time on the back end by using those alpha channels to apply highlights and shadows to similar artwork.

  20. To load alpha channels, choose Select→Load Selection and select an alpha channel from the Channel menu. Then, repeat the applicable steps for creating new layers, filling them with color, and adjusting their opacity.