What Are Layer Styles?

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A layer style comprises one or more effects that surround or are applied to all the pixels on your layer. Effects that surround pixels include strokes (thin or thick outlines of color), shadows (just like the one this book is casting right now on your desk or lap), and glows (outlines of semitransparent color). Effects that are applied to pixels include overlays of color, patterns, or even gradients. But Photoshop offers even more, including the ever-popular Bevel and Emboss effect, which does a great job of giving the content of your layer a 3-D look. (And, of course, effects can be used in combination. Check out Figure 12-1 for some examples.) You can add effects to layers several ways, including through the Layer Style menu at the bottom of the Layers palette (as shown in Figure 12-2). I explain each of the effects individually later in this chapter in the section on creating your own custom layer styles.

Just so everyone is on the same sheet of music, when you refer to a drop shadow or an outer glow or a color overlay or any of the other items shown in the menu in Figure 12-2, call it a layer effect or simply an effect.

After an effect is applied to a layer Figure 12-1: Strokes, shadows, overlays, and or saved in the Styles palette bevels are just some of the effects available. (which I discuss a bit later in this chapter), it becomes a layer style. A layer style can include one effect or several effects. The individual layer effects are built into Photoshop, but you can add or delete layer styles and even create your own. By the way, Blending Options at the top of the list in Figure 12-2 is not actually a layer effect but rather governs how the colors of the pixels on the selected layer interact with pixels on layers below.


Figure 12-2: One way to add a layer style is through the Layers palette.

Some layer effects, such as drop shadows and outer glows, appear outside the content of the layer. For those effects to be visible in your artwork, the layer must have at least some area of transparent pixels. If the layer is filled edge to edge, the effect has no place within the image to appear because the glow or shadow would logically be outside the image's canvas. Take a look at a couple of layer style examples in Figure 12-3.

In both cases, if the layer is completely filled with color, the shadow can't be seen falling on the layer below. In the sample on the left, you can imagine that the shadow logically also appears to the lower right of the object as a whole, but that's outside the image's canvas, so that part of the shadow doesn't appear in the artwork.

Figure 12-3: Some layer effects need transparent areas on the layer, or they won't appear.

Keep in mind that every layer in an image has the same number of pixels — but some of those pixels can be transparent. When a layer has areas of transparency, layers below in the image can show through. In the two examples in Figure 12-3, the white background layer is visible, giving the upper layers' shadows a place to fall. (And remember that a layer named Background can't have areas of transparency. Convert it to a regular layer by double-clicking the layer name in the Layers palette and renaming it.) Chapter 10 is full of information on working with layers.

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