Action FX

Known best for its many action files, Action FX has an impressive collection of Layer Styles as well. What started as a site for Photoshop hobbyists has quickly become a popular stop for Actions, Layer Styles, Brush Sets, and Textures.

There are many tutorials and articles created by Photoshop author Al Ward. Al calls himself a certified Photoshop addict and is the webmaster of Action FX Photoshop Resources. He also contributes to the official NAPP Web site as the Actions area coordinator (

Action FX has included 55 Layer Styles on the book's disc. You'll find these to be great time-savers in your upcoming projects. There are many more styles and resources available at the Web site as well. Action FX offers tons of free downloads that will generate fast results. If you like what you find, there are also many other great things to be had by joining.

Besides creating cool software, Al is an accomplished author and is worth looking up the next time you are in the market for a book on special effects. You can count on more great things from Al Ward, as he lists coffee as his favorite food group and sleep as the one pastime he'd like to take up some day.

The Power of Contour Settings

Perhaps the least understood option of the Layer Styles dialog boxes is the Contour setting. Most users leave it set to the default linear slope setting. The easiest way to understand the contour is to think of it as a cross-section of the bevel. The contour represents the shape of the bevel from a parallel point of view. A simple linear contour reflects light with predictable results. Irregularly shaped contours can generate metallic highlights or multiple rings to the bevel. When you think you've tried every option, the contour settings will unlock many more. Just make sure to pick the Anti-aliased option.


Contours to Try Out

You'll find a collection of contour settings to try out on the disc.

Contour Editor

To modify a contour, you can click on the drop-down menu and select a preset. If you don't like the 12 included settings, feel free to load some or make your own. Loading contours is similar to loading styles: just click on the submenu triangle. Making your own involves defining the shape of the curve. Click on the curve and add points. If the Preview box is selected, your curve will update in near real time. This is the best way to learn how the contour controls work. Contour controls are available on glows, shadows, and bevels.

Think of the contour as a cross-section of the bevel. It represents the shape of the bevel from a parallel point of view.

Gradients and Textures

Another way to create a unique look is to use custom overlays for your layer. These can be a gradient or a texture. You have precise control of how the overlay is blended and scaled to the layer. These tools behave the same way throughout Photoshop, so if you are experienced with gradients or textures, this will be easy!

Using Gradients

A gradient is simply a gradual blend between two or more colors. Photoshop offers many gradient libraries in the Presets menu. To access these, follow the triangles to access the submenus. Try different styles of gradients (radial, linear, angle, reflected, or diamond) for a new look. The angle setting will also change the gradient's appearance. To go even further, change the blend mode.

Creating your own gradients is a simple process. Clicking on the image of the gradient will bring up the Gradient Editor, where the color stops and opacity stops define the color and opacity throughout the gradient. The midpoint can also be adjusted to favor one color over the other. To add new stops, click in an empty space above (for opacity) or below (for color). You can also create copies of existing stops by holding down the key and dragging left or right. Gradients are useful for adding depth and life to an image. Be careful to avoid extreme contrast between stops, or you will get visible banding or patterns on your video output. For more on gradients, be sure to see Chapter 11, "Creating Backgrounds for Video."

Using Patterns

The introduction of photorealistic patterns goes a long way towards adding life to your layers. Patterns can be created from any scan or digital photo. You may also choose to paint your own. There is an abundance of patterns available online and from third-party vendors. The trick is to use a seamless pattern that tiles smoothly. Creating a seamless pattern is now simple, thanks to the Pattern Maker filter. In total, the process of creating and saving a seamless pattern should take you less than two minutes. To get started, open the file Ch06_Stone_Texture.tiff from the chapter's folder on the DVD-ROM.

Step 1. Select the Background layer and then choose the Crop tool.

Step 2. In the Options bar, enter a target size of 800 px by 800 px. Crop the image to size and press Enter to apply the crop.

Step 3. Choose Edit> Select All and then Filter>Pattern Maker. The Smoothness and Sample Details should be adjusted to produce best results. Higher numbers warrant better patterns but will take longer to generate. Be sure to click on the Use Image Size button to generate a large texture.

Step 4. Click the Generate button to create the first pattern. Repeated clicks will generate multiple results, all of which are tracked in the lower right corner. You can go back to earlier versions by clicking the arrows in the bottom corner.

Step 5. When you are happy with the results, click OK.

Step 6. With the entire layer selected (Edit> Select All), choose Edit>Define Pattern.

Once a pattern is created, it can be used from the Pattern Overlay Layer Style or Pattern Fill Layer. Choose the pattern from the pop-up list. If you'd like, you can access the submenu in the Layer Styles palette and choose to save your currently loaded patterns. (This process is identical to saving contours.) ------

Creating Duotones and Sepia Tones with Layer Styles

The Color, Gradient, and Pattern overlays are useful when working with photos. If working with groups of historical sources or grayscale photos, you can use Layer Styles for consistent tinting effects.

Step 1. If working with a historical photo, strip all of the color data out the photo before restoring it. You can do this by choosing Image> Adjustments>Desaturate.

Step 2. Add a layer effect such as Color Overlay or Gradient Overlay. Adjust the blending mode of the effects to tint the layer.

If you'd like to see effects in action, load the style library PhotoStyles.asl from the book's DVD-ROM.

Importing Layer Styles into an NLE

Importing Layer Styles into a nonlinear editing system generally warrants undesirable results. While most NLE software will recognize a layered PSD file, Layer Styles are ignored. To get around this, there are two approaches. The first approach is to attempt to recreate the effects within the NLE environment. This works well for basic effects like drop shadows, but not for the more advanced features.

The second approach is to use merging to permanently apply the Layer Styles. If you are going to choose this approach, be sure to save a copy of the original file before proceeding.

Step 1. Create a text layer and apply a Layer Style to it.

Step 2. Create a new layer by pressing +©

fM+L+m Drag the new layer below the stylized layer in the Layers palette.

Step 3. Select both layers, clicking their layers in the Layers palette (older versions of Photoshop require that you link the layers).

Step 4. Choose Layer>Merge Layers.

Step 5. Repeat for any other layers that have Layer Styles applied.

Alternately, you can take merging layers a step further; see "Targeted Flattening" at the end of this chapter.


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The left image shows the original layers, the right image is after merging.

Importing Layer Styles into After Effects

The process of importing Layer Styles into Adobe After Effects has continued to improve with each software release. As both Photoshop and After Effects are made by Adobe, the expectation

The top image shows the merged layers when imported into After Effects. The bottom image shows the errors generated when Layer Styles are brought into After Effects as a "live effect."

is that the two applications will exchange seamlessly. However, expectations are not always reality.

Layer Styles are very complex, especially when features like Contours and Patterns are used. After Effects does its best to recreate the Layer Style using its effects engine. Depending on the effects you have applied, After Effects may need to pre-compose layers or split the stylized layer into multiple tracks. If you have After Effects, we've included a test file on the book's DVD-ROM.

Step 1. Launch After Effects and select the Project window.

Step 2. Choose File>Import>File and select the file Ch06_Layer Style Test .psd from the chapter's folder on the DVD-ROM. Choose to Import As: Composition and click Open. The layered file is opened into After Effects.

Step 3. Double-click the composition icon in the Project window to load it.

Step 4. The topmost layer can be toggled off and on. It is a merged copy created in Photoshop that shows you how the Layer Styles should look. You'll notice that none of the advanced features like Contour or Noise translate. Additionally Texture, Gradient, Stroke, and Satin may be ignored (depending on which version of AE you are using). Even features like bevels don't translate exactly.

Depending on your desired results, you'll need to make a choice. You can take the approach we discussed for NLE import and merge stylized layers with empty layers to "flatten" the style. Otherwise, if you need the layer effect to be editable, you will need to modify the imported file until it matches your desired effect as closely as possible. It is important to keep in mind that After Effects and Photoshop are separate programs and you cannot expect all features to work seamlessly.

Final Advice when Working with Layer Styles

The following advice is offered to really make you an expert Layer Styles user. These techniques can really tip the balance of power and give you the speed and flexibility that video deadlines demand.


How do you add shortcuts to a technology based on shortcuts? The designers at Adobe managed to squeeze a few in. Here are the most useful shortcuts related to Layer Styles:


• Double-click on a layer in the layer's palette (except on the name), and you will be in the Layer Style dialog box.

• To edit a specific effect, double-click that effect's name in the Layers palette.

• Turn effects off temporarily by clicking on the eyeball icon next to it.

• Copy and paste Layer Styles by right-clicking on the effect icon in the Layers palette and choose Copy Layer Style.

• You can also paste a copied effect to multiple layers that are selected or linked. Just right-click on the Effect icon and select Paste Layer Style.

• You can move a Layer Style from one layer to another by dragging it.

• You can drag (^3+drag) a Layer Style from one layer to another to copy it.

Alpha Channels and Import Issues

You'd think alpha channels would be a snap with Layer Styles as such a perfect time-saver. Despite lobbying efforts, Layer Styles do not affect how a layer loads; this is a crucial step in creating the alpha channel. Simply put: loading a layer with a drop shadow or glow will ignore any pixels outside the initial shape. This makes generating an alpha channel nearly impossible. "Marching ants" don't lie.. .the light bulb on the left is loading

To add to this problem, other applications incorrectly, as it does not recognize the outer glow layer effect. It is have difficulty with Layer Styles. No NLE important to flatten layer effects before sending them out to other video system correctly interprets all effects. Even applications After Effects imports Layer Styles as multiple layers and pre-compositions, with some features not fully supported. While the Create Layers command is often recommended as a solution, it is not a perfect fix. It generates messy results with grouped layers and some effects displaying incorrectly.

Targeted Flattening

Many designers I know have given up on Layer Styles and reverted to using filters. But you can keep using Layer Styles without problems. The solution is simple: Flatten them! You can flatten the contents of an individual layer so that it loads perfectly and travels easily. Better yet, through a little Layers palette trickery, we can make a portable copy while still preserving an editable layer. This technique, which I call targeted flattening, is similar to a video mixdown or a nested composition.

Using Create Layers

You can right-click and r choose Create Layers to turn a Layer Style into a multilayered effect. This command can assist in translating effects to another system, but you lose the ability to modify the effects.

Step 1. Save your document under a different name by using Save As. This is an extra precaution against accidentally deleting your work. (I usually rename it Document Name for AE.psd or Document Name for FCP.psd, etc.)

Step 2. Double-click on the background and give it a new name, thus creating a floating layer. This procedure will not work correctly if the background layer is part of your linked set.

Step 3. Create a new (empty) layer and place it below the stylized layer.

Step 4. Select both layers by ^©-clicking. Older versions of Photoshop (pre-CS2) require you to link the two layers together.

Step 5. Leave the empty layer highlighted. While holding down the O (A ) key, click on the submenu and select Merge (or Merge Linked). This merges the layers to the target layer, but leaves the originals behind.

You should have a flattened copy on the target layer. Repeat for all layers and save your work. This method will produce a layered document, which can be cleanly imported into other editing applications that support layers. You will discard the layers that you don't need within the NLE or motion graphics application after import.

Updating Styles

You can easily jump into the Photoshop document to make updates. After Effects users can choose Edit Original ([email protected]/

Step 1. Select the flattened layer, choose Select All, and press

Step 2. Pick the original (unflattened) layer and make your changes to the Layer Style or layer contents.

Step 3. Repeat the Targeted Flattening procedure.

This process works well with the Edit Original command in After Effects and Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro's External Editor. It can also work with Avid's batch import command and support for Photoshop layers, as well on newer systems.

Create the Alpha Channel

If you need to create an alpha channel for an effected layer, you will need to create a merged copy.

Step 1. Create a new, empty layer.

Step 2. Disable the visibility on any background or reference layers that you don't want included in the alpha channel.

Step 3. With the empty layer selected, hold down the (A) key and choose Layer>Merge Visible.

Step 4. You can now jj-a+click (^0+click) on the merged layer to load it as a selection. Throw away the merged layer as you are done with it. Creating an alpha channel is just one click away.

Step 5. With the "marching ants" circling, go to the Channels palette. Click on the Save Selection as Channel button (second from the left). You have now created the needed alpha channel.

Step 6. Choose File>Save As... and pick a format that your system recognizes and that will support an alpha channel (such as PICT, TIFF, or Targa). Be sure to only have one alpha channel in your Channels palette (visible or invisible). Additional channels will cause problems when you save your files out for video.

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