How To Use The Photoshop CC 2015 Layer Effects And Styles

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How To Use The Photoshop CC 2015 Layer Effects And Styles

Image shows original line art and the result of applying a series of Layer Effects to the art.
Layer Effects and Layer Styles, when used judiciously, will bring out the Wow factor.

There was a time when applying bevels and drop shadows to everything in Photoshop was all the rage. A quick trip to the Filters menu was all you needed. The problem with this was it was a tedious process. This all changed when Photoshop introduced Layer Effects and Layer Styles which gave us the ability to have the more common effects in one place and to make some pretty nifty changes to the objects contained in the layers. In this “How To” I am going to use an icon from the Nounproject to walk through many of the effects and styles that can be applied to the content of a Photoshop Layer.

One note of caution: These things are not to be regarded as a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich where they are slathered onto a layer. Use them judiciously and just because an effect or style “looks cool” that is no reason to use it. Still these things are extremely useful.

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How To Change The Background Color Of The Document In Photoshop CC 2015

Image shows a color overlay effect applied the the background layer.
A Color Overlay effect ius ideal for changing the colour of a background layer.

Though you can set this colour when you create a new document or add it using the Edit>Fill command, it is quite common to realize you have the wrong background color or it needs changing at some point. Here’s a quick way of doing this:

  1. When you open a new document, double click the locked Background Layer and rename it to unlock the layer.
  2. Click the fx button at the bottom of the Layers panel to open the Layer Styles menu.
  3. Select Color Overlay , to open the Layer Styles dialog box. Click on the color chip to open the Color Picker and choose your new color.
  4. Click OK and your choice is applied.
  5. Like all of the Layer Effects, the effect applied appears in the layer. If you chose the Wrong color, double-click the Color Overlay effect in the layer to open the Layer Style dialog box. To turn off the Style, click the visibility icon beside the style name.
  6. To remove a Layer Effect, drag it from the Layer to the Trash Can at the bottom of the Layers Panel.
  7. You can also use the Layer Style menu – Layer>Layer Style - to apply a Layer effect.

Here’s a little Teacher Trick: If you want only the effects used in a Layer to appear in the Styles list of the layer styles dialog box, click the fx button at the bottom of the Styles list and select Delete Hidden Effects. All of the Styles not used in the Layer will disappear. They aren’t deleted just removed from the list. To get them back click the fx button again and select Show All Effects.

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How To Change The Color Of An Object In A Layer In Photoshop CC 2015

A Color Overlay effect is applied to the Illustrator image.
Change the color of objects in Layers with a Color Overlay layer effect.

This is an especially effective technique for line art from Illustrator. In the case of the above the line art was originally filled with black. I wanted it to be blue. To accomplish this I applied a Color Overlay effect to the Layer containing the artwork. To darken the blue I reduced the Overlay’s Opacity to 70%. The key word here is “Overlay”. The color is being laid over the original artwork. You can see this by simply reducing the Opacity of the Overlay. Keep this one in mind if you want a darker tint.

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How To Apply A Drop Shadow Layer Effect In Photoshop CC 2015

A Drop Shadow layer effect is applied to the image in the layer.
Subtlety is the key to adding an effective drop shadow to a layer.

This is one of those Photoshop 101 techniques that is overused. As I said earlier, these effects need a solid reason for their application. The purpose of a drop shadow is to give the object elevation or to draw the viewer’s eye to that particular object. Here’s how to apply a drop Shadow:

  1. Select the Layer to receive the shadow and select Drop Shadow from the fx pop up.
  2. Set the shadow’s properties  in the Layer Styles dialog box. Here’s what they do:

  • Blend: The blend mode determines how the shadow interacts with layers under it.
  • Opacity: This slider controls the intensity of the shadow.
  • Angle: This dial sets the angle of the light source causing the shadow.
  • Global Light Source: If selected the Light source is applied to all layers that use shading. If it is deselected the light source is only applied to that layer.
  • Distance: This slider determines how far the shadow is “behind” the object. Don’t get carried away with this one.
  • Spread: This slider determines the width of the blur applied to the shadow.
  • Size: This slider determines the width of the shadow.


Click OK to accept the Drop Shadow settings.

If you get overly ambitious and overdo it with any effect or filter you can reset the Effect to its defaults settings by pressing the Option/Alt key and clicking Cancel. When you press the Option/Alt key the Cancel button changes to Reset.

In the Styles list, you can apply a Color Overlay to change just the color of the object in the Layer without affecting the drop shadow. In fact, you can mix and match the effects using this list.

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How To Use The Gradient Overlay Layer Effect In Photoshop CC 2015

A Gradient Overlay has been applied to the object in the Photoshop Layer.
Use a gradient overlay to add some "zing" to a layer.

This effect is a little bit tricky because a natural assumption is that a gradient will be laid over the layer. Not quite. This effect is totally driven by the Blend mode chosen. Here’s how:

  1. Apply the Gradient Overlay effect to the selected layer.
  2. When the Layer Style dialog box opens, open the Blend Modes pop down and select each of the Blend Modes to see how the Effect is applied to the layer. Many won’t do anything. This is what I meant by this effect being driven by the Blend Mode. Settle on one you like.
  3. To “soften” the effect move the Opacity slider.
  4. Click the Gradient to open the Gradient Editor. You can change the gradient by selecting one of the preset gradients or by clicking the black and white crayons under the gradient and changing the colors. The crayons above the gradient apply opacity to the gradient.
  5. Choose a Gradient style from the pop down. The default is a Radial Gradient.
  6. Adjust the Scale slider to adjust the size of the gradient in the object.
  7. Click OK to accept the changes.

Here’s a Teacher Trick: You can apply multiple instances of any effect by clicking the + sign beside the Effect in the Styles list. This way you can create some interesting effects by duplicating the original effect and adjusting the settings in the Layer Style area.

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How To Apply A Pattern Overlay To A Layer In Photoshop CC 2015

A grass pattern is applied to the image in the Layer.
Patterns add texture to objects in Layers.

Patterns in Photoshop have been around for a very long time. What they let you do is to add texture to a selection or , in very broad terms, fill a selection with an image that has been added to Photoshop as a pattern. In a way filling a drawing such as the one used in this exercise with a pattern is a “Poor Man’s Mask” technique. Let’s see how this works:

  1. Select a layer and select Pattern Overlay in the fx menu. As with the Gradient Overlay, this effect is also driven by the Blend modes. If you aren’t seeing anything different walk the through the Blends in the pop down to find one that works.
  2. To change the pattern click the Pattern Thumbnail and when the collection opens, click the Gear icon to open yet another pop down menu. These are all of the Patterns available to you and they are separated by category. Click a category and you will be asked if you want to replace the current patters (OK) or add them to the current patterns (Append). In this case I replaced them with the Nature patterns.
  3. Use the Opacity slider to change the opacity of the overlay and the Scale slider lets you scale the “size” of the image used as the overlay pattern.
  4. There are a lot of patterns available to you and you should take some time to apply them to the layer to see what they do.

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How To Apply A Bevel And Emboss Layer Effect In Photoshop CC 2015

Bevel and Emboss Layer effect has been added to the object in the Layer.
Don't get carried away with Bevel and Emboss. It is there to add a subtle 3D look to a layer.

You can also “mix and match” the Layer styles. In the previous example I applied a pattern to the layer. In looking at it I thought adding a bevel to the artwork would give the image a bit of “zing”. To add the extra effect all you do is click the Bevel & Emboss Style in the Styles list to open the properties.

Bevel and Emboss is one of those effects where you can get carried away. The whole purpose of this effect is to give the selection a 3D look and to keep the effect subtle.

There are five Styles that can be applied:

  • Outer Bevel: Applies the bevel to the outside of the shape.
  • Inner Bevel: Applies the bevel to the inside of the shape.
  • Emboss: Applies the bevel to both the outside, and the inside of the shape.
  • Pillow Emboss: Applies the bevel to both the outside and the inside of the shape you are applying it to, but in opposite directions
  • Stroke Emboss: This only works when you also have a stroke effect applied to your layer, and applies the bevel only to the stroke.

The Depth setting lets you set the “height” of the emboss and and the Direction is self-explanatory. The Size slider adjusts the size of the emboss effect and the Soften slider smooths any hard edges caused by the effect.

The Shading area lets you play with how the emboss is lit. The Angle sets the horizontal position of the light and the Altitude sets the vertical position of the light.

Gloss Contour is the secret sauce behind well done glass and metal effects.

The Gloss Contour sets the falloff of the shadows and highlights within our Bevel and Emboss. A linear contour creates a natural looking falloff, while choosing something like a "sine wave" style contour can create cool, reflective effects.

The Highlights and Shadows areas also let you control the light creating the effect through the use of Blend Modes. The Opacity sliders for each one control control the intensity of the edges of the highlights and shadows.

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How To Apply A Photoshop Style To A Layer In Photoshop CC 2015

The Styles panel is open and a Style has been applied to the layer.
You aren't limited to the Default styles. There are a lot of them available to you.

I will end this by letting you discover how a combination of Layer Effects can produce some amazing results. This is all accomplished through the use of the Styles panel which can be found in Window>Styles. Think of these as being “preset effects” containing a combination of the Layer Effects. To apply a Style, simply select the Layer to which the Style will be applied and then click on one of the Styles in the panel and your selection is applied to the Layer. If you are looking for more styles, open the Panel Pop down menu to make your selection. You can add (Append)  the choice to the panel or simply open it.