20 February 2009

Layer Style And Layer Mask Interaction

In this Tips & Tricks tutorial I’m going to show you a neat little trick involving layer styles and the way they relate to layer masks.

You know how sometimes you think you’re so damn smart… And then you learn something so basic that it makes you feel silly for thinking you were at all smart in the first place? Well, if you’re a long time PS user like me and you don’t know this trick, be prepared to have that feeling.

I never new about this little gem and just had processes in my workflow to compensate, so I can’t say I ever missed it, but now that I know, I use it all the time!

I’ve setup a simple example below to help me demonstrate. I’ve added a new layer and with the Elliptical Marquee tool created and filled a circular selection which I then applied a few simple Layer Styles to (ie. Drop Shadow, Outer Glow and Bevel & Emboss).

Next, I’ll grab the Rectangular Marquee tool and create a selection around the top of the circle. With that selection made I’ll click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette to add a Layer Mask to this layer. The issue we’re going to solve today now becomes evident. As you can see, not only have I masked the circle, but Photoshop has now automatically adjusted all the layer styles to apply only to the unmasked pixels on the stage. Now, sometimes you want this to happen… But sometimes you don’t.

Adding a Gradient to the layer mask to create a fading effect compounds the problem as Photoshop struggles to apply Layer Styles to partially transparent pixels causing the bottom of the circle to take on a blackish look due to blending that’s going on with the underlying Drop Shadow.

So here’s the Tip:
If we open the Layers Styles dialog for the Circle layer back up by double-clicking on its Layer Style icon, we are by default opened to the Blending Options page. You’ll notice that in the center of the dialog is a section called Advanced Blending and inside that area is a feature called Layer Mask Hides Effects. By default this checkbox is not checked. Notice also that the next unchecked box is for Vector Masks, which makes this tip relevant to both types of masks.

If I click on the Layer Mask Hides Effects box, you can see that now the mask is independent of the Layer Styles and is applied to the actual pixels on the layer AND the layer style in exactly the same way.

If you already knew this little tip, shame on you for not sharing it with the rest of us… And if you didn’t and are now having that feeling I mentioned, don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

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