Beginning Layers

This tutorial is written for Photoshop newbies. If you already know what layers are and how most of the tools in Photoshop work but just want to see how to create this effect, scroll down to the end for a quick step-by-step without all the commentary. But you know you really want to read this 🙂

So just what is this layer you speak of? Heh, I can still remember when Version 3.0 of Photoshop was released with the first incarnation of layers…wow, I was stumped. I had never considered the possibility that you could stack images in software.

If you’ve seen the movie Iron Man you have seen layers in use. In the cave, his stack of drawings that reveal a complete design of the body suit when they are all piled up together is exactly what you do in Photoshop when you create layers. Basically, a layer is an extra “sheet” of clear drawing paper slapped over the top of the image you have opened up. Mind you, you can do a whole lot more with Photoshop layers than just draw over the top of your picture. That is easy enough to do, but in Photoshop layers can be used as backup copies of your image, they can blend different elements together and can even be set to alter the appearance of your base image without actually changing anything in that image (Layers that do this are a special type known as Adjustment Layers – more on that in a future tutorial.

So, to get your feet wet (ummm…yeah), I’ve got a little project that is kind of fun and creates a pretty cool image. This sort of layering can be used to create all kinds of neat cards or special pages for photobooks (Think faded names in the background of a high-school senior portrait). Something like this image could be used as an opener in a video about, well…vacation. Always a good theme in my book!Three layers created this image: Background, Shadow, and Main text

This graphic gives you an idea of what went into our final image – you have the main photo on your background layer, another layer with the shadow of the word “Vacation”, and the top layer is the upright solid word “Vacation”.

You can get the original image at the end of this post…yeah it’s yours for free! (You’ve read this far…you might as well get something for it.)

  1. Select the text tool  and click somewhere in the left-center of the water. Photoshop automatically creates a new “text layer” and you should see the little bracket thing blinking and patiently waiting for you to type something. Here’s where you can make lots of fun choices. The Font you use and color and size can all be changed in the dialog boxes near the top edge of the workspace window. You can actually change the color in two places…up there next to the font size and centering selections, or down in your main toolbox where you have the foreground/background options. I seriously doubt any of you have exactly the same font options on your system that I do…I’m a bit of a font fiend, so I’ve downloaded thousands of the little buggers. The font I’ve used in this image is Monotype Engravers. Pick whatever happens to make you smile. Also, if you want a color other than black, go ahead and change that using the foreground color box at the bottom of your toolbox. Now, type in “Vacation”…or really whatever you feel like typing. If it looks fairly minuscule in your image, select the text by dragging across it and then pick a new size in the box at the top. You don’t have to stick with the numbers in the list…you can type in anything you want, but Photoshop just likes to give you a list of suggestions. OK, congratulations! You now have a text layer floating on top of the water. Quite literally actually. Grab the move tool in the upper right corner of your toolbox and move the text around to where you would like it to be.
  2. Here’s a neat trick. In order to get the fun wavy Shadow we’re going to duplicate the text layer and flip it over. Like so many things in Photoshop, there are at least 4 ways to duplicate a layer. First, make sure your “Vacation” text layer is selected. You can then click on the little right-arrow in the top border of the layers palette and select Duplicate Layer. Or…you could go up to the main menu bar and select Layer > Duplicate Layer. You can click on the layer in the layers palette and drag it down to the little icon that looks like a page with its corner being turned up (if you hover over this with the mouse it will tell you this is the “create a new layer” button.) Finally you can just hit Cmd/Ctrl + J. Why J??? No idea really…but I like to think it’s saying “jump” this to a new layer. By the way, I’m a big fan of the keyboard shortcuts like this. It really starts to save time when you get into doing a lot of editing.
  3. You should now have two text layers – “Vacation” and “Vacation copy”. You probably won’t notice any visible change in the image though…because the duplicate copy is sitting exactly on top of the original. Double click the “Vacation” text layer in the layers window and rename it to “Shadow”. Next, go up to Edit in the top menu bar and select Transform > Flip Vertical. Now you suddenly have a jumbled mess of text. Good job!!! Go back to the move tool and then hold shift down and click and drag the text down until it lines up just underneath the upright version of the word. (Holding the shift key limits the movement of objects in either straight vertical, horizontal or 45 degree lines…try moving without holding shift and it will be much more difficult to line the text up).
  4. Okay…starting to look like we might have some shadows going on. Let’s make it spread out a little as it moves away from the main text (this makes the shadow look more believable with the sun as a light source). First we are going to have to rasterize the text. Say Huh? Rasterize is Photoshop-eeze for “convert the text from editable text to a pixel image”. This has to be done in order to apply certain effects and filters to text, such as transformations (If you’re trying to apply a filter or transformation to text and Photoshop just doesn’t seem to want to let you do it, it’s probably because you need to do this rasterize thing). You cannot change the text once you do this so always make sure you have checked your spelling first!! To rasterize your text you can either right click the “Shadow” layer and then select Rasterize, or go up to the main menu bar and select Layer > Rasterize > Layer. Now with the “Shadow” layer still selected go to the main menu to select Edit > Transform > Perspective. A frame with small “control boxes” on the corners and sides will show up around the reflected text. Pick the lower left or right box and drag it sideways away from the center of the text. You will see the bottom edge of the text expand to create a perspective effect. When you have something that looks decent go back up to Edit > Transform  and pick Distort. This time, click on the control box in the center of the bottom edge of the frame and pull it down slightly to lengthen the Shadow a bit. Again, move it around until you find something you like. You may need to go back to the perspective option to get it to look right. Double click inside the frame to apply the changes.
  5. To fade this shadow as it gets further from the base of the main text, we’re going to create a layer mask. What?!?! Ok, for now just trust me and do this step. I’ll explain masks more in another tutorial (HERE). Along the bottom border of the layers window there’s an icon that looks like a grey square with a white hole in the middle. If you hover over this button it tells you it is the “Add layer mask” button. With your upside-down “Shadow” layer selected, click this button. You will notice a little white box shows up in the layer window next to the name of your layer. This is a thumbnail image representing the “mask”. Click on this thumbnail to select it and then go to the gradient tool (it may be hiding behind the paint bucket).  Make sure you have a black foreground and white background color. In the upper information bar there is a preview of the gradient that should start with black on the left and fade to white on the right. Now click below the bottom edge of the reflected “Vacation” text and drag a line straight up to somewhere near the center of the reflected text. This will create a faded look to the Shadow! It may take a few tries to get it to look just right, so if you don’t like the way it looks at first undo the action and try again. (If you draw the gradient line at a slant, one side of the text will be faded more than the other…try holding the shift key as mentioned earlier!). It may take a couple tries to get it to look the way you want. The little white box mask thumbnail should now have a black area in the bottom. Finally, in the Layers window there is a box for “Opacity” in the upper-right. Click the right arrow on the side of this box and slide this down to a number somewhere around 85% (or just type that in)…whatever looks best to you.
  6. Whew!! Awesome…now it’s really starting to look like there’s something going on here! Let’s give it a little ripple. First, click on the “Shadow” layer again (You have to deselect the mask otherwise you will just be rippling that, not the actual text!). Go to the main menu bar and select Filter > Distort > Ripple. A dialog box pops up and will show a preview of the ripple effect. If all you see is little grey and white checkers you need to click in the window and slide it around until the text shows up. There is a slider bar for the “Amount” of ripple and a drop box for the “Size”. The goal is to approximate the ripples that are in the background image, so pick the “small” setting in size and then slide the amount slider until you find something that looks good. I went with 94.
  7. Now we just need a little blur to take the sharp edges off. Go back up to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. This time you are just given a “Radius” selection. A bigger radius will blur your text further…pretty much into oblivion at the higher end!!! Since we want this to be subtle, select something in the range of .8 and 1.2 pixels.
  8. Suh-Weet!!! Ok, last step is to give the main text a little dimension. Select your “Vacation Copy” text layer and go up to Layer > Layer Style > Bevel and Emboss. There are a lot of options in this window, so you can just go with the defaults if you want, but I would at least recommend you play with the shading “Angle” wheel in the center of the window. This changes the direction of the highlight that shows on the text. Move it around until it seems to be coming from the sunshine. You can also change the highlight color from white to a soft yellow light to match the sun’s color more closely.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!!

Short-short version:

  1. Load image and create a text layer “Vacation.” Move it to the location you prefer.
  2. Duplicate this text layer and name the original “Shadow”.
  3. Select the Shadow layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical to flip the text. Use the move tool and hold shift to drag the text down so the base lines up under the main text layer.
  4. Rasterize the “Shadow” text layer (Layer > Rasterize > Layer) and then do a perspective transform (Edit > Transform > Perspective). Click on one of the lower corner control boxes and drag so that the text widens on the lower edge. Now go to Edit > Transform > Distort and pull the center control box on the bottom down to stretch the text down.
  5. Add a layer mask to the “Shadow” text layer and then use a black to white gradient to fade the lower edge of the shadow. Reduce the opacity of the layer to around 85%.
  6. Create a ripple effect using Filter > Distort > Ripple. Ripple size set at small and amount about 94.
  7. Blur the shadow slightly using Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur set to a radius of .8 to 1.2
  8. Select the “Vacation Copy” text layer and apply a bevel (Layer > Layer Style > Bevel and Emboss). Change the highlight direction until it appears to come from the sun and change the highlight color to a warm yellow (hint: Use the color picker to select a color from the sun).
Original Image: right click to save

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