Photoshop Layer Style

Just what is a Photoshop layer style? To quickly define it, layer styles are added graphical enhancements that is linked to a specific layer. In this lesson, I will be applying Photoshop layer styles to a drawing as a means to take advantage of non destructive editing techniques.

Depending on the project, quick simple color correction techniques being overlaid on top of the layer, as a means to test all the different types of color variations, is very useful. This will save a lot of time for professional artists as they tinker away with potential texture themes and color corrections to suite a composition.

Layer styles is part of a huge ecosystem of non destructive editing tools that work best together with other non destructive editing tools like clipping masks, layer masks, and adjustment masks. With few exceptions, any stackable layer should have the ability to add a Photoshop layer style here and there.

In the example that I will provide, I will be utilizing layer styles to create color and texture correction to the armor breastplate in the digital painting so it matches the entire theme of the armor suit. Just follow along to see just how powerful this tool can be when used properly.

What a Photoshop layer style looks like

As an introduction, I've already set up my layer styles on the armor piece. Visually, all the layer styles will go right below the layer that it's set on with the header that says "Effects". To show or hide a particular layer styles, simply click on the 'eye'. The system is thorough to a point where it will even tell me what type of layer styles is being hidden or shown.

Moreover, layer styles can be applied to regular layers and smart object layers (smart objects can no longer be drawn on but contains mathematical information that allows it to be manipulated without losing quality). Having said that, do try to limit the amount of layer styles used.

Photoshop layer style step 1 from cgattic.ca

That is, when working larger images, it's a good idea to stay away from patterned texture type styles as that will not only increase the file size and memory allocation when Photoshop renders the style, but it will also make it look artificial and fake as it does not curve with the topography of the drawing.

My personal favorites are the ones are gradients and glow effects. These ones are the most common for drawing. Anyway, to create Photoshop styles, double click the micro-image in the specified layer to bring it the available options.

Options available in a Photoshop layer style

Layer styles are divided into two columns: the type of styles and the options available on a specific style. As listed, the styles available are:

Drop Shadow Satin
Inner Shadow Color Overlay
Outer Glow Gradient Overlay
Inner Glow Pattern Overlay
Bevel and Emboss Stroke

Photoshop layer style step 2 from cgattic.ca

Depending on what is chosen, there will be different options to try out, I have chosen Color Overlay and Outer Glow. As a budding digital painter, be familiar with some of these effects. During the course of getting to know these effects, try to actively think of scenarios where these effects will apply.

For example, a few cartooning styles will utilize the stroke option to get a nice black outline. While it looks easy enough, I have to be very careful picking out which layer I want the Photoshop styles to affect as stacking layer styles could have an effect on the entire composition in a negative way.

The effects of a Photoshop layer style

There are two specific kinds of effects: local effects and global effects. For the most part, any layer styles placed within a clipping mask are local to that particular layer. However, placing a layer style to the base layer will affect the entire group.

For example, I set the Color Overlay (color overlay to about 75% in the style options) to a dark grey color. The end result is that it the entire groups of clipping masks are now based on that one color selection. That is why the example shown here has a global de-saturation of the yellows and blues of the armor since the layer style is done on the armor base layer.

Photoshop layer style step 3 from cgattic.ca

But what if I don't want the Photoshop layer style applied to a base layer to not affect on a global level? It is possible: if I want to edit color or texture modifications on a base layer without affecting the clipping masks globally, then the trick is to turn adjustment layers into a clipping mask!

Essentially, since an adjustment layer is just another stacked layer clipped to conform the base armor layer, it will override the globalization effect. That is just a trick few artists will know. Anyway, back to the layer style example. While difficult to see, there is also a slight rim light that was created from using the Outer Glow style.

Continual editing of a Photoshop layer style

With the combination of clipping masks and Photoshop styles, it is truly refreshing to see how flexible any artist can be with creating many different variations without repainting anything! For example, I found that the white designs in layer 31 are too strong.

What can I possibly do to mute the colors a bit? The first thing to realize that since it's on a layer that's converted to a clipping mask, I modified the layer style from 'normal' to 'multiply'. The multiply effect will simply make the white pixels give a transparent effect without touching opacity or fill settings.

This only works well for darker hues. It's hard to explain all the available possibilities of any particular layer effects as it is dependent on the color interactions. As an artist using Photoshop, always experiment to get a better understanding of layer effects and make mental notes of when it can be applied.

Photoshop layer style step 4 from cgattic.ca

After modifying the entire layer, I turned on the Inner Glow feature and Color Overlay feature to create a faint design that resembles armor etchings. As well, I've tuned on all the layer styles in this example to see the whole effect. A few adjustments can be made using opacity to fade in entire clipping masks.

So long as there is a clear base design, altering the colors to fit the composition is always possible. After tweaking each individual layer, a finished product will emerge. Again, it can always be tweaked even further or changed entirely depending on the needs of the artist.

This concludes this quick tutorial on understanding the advantages of using a Photoshop layer style. Since many artists use this tool, an ongoing step is to look at professionally done drawings from these artists to pick out what specific graphical enhancements were made, break down how it was done, and to see if I can apply it to a future project. That is how one can improve!