Before we begin working with layer effects, I want to make sure that you know one of the best time saving tips for working with layers. I find the Auto Select Layer option for the Move tool cumbersome. But you can have quick selecting on demand. With your Move tool active (V), you can activate a layer by CTRL (Command) clicking on an object in the document. The layer that contains that object will be highlighted. Occasionally, especially with small text, it may be hard to find the right spot to click, so confirm that the correct layer is active. However, for most work in Photoshop, this one little tip will save you hours and allows you to work primarily in your document, not constantly moving from the document to the Layers palette.
Now that we have done the work, let's have some fun. Photoshop layer effects provide an easy way to add dimension and interest to your images. I am not going to focus on the wild things you can do with effects, but rather the basic process and how you can speed your work. Still, it is rewarding to watch an object pop right out with a well-placed shadow, or see a plain line turn into a 3D tube before your eyes.
Layer effects are added to individual layers. Every item on the layer will receive the effect. Objects must be on a layer with a transparent background, however. If you look at the example below, the "Gray bar" layer is the first one above the white background. Although it appears in the document just as the colored objects, you can see the difference in the Layers palette thumbnails. Note how the white surrounds the gray bar.
If a drop shadow was added to this layer, the shadow would appear around the white portion, not the gray. On the colored layers, the shadow will appear for each object, since the layer background is transparent, as shown by the checkered background. The same drop shadow was added to all layers of this sample at the left with the following results.
Note that the gray bar layer shadow follows the white background edge, not the bar. When it appears that your effect is not working, make sure that your layer background is transparent.
Note: You cannot apply layer effects to a background layer. However, if you duplicate the background layer, it becomes a standard layer to which you can add effects.
I suspect that the drop shadow is by far the most common layer effect applied in Photoshop. I would like to take a little side trip to talk about shadows, since many people simply accept the default settings. Although you can create an acceptable shadow this way, I find I make minor adjustments to the basic settings with almost every image. Changing just a few numbers can make a huge difference to your results. A shadow is usually intended to add depth to your design, and the best examples do not detract from the object.
Drop shadow adjustments become more than just an appearance issue when we are talking about text. I have seen many examples of text that is much harder to read because a shadow has been added – in extreme cases, it is virtually illegible.
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