The Power of Blending Options

 

After publishing my last article on the Process of Making an Icon, I got a few requests for more indepth knowledge on Blending Options, and a more explicit walkthrough of their direct usage.

Now, Blending Options are one of the first things Photoshop Novices stumble upon. The infancy of adding layer styles often leads to a short period of horrible drop shadows and cringeworthy bevels. Ironicly, this easily available styling is one of the harder things to master. Blending options is all about manipulating individual layers to obtain a certain effect. It's a key aspect of creating icons, and will help you create textures, shading and highlighting.

Only 3 layers!
Both of these icons consists of the same 3 layers *gasp*

To give you a better idea of how Blending options can be used, i've chosen to take you through a recent project I did for Jeffrey Lynch Development, Ltd. Inspired by the ancient Yin & Yang symbol, Jeffrey Lynch requested a simplistic icon to be used as a company logo. The reason, this examble is so well suited to illustrate the power of blending options, is because of it's simplicity and most importantly the fact that it's only made up of 3 handdrawn vector layers!

The above picture shows the same 3 layers, that makes up the icon with and without layer styling. If anything, this shows how much can be obtained with simple blending options. Let's go through the steps, that gave this seemingly flat icon a life of its own.

Gradients

Let's start with something I´m sure most people are familiar with; Gradients. A Gradient is, as you might know, a colourfill that blends through a selection of colours. Gradients are the salt and pepper of the average photoshop user. A Gradient can add life to even the most boring element, and with the right combination of colours it can help you control object lighting.

Gradients!
You gotta love Gradients!

Gradients are fun and easy to apply, and I´m sure most people have fooled around with them, so i won't spend more time dwelling on this particular Blending Option.

Textures

Not everything should be shiny reflections and smooth surfaces, textures can add realism to an icon. Blending Options can help create a simple gritty texture, that will contrast the abundance of shiny surfaces in the web 2.0 world.

Inner Glow used for Gritty Texture
Inner glow used for that noisy texture

In this instance I've used Inner Glow with a high noise level and a centered source. Remember to set the blending mode correctly - if the noisy color is lighter than the background, it's gritting up, make sure that drop down is set to 'screen' - if it's the other way around, use 'multiply'. There's hundreds of ways to add different textures to your surfaces, This is an extremely simple texture - what appeals to me with this solution is that you avoid using filters, which will often render your layers rasterized, in which case you lose scalabillity.

  

Using Inner glow to create a gritty texture might seem odd. Trust me, this will be a reaccuring theme, when you work with Blending Options. Don't be fooled by the labels Adobe has given the individual options, find out what´s possible with said functionality, press it to the limit and learn, how the options can work together. Before you know it, you'll be doing highlights with 'Drop Shadow' and shadows with 'Satin'.

Shadows

As with many other things, there are alot of ways to do shadows. Shading your objects correctly helps add depth and perspective while mimicking a source of light.

Gradients!
Adding an angled shadow using 'Inner Shadow'

In this case. I've used 'Inner Shadow' with the 'Color Burn' blending mode at a middle opacity. Color Burn looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the contrast. Play around with the Angle, Distance, Choke and Size until you got something interesting. The image above has also got a subtle 'Drop Shadow'. A common mistake is to overdo the Drop Shadow- turn it down guys, nothing casts that dark generic drop shadow.

Lighting

At this point our icon is looking alittle dark. Now we could just go in and brighten up the gradients, but another neat trick is to add some 'Satin' with curvey Contours and a lovely low opacity Color Dodge blending mode.

Satin with white Color Dodging creates interesting lighting
Satin with white Color Dodging creates interesting lighting

It's a personal preference of mine to use Color Dodge for highlights - it adds some really interesting lighting if used the right way. Color Dodge looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color by decreasing the contrast.

Highlighting

Let's try and take that Color Dodging highlighting to a more detailed level.

highlighting with a bevel
Highlighting with a Color Dodging Bevel

Believe it or not, but Bevel & Emboss is actually useful beyond doing funky looking bubbly text. Here I've used Color Dodging angled with an Altitude of around 70 to create a sleek highlight slightly displaced from the edge of the layer to add a sense of thickness to the object. The thinner the higlighted line, the sharper the curve will seem.

Last words...

As you might have realized by now, Blending Options is a pretty powerful tool. There are so many ways of obtaining various effects, that every good designer has their own little tricks. My advice is; forget the names and learn the limitations of the individual options. Play with the subtle symphony of the respective styles, flip the dials, turn the nobs and eventually you will end up with something useful.

Author: Michael Flarup
URL: http://pixelresort.com

   


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15 Responses to "The Power of Blending Options"

 
-VKM- Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 28 May 2008 9:57:58 AM MDT
Nice mannnn

 
Zach Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 28 May 2008 10:30:08 AM MDT
Very useful, even for more experienced users.

 
theboss Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 28 May 2008 11:12:59 AM MDT
just wooow

 
Sphoenix Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 29 May 2008 3:24:48 AM MDT
Wonderful. This just shows how you don't need to be a super-expert at designing to create something stunning.

 
nancy Rating: ratingfullratingemptyratingemptyratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on 03 Jun 2008 4:26:25 PM MDT
you dont say what layer u work off. very hard for a learner

 
Chris Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 05 Jun 2008 4:27:51 PM MDT
Great Tutorial! I've been looking for this for a long time! I do agree with nancy a bit though. I can easily follow your directions, but what layer do I apply those blending options to? All of them separately? GREAT tutorial! Thx!

 
Josh Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on 19 Jun 2008 1:24:34 AM MDT
I can appreciate that you are trying to teach others how to use the layer options however, your image is flawed. You've got the blue bit done pretty well, though the white needs work. Consider if you were to have a physical object of the same thing in your hand, how would it look? Now consider your object being real, how would it look, logical? If you are going for the white to look 3D like the blue then you need to work on your shadows and reflections. If you are going for the white part to be made up from the line from the outer circle then you need to work on the drop shadow and line definition.

 
siraj Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingempty Unrated
said this on 25 Jun 2008 6:55:28 AM MDT
very useful

 
siraj Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingempty Unrated
said this on 25 Jun 2008 6:56:38 AM MDT
nice

 
Kyle G Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 25 Jun 2008 6:26:21 PM MDT
But what if, josh, he is merely aiming to make a pretty logo, not a physical object? Surely photorealism isn't the industry norm for logos.

 
ashok Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 26 Jun 2008 6:46:13 AM MDT
good...

 
mo7amed Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 03 Jul 2008 7:17:59 AM MDT
cool

 
Zeeman Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 07 Aug 2008 9:57:52 AM MDT
I believe the answer to the question of layers (apply everything shown to both layers i.e. copy layer style) is why the 3D aspects are in conflict as pointed out above. The conundrum of 3D information presented to the viewer actually helps draw your interest which is a good thing for the web.

 
santosh Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 01 Oct 2008 7:51:56 AM MDT
i like tutorial

 
Angel Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on 13 Feb 2009 8:31:38 AM MDT
Awesome! Thanx for sharing!The true power of power masters! ;)




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