Sarah (maidofawesome) wrote in graphics_school,

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Lesson 4: Editing individual layers to improve the quality of a base

After showing you how to make a simple base in the last tutorial, I'm now going to show you how to edit the style and colourisation of the different layers to improve the overall quality.

Warning! This is really image-heavy. Please let me know if it is a problem and I can try and split it up for you.

First of all, make a base, and do the Screen/Soft Light prep I showed you in the last lesson, as needed. Don't flatten it! (see the last mini-lesson about flattening) You need the separate layers for this.

Got your base?

Awesome. Violet Baudelaire is the coolest.

Right, hold on to that for a sec while I show you...

1) Desaturation

Desaturating basically removes all the colour from an image (in other words, it makes it black and white). If an icon is too bright and orangey, like this one: can be used to mute the colours slightly.

It can be found here:

Now, it depends how many layers your icon has. But usually, desaturating the Soft Light layer at the top creates a subtle muting effect. Try it:


If you desaturate the Screen layer instead of the Soft Light layer, it gives a more drastic effect, one that doesn't always look great - rather than just muting the colours, it can make the icon dull.


See? Finally, desaturating only the background layer again creates a drastic effect, but with slightly less dulling:


Remember, if you don't like how the effect comes out, you can always reduce it and try again. You can also reduce the effect of the Desaturation in one of two ways.


This is a more controlled way to reduce the Desaturation - you can only do it a small amount.

...or you can go the whole hog:

You can also use the Fade Tool, which can be found here:

(Edit --> Fade Desaturate)

This is a useful little tool, as you can go into it straight after using an effect and reduce the effect of it. It actually works to reduce most effects you might try, but I tend to use it most for the desaturation tool. You will notice it only works directly after using an effect, though. It's sort of a controlled 'undo'.

2) Brightness/Contrast

Exactly what it says on the tin - it adjusts the brightness and the contrast of your image.

When I first got Photoshop, before I discovered the wonders of the Screen and Soft Light layers (that took, like, a year. I'm not kidding.), the Brightness/Contrast tool was all I used to adjust the quality of my images. It pretty much does what the Screen and Soft Light layers does, but it doesn't tend to improve the quality as much as they do. And it allows little room for experimentation. Plus, if you go too far with it, you end up with something like this:

However, the tool can be used in conjuction with the Screen and Soft Light layers to improve the clarity of your image even further. For instance, with a prepped image like this:

(Yay, we're back to the original base!) Doesn't this look better?

I improved it by going into the Background Layer, and increasing the brightness and contrast. You can try doing this with all the layers, for instance, a very dark image:

...might be benefitted by increasing the Brightness of the Screen layer. Like so:

And a very light image:

...might be benefitted by decreasing the Brightness of the Soft Light layer and adjusting the Contrast.

Basically, rather than using hundreds of Screen and Soft Light layers to get the effect you want (when you are working with ten Screen layers and five Soft Light layers, it can get really confusing), you can use this tool and only use a few. The tool pretty much enhances what the layers already do, but more is always better. Plus, this way, we can control the amount in which the effect of the layer is used. A very useful little tool.

3) Blurring

Sometimes images are a little harsh, or the quality isn't brilliant, and they could do with being softened, slightly. Or sometimes you might just want a nice, soft, dreamy icon.

This can be achieved by placing a blurring effect on one of the layers. Normally this really only needs to be done on one layer (normally the Soft Light one) or the effect can be a bit overdone.

So, let's quickly go through how to do it with our original base. Click on Soft Light layer. Now go to Gaussian Blur.

You should get a display like this:

All you need to edit is the box that says Radius. Move that little pointer up and down to increase or decrease the blur. You don't need it to be too high. Normally 1.0 is about right - remember your icon won't look exactly like the little box, as you're only doing this on one layer.


See how subtle that is? It's a gentle smoothing. And you can increase or decrease the effect, by either applying a higher blur radius, or blurring that layer again, or blurring another layer. But I tend to stick to just blurring the Soft Light layer, as it means the clarity of the original image is still visible.

Feel free to experiment with this tool, but be warned, if you go overboard, your image ends up looking like what I see if I forget to put my contact lenses in.


There's no rule that says you can't blur more than one layer, sometimes it can look good. But use this tool with caution. At the moment, in the icon-world, very sharp, crisp icons are the fashion, so extremely blurred icons aren't always seen as desirable. I still like them, though. :-)

4) Sharpening

This is such a tricky tool, because if you go overboard with it, you will get some fugly icons.

Let's go back to that good old Katie Leung icon I was using in the last lesson. When I was creating those steps, I was itching to sharpen the icon, but I resisted, because I didn't want to go too fast for you guys. But now we can! Hurrah!

For now, let's just sharpen the Soft Light layer.

Filter --> Sharpen --> Sharpen

Sharp enough? Let's try and sharpen the Background layer too:

Too sharp! Let's go back to our friend the Fade Tool and decrease that a bit. Better:

It's sharp enough, but the icon is... lacking, isn't it? Well, now's the time to use everything from this lesson to tweak the image and improve the quality just that bit.

Ok, here's what I did. I just kept fiddling until I got an effect I wanted, going back to each layer to add bits. NB: Layer 1 is the bottom layer, and the numbers go up from there. So Layer 4 is the top layer.


Layer 1 (Background Layer)
Brightness +36
Contrast +16
Sharpen --> Fade to 20%

Layer 2 (Screen Layer)
100% opacity
Brightness +11
Contrast +31

Layer 3 (Soft Light Layer)
100% opacity
Brightness -13
Contrast +44
Desaturate --> Fade to 50%

Layer 4 (Soft Light Layer)
73% opacity
Brightness -18
Contrast +44
Gaussian Blur --> 1.0 radius


And improving our original Violet base from this tutorial too:

Layer 1 (Background Layer)
Brightness -16
Contrast +19

Layer 2 (Screen Layer)
Leave as is.

Layer 3 (Screen layer)
79% opacity
Desaturate --> Fade to 50%
Sharpen --> Fade to 50%

Layer 4 (Soft Light Layer)
100% opacity
Brightness -28
Contrast +37
Gaussian Blur --> 1.0 radius


Next time (and I promise I won't keep you waiting as long) we move onto colouring! Exciting.

<--- Lesson Three | Lessons Index | Mini-lesson: Flattening an Image! | Lesson Five -->
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