Tutorial 003

Layer Blending and Smart Objects

You can use Photoshop’s Layer Blending options to combine textures and shapes for rich and colourful effects.

Smart Objects will let you make changes without undoing existing work.

Before beginning this tutorial on Layer Blending and Smart Objects, I first made three different images to use:

They are all PNGs with transparent backgrounds, and all documents are the same width and height.

You can download them here:




Layer Blends

1) Let’s start with a texture. I chose this one.

2) Now add a layer of solid colour below the ‘Texture’ layer.

3) I set the texture layer Blending Mode to ‘Overlay’. You can choose any Blend Mode you like.

4) Now paste in ‘Plane.png’ on a layer above the ‘Texture’ layer.

5) With the ‘Plane’ layer selected, right-click and select ‘Group Into New Smart Object’.

Or go to the Layer menu, select Smart Objects>Group Into New Smart Object.

6) With the ‘Plane’ layer selected, click on the ‘Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer’ button (the black-and-white circle at the bottom of the Layers palette) and select Solid Colour…

You could also go to Layer>Fill Layer…>Solid Colour… to do the same thing. I filled the layer with white.

7) Hold down the Ctrl button and click on the ‘Plane’ and ‘Colour Fill 1’ layers to select them both.

Drag them onto the ‘Create A New Layer’ button (second from the right at the bottom of the Layers palette).

Or, with both layers selected, go to Layer>Duplicate…

8) We’re going to add a stroke to the ‘Plane Copy’ layer by double-clicking on it to open the Layer Style palette.

You can also go to Layer>Layer Style>Blending Options…

With the Layer Style palette open, click on ‘Stroke’ at the bottom of the Styles list.

Set the Colour to white.

The size depends on how big your image is. Start with something hefty and not too fine. You can always come back and adjust the Stroke Size later.

9) Now select the ‘Plane Copy’ layer and nudge it up and to the right, to off-set it from the ‘Plane’ layer.

Make sure the Move Tool (keystroke: v) is selected.

You can hold down the Shift key and use the arrow keys to move in larger increments.

10) Copy the ‘Texture’ layer by using either method mentioned in Step 7.

Drag the new ‘Texture Copy’ layer to the top of the stack of layers.

Set its Blending Mode to Exclusion (or any mode you like).

Clip this layer to the ‘Colour Fill 1 Copy’ layer by right-clicking and selecting ‘Create Clipping Mask’ (keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+G) or going to Layer>Create Clipping Mask.

The white coloured ‘Plane’ layer is off-set from the ‘Plane Copy’ layer, adding some weight to the white stroke.

The Exclusion Blend Mode on the ‘Texture Copy’ layer acts on the white of the ‘Colour Fill 1 Copy’ layer.

Take a minute to turn off/on visibility of individual layers to see what happens.


Smart Objects

Now let’s take a look at the power of Smart Objects.

11) Right click on the ‘Plane’ layer and select ‘Replace Contents…’ Navigate to where you saved ‘Bird.png”, select it and click on ‘Place’.

You can also go to Layer>Smart Objects>Replace Contents…

The ‘Plane’ layer changes to the ‘Bird.png’ image, complete with fill and any other effects.

The ‘Plane Copy’ layer changes, too, because it is a copy of  the original ‘Plane’ layer. It also retains its white stroke.

12) I tried ‘Replace Contents…’ with ‘Bike.png’. The areas of negative space work quite well with the off-set white fill and white stroke.

Post any questions, or links to your own attempts at Smart Objects and Layer Blends, in the Comments.


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