Web Site Building · Integrating Graphics · Layers

What this is about:

When I first started making graphics, I heard about these mysterious things called layers. I had no idea what they were, what they did, or why I would even bother messing with them. For a long time I left them alone. Then one day I was tinkering around, and accidentally created a layer; then made it semi-transparent. I was fascinated by the look I got, and started playing. Now, I have to admit being a layers junkie, but this is goodness.

 

 


 


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Layers... Why Bother?

by Robyn Harton

Graphic Layers Layers can be used in most raster graphics programs like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. The same ideas I mention here also apply to the use of objects in object oriented graphics programs like Picture Publisher or Fireworks. The three main reasons to use layers that I have found are:

  1. You can move things around easily if you don't like the way they look.
  2. You can change the color or texture of one layer without affecting the others.
  3. You can get nifty effects from layers.

First, let's see how easy it is to move things around with layers and how much better it looks. Say you draw a red circle and a blue circle on a background as in sample 1.

Sample 1

Sample 1
Sample 2

Sample 2
Sample 3

Sample 3

“Objects on separate layers are simple to move and recolor. You can also get a huge number of interesting effects by using transparency and blend modes on a layer. ” — Robyn Harton

Then you decide you need to move the red circle more to the left. If you didn't use a layer, that red circle is going to be a pain to relocate. You would have to start over, or try to select it and move it, which can be pretty messy if you have a complicated background. It might even look as bad as sample 2. All is not lost however. If you draw each of the circles on a new layer, then you can easily pick up either of the circles and move it, without making a mess; see sample 3.

Now let's see how easy it is to change the color of just part of an image if you use layers. If you hadn't used layers and decided you wanted the red circle to be green instead, either the whole thing has to be changed, or again, you get a sloppy effect. Note the fringe of red around the now-green circle in sample 4. If you've put each item on a separate layer, you can turn the red circle green without affecting the rest of the graphic like in sample 5.

Sample 4

Sample 4
Sample 5

Sample 5
Sample 6

Sample 6

Lastly, there are limitless nifty effects you can create by using layers. The endless variety of F/X is difficult, if not impossible, without them. One of the simplest and most versatile effects is making a layer partly transparent as in sample 6 above.

Another that's easy to do with most graphics programs is blend modes. To describe the technical idea simply; blend modes are the way the program handles the mathematics of viewing a layer. To put it in practical terms; you can drastically change the look in a portion of a graphic by using blend modes. Sample 7 is the same graphic using the blend mode "darken" on the layer with the blue circle.

Sample 7

Sample 7
Sample 8

Sample 8
Sample 9

Sample 9

Sample 8 uses the blend mode "difference" on the layer with the blue circle, and if you combine the use of blend modes and the use of partial transparency on a layer, you can get even more exotic, like sample 9, using 50% transparency and the blend mode "dissolve" on the same blue circle.

Using layers makes it so much easier to edit graphics. Objects on separate layers are simple to move, recolor, select for filtering, and more. You can also get a huge number of interesting effects by using transparency and blend modes on a layer. That's why you should bother using layers.


Over the years Robyn Harton has worked in oils, acrylics, mixed media, precious metals, collage, graphic design, web design, and various crafts. Robyn started her own jewelry and crystals business in 2000, showing and selling her creations at her website, CrystalsAndJewelry.com. Her portfolio is found at Robyn A Harton Creative.


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