Tips for Photoshop Fill Adjustment Layers

August 19, 2003 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

Faster Fill Experiments

Have you ever found yourself doing the background color dance in Photoshop?

You want to add a background color to your layered image. So you target (highlight in the Layers Palette) an empty layer underneath/below the other ones in your image and fill it with a color, looking for just the right one. Assuming the layers above the one you just filled have some areas of transparency, you'll see the color appear in the background, visible through the transparent areas.

It often takes at least a few experiments filling the layer with different colors or shades before you happen upon the one that's the perfect backdrop for your work of art.

So you have to keep choosing a color and filling the layer with it. Choose a different color and fill the layer. Choose another one and fill. And so on. It's quite tedious, and each "experiment" requires at least two different steps, often more, depending on how you choose the color and how you fill.

Maybe Photoshop 8 (due out by year's end) will have some sort of "dynamic" color fill feature, similar to how the color swatches in the Tools palette keep up with you as you drag over different colors in the Color Pallete's spectrum well. Wouldn't that be great?

Take it from me, it *is* great! And you don't have to wait for version 8, the ability has been there since version 6. The trick is to use a Fill Adjustment layer on an empty layer instead of actually filling it.

Here's how:

1. Target the layer you'll be filling with a background color.

2. Add a Solid Color Fill Adjustment Layer (that's a mouthful) above it.
Look at the Layer Palette's icon shortcuts at the bottom of the palette. Press the Adjustment Layer icon (looks like a half-filled circle) to see the pop-up menu containing the different types of Adjustment Layers you can add, and choose "Solid Color," the first one.

3. As soon as you choose this type of Adjustment Layer, Photoshop's Color Picker appears. Move it out of the way so you can see your image, and then drag around the Color Picker.

4. Enjoy how the background color in your image changes whenever you release the mouse over a new color in the Color Picker. As long as you keep that Picker open, you can keep adjusting the color until you get it just right.

5. Click OK to accept the color you decided upon.

If you come back to this image and want to continue experimenting, just double-click the Solid Color Fill icon in your Adjustment Layer. The Color Picker opens up again and you can pick up where you left off.

Other Uses for Fill Adjustment Layers

There are actually three types of Fill Adjustment Layers available: Solid Color, Gradient, and Pattern. So obviously, if you want a gradient or patterned background for your image instead of a solid color, don't do it the tedious old-fashioned way — actually painting in a gradient or filling the background layer with a pattern — that's so version 5.5! Use the appropriate Fill Adjustment Layer instead, and enjoy the freedom it gives you to experiment.

[Which reminds me, why is Photoshop's Gradient Editor — where you modify existing ones and create new ones — the most well-hidden dialog known to humankind? Ask the guy in your office who thinks he's such a Photoshop guru to open the Gradient Editor and chances are he'll start looking in the list of palettes in the Window menu. Then he'll try the Gradient Picker's pop-up menu. Give him a minute or two to flail, then tsk-tsk with a little smile, lean over and click inside the Gradient preview swatch in the tool's Option bar. Bang, there it is. To get to the Gradient Editor from a Gradient Adjustment Layer, click inside the rectangular gradient preview that appears in the adjustment layer's own editing dialog. ]

Fill Adjustment Layers are not just for adding backgrounds, of course. You can use one to paint a discrete element in an image, and you can change its blending mode or opacity to get different effects.

To do this, target the layer where the element is, select what you want to change with any selection tool or shortcut, and add the Fill Adjustment Layer.

When you have a selection, adding this type of Adjustment Layer (or any kind of Adjustment Layer for that matter) creates a Layer Mask at the same time, limiting your adjustments — in this case, a fill — to whatever was selected.

Limiting Which Layers Adjustment Layers Adjust
(got that? it'll be on the test)

When you add any type of Adjustment Layer (including Levels, Curves, H/S/B, etc. as well as Fills), that adjustment looks like it's affecting all the layers below it. Which it would, if you just flattened the image outright.

But more typically, you're planning on only applying that Adjustment to the layer right below it, or perhaps one or two more. You would do this by merging those layers with the Adjustment Layer, resulting in a regular composite layer with that adjustment applied. If you merged them now, though, you'd lose the ability to readjust the settings in your Adjustment Layer. It'd be gone, baby. Merged to the Great Beyond.

How can you keep the Adjustment Layer intact and editable, but affect only certain layers?

The answer is to _group_ the Adjustment Layer with the image layer(s) you want to apply it to. With your Adjustment Layer targeted and the layer(s) you want to apply the adjustment to directly below it, choose Layer—>Group with Previous (Command/Control-G), or Option/Alt-click on the horizontal line between the layers in the Layer Palette, which does the same thing.

When you have multiple layers to which you want to apply an Adjustment Layer, get them into position and link them to each other in the Layer Palette. Then Command/Control-G groups them all by default. (The menu item changes from Group with Previous to Group Linked.)


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