Introduction to Photoshop Layer Styles

Photoshop layer styles are a popular way to add effects, such as drop shadows and strokes, to layers in a non-destructive way. With the right knowledge and experience, any effect can be achieved. Whether it’s a Photoshop metal layer style, a Photoshop glass layer style, a Photoshop cartoon layer style, or even a Photoshop gold layer style, you can quickly bring your artwork to the next level in a matter of minutes.

To achieve these effects, however, you need to understand what each setting does and how they can be combined to achieve a certain look.

From working with different layer styles in Photoshop to how to add a layer style in Photoshop, or how to apply layer styles in Photoshop, I’m going to show you how easy the entire process is.

So no matter if you’re working with Photoshop CS5 layer styles or the newer version, you’ll follow the same steps, in the end achieving the same result.

Also, if you’re looking for the best Photoshop layer styles, I’ve included a quick selection at the end of the tutorial, which should get you started on building a custom library.

What Are Layer Styles and How Are They Used?

Photoshop introduced layer styles way back in version 6 as a way to add effects to a layer without having to manually create them. You add effects using an interface of easy-to-use checkboxes, sliders, and more, which can be saved as presets to be reused later on.

The “wow” factor quickly wore off as people grew tired of seeing the default presets used over and over again. It wasn’t until recently that the true power of layer styles was utilized, but it has quickly become a simple and effective way to instantly enhance your designs

Getting Started With Layer Styles

Photoshop comes with a plethora of layer style presets, all of which you should never use unless you are just learning to apply effects to your layers. Why? Because in addition to most of them just looking bad, they are instantly recognizable to other designers, and nothing screams “amateur” more than default program settings.

How to Apply Layer Styles

There are two main ways to apply layer styles, both of which are quick and easy.

Method 1: Using A Preset

Create a new Photoshop document and, in addition to the default background layer, create a new line of text.

In the main menu, click Window > Styles to open the Styles palette. With your text layer selected, simply click on one of the preset thumbnails within the Layers palette, and you will see it automatically applied to your layer. The first time you click through and load each preset, you should experience an overwhelming feeling of happiness as you begin to understand all of the potential that layer styles hold.

example of using a style preset on text

Method 2: Starting From Scratch

Create a new Photoshop document and, in addition to the default background layer, create a new line of text.

In the Layers palette, right-click the name of the layer you want to add effects to and click Blending Options… to bring up the Layer Style dialog box (you can also double-click the name of the layer in the Layers palette).

We will go over each section of the Layer Style dialog box in the latter parts of this guide; right now, we are just getting acquainted with how they are applied.

example of using the layer style blending options

You will notice that once you add a layer style to your layer, a list of effects that are being used shows up in the Layers palette. You can show/hide each of the effects by clicking the eyeball icon next to the name of each effect. This allows you to quickly hide a specific effect, while keeping the settings intact in case you want to turn it back on.

example of applied layer effects

How to Save/Load Presets

Loading Presets

As we mentioned above, we will get into creating your own custom layer styles in the following installments of our guide, but in the meantime I know you want to play around with layer styles while you wait. There are plenty of free and premium layer styles available for download (we will refrain from any bias recommendations), so we will look at how to load presets in Photoshop that you have downloaded online. See the end of the article for a bonus style that you can practice with.

When you have downloaded your layer style, save the included .ASL file to a known folder on your computer. Most downloadable styles will come in a zip file so you will need to extract the .ASL file first.

To add the presets to Photoshop, simply open up the Styles advanced menu and click on Load Styles, indicating the location of the file afterwards.

You may notice multiple styles appear in your Styles palette. Lucky you! Photoshop .ASL files can contain hundreds of different style presets, all within the same file, making it easy to share presets with others.

example of loading an external style preset

Saving Presets

If you have created your own presets or want to save a bunch that you have collected, you can save them easily from the Styles palette.

To save a preset (or group of presets), open the dropdown menu from the Styles palette and click Save Styles… You will be prompted to choose a name and location on your computer for your presets file, and then simply click Save.

example of saving a collection of style presets

Tips and Tricks for Beginners

There are a few tricks to learn when becoming proficient with layer styles that only come with experience, unless of course you are reading this guide.

  1. Layer styles cannot be added to locked layers. You may have created a new document, selected the background layer, and clicked a layer style preset, only to see a whole bunch of nothing happening. It is because the background layer is locked. You cannot add new layer styles to locked layers. You can, however, add layer styles to a layer prior to locking it to prevent editing of that layer. You can then unlock it later if you decide to change the settings of your layer style later.
  2. You can increase the size of the thumbnails in the Styles palette by opening the Styles palette dropdown menu and toggling the display type between Text Only, Small Thumbnail, Large Thumbnail, Small List, and Large List.
  3. Most layer styles are created to look their best on bolder fonts and/or at larger sizes. If you apply a style you found online and are unhappy with how it looks, you might want to try a different font or a larger text size.
  4. Layer styles themselves can be resized, so if you find a layer style that looks good at a certain size but want to shrink your text, you can resize the effect to match any size of text. Simply right click the list of effects that are applied to the layer in the Layers palette and click “Scale Effects”. You can then scale your effects using a percentage.
  5. You can copy and paste styles between layers in the same document as well as between layers in different documents. Right-click the name of the layer in the Layers palette and click “Copy Layer Style”, and then on another layer, right-click again and select “Paste Layer Style”.
  6. You can hide the layer contents while showing only the effects. Select the layer in the Layers palette and change the Fill, located at the top of the Layers palette, to 0%. You can then apply effects without the layer itself showing up. This is how many glass and other advanced effects are created.

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