Search Query

A Stylish Effect with Transparency

Last month I discussed using Adobe Photoshop’s transparency functions, this month we move on to some practical examples of just how cool this can be. Sometimes we see images in magazines or advertisements with a complex layered look and wonder, “How would I even start to do that?” The answer is usually to try to take the image apart into its component layers.

An example of this comes from Ye Olde PC Alamode Editor Clarke Bird. Clarke saw an image of SA Spur David Robinson in the San Antonio Express-News. This editorial photograph shows Robinson through a haze of numbers as he fades into the page next to the headline “Numbers Game.” The three major components of this image are (1) the photo of David Robinson, (2) a number pattern and (3) a white layer. My example won’t be a Spurs photo, but instead a picture of a new baby (Fig. 1).

Fig 1

Once you have scanned the photo, do any color correction, retouching and sharpening that the image may require. The next step is to make the pattern. This pattern could be a repeating pattern or you can make it full screen. Since I’m using a photo of a baby, I’m using the repeated word “Baby” as my pattern. Using the Text tool, I set it in several different sizes and fonts in black with a white background in a separate smaller file (Fig. 2). Since Photoshop spins off a new layer for each block of text, it is easy to quickly have a plethora of layers. Once you are happy with the layout of your pattern, flatten them by selecting Flatten Image from the Layer menu.

Fig. 2

Next, invert the text pattern so that the text is white on black by selecting Image: Adjust: Invert. Select the entire image by choosing All from the Select menu. Now we have to define this image as a pattern in Photoshop. To do this, choose Define Pattern from the Edit menu. In Photoshop 6 you will be prompted to name the pattern, in this case it is named “Baby Baby Baby” (Fig 3).

Fig. 3

Go back to your photograph and make a new layer by clicking the New Layer button on the Layers palette (looks like a document) or selecting New Layer from the Layer menu. Put the layer in Screen mode using the Blending Modes pop-up menu on the Layers palette. From last month’s discussion you may remember that in Screen mode, anything white on that layer will be opaque and anything black will be transparent.

Now we need to use the Pattern Stamp tool. This tool is the poor country cousin of the Rubberstamp (or Clone) tool. Click-and-hold on the Rubberstamp tool and you will see the Pattern Stamp tool (it looks just like the Rubberstamp except it is filled in at the bottom). In the Options Bar you will see a Pattern pop-up menu, choose the pattern you just created and make sure the Aligned button is unchecked. Choose a fairly large brush, I picked one of the large ‘natural media’ brushes, but any will do. Start painting around the outer edges of the photo. Don’t worry about it being perfect, since we need to do this on several layers (Fig. 4). Make a new layer and repeat this part of the process, varying the opacity of some of the layers (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Make another new layer in Screen mode. On this layer use the Gradient tool to make a black-to-white Radial Gradation (Fig. 6). This will fill in the gaps at the edges with white. You can use the Levels or Curves (both under the Image: Adjust menu) to adjust the rate of the gradation to your satisfaction.

Fig. 6

The last step is one more layer of the pattern, but on this one, set the layer in Multiply mode. After painting with the Pattern Stamp, choose Image: Adjust: Invert and set the layer opacity pretty low, about 15%. This gives us some light gray versions of the text on top of all the white.

Fig. 7

That is it. Next time you see a cool image effect, take some time to ‘reverse engineer’ it. There are many great examples out there to inspire the artist in us all.
Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at Color examples can be seen at

|| Home || Graphics Guy || Mac Guy || Gallery || Payment || ||

This site and all images and text contained in it are ©2006 Paul Vaughn.
(Unless otherwise noted)
Questions? Problems?