Insider 5-21-2012

In previous blogs, I’ve talked about how we go from sketch to final design, but I recently realized that I’ve never talked about how we actually build those designs. So, I thought today I’d introduce my three best Photoshop-pals—layers, masks, and styles—and show you how they helped bring the WARMACHINE: Colossals logo to life.

Layers are easily the most useful and versatile tools in a designer’s digital arsenal. They allow you to arrange background, foreground, and other details into a visual stack. Organizing your work into layers makes it much easier to move and edit individual assets, since you can change each layer independently.

Here’s a small example of how I used layers in the Colossals logo. You can see how the layers are organized. The base of the letters serves as the backdrop, and the other assets build on top of that.

Masks are another great tool. They’re similar to layers but a little trickier. Masks change what shows on a layer. They work like hidden stencils, allowing only what you’ve selected to show through. What’s great about masks is that you can edit them without affecting what’s on your layer, letting you temporarily alter something instead of permanently making a change.

I shaped that blue metallic texture into the word “Colossals” by using a mask. The mask hides the rest of the texture, making it invisible, so the only place the texture shows is the letters.

Styles are effects that change the appearance of a layer. These effects automatically update as a layer is modified. They range from shadows and glows to color alteration and texture. There are tons of different styles you can customize and combine to get a myriad of effects.

The rivets and plates are done with a nifty layer style trick. I drew in where we wanted the plate seams, then removed the fill on that layer so the lines became invisible. After that, I made a style that created shading and highlights around the invisible lines, and—ta-da!—it looks like the lines are indented into the metal.

Using layers, masks, and styles together gives you a huge array of visual options. In this case, it helped me craft together a colossal steel wall of a logo. There are plenty of other tricks and shortcuts we use to create logos and other assets like this, but those will have to wait for another day and another blog.