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The elusive alpha channel remains one of the most misunderstood yet powerful tools in Photoshop. Alpha channels are collections of luminance data that control the transparency of an image, and they inform just about every aspect of Photoshop. As he builds transitional blended layers, fashions a depth map, makes edge adjustments, and takes on extreme channel mixing, Omni Award-winning expert Deke McClelland teaches Photoshop users that where there's a will, there's a way. Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks: Advanced Techniques covers mapping texture on an image, turning flesh into stone, using vector masks, working with all different channels, creating a rustic edge effect, and much more. Exercise files accompany the tutorials.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts for Channels and Masks from the Exercise Files tab."
All right, peeps, in this exercise, we are going to take this Gaussian Blur 16 channel here, the blurred version of the NuCard logo, and we are going to employ it as a texture map in the Lighting Affects Filter, and we are going to create just an insanely cool effect as you are about to see. If you are just joining me, you can open this image, it's called NuCard blur.psd, and you'll see this because you'll see the composite RGB image which is just fine, actually. Let's go over to the Layers palette and we want to add a layer of gray to accommodate the Lighting Affects Filter, of course.
So I want you to press Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on the Mac. I am going to call this New Layer: gray, and I am going to change the Mode to Overlay, once again, and turn on the Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray), easiest way to get there, there are a different ways to fill a layer with gray but this is one of the easier methods. Then go ahead and click OK and then let's go ahead and restore a Normal Blend mode by pressing Shift+Alt+N or Shift+Option+N on the Mac. All right, we've got a layer of solid gray pixels. Let's go up to the Filter menu, and I want you to choose Render, and then Lighting Effects, like so.
That's going to bring up the Lighting Effects dialog box, and if you have followed along with me a couple of exercises ago, you've got this gargantuan spotlight that's a function of Style being set to URL watermark. I want you to go ahead and change Style back to Default, right there and you can see that they are all listed alphabetically. So choose Default from the menu, and we are going to make a few changes. For one thing, I am going to drag the light source up above the image, and I am going to increase the width of the light source as well to incorporate the entire canvas at this point, and this is looking pretty good.
One of the big problems is that, I haven't specified a Texture Channel. So I'll go ahead and change the Texture Channel option to GBlur 16 in order to add the letters and you can see the letters appear in the background there. All right, a few other changes I want you to make at this point. We do want the background to stay as gray as possible, of course, we just want the highlights and the shadows to appear in front of the credit card. A few changes that I want you to make, Intensity set to 35, it is just fine; Focus of 69 is fine as well. We want to take the Gloss down to -100 once again, because we want a Matte finish. The Material should, again, be set to 0; although, I have to say this material slider doesn't really make all that much difference. The other options are fine as is, that's an Exposure of 0 and an Ambience of 8.
Now this time we do want White to be high because we are trying to light white letters in the Alpha channel from up above, so we are lighting in a proper direction this time around and our letters are white as opposed to black as in the previous example, a couple of exercises ago, once again. Anyway, the up shot is leave the check box ON. This time we are going to go with the mountainous letters, we are going to crank the letters up to their full height because we have big letters to work with and they have very soft edges as well. And this is the final effect believe it or not, does not look like a heck of a lot at this point, but it will serve us well.
You can go ahead and save out your settings, might as well, let's call them Credit because their effect's on credit at this point, I suppose. Go ahead and click OK and then click OK in order to apply the Lighting Effects filter and check it out, is that not just amazing; very, very nice letters at this point. Now I want to apply a blend mode, of course, and this time I am going to apply the Hard Light mode. So press Shift+Alt+H or Shift+Option+H on the Mac, in order to apply the Hard Light blend mode and then I want to increase the effect of this gray layer by, essentially, creating another one of those X2 Blank layers that's going to basically double the effect of the gray layer and here is how we are going to pull if off.
I want you to press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and click-and-hold on this black white icon and go ahead and choose Brightness/Contrast because we are going to make an empty adjustment layer and let's go ahead and call this one x2 as we so often do, and I want you to change the mode this time around to Hard Light because we want to increase the effect of both the highlights and the shadows of this layer; then go ahead and click OK. I don't want you to make any changes, whatsoever, to the Brightness/Contrast dialog box, just go ahead and click OK again. At this point I am feeling like I am over darkening the layer and I am not highlighting it enough. So one of the problems is, that I forgot to clip this x2 layer along with the layer below. I should have turned on that Clipping check box, so instead I'll just go ahead and Alt+Click or Option+Click on this horizontal line right there, that looks a heck of a lot better, and we now have the x2 layer clipped inside of the gray layer.
I am going to make one more modification, however. I am going to click on the gray layer to make it active, and then I am going to Alt+Click or Option+Click on the black white icon and choose Levels. We'll go ahead and call this one highlight enhancer or something along those Lines, and make sure that Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask is turned on this time, it should be by default; click OK, and I just want to brighten the highlights a little inside this layer, so we have brighter highlights across the top edges, and then I am going to darken the midtones, so that I am not over lightening the image in general. So let's go ahead and take that gamma value to 0.9.
Now depending on how you had set up the Spotlight inside the Lighting Effects dialog box, you may be applying different values inside of the Levels dialog box. So these values are designed to compensate for the effect I applied but your results may vary, is basically what it comes down to. All right, this looks great to me. I am going to go ahead and click OK in order to accept that effect. So this is what we managed to create. Notice, if I turn off all of those layers we have that flat colorful background, and then if I turn the Layers back on, we have these wondrous lit letters here, but I don't buy it so far, do you buy it? Me neither. We need to be able to distort the background around the letters, we need displacement folks and we are going to get displacement if you join me, once again, at this place, in the next exercise.
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