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I've saved my progress as The smoother spots.psd, found inside the 21_layer_FX folder. We do indeed have smoother spots. We've gone ahead and taken the previously jagged spots and smoothed them out using a combination of Gaussian Blur and Levels, and now we are ready to separate the blacks from the whites, so that we have some edges between opacity and transparency for our layer Effects to glom on to. Now, that's going to mean selecting the black areas inside the image, and you might naturally turn to one of the Luminance or Color Selection tools.
For example, you might think, oh, please don't think after all this that we should be using the Quick Selection tool. You might think though Magic Wand tool, perhaps, because it can distinguish black from white quite easily. Don't use it. It's not going to get the edges right at all. Also, by the way, don't go up to the Select menu and choose Color Range, because all of these techniques require way too much work. Whenever you see a black-and-white image, and you either want to select the black part or the white part, it's really easy, because the image is already right there, being a mask for you.
It is its own mask. And let me show you what I mean. I'll go ahead and press the M key, so I no longer have the Quick Selection tool selected. I don't want to have anything to do with that tool. I'm going to switch over to the Channels panel, and you will see a bunch of black-and-white versions of this image. In fact, the RGB composite is identical to the Red, Green, and Blue Channel, each one of which are identical to each other. So when you're looking at a mask, remember, white equals selection and black equals deselection.
So white reveals, black conceals. All those little gray values in between are going to be selected to varying degrees in between, according to their luminance. So that means that we can select the white areas just by lifting a mask, and we can do it with the RGB composite image if you want to. It doesn't matter which of the channels you use, by the way. Ctrl+click, so press the Ctrl key or the Cmd key on the Mac and click anywhere inside this panel, essentially anywhere that is selected here, and that will go ahead and select the white, as we've done.
Now then, we don't want to select the white. We want to select the black. So you go up to the Select menu and you choose the Inverse command, Ctrl+Shift+I, Cmd+Shift+I on the Mac. We're done; we've now selected the area we want to select. We've exactly selected the black pixels and exactly got the edges exactly right, without having to drag around with a tool like this one or click with a tool like the Magic Wand tool that isn't going to give us decent results. It's going to blow the edges. Color Range would probably do a decent job, but just why bother.
It's more work than it's worth. So now we go back to the Layers panel, and I'm going to take these intermediate layers right here, sharp through noise, so I'm going to click on one, Shift+click on the other, in order to select them all, and I'm going to go up to the Layers panel flyout menu, and I'm going to choose New Group from layers. And I'm going to call these guys intermediates, because they were a means to an end, and then I'll click OK, and then I'll turn that group off, because we don't need them anymore. Now, we might as well keep them around just in case, but they're not contributing to the overall effect.
Now we want a new layer, and I'll press Ctrl+Shift+N, Cmd+Shift+N on the Mac, and I'll call this layer droplets. And we don't need to select any fancy options in here, just name the layer, click OK. Now, let's fill the selection with black. That means you need to confirm that your foreground color is black, as it is in my case. If not, press the D key, and then press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete, and you've filled the selection with black, and now press Ctrl+D or Cmd+D on the Mac, and that deselects the image of course. We now have black against transparent.
And just to confirm, we can turn off the surface layer for a moment, and you can see the black liquid areas - that will be liquid anyway - against the transparent background. So the white has completely dropped out, and we have no vestige of white. There are no bits and pieces of light edge associated with this effect at all, because we took a selection and filled it with black. All we have are black pixels and only black pixels set to different levels of Opacity. So either 100% Opacity, where we see the black pixels, or dropping off right toward the edges there, ultimately to 0% Opacity, with no badness whatsoever in between.
Now I'm going to go ahead and turn that surface layer back on, and we are now ready to begin applying our layer Effects, and I'll show you how that works starting in the next exercise.
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