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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."
Welcome to the last exercise in this entire series, the last exercise in Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks Advanced Techniques. And this is an advanced technique, folks; once you master displacement maps, you have mastered a lot; you are in a rarefied group of people, believe in me. So we are going to have to generate a displacement map and apply it to this credit card image here. The name of this particular image, if you want to join me, is called Lit letters.psd. It's found inside the 18_displamaps folder and I am going to go ahead and switch over to channels palette and we need to take this GBlur 16 Alpha channel right here and convert it into a displacement map.
And here is how we are going to do it. First of all, we need to copy this Alpha channel to a new image and you can do that either by dragging the channel on to the little Page icon and pressing and holding the Alt key or the Option key and then releasing the mouse button, or let's go and try a different way. You can go up to the Channels palette menu and you can choose the Duplicate Channel command, that works as well. And you will get this dialog box. Either way you will get the Duplicate Channel dialog box. Let's go ahead and copy the channel to a new image, like so, to a new document and we will just go ahead and call it GBlur 16, because that's what it is after all and then click on the OK button and you will get a new image window filled with this single channel image here, and of course, its a multi-channel image at this point. That's the kind of image it is, even though it just has one channel.
Let's go ahead and convert it to a grayscale image since grayscale images are more compatible; across the board they don't behave any differently where the displace filter is concerned, but where other functions are concerned. Grayscale turns out to be better. So let's go ahead and convert it to grayscale. Now if we were to apply the image you see before you as a displacement map, then we would move the white letters up into the left and we would move the black background down into the right. Well, I don't to move the black background anywhere. I want the background to remain stationary. I just want to move the letters up and potentially to the left.
So what that means is we need to send the background to neutral gray, 50% gray, and here is how we are going do it. Press Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac. Go ahead and select the first Output Levels value and change that value to 128; that's all you need to do. So we are sending black to 128, to medium gray. Then click OK to accept that change, and you are going to end up with this image here. It's not a lot to look at, it doesn't look very good, it lacks impact but it's great. It will serve us very well as a displacement map. So now I want you to go up to the File menu, choose the Save As command. Let's go ahead and save this image into the 18_displacemaps folder. You will want the format to be Photoshop, .psd, and the file name as a result will be Gblur_16.psd. Go ahead and click Save in order to save off that image.
Now, let's switch back to our composition at hand, right here. I am going to click on the RGB composite at the top of the Channels palette. Then I am going to switch over to the Layers palette. Let's go ahead and grab that background layer and just to protect it, let's jump in. so press Ctrl+Alt+J or Command+Option+J on the Mac and let's call this the Displaced layers, essentially displaced, and click OK, all right. Now let's do the deed people. Let's go up to the Filter menu, choose Distort and then choose Displace like so. And here are the values I want you to enter.
I don't want any, sort of, horizontal scale going on at all. I don't want any horizontal displacement. I was telling you that, if anything, I want to scale the letters up and to the left. Well, I really don't want them to go to the left. So we will do a horizontal scale value of 0, but I do want the letters to move up quite a bit. So let's change the vertical scale value to 25%. Now the other options don't matter, because our displacement map is the exact same size as our composition here. Stretch to Fit and Tile will produce identical results. And there aren't any undefined areas because the outer zone there, the background is gray. So there's going to be no movement in the background. All right, so just go ahead and click OK, 0, 25, click OK, and then find that file you just created which should be called Gblur_16.psd and click on the Open button. And that is it, check that out. Let's go ahead and zoom in on this.
Ah! It's just amazing; look at how that background just bows around the letters. This is before, flat, not believable, not credible at all, not credible credit card, and this is after. Just gorgeous! Just wonderful that it is capable of producing this kind of 3D effect. I mean, Photoshop is not a 3D program, and yet, these two functions, these two old functions here, Displace and Lighting Effects do produce true 3D effects inside of the program. It's just amazing.
Now I want to tell you a little bit of a story here. Let's go back to the Channels palette for a moment. This little edge, right here, this little bit of edge, so the approach to the letters on both the right side of any given letter and the left side of the letter, is a function of this modicum of Gaussian Blur that we applied, this little 4 pixel radius, this edge, right there, that's responsible for the approach from the background, so the beginning of the Sculptural wrap. Then, let's go back over here again, the fact that it wraps all the way around the letter like so, and it doesn't wrap in the background, notice the background is nice and flat, that's a function of applying Gaussian Blur with a radius of 16, strictly inside the letters, thanks to the fact that we faded Gaussian Blur to multiply. So we didn't affect the background at all. The background is nice and flat. And then we have nice sculptural stuff going on inside of those letters.
Oh! Just too amazing, I swear to you. I am going to tab away those palettes. I am going to go ahead and fill the screen with the image; let's back out a little bit. So there is the final effect, 3D highlights and shadows thanks to the Lighting Effects Filter. 3D contouring, thanks to the Ancient Displace Filter. We have now seen at this point just about everything conceivable related to the topics of channels, Alpha channels, masks inside Photoshop CS3.
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