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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."
Now at this point you may have noticed that we are so close to the end of this series. These are the final three exercises of this gargantuan two part Photoshop CS3 channel to mask series. And you maybe sitting there thinking in sort of this wistful way or kind of thinking about all the stuff that you have learned in this highly entertaining series, and you are thinking to yourself, while your brain has swelled to three times its former size in the last million exercises. Wouldn't it be great, if we could end the whole thing with this terrific happy trails project that brought together the best of displacement maps and lightning effects working together in order to create a true 3-D effect inside Photoshop. And you know what's amazing about that? That's exactly what I have in store for you; we are as one my friend. How exciting is that? All right, so I want you to open this image, it's called, Credit comp.psd and we are going to be creating the classic credit card effect in which letters actually rise out of a background and this will serve as our background here.
And this art is actually the combination of a couple of different artists and you can check out who those artists are by going to the File Info command under the File menu if you like. I have the Layer Comps palette up so that I can just wander through what we are about to see, we just have three layer comps. This is the flat background essentially and this here is the final effect that we are going to create, is that not amazing? And this is totally a function of the displace and lightning effects filters working together. So the embossed effect that you see, all of the lightning, that's thanks to lightning effects of course.
And then I am going to go ahead and zoom in on the letters here so that you can see the way that the background art is wrapping around the contours of the layers and that is totally a function of the displacement map. Just amazing that you can pull this kind of thing off inside Photoshop especially using such ancient features really. And now I would want you to go to the next Layer Comp, which is the NuCard text, this is the Alpha channel information that we are going to be working with. So this is the starting point for this project, go ahead and switch to NuCard text here and then I want you to hide the Layer Comps palette, we are done with that.
Let's go ahead and bring back up the layers palette, we will need that and I am going to suggest for now we would just go ahead and take the elements, the elements are the pieces that produce the credit card effect, that rounded sculptural stuff, we are going to be creating that though ourselves. So go ahead and take the elements group and throw it in the trash, get rid of it. Now we are going to need an Alpha channel in order to do our work here, in order to satisfy the needs of the Lightning Effects filter and ultimately in order to satisfy the needs of the Displace filter as well. So we have got to create an Alpha channel here inside the Channels palette. Right now, we are just seeing Red, Green and Blue channels, all of which admittedly are identical to each other.
So go ahead and make sure that you can see the black layer and the NuCard layer and what's going on by the way, I will go ahead and turn those off so you can see; the black layer is just a layer of black to establish our black background for the letters. The NuCard layer is the letters themselves and these letters could be editable text but they aren't, I have gone ahead and converted the text to outlines because I used a special font that you probably don't have on your system. But you do want white letters against the black background. Then go to the Channels palette and let's turn that into an Alpha channel by grabbing one of the color channels, doesn't matter which one. I will grab Green because it's a good when in doubt channel and let's go ahead and drag it onto the Page icon and drop it and let's go ahead and rename that layer NuCard logo or something along those lines.
All right, and now we are ready to work on this Alpha channel, or you can go back to the Layers palette and you can take NuCard and black, take both of those layers and throw them away by Alt+Clicking on the trash can or Option+clicking on the trash can. All we want left over inside the Layers palette is the flat background art. Now go to the Channels palette once again. Now in order to light the text, I will go ahead and switch over to this Alpha channel. If we were to light the text the way it is now, we would end up with some very harsh transitions, the lighting effects filter would produce very harsh transitions.
We would have some harsh highlights and some shadows and it would basically look terrible. It wouldn't look like sculptural credit card text, that slowly raised credit card text and the Displace filter would really make a mess of things because we would have a radical transition from white to black and if you think about it, think about that way things worked at the outset of this chapter with that white box and that black box and how they just shoved the American flag around and how terrible that looked, that's the effect we would get here as well. So we need to create nice, soft transitions and we are going to do that, of course, using the Gaussian Blur filter. So I want you to take this Alpha channel and I want you to duplicate it by dragging it down on to the little Page icon. And let's go ahead and call this one GBlur4 because we are going to be applying the Gaussian Blur filter with a radius of 4 pixels.
I kind of spoiled the surprise but that's what's coming. I want you to go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur and then choose Gaussian Blur like so. And then let's go ahead and apply a radius of 4 pixels and click OK. And now we have the nice, soft transition at this point so the letters are going to raise gradually. Now I want both the lightning and the displace to wrap very gradually around the interior of the letters, so I am going to apply a second larger application of Gaussian Blur strictly inside the white area, not inside the black area. And here is how that is going to work. Go ahead and make another duplicate of this Alpha channel by dragging the channel down on to the little Page icon and let's call this one GBlur16 because we will be using a radius of 16 pixels. Press Ctrl+Alt+F or Command+Option+F on the Mac and enter a radius value of 16 pixels like so and click OK.
Now if we were to just leave things as it is, there would have been no point in applying a Gaussian Blur of 4 pixels because we just completely overwrote it with this much larger value here. But what we are going to do is we are going to apply that last filter effect just inside the white of the letters and we are going to do that by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Fade Gaussian Blur or pressing Ctrl+Shift+F, Command+Shift+F on the Mac and then change the mode to Multiply because we only want to affect the white letters, we don't want to affect the black. So we are going to multiply the effect into place and you will get this soft lettering effect that you see here on screen.
It's like kind of an old film credit effect, looks pretty cool. Like something you might see at the outset side of Citizen Kane or something. Then go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification and we now have our Alpha channels in place. We will be able to use this channel in order to light the image with lightning effects and distort the image using the Displace filter. We will visit lightning effects in the very next exercise and in the final exercise of this entire series, we will apply Displace. See you soon.
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