Free Materials For Teachers
Fill Opacity = 0 Magic

Creating the artwork in this tip depends on using a layer characteristic called Fill Opacity. If you have ever used layer Blending Options, you probably were puzzled by seeing two separate opacity sliders in the Layer Style dialog, one in the General Blending area simply labeled Opacity, and the second one below that in Advanced Blending labeled Fill Opacity.

The Opacity slider does exactly what you would expect: it controls how transparent the layer is, and lets you set a layer for any appearance between invisible (0%), through various degrees of translucence, to solid (100%).

The Fill Opacity slider does the same thing… and something more. Even when it is set at 0%, making the contents of the layer invisible, ALL the layer effects you have set for the layer are still active, and they affect the layer below. In fact, if you stack several layers with Fill Opacity = 0%, each with a different set of layer effects, they will all show up on the first layer below them that has visible opacity.

Image©2021 ABS Raised and frosted lines form a heart with an arrow through it and the message I Luv U
An Easy Valentine

I first learned this incredibly flexible technique from a book, 3D Game Textures by Luke Ahearn (2006). To demonstrate how versatile this trick can be, I’ve written a tutorial in which you construct three examples.

They are as different as you can possibly imagine: an instant Valentine design, a grungy metal element from a sci-fi setting, and an elegant clock in a marble wall. All three use layers with Fill Opacity set to 0% so that layer effects on invisible layers create shapes, lines, and textures on a lower layer.

The Valentine design is the simplest. It took me about five minutes. It only has two layers: a red layer for the design background and above that a layer on which I drew the heart and its message freehand using a simple brush.

The next example, a sci-fi floor panel, looks very complex, but its many apparently separate pieces are created by placing layers with Fill Opacity = 0% plus a Bevel above a basic dull metal texture.

Image©2021 ABS Scuffed and slightly rusted floor panel, non-skid raised diamond surface on the right, grating and small dusty light on the left.
Part Of A Grungy Spaceship?

The third example, the clock, looks complicated, but really is almost as simple to make as the Valentine, only there are a lot more layers. The finished project looks quite elegant, and doesn’t require any drawing ability!

When you finish this tutorial, you’ll have learned a whole new set of tricks, in addition to the magic of Fill Opacity = 0. These include:

  • Using simple shapes such as rectangles and half circles to sculpt a texture layer into things like a metal floor non-skid surface, a rim for a clock or circular ornament, or the Art Deco elements on a building.
  • How to filter by Usage Rights on Google, to find public domain and attribution required images you can use and change up.
  • Incorporating downloaded design elements, such as textures and photos of objects, into your project.
  • Experimenting with Blend modes.
  • Adding rust, stains, and other grunge to make a project look real.
  • Making textures from scratch.
Image©2021 ABS Clock face with gold rim in marble with fine gray and green lines, raised half circles across the top and raised vertical rectangles across the bottom of the wall, rusr stains below the clock and algae on the wall beneath the half circles.
Town Clock In A Marble Wall

Bonus: Optional Experiments

At the end of the analysis for each of the three examples are several suggested experiments. Besides being fun, these will help you generalize what you have learned so that you can apply these tricks to your own projects.

There’s a folder with three extra textures for the clock example. Of course, you also can use them on any other artwork you dream up!

When you have explored all those, open It’sMagic.psd and see if you understand what each layer is doing.

Applications needed: Acrobat Reader, PhotoShop.
Subject area: Tips, Resources.
Level: Author.

Downloads-Printable Tutorial (85.8 MB) MoreTricksWithFillOpacity.pdf to print along with three examples analyzed in the tutorial and one bonus example, all in a single zip file. Acrobat Reader, PhotoShop.

July 1st, 2021 at 7:33 pm


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