Contours are those little things that most of us breeze right by when working with layer styles in Adobe Photoshop. I completely understand why this happens. When I open up the Layer Style palette to apply a Drop Shadow, Inner Glow, Stroke or any other style, I primarily focus on the top portion of each of these areas. I sort of forget about what’s down below. That’s a shame though because all I’m doing there is making settings to the Structure of the effect. There’s a lot more to add to a style in both the Elements and Quality sections down towards the center and bottom areas of the palette. If you have no idea of what I’m talking about, don’t even worry about it. It’ll all become crystal clear down below.
In today’s post, I’m going to play around a bit in the Layer Style palette in Adobe Photoshop. I’ll apply an effect and make a few tweaks to that effect in each of the sections that control it. The effects will be applied to some text, which will help bring any changes I make out and very visible. Ultimately, I’d like to show you how these effects can make a piece of text appear as well as demonstrate how the Contour portion of this palette can bring out some really neat looks.
Writing Out Some Demo Text
I’m going to go out on a limb today and use the word “CONTOUR” as some demo text. I thought that was very fitting. To do this, I’ll use the Horizontal Type Tool and the Character panel to type and adjust the word to how I’d like it to look. Here are the settings from the Character panel.
I’m working with a file that has the dimensions of 700×468 pixels because that’s what fits well on this blog. My goal is to get the text as large as possible to see everything that I do clearly. Down below, I think I’ll enlarge the text so things are even more clear.
Here’s the word of the day.
Applying an Inner Glow
Just so you’re aware, the Contour attribute is included in the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Outer Glow, Bevel and Emboss and Satin effects. I’ll discuss this more below, but the Contour attribute controls the shape of the effect, so it’s not so two-dimensional looking.
When working with contours, it’s helpful to experiment with the Inner Glow effect because it’s uniform around the inner edges of the text. I think it’ll show well.
Okay, to apply this effect, I’ll double-click on an empty area of the text layer in the Layers panel and then when the Layer Style palette opens, I’ll click on the Inner Glow option in the left column. The Inner Glow effect area will appear and the settings I applied last will be waiting for me. To reset these to the Photoshop default, I can click the Reset to Default button down at the bottom of the panel, but I won’t do that here. I’d like to use some of these settings the way they are and then explain what’s going on down below.
First though, let’s check out the result of the effect.
And here’s an enlarged view.
The Contour Setting
If you’re following along, feel free to copy my settings from the previous screenshot. I played with them for a while in an effort to make the contour I applied obvious. Remember though, font size affects how the contour will look, so you may need to make a few adjustments here and there to see things clearly.
Okay, so what in the heck is a contour? Well, first let me who you where this setting resides. It’s in the Quality portion of the Inner Glow effect area. You can either use the presets that come with Photoshop or you can customize your own. Here’s what the presets look like. To access these, all I did was click on the drop-down arrow next to the contour thumbnail.
Now, if I click on the thumbnail itself, the Contour Editor will open up, which offers me endless possibilities when it comes to making this effect unique.
Let’s talk about what the contour settings can do for an effect. The reason I chose the above preset is because it makes it easy to understand what’s happening. Let’s say I chose an inner glow effect and it was a plain white gradient. It was the very first, default contour that Photoshop offers, the one with the diagonal half and half white and gray triangles. Well, those white and gray triangles represent the contour itself. Basically, the inner glow will slope down in the fashion the gray triangle does. Straight and to the point.
Now let’s say that I chose a contour that had ripples in it, like the one in the screenshot above. With this one, instead of the inner glow simply showing at full intensity and then fading into nothingness in a straight line, the inner glow will ripple down and then back up and then down and back up again. What it’s doing is controlling the contour of the effect. Or more simply put, how the effect travels from it’s start point to its end point. We can control whether or not the inner glow travels in a straight line or if it bounces all over the place and whether or not those empty areas in between the full ones are big or small. Think of the contours as wrinkles. We can wrinkle the effect, such as the inner glow.
This may seem confusing in the beginning, but Photoshop tries to help by giving us a thumbnail preview of how the effect will look once it’s applied to the element we’re affecting. If you look at the screenshot above, you’ll see the preview off to the right.
I think the best way to help you get an idea of what’s going on is to offer some examples. I’ll give three here for three different contours. I won’t do anything custom because the presets are pretty good. Just know that if you did want to create a custom contour, you can start off with one of the presets and then open up the Contour Editor and click and drag the lines inside of that.
Let’s start off with a regular Linear contour. In the following screenshots, I’ll circle the contour thumbnail I chose, the preview and the letters it’s affecting in the workspace in the background. I think I can capture all three in the same screenshot. Here’s the Linear one.
This one is the Cone-Inverted contour. Again, notice and compare the thumbnail, the preview and the final product.
And finally, we have the Ring contour.
The more you practice using these things and the more you compare the preview with the actual effect on the object, the more it becomes clear what contours can accomplish.
Saving a Custom Contour
In this final section, I’m going to click on the contour thumbnail so the Contour Editor opens up. Then, I’ll click and drag a few anchor points around for a custom look. When I’m finished, I’ll click the Save button, which will allow me to name the contour I just created and save it out as a custom contour. Then, I’ll click on the OK button to exit the editor.
It’s really as easy as that. I can create as many custom contours as I want and then save them so they’re available to me later on. When I’m finished in the Layer Style palette, I’ll click that OK button to return to my file to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I hope I clearly explained what the Contour feature inside of the Layer Style palette is and how it works. If you have any questions or comments regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!