Tag Archives: Graphics

How to Use Clipping Masks in Photoshop

Learning how to us clipping masks only takes a few minutes and it will be a skill you’ll use again and again.  When you create a clipping mask in one layer, it hides the contents of the layers above.  Your clipping mask can be whatever you like; it could be a shape or text.  I’m using text in this example and here’s what we’re going to achieve:

First thing you need is your background image.  In your finished product this is the image that will ‘shine through’ your text.  I’m using a tropical beach scene.


Next, create a new text layer and write the text that will form the object for the clipping mask.  It’s always a good idea to use a fat, bold font when creating clipping masks from text so you can really see the image behind.  I’m using a great, 100%-free font called Bevan (you can download it here for free: http://www.fontsquirrel.com/fonts/bevan).


Now we need to create the ‘mask’ layer.  Go to you your Layers Palette and click the “Create a New Layer” button.  You need to fill this layer with a solid color.  I chose white but you can choose any colour.


We now have the three layers we need to start the magic!  Go to your Layers Palette again and put your layers in this order:

  1. the beach image
  2. the text
  3. the new, blank layer

Your Layers Palette should look like this:


Now we need to Create a new Clipping Mask.  Make sure you’ve selected the beach photograph layer, then click on the Layers Palette menu button in the top-right of the Layers Palette Window.  Select “Create Clipping Mask”.  Alternatively, you can press ALT + CTRL + G.


Ta-da! It’s as easy as that!  Your clipping mask has magically appeared.


You can now make the final adjustments to the text to make it stand out.  I’m going to add a 3px stroke to the inside of the text.  Double-click on the text layer to bring up the Styles Palette and add a 3px Stroke:


That’s it, you’re done!  Here’s the finished product:


I guess the question that you are all wondering though is where can I use this skill? Well, there are a number of different places that creating beautiful text can assist you. These include:

  • Creating bold and noticeable headlines for pamphlets or leaflets that you plan to deliver.
  • Making a website really stand out from the rest with an attractive and professional design.
  • Using them in emails, so that people are immediately drawn to the design and don’t simply disregard the message as spam or yet another offer for them.
  • Making attractive cards or other handicrafts, either for sale or to send to someone on their birthday or at Christmas.

As can be seen, the use of this technique is only hampered by your own creativity. So, be original and get experimenting – the results can be totally spectacular!

The Fundamentals of 3D

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Jonathan Palencia; our new technical 3D blogger.  He really knows his stuff and has a plan already jotted out for the series, so I’ll leave you in his capable hands:


Welcome to 3D101! Before anything please read the following to make sure you’re on the right place; this is the first part of the 3D101 tutorial which will deal with 3D Fundamentals from scratch. If you’re attempting to build your own 3D engine or you just want to learn more about the actual underlying infrastructure, algorithms and techniques then you’re on the right place.


1. Let’s Talk About Dimensions


Now let’s begin by trying to define what this stuff really is. 3D stands for “Three Dimensional Space”, and a dimension is -mathematically speaking- the minimum number of coordinates required to describe any location in that space, and physically speaking a dimension describes the level of movement of an object on that space. Coordinates are usually written as a tuple of N-numbers within parenthesis, each coordinate means something on the specific dimension it is in. For example in 2D space as taught on high school we have the x-coordinate which stands for horizontal movement and y-coordinate for vertical movement. A location is described with this coordinates as (x, y). As an example, if we have coordinates (2,-4) it describes a point located 2 units to the right, and 4 units down.


Imagine a 1D space, as its name implies it needs one coordinate to describe any location in it, graphically speaking a 1D space is just a line because in a line you just need one coordinate (number) to describe any position in it, such as (10), or (-3). The level of movement is simply horizontal, you move to the left and to the right only. The tuple for 1D space is (x), “x” coordinate meaning horizontal movement.


Similarly a 2D space needs two coordinates to describe any location, graphically a 2D space is the Cartesian Coordinate Plane. The level of movement on a 2D space is now much more free than 1D, you can move left, right, up and down. The tuple for 2D space is (x, y) where “x” coordinate is for horizontal movement, and “y” coordinate for vertical movement.


Now that you have the idea, you can realize that a 3D space needs three coordinates, and that graphically speaking 3D is exactly the world we live in. The level of movement is amazingly fluid and free for all of us living in it, we can move left, right, up, down, back and forth. The tuple for 3D space is (x, y, z) where “x” and “y” have the same meaning as in previous spaces, and “z” now indicates “depth”.


For imagination’s sake, why don’t we take this one step further? Imagine now a 4D space, it’s harder isn’t it? We know it needs four coordinates (x, y, z, t) but what is the last coordinate for? It could be … Hmmm. Maybe time!! The “t” coordinate could specify a moment in time, meaning we can be on a location (x, y, z) at any given time (t) which means we could travel through time back and forth without issues of any kind simply by changing our “t” coordinate! Maybe some creatures somewhere in the universe are able to do this -or maybe not- but well, it feels good to imagine that it might be possible.


2. Showing 3D Objects on a 2D Screen


The display screen is a 2D surface, and we need to show 3D objects on it, How in earth can that be done? One simple word to answer all questions: Projection.


A projection is a linear transformation P from one coordinate space to another such that the source image remains as unchanged as possible. – For example, in real life light bounces off objects and that is what our eyes register, we are not seeing the entire object, but rather just the light reflected from them that falls on our retina. This partial reflection we see is a projection of the 3D object on our 2D retina. When our brain processes the images received from both eyes we get the feeling we’re seeing in 3D, but that’s only because our amazing brains are able to fill-in-the-blanks to determine the depth of what we’re seeing, this is known as depth perception.


To display 3D objects on our display screen all we need is to project 3D coordinates on a 2D plane we’d like to see. There are several equations that need to be figured out first to perform this projection, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just write them here. If you want more information about this you can search internet for “Linear Projection”.


The following equations represent a simplified linear transformation from R3 (3D space) to R2 (2D space). Note that the equations have been slightly modified to match actual screen coordinate system (inverted Y-axis).


X2D = 0.5*ScreenWidth + Scale*(X3D / (Z3D + ZNearPlane))

Y2D = 0.5*ScreenHeight – Scale*(Y3D / (Z3D + ZNearPlane))

The ScreenWidth and ScreenHeight variables represent the resolution of the display mode currently active. Scale is a small factor used for the entire stage, a usual value is 256. And the ZNearPlane defines the Z-plane where the eye is located on (nearest plane), a regular value is 256 as well.


3. Rotations in 3D Space


Now we’re able to have a bunch of 3D points and convert them to 2D for visualization, but without the ability to rotate the 3D points all we have is an static object on the screen, with no life, and no meaning. Rotating objects in 3D space is similar to rotating in 2D, with the exception that in 2D we only have one plane (XY), and in 3D we have three planes (XY, YZ, and XZ) meaning we have to perform one rotation on one of those planes depending on the kind of movement we want.


The following equations define rotations for the X, Y and Z axis respectively. Instead of memorizing each equation, just memorize the XY-plane rotation (Z-rotation) and then try to realize how to figure out the others.





Z’ = Z*COS(Θ) – Y*SIN(Θ)

Y’ = Z*SIN(Θ) + Y*COS(Θ)



X’ = X*COS(Θ) – Z*SIN(Θ)

Z’ = X*SIN(Θ) + Z*COS(Θ)



X’ = X*COS(Θ) – Y*SIN(Θ)

Y’ = X*SIN(Θ) + Y*COS(Θ)


Using these simple equations now you can move your objects freely in any direction, then project them to 2D space and show them on your display.

Practical Graphics Tip #1: Easiest way to save time in Photoshop

Have you ever shown a client a design or layout (perhaps for an illustration or website) near the end of a project and had them ask to see a version with one or two elements changed?

Was this after hours of work polishing and perfecting each part, and did you have to re-do most of it to compensate?

If so, I’m probably preaching to the converted. If you’ve already discovered the benefits of using layers then this tip isn’t for you (stop reading!).

Still here? Excellent, we’re about to make your life a whole lot easier.

“Using layers within your projects can give you back hours of time normally swallowed by tweaks and changes.”

Design; The Time-Intensive Way

When we hear about people taking days or hours to re-design and accomodate slight tweaks from clients digitally, I wouldn’t be surprised if we thought their process looked something like this:

After reviewing the project brief (in this example, its a website) they gather as much information as possible about their requirements, becoming confident that they understand the client’s needs. They then hurry off and spend a lot of time getting the layout right, making button appearances and polishing the design – gaining client approval all the way. There may be different variations of the same file showing the buttons in hover or click states as well as the main file showing everything laid out perfectly in place.

The client asks for a slightly different layout. Our poor freelancer rushes off to re-make the main file, moving things around, re-doing parts and polishing it again until it looks ‘right’. It’s presented again, maybe another change is needed, the cycle repeats. This time with a more resentful freelancer.

On the sunnier side…

I can’t give you the magical telepathic ability to see straight into the minds of your clients and produce the project 100% correctly the first time. Using this simple technique I can, however, make alterations less painful (if no less annoying). Wouldn’t it be much nicer to take an hour (at the very most, simple tweaks usually take far less time) instead of a day?

You could be doing something more useful than re-shuffling a design; reading, learning something new, playing video-games, spending time with your family… maybe even (getting a little crazy here) working on a project meaningful to you.

5 Steps to Freedom

Having discovered we love extra time the following steps will show you a really simple way to save some.

1 – Open your project in Photoshop (or your graphics program). From looking at it, decide what the different elements of the design are and make a mental note of them.

2 – Heading down to the layers section, create a new layer for each of the different elements you’ve just identified.

3 – Name your layers! On its own this will save roughly five minutes (depending on the amount of layers) each time you need to make a change. Say what’s on that layer in one or two words.

4 – Cut each of your elements from the main layer, then paste them in place on their own layer. If you happen to have a background to your design, you can patch it up after everything’s been taken off of it.

5 – With your newly split project you can re-design, tweak, and play at your leisure.


Having everything on its own layer makes it easy to tweak layouts, colours, and effects without the need to edit everything else. It also means that you can create alternate layouts within the same file and compare them without constantly moving everything.

Very simple. Terribly appealing.