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How to Use Color Overlay Within the Layer Styles Dialogue in Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Intro to Photoshop Layer Styles.
How to Apply the Satin Setting to Layer Style Effects
How to Apply Gradient Overlays Using Layer Styles in Photoshop

Photoshop layer styles are a popular way to add effects, such as drop shadows and strokes, to layers in a non-destructive way. With the right knowledge and experience, any effect can be achieved. To achieve these effects, however, you need to understand what each setting does and how they can be combined to create a certain look. In this series by John Shaver from Design Panoply, we will explain every aspect of Photoshop's layer styles feature and show you how to unlock their potential.

In this article, Part 8: Photoshop Layer Styles Color Overlay, we will explain the (few) settings behind Color Overlay and the ways it can be used to create different effects. Let's get started.

The Uses for Color Overlay

After going through the many different settings within Bevel and Emboss, it's nice to come across something as simple as Color Overlay.

There isn't much to it at all, but it can be very useful in a number of ways.

Since Layer Styles are non-destructive and you can preview changes to your settings as you make them, using Color Overlay to pick background colors can speed up your workflow.

Rather than choosing a new color in the color picker, switching to the Paint Bucket Tool, and then filling in your layer, you can simply open up the Layer Styles dialog box, turn on Color Overlay, and see your color changes in real time.

You can also copy and paste Layer Styles between layers, making it easy to adjust a single object, then apply your settings to multiple layers.

The Layer Styles Color Overlay Dialog Box

Color Overlay is probably the most self-explanatory effect within all of Photoshop Layer Styles.

It has only 3 settings: Blend Mode, Color, and Opacity.

Don't let its simplicity fool you. Color Overlay is one of the most useful and commonly used effects in every day design.

Tip: The best way to utilize Color Overlay is to set the Fill transparency of your layer to 0% first. Fill can be found just underneath Opacity in the Layers palette.

Blend Mode

The Blend Mode allows you to set the blending mode for your Color Overlay, while the color box, expectedly, allows you to choose the color.

Changing the Blend Mode is most effective when your background is non-white and has some sort of texture.

If you are unfamiliar with how all the different Blending Modes work, I highly recommend checking out the Blending Is Fun Basix tutorial.

In the following example, you can see how changing the Blend Mode from Normal to Overlay makes our text look like it is actually painted on the surface, making our graphic more cohesive and believable.


A smaller number here makes your Color Overlay more transparent, while a higher number gives a stronger effect.

In the following example, you can see that a lower Opacity has a predictably more subtle impact on our final effect.

Saving and Loading Default Settings

You can save and load default settings for each effect in the Layer Styles dialog box. By clicking "Make Default", Photoshop will store whatever settings are currently active as the new default settings for that effect.

By clicking "Reset to Default", Photoshop will then load whatever settings were last saved. This allows you to experiment and simply reload custom default settings if you want to start over.

One for the Road

Until next time, this free, exclusive layer style and accompanying .PSD will show you how the Color Overlay effect works on a textured background.

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