Warping Effects in Photoshop

On occasion, you may need to apply layer effects to more than one layer but have the layers treated as a single element instead of applying the effects to each individual layer. For example, you could have a total of eight layers that contain simple solid-coloured rectangles that overlap.

Warping multiple layers:

Choosing Edit>Transform>Warp will allow you to bend a layer into all sorts of interesting shapes. The problems start when you have a complex image with more than one layer selected. The Warp command will only Warp multiple text layers and will be unavailable if more than one pixel-based layer is available. The solution is to choose Layer>Smart Objects>Group Into New Smart Object and then attempt to Warp the result, which will be treated as a single layer.

Warping layer effects:

Another common problem with Warping is that any layer effects (Drop Shadow, Bevel & Emboss, etc.) that have been applied to a layer won't be warped. It’s as if the effects are applied as an afterthought. By grouping the layer into a smart object, you’ll cause Photoshop to treat the layer and the effects applied to it as one element that will be warped at the same time.

An example is creating a Solid-Coloured rectangle using the shape tool and then attempted to enhance it by choosing Layer>Layer Style>Pattern Overlay to attach a layer effect to the active layer. To get to the woven pattern used here, in the Pattern Overlay dialogue, click on the Pattern preview and click on the down-facing arrow to bring up the pattern palette. Next, click on the right-facing arrow, choose Patterns from the drop-down menu, click the append button, then scroll down until you see the pattern you want, and click OK.

There sometimes might be problems after choosing Edit>Transform Path>Warp. (Note: it’s called “Transform Path” because we’re working on a Shape layer, which is defined by a path). As we warped the layer, the overall shape of the layer was changing but the pattern that we applied in the last step remained static.

To solve the problem, press Escape to cancel the Transform, choose Layer>Smart Objects>Group Into New Smart Object to convert the active layer into a smart object and then warp the result. This caused the pattern and the Shape Layer to be treated as a single unit.

Layer effects on multiple layers:

On occasion, you may need to apply layer effects to more than one layer but have the layers treated as a single element instead of applying the effects to each individual layer. For example, you could have a total of eight layers that contain simple solid-coloured rectangles that overlap. With all those layers selected, choose Window>Styles and click on the preset layer style that resembles green jelly blob. This will cause Photoshop to apply the effect to all of the eight layers individually.

To get Photoshop to treat those layers as a single unit, First, choose Edit>Undo Apply Style to get rid of the effects, then choose Layer>Smart Objects>Group Into New Smart Object to group them into a smart object and then apply the style to the resulting layer.

When working this way, you have to double-click on the Smart Object’s thumbnail in the layers palette to edit the original layers that were used to create the smart object (they’ll appear in a separate document window). After finishing your edits, type Command-S (PC: Control-S) to save and then close the windows (Command-W[PC: Control-W]) to update the document in which the smart object is being used. This takes a little getting used to, but it’s worth it when you consider the problems you can solve by grouping layers into a smart object.

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