AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue
#11 (October 19, 2006)
Enhancing Plans with Photoshop Layer Styles
Book & Video Author
Photoshop is a fantastic tool for enhancing
CAD drawings for client presentation. Layer styles
make enhancement easy and best of all, layer styles
remain editable forever so you can experiment
to your heart's content. The techniques I show
you here work in Photoshop 7 or later. Here are
if you want to follow along.
Before you dive in Photoshop, start in your CAD
program. I'm using AutoCAD 2007, but any CAD program
will do. Turn off any extraneous layers and put
together a clean version of what you want to present
to your client. Photoshop makes the best looking
(anti-aliased) text, so turn off all text layers
Either take a screen capture of the drawing by
pressing Alt+Print Screen or
use some feature in your CAD program to output
pixels. In AutoCAD, you can use the PNGOUT
command, or create a raster printer and Plot
an image for greater than screen resolution.
Open the CAD image in Photoshop. Use the Crop
tool to cut away any of your CAD program's user
interface if you took a screen capture. Choose
Image > Trim
to remove any extra pixels surrounding the linework.
The image should have black pixels on a white
background (if not, Invert by
At this point the image has black and white pixels
only. Remove all the white pixels by using the
Magic Eraser. Hold down the Eraser
tool and choose the Magic Eraser
Tool from the shortcut menu.
On the options bar, set Tolerance
to 0; uncheck Anti-alias,
Contiguous, and Sample
All Layers; and set Opacity
to 100%. Click once on a white
area of the image and all the white pixels are
erased, leaving transparency in their wake.
The Magic Eraser converted the
Background layer to the unlocked
Layer 0 because the background
cannot have transparency by definition. Rename
Layer 0 to Linework.
This layer only contains the black pixels of the
Apply a layer style to the Linework
layer by clicking the tiny layer style button
(whose icon looks like a cursive f) at the bottom
of the Layers palette. All the
effect types appear on the shortcut menu. Choose
The Layer Style dialog box is
a one-stop shop for all the effects you can use
to enhance CAD drawings. The same effects that
appeared in the shortcut menu appear in a panel
on the left side of the Layer Style
dialog box. A check mark means that the effect
is on, but you'll have to click on the effect
name to edit its parameters (not obvious).
Your selection of Stroke will
open the Stroke page of the Layer
Style dialog box. Click the color swatch
and choose pure black from the color picker. Set
Size to 1 px
and Position to Center.
These settings anti-alias the linework without
thickening it too much. Try a Size
of 2 or 3 pixels if you want to boost the lineweight.
Incidentally, layer styles work one layer at
a time, so if you'd like to have a few different
layers in Photoshop that control lineweight, it
makes sense to start over and export a few layers
from CAD to separate image files. Then you can
copy and paste these image files together into
one image in Photoshop. Use the Magic
Eraser to remove white pixels and you'll
be left with a composite multi-layered image of
linework in Photoshop. Apply stroke layer styles
to each layer to have independent lineweight control.
But I digress...
At this point it would be helpful to create a
new background layer filled with white pixels
so that the linework above it stands out. Create
a new layer by pressing Shift+Ctrl+N.
Drag the new layer down below the Linework
layer in the Layers palette,
so it's on the bottom. Press D
to set the default colors and then choose Layer
> New > Layer from
Background. You have a new background
So far we've only scratched the surface of layer
styles by applying the stroke effect. Before we
get carried away, turn off the stroke effect you
just applied by expanding the Linework
layer and clicking the Stroke's
eye icon. Anti-aliased effects make it hard to
select and fill adjacent areas, so it's best to
hide some types of effects until after you are
done adding layer styles.
Create a new layer at the top of the layer stack
by pressing Shift+Ctrl+N. Rename
the new layer Walls. So far there
are no pixels on the Walls layer.
Layer styles operate on pixelsit doesn't
matter what color the pixels are. Wherever the
pixels are, that's where a layer style will have
And now for the real power...choose the Paint
Bucket tool by pressing G.
Set up the options bar as you see here:
Click inside each enclosed wall area, filling
it with black. Remember that these black pixels
are being deposited on a new layer (Walls),
never interfering with the original Linework
layer. Add a new layer style to the Walls
layerthis time choose Color Overlay
from the shortcut menu and the Layer Style
dialog box appears.
Click the color swatch and choose a deep red.
In this case, you can leave Blend Mode
set to Normal, but in many cases
you'd want to choose Overlay
to make this effect overlay other effects.
Without closing the Layer Style
dialog box, click Stroke's checkbox
and click on the word Stroke.
Click the color swatch and choose pure black from
the color picker. Set Size to
1 px and Position
Create a new layer by pressing Shift+Ctrl+N.
Rename the new layer Counters.
Fill in the counter areas with black using the
Paint Bucket (press G).
Apply a Pattern Overlay effect.
Select a pattern from the pattern drop-down menu
(click arrow next to pattern swatch). Note:
additional pattern libraries are available from
the pattern drop-down menu's arrow button.
Adjust the scale slider until the patterns looks
just right on screen. You might need to drag the
Layer Style dialog box out of
the way so you can see the pattern in your image.
Note that it is possible to drag the pattern in
the image, helpful when registering ceramic tiles,
Without closing the Layer Style
dialog box, check Bevel and Emboss
and then click on the effect name to edit its
parameters. Play around with the settings to see
what they do. Remember to drag the Layer
Style dialog box out of the way so you
can see the effects in real-time. Now you're getting
Create a new layer, fill the area of interest,
and try adding a gradient overlay effect to the
Refrigerator. The Sink
could use an Inner Shadow
to indicate depth, and a color overlay to make
it gray metallic. I applied a Pattern
Overlay to the Floor
layer, while the Range took Drop
Shadow, Bevel and Emboss,
and Color Overlay effects. If
you don't like how an effect turns out, you can
always edit it through its layer style. You can
see exactly which effects I used in the Layers
palette below. There are many ways to use layer
styles, so have fun experimenting.
About the Author
Scott Onstott is a book and video author of
AEC software tutorials. He has a degree in architecture
from UC Berkeley and has served as an instructor
there, in addition to working in several prominent
engineering, architecture, and interiors firms
in San Francisco. He has also worked as a technical
editor and technology consultant.
Scott has contributed to over two dozen books
and videos on AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop,
VIZ Render, Revit, 3ds Max, VIZ, Photoshop, Illustrator,
Painter, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver. He most recently
with Lynn Allen. He can be reached via: www.ScottOnstott.com.
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