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Graphic Thoughts: Killing the Background With Photoshop Modes
Posted Oct 6, 2009 - October 2009 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

I'm back with another super quick, but radically useful, tip for you to use with Adobe Photoshop! It seems that almost weekly I run into a situation where a client gives me her logo and I need to quickly add it to a graphic design, but the logo is surrounded by a solid color. In other words, all the client has is a logo that isn't on a transparent background (which is what I prefer). Understandably, that's just not what most clients have. So here's a quick tip that could save you the time of cutting out all that white space when all you really want is for that logo to be overlaid on your screen.

Step 1: Choose an Image With an Unwanted Background
In this example, I have a background of a football on one layer and, on another layer, the logo of my favorite college football team—OU, otherwise known as the Oklahoma Sooners. As you can see, the logo is surrounded by all white (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. We need to liberate the OU logo from that white background, sooner rather than later.

Granted, in this example, it would be pretty simple to just select the white area and delete it, but let me show you another way to do it that might
work for you when you don’t have that convenience (or time).

Step 2: Scroll Through Your Mode Options
Look at the top of your layers palette. The default setting is displayed as “Normal.” This is the layer mode. If you click the drop-down arrow, you’ll see a long list of options (Figure 2, below). (Note: Each newer version of Photoshop has added to this list, so if you’re looking at a pre-CS4 version, your screen may be slightly different from what you see in this example.)

Figure 2. Mode options in Adobe Photoshop CS4

You can scroll through the list and change it to any other selection, or simply double-click the word “Normal” with your layer selected. Then you can use your arrow keys to scroll down the list and preview what the results are.

Step 3: Choose a Mode That Works for Your Image
In my example, I chose the selection “Darker Color,” and the white instantly went away (Figure 3, below). Choosing something like “Linear Burn” made the logo go black. So again, it’s all about trial and error. Some experiments just won’t look good, while others may be just what you’re searching for.

Step 3. When I chose "Darker Color," the white background instantly went away, blending the OU logo into the image.

While I often use this technique for logos, I also use it many times for photos as well. Mixing modes with imagery can result in some really stunning looks. Give it a try to see what I mean. Don’t forget that modes extend into the Adobe After Effects world as well. You can achieve some killer looks by simply changing the modes of your layers in After Effects!

One last note: I realize this isn’t always the solution that works, and there will be times where your background may be too dark for this to look right. However, it’s at least worth a shot before taking the larger steps of trying to extract a logo from the background. Best of luck!

Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas, simply email him.

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