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Mastering Photoshop: Noise, Textures, Gradients and Rounded Rectangles

Often, it’s the little details that turn a good layout into a great design; details such as subtle textures, shading and smooth shapes. Photoshop contains a vast array of tools for embellishing a design, but choosing the right one isn’t always easy. Being the obsessive-compulsives that we are, we’ve conducted a huge range of experiments to determine the benefits and disadvantages of each technique.

Here, then, is an obsessivecompulsive’s guide to some frequently used tools and techniques for Web and UI design in Photoshop. Subtle noise or texture on UI elements can look great, but what’s the best way to add it? Our goal is to find the best method that maintains quality when scaled but that is also easy to implement and edit. To find out which is best, we’ll judge each method using the following criteria:

  • Number of layers used: fewer is better.
  • Ability to scale: if the document is resized, will the effect maintain its quality?
  • Can the noise be on top of the Color and Gradient layer styles?
  • Can the method be used with any texture, not just noise?

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Probably the most obvious method for adding texture to a shape is to create a normal bitmap layer, fill it with a color, select Filter → Noise → Add Noise, then apply a mask or Vector Mask to match the element you’re adding noise to. Using a high amount of noise, setting the layer blending mode to Luminosity and reducing the opacity will yield the most control over the noise with the least disturbance to the underlying layers.

Conclusion

A noise setting of 48% gives a high dynamic range without clipping the noise. (Clipping results in higher contrast, which might not be desirable.)

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