Celandine tutorial – Everybody’s free (to use Overlays)

The Singing Forest - seamless pattern by Celandine

The Singing Forest – seamless pattern by Celandine

Last month I started to write tutorials for a great creative skill building website called Tuts+, and it has reminded me of how much I enjoy sharing my skills and teaching. My first tutorial for them was a detailed guide for creating a seamless pattern in Photoshop, and it’s accessible for free – you just need to go and sign up for their free account and look for it under ‘Free Tutorials > Design and Illustration > Adobe Photoshop‘.

The site holds a ton of great information and a lot of it is free, so if you’re looking to sharpen your creative skills, give them a shot. My second tutorial will be published soon and it shows you how to create traditional Serbian kilim motifs. I’ll be doing one tut per month for them, and lots of them will be about pattern design, so if that’s your thing then I’ll see you there!!


Anyway, today I wanted to talk to you about a very serious issue that affects our daily lives – color overlays in Photoshop. Use overlays. Do it. They will solve so many issues you never knew you had.

What are color overlays?

A color overlay is an effect you can apply to a Photoshop layer, that limits that layer to one single color. This means that no matter what your brush color is set to, painting on that particular layer will only show its overlay color.

Why is this useful?

Overlays give you complete control over your colors.

  1. If you’re working in a limited color palette, say 8 colors for wet printing, you can assign a unique color to each of your 8 layers, and when you’re finished you have a production-ready, layered, color-separated file that can be easily recolored within minutes.
  2. Ever have those ‘argh’ moments when you realize you’ve been painting on the wrong layer for the last 20 minutes? Well never again – working on the wrong layer will show up in the wrong color, so you’ll notice at the first stroke.
  3. Switching between brush colors and color picking slows down your work process. When your layers are set to color overlays, you’ve changed your brush color automatically just by selecting the layer.
  4. When you separate your scanned linework from its white background, some edge pixels always remain grayish or white. With a color overlay, all the pixels will be the exact same color, and the linework will look cleaner.
  5. Changing the color of a layer is far easier with an overlay. Traditionally you’d need to CTRL-click on your layer to select the artwork on it, then open the color palette, then choose a color randomly, close the palette, and CTRL-del to fill your selection. If you’re not happy you’re your new choice, you get to do it all again. You may also get imperfect coloring sometimes if you’re using feathering or transparencies. Your second choice could be to fiddle with hue and saturation for an even more cumbersome process. With overlays, you’ll just open the overlay palette and let your cursor sail across the different colors, watching your artwork change hues in real time. When you find something you like, click ok and you’re set.

How do I do it?

Ok, you’re sold, right? So how do you do this? It’s super easy.

  • Click on your layer to select it.
  • Click on the little ‘fx’ button at the bottom left of the layer menu.
  • Select ‘color overlay’, then click on the little color rectangle and pick your color from the palette that pops up.
  • Enjoy your newfound freedom and convenience!

Any drawbacks to using overlays?

No. There are no drawbacks I’ve discovered so far to using color overlays on Photoshop layers. There are, however, some things you can’t do with a layer while it has a color overlay applied, so you need to know how to get rid of them when needed.

There are two ways of removing a color overlay – one is simply switching it off, by clicking on the little eye icon next to it on your layers menu. If you want to completely obliterate it, you can click and drag the whole effect to the waste bin. (Just the effect, mind you – not the layer itself!) This will revert your layer to its original state – i.e. whatever brush colors you actually used to work on it. If you weren’t paying attention to the brush colors you were using, it might look like a bit of a mess.

The second way of removing an overlay lets you turn the layer back into a regular layer, but it keeps the effects of the overlay – i.e. your artwork is still in the overlay color, but you can now paint other colors over it or apply different effects to it as you please (hue/saturation adjustments, layer mode changes, etc). To do this, simply make a new empty layer next to your overlay layer, select both by holding down the shift key while you click on them both, and merge them together by using the ‘merge layers’ option on the drop-down menu in the top right corner of your layers panel. Presto! It’s done.

Note to remember: If you’re trying to apply an effect to your layer and it seems not to be working, check if removing the overlay helps. Layer modes, some layer adjustments, and some filters will not work with the color overlay switched on.

So, that’s overlays in a nutshell. What’s that you say? Why haven’t you been using them until now? I don’t know!! They’re awesome!!

Any overlay-related questions? Any other topics you want me to cover? Let me know in the comments below! Also let me know if you get the title reference, that would make me very happy.

If you want to know more about my work, sign up for my cute monthly newsletter! I try to make each one fun and useful, promise 🙂 


4 thoughts on “Celandine tutorial – Everybody’s free (to use Overlays)

  1. hi Celandine, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. i remember a video tutorial from you on this subjrpect, is that right?
    I work more or less in the same way as you. but in stead of using the layer effect color overlay, I use the option of a color layer adjustment. Do you have used that before? For me it is easier to change color, because you only have to click on the color adjustment layer to pick another color for that layer. Does that make sense to you?

    if you still have the video, is it an option to share it with your post?
    In any case thanks for bringing this up. A very helpful tool while designing. I use it all the time, when I work in Photoshop.

    Your posts are always interesting. Interesting subjects and a nice story to read. 🙂

    Nice day to you.

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