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Making Ice Type

The following tutorial is brought to you by Deke McClelland.

I've been writing this column for nearly a decade and during that time, I've focused most of my attention on deep dives into the most powerful features in Photoshop. But in this column and a few that follow, I'll try something different: step-by-step descriptions of best-practice methods for achieving specific, highly desirable effects. Or, put more simply, recipes.

We'll start by showing you how to create an ice type effect, complete with chiseled contours and random icicles. In future columns, we'll document how to brand type into a textured background, render text in gold, create heavy metal type, and set letters on fire. Many of these techniques will be documented in free videos available from my blog site at www.deke.com/dekepod. Others will not. Either way, I want to provide Photoshop User reader's exclusive step-by-step descriptions to follow a recipe without fail. And, as a bonus, most of the recipes-including today's ice type effect-work with live, editable type, so you can change the words or fix typos without having to laboriously replay the steps.

In our example, we started with white type set against a dark image. We're using a background from Fotolia (www.fotolia.com), but you can easily create your own background from a solid color, filters, gradients, etc.

To create your own background, open Photoshop, click on the Background color swatch in the Toolbox, choose a dark blue color (R:0, G:53, B:121), and click OK. Choose File>New to create a 6x2.1", 200 ppi document, select Background Color from the Background Contents drop-down menu, and click OK.

Select the Type tool (T); change the Foreground color to white; choose a heavy, boldface font; select a large font size; and insert some text in capital letters. When finished, select the Move tool and move the text upward (as shown here) so it's closer to the top of the composition than the bottom, which allows more room for the icicles.


With the editable text layer active, Right-click on it in the Layers panel and choose Convert to Smart Object. This will allow you to apply one or more filters to the text without first converting it to pixels.

Next, we'll add a Wind filter to create the icicles. Unfortunately, whereas traditional icicles hang down, the Wind filter blows its chilliness exclusively left or right. To compensate for this, choose Image>Image Rotation>90 CW to rotate the entire composition onto its side. Choose Filter>Stylize>Wind, set Method to Wind, Direction to From the Right, and click OK.

The resulting icicles are far too subtle. To emphasize them, press Command-F (PC: Ctrl-F) to repeat the filter and click OK. Then repeat the process to add a third helping of wind.


Obviously, you need to rotate the text back into place, but if you were to do that now, Photoshop would update the Wind filters and send the icicles to the left. To avoid this, place the text layer inside another smart object by choosing Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object. Now that the down-flowing icicles are safe from harm, choose Image>Image Rotation>90 CCW to restore the image to its upright orientation.


To give the letters some frozen dimension, click the Add a Layer Style icon (fx) at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Bevel and Emboss. Enter 150% for Depth, Down for Direction, and 10 px for Size. In the Shading section, set the Angle to 30, click the down-facing arrow next to the Gloss Contour thumbnail, and choose Ring. Enable the Anti-Aliased checkbox. For Highlight Mode, choose Linear Dodge (Add) and enter 100% for its Opacity. For the Shadow Mode, choose Linear Burn, enter a dark blue color (R:0, G:53, B:121), and set the Opacity to 50%. Don't click OK yet.


Initially, the text won't look right. For a much better effect, click Blending Options: Default at the top-left corner of the Layer Style dialog and reduce the Fill Opacity to 10%. The result will look like a slippery sheet of smooth ice.


Now we're going to add a hint of sculpted texture. Click the word "Texture" below Bevel and Emboss in the Styles list. Click the Pattern thumbnail's down-facing arrow and choose Molecular. (Note: If you can't find Molecular, click the right-facing arrow in the Pattern Picker and choose Patterns near the bottom of the menu. In the dialog that appears, click Append.) Change the Scale to 150% and reduce Depth to 10%. Don't click OK yet.

To bolster the effect, select Drop Shadow from the Styles list on the left. Assuming the default settings, choose a dark blue color (R:0, G:53, B:121), raise the Opacity to 100%, set the Distance to 5 px, and increase the Size to 10 px. Then click OK to apply the four layer styles. The final ice effect appears here.


Editing the Smart Object Text

I've seen folks add all kinds of custom treatments, including snowflakes, hand-tweaked icicles, and little piles of snow on top of the letterforms. But the advantage of keeping your effect simple is that you can continue to edit your type without risking the slightest penalty. For example, try this:

Choose Image>Image Size and note the size of your image in pixels (1200x420 pixels). Press Esc to exit.

Double-click the text layer's Smart Object thumbnail in the Layers panel to open the embedded smart object in a new window. If you get an alert message, click OK.

In the new image, choose Image>Canvas Size. If Relative is checked, turn it off. Because the image is rotated, the Width and Height values should be reversed. The Width should be 420 pixels (not inches) and Height should be 1200 pixels. Increase the values by 200 pixels each and click OK to add a generous margin around your sideways letters.

Again, double-click the text layer's Smart Object thumbnail. If you get another alert, click OK. Photoshop will open another window.

Choose Image>Canvas Size again, but this time dial in the proper values-1200420-and click OK. As before, the window grows without resizing your text.

Double-click the text layer thumbnail to edit the text. We changed "ICE TYPE" to "CRYSTAL". Be sure the letters don't exceed the canvas size or else the edges will get cropped. (If your text gets too big, resize it or make and other adjustments to the formatting to make it fit.)

Choose File>Close to close the most recent image window. Click Save (PC: Yes) to update the smart object. Wait for Photoshop to redraw your changes, close the sideways image, and click Save (PC: Yes) to update the main composition. Assuming you followed the steps accurately, you'll see your text, smart filters, and layer effects update.

From this point on, you can update your text as explained in the previous step, but without the need to ever choose the Image Size or Canvas Size commands. (Once done, those commands are over with.) Plus, you can set your type against a different dark background and have it blend seamlessly into place. This is Photoshop at its most bone-chilling and flexible best.

Deke McClelland is author of Adobe Photoshop CS5 One-on-One (deke.oreilly.com) and the three-part video series Photoshop CS5 One-on-One (lynda.com/deke). Look for Deke's free weekly video blog at www.deke.com/dekepod.

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