April 13, 2010

“Sticky” layer styles in Photoshop CS5

We used to hear complaints about the default settings in Photoshop’s various layer effects, especially about strokes always starting out red. In CS4 we changed the stroke default to black, but that was just a stopgap measure that didn’t address the fundamental problem: No matter what we might pick, people want effects to start with whatever values they happen to prefer.

For CS5 we thought about making layer styles sticky. That is, after you applied an effect with a particular set of values (e.g. Drop Shadow at 50% opacity), the next time you applied that effect, the dialog would start out using the last-used values. Sometimes that behavior works well, but just as often it can be confusing and annoying.

We therefore opted to add a pair of buttons (see screenshot) to each effect–one to establish the default values you prefer (“Make Default”), and one to restore the “factory settings” for the effect (“Reset to Default”). The wording of the latter isn’t quite as clear as I’d like, but hopefully it’ll make sense to people.

Posted by John Nack at 10:14 PM on April 13, 2010


  • Pierre — 11:01 PM on April 13, 2010

    That’s great news John! I’ve always been frustrated about this.
    Another thing about layer styles that’s bugging me is the lack of being able to change the layer mode and opacity of a layer while a style dialog is open.
    Thanks for a great blog!

  • Lorin — 11:43 PM on April 13, 2010


  • Blobinabottle — 12:09 AM on April 14, 2010


  • Mark Alan Thomas — 12:35 AM on April 14, 2010

    I would say this is a good solution, although I can’t help but notice the how cosmetically off the window is, beginning with the way text is offset in buttons and the popup menu, and the strange, squashed Contour disclosure triangle. These aren’t standard GUI elements, even though they more or less look like Aqua. And what’s up with the Distance, Spread and Size sliders being different lengths, and the labels “Contour” and “Anti-Aliased” not being aligned with each other? And so on.
    Interface Builder makes this sort of thing trivial to get right.

  • Pissed Mac Developer — 1:15 AM on April 14, 2010

    I count only 2 non-Apple widgets in that screenshot (the angle thingy and the contour arrow).
    The sliders look like they’re all the same length – but the thumb can go slightly outside the slider area (that’s an Apple thing, ya know).
    InterfaceBuilder? You mean spring and strut technology from 1985? Seriously? I hope Adobe isn’t using anything that primiitive.
    Mark, the more you post, the worse you make fanbois look.

  • Mike Skocko — 4:36 AM on April 14, 2010


  • Eric Steiner — 5:22 AM on April 14, 2010

    I’m assuming the ‘Reset to Default’ button resets to your set default, not necessarily the application’s default… which begs to question, should there be a third button to do so? And if I’m wrong, then it’s simply confusing as to what default state you are resetting to.

  • Eric Steiner — 5:24 AM on April 14, 2010

    Oops… I need to read more before I type – John already addressed this one – Sorry!

  • Herman — 5:46 AM on April 14, 2010
  • Herman — 5:48 AM on April 14, 2010

    While we’re on the subject, can we have such a thing as multiple strokes and dropshadows on a single layer now? By just duplicating any given effect in the styles bit to the left, Making UI mockups would end up being a lot easier :)

  • Lee — 5:53 AM on April 14, 2010

    Any movement on removing that insidious “copy” appendage to copied layer names?

  • onoofry — 7:11 AM on April 14, 2010

    John, what about “Change layer content” option for an Adjustment Layers in CS5? In CS4 it was, mmm, forgotten ;)

  • Michael — 7:31 AM on April 14, 2010

    Perhaps eliminating the “to” would make the 2nd button clearer. Namely: “Reset Default”

  • RUGRLN — 8:48 AM on April 14, 2010

    Great job Adobe on Ps CS5!
    Now a quick Q:
    Remember awhile back you asked about how we like/hate the ‘copy’ text added to duplicated layers, and everyone said No, so you released a script to remove those ‘copy’ texts…well in CS5 is that off by default, or can it be turned off?!
    [Stand by for an upcoming post. –J.]

  • Jeffrey Tranberry — 9:04 AM on April 14, 2010

    It’s not off by default, but you can turn it off.

  • Glyn Dewis — 10:08 AM on April 14, 2010

    Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference; I certainly welcome this addition with open arms.
    Thanks for the post John,
    All the best to you,

  • Joshua Shapiro — 11:43 AM on April 14, 2010

    “The wording of the latter isn’t quite as clear as I’d like…” Are you kidding? The wording of the latter is AWFUL!!!!! Default in one button means the settings I define, and in the other is some unknown factory setting? My reading of “reset to default” is that it would change everything to whatever I had set as the default (undoing whatever I had just done). But you are saying that will clear the defaults to factory settings. So “default” means two totally different things in the two buttons, which are right next to each other. And you are letting that ship?
    No wonder Photoshop has a steep learning curve.

  • Ashtangakasha — 12:38 PM on April 14, 2010

    Since most dialogs already use Ctrl/Cmd + Cancel to reset to the factory default, most experienced users would assume that “Reset to Default” must refer to the button just to its left: “Make Default.” IOW, first you make a default, and then later on you reset to that default.
    If that’s not the case (which, alas, seems to be so), then the phrase “Reset to Default” is both misleading AND redundant. Just “Reset” would be best if it’s duplicating the standard behavior of Ctrl-Cancel (though why Adobe would do that is beyond me). At least just “Reset” would avoid semi-misusing the term you’ve just semi-defined in the other button.

  • Ashtangakasha — 12:44 PM on April 14, 2010

    That said, I still am hugely relieved to have the dialog box remember my last settings when I want it to (and not when I don’t).
    It seems to me that a rather non-JIT overhaul would be most welcome by all users, just to get as much consistency into the myriad dialog boxes as possible. Surely Ctrl-Cancel could be the “reset to factory default” for all dialogs. And surely all dialogs could remember the last setting, optionally, with a button like the one in question. I do love that nearly 100% of all numerical entry boxes will respond consistently to up/down and shift+up/down — I use this for precise adjustments all the time. But this consistency is sorely needed throughout all of CS, not just Photoshop, and that’s not a JIT fix. PS (and all CS apps, of course) should also support the ID behavior of performing math inside any numerical entry, too.
    [Yeah–we actually had an ambitious plan to standardize on a best-of-breed widget set throughout PS (and hopefully across the Suite), but we fell short in this release. –J.]
    Thanks for your ongoing clarity and accessibility, and your willingness to receive all this multicolored feedback.

  • David — 12:45 PM on April 14, 2010

    Maybe if you hold the option key, the button could switch between “Reset to Default” and “Reset Default”

  • Phil Brown — 2:48 PM on April 14, 2010

    Mark – the sliders are the same length, but two of them are set at value 5 and one to 0, hence the sliders are at different positions. As has been mentioned, that appears to be a standard Apple UI feature that 0 sits with the midway of the slider at the 0 position and thus slightly outside the line.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 4:47 PM on April 14, 2010

    Wrong. Compare the sliders in that screenshot to the sliders in a Pages inspector. Or the Aperture adjustments panel. Or an iWeb inspector. Or Logic Pro. Adobe fakes its sliders to resemble native sliders. That whole window is some kind of fakery, which would be fine if it weren’t incompetent fakery. In an Apple app those sliders would still appear to be of equal length, regardless of the thumb position.
    People who can’t see the difference have no business writing Mac GUIs.
    Cue John pointing out the wide variety of sliders in use across Apple’s various apps, as if that’s justification for Adobe to do such a poor job, all the while failing to acknowledge that even Apple’s worst deviations look good whereas Adobe’s efforts look bad.
    [That’s not what I had in mind, actually. There’s a longer, more interesting story here, but I haven’t yet had time to write it. –J.]
    Nevertheless, GUI halfassery notwithstanding, there’s a lot of nice new stuff in CS5.
    [Thanks, and glad to hear it. –J.]

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 4:53 PM on April 14, 2010

    So someone going by the pseudonym “Pissed Mac Developer” calls people “fanbois” and refers to Interface Builder as “primitive spring and strut technology from 1985.” Classic.
    Adobe should hire this guy immediately.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 5:17 PM on April 14, 2010

    “Make Default” and “Reset to Default” sound like they do the same thing.
    How about “Make Default” and “Reset”?

  • steveg — 6:12 PM on April 14, 2010

    The “Reset to Default” button will only reset changed values since the dialog has been displayed. It changes them back to default values (original or user set); It does not reset to factory settings if the user has changed those defaults with the button on the left.These buttons also apply to the individual style and not the whole dialog (ie. Make\Reset Default for Drop Shadow doesn’t change values in Inner Shadow).
    If you want to reset all the applied Layer Styles for that layer back to what they were before entering the dialog, then Opt/Alt and click the “Reset” button on the top right.
    It’s not just that the wording is tough, the dialog is a bit overloaded with functionality too.

  • Ashtangakasha — 6:50 PM on April 14, 2010

    Thanks for the clarification. This is even better than what I had feared it was not. (!)
    And my apologies for misremembering Alt-Cancel. Alt is, actually, used pretty consistently in PS.
    Adobe apps, much as I love using them, are always my favorite example for explaining the difference between “ease of use” and “ease of learning.” — Right double-click on that thingie which isn’t a button, while holding Shift, Ctrl, Alt, and Spacebar….

  • Pissed Mac Developer — 7:58 PM on April 14, 2010

    You can’t tell native widgets when you’re looking at them, and complain about them not matching Apple’s dozen different slider implementations (most of which don’t look like native widgets). Really?
    >> People who can’t see the difference have no business writing Mac GUIs.
    And people who have no idea what they’re talking about have no business commenting on GUIs.

  • Pissed Mac Developer — 8:06 PM on April 14, 2010

    At least what I’m saying is the truth.
    And I don’t want my name here because I really don’t need fanbois like you darkening the door of my business.

  • James Hatfield — 9:34 PM on April 14, 2010

    Hey John, my thought on this is have a key combo option to apply last used setting. Some prefer a default some custom default but a lot of people just want to get the settings right for a batch and have that “sticky” until they change it.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 1:44 AM on April 15, 2010

    And yet you continue to comment from behind your shield of anonymity.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 1:48 AM on April 15, 2010

    Actually, what we need to be asking ourselves here is How would Apple word this? Because chances are they’d get it right.

  • Phil Brown — 2:47 AM on April 15, 2010

    So tell me, Mark, does SJ have haemorrhoids? I’m guessing you can see from there.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 3:35 AM on April 15, 2010

    So that’s your contribution to this thread?
    Look, I’m sorry I had to make you look stupid, but you were the one who challenged me over those sliders.
    Next time come prepared.

  • Phil Brown — 4:40 AM on April 15, 2010

    You were “challenged” so you “had to” do something?
    The sliders ARE the same length. You don’t like them. Good for you.

  • Dan — 1:41 AM on April 16, 2010

    my contribution to this thread is this:
    install it in chrome or firefox. maybe touch up the regexps a little bit. then you’ll never have to hear about scrollbars on the left in Lightroom ever again.

  • Mike Abbott — 4:56 AM on April 20, 2010

    I’d suggest a simple “Reset” on the button.

  • photoshop styles — 8:11 AM on March 10, 2011

    That’s great news. A good time saver. thanks !

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