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Quick, Easy, and Scalable Photoshop Backgrounds

This tutorial will show you how to design backgrounds with ease of future adjustments in mind. Applying these techniques in your designs will make color adjustments a breeze, sizing/scaling changes in your background incredibly easy, and give you unprecedented control over how your background looks with very little effort involved.

Backgrounds Made Simpler

Suppose you are working on a graphic for a client (or yourself), where the colors used may be changing on occasion, or perhaps you’d like to experiment with several different colors. One way of going about doing this would be creating several different documents, and for each document, manually adjust the colors, size, and positioning of different elements.

Being the curious folk we are, we wonder, “Shouldn’t their be an easier way to do this?

As a matter of a fact, there is a much simpler way to work with documents using Shape Layers, Blending Options, and Adjustment Layers. In this tutorial, I’ll demonstrate how you can create very simple backgrounds in Photoshop that can be editing on the fly in a matter of just a few clicks.

What’s the difference?

For purposes of this tutorial, we’ll just be using a simple gradient background. Before you go and grab your Gradient Tool, let’s talk about resizing and scaling.

Resizing a normal gradient

Scalable Background / Non Scalable Background Comparison

When you use the Gradient Tool, you are really just performing a one time calculation. The gradient blends between it’s different colors from one point to the next, and after its applied, the data does not change. This is ok in a lot of scenarios, but what happens if we resize our image?

As you can hopefully tell from the image above, the colors are simply being stretched out when we resize an ordinary gradient. Instead of the calculation for the gradient being redone, Photoshop will keep the current data and try to work with it alone.

This is why we want scalable backgrounds. If we resize a graphic, or if we want to reposition and change the scale of the background alone, we want the graphic to appear as smooth as possible. With scalable backgrounds, we can accomplish this.

Getting started

While it’s entirely possible to create a scalable background with any ordinary layer, you’re probably better off using Shape Layers (especially if you’re creating a multi-part background stored in a set of layers).

Rectangle ToolLet’s begin with a basic document; we’ll be using a plain document, with a layer of “Tutorial9″ text on it. To create your basic background, create a new rectangle shape layer, using the Rectangle Tool. Be sure that you have Shape Layers selected once your working with the Rectangle Tool.

Work with Shape Layers

Drag a box around your canvas. This will become your background later on, and can exceed the boundaries of your canvas.

Create a Rectangle Shape

Set the Shape Layer ColorThe current background color of the shape hardly matters, as we’ll control it from elsewhere later on, but if you’d like to know how to change a shape layers color, you can easily alter it from the layers panel once you’ve created your shape.

Backgrounds with Blending Options

Right Click on your new shape layer, and select Blending Options.

Select Gradient Overlay. This is the area where we are going to set up our gradient background. There is nothing tricky about this part. Simply set up your gradient however you see fit.

Here is a glance of what I did:

Gradient Overlay

Document with a Gradient Background

You might be thinking, “All that work for this?”

Sure enough, we could have produced this exact effect with a simple click of the gradient tool, but take a look at what happens when you resize, or reposition the shape layer.

Resizing and Repositioning the Shape Layer

As illustrated in the example above, the layer will recalculate the gradient each time you resize, and will reposition nicely so that you don’t have to recreate backgrounds over and over.

Quickly Adjusting the Background Color

Hue Saturation & Lightness Adjustment LayerUsing Adjustment Layers, we can modify our background on the fly in just a few simple clicks. In order to quickly edit Hue, Saturation, and Lightness, we need to create a new Hue/Saturation/Lightness Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation/Lightness).

NOTE: Be sure to create this layer above the Shape Layer ONLY! This adjustment layer will effect all underlying layers.

Adjust the sliders presented to accommodate your preferences. Click Ok to save your adjustment. You can return to this adjustment layers settings at any time by double clicking the icon next to it in the Layers Panel.

Adjusted Background

Conclusion

It’s really simple to set up one of these backgrounds, and they can really improve your work flow if used properly. I’d suggest exploring some of the other adjustment layers, and seeing what helps you save the most time for your kind of work.

You can even use multiple adjustment layers to really control your graphics in an effective manner!

If you’d like to download the Photoshop Document we used for clarification, feel free to grab it here.

29 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks a lot! This is exactly what I need. Ur article is clear and simple, quite effective, love it. Cheers!

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    ฟังเพลง (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 12:05 am

    wow Great article, thanks!165

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุดเดือนนี้ (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 1:40 am

    wow Great article, thanks!152

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงสากลใหม่ (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 2:57 am

    wow Great article, thanks!147

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Great reading! Thanks for sharing

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  6. Add point Subtract point

    How do you use this background once you’ve made it? Was I supposed to make it a certain size? Mine is 200×200 but should be scalable… but when using for design how do I get it to “stretch” the bg to 100%… I’ve done gradients before where you just do repeat-x to use in background, but using a radial gradient— ahh confusing!! Help?

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    z.Yleo77 (1 Point) October 31, 2009 at 6:48 am

    simple but useful article

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  8. Add point Subtract point

    Super! All of your tutorials are perfect! Thanks a lot and continue please!

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    maria (1 Point) June 8, 2009 at 5:27 am

    how did you get sooooo good?
    thanks to your site i’m learning photoshop the easier way..
    sadly, i still don’t get most of the element..
    ex. the things in the blending options..i get frustrated in understanding them so i just find some cool effects here and follow the tutorial..
    i really want to be good..

    could you make a tutorial about what does the elements mean?

    example..what is jitter, use of angles etc..more on the technical i guess..
    thanks..i’ll keep on visiting your site..

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (1 Point) May 8, 2009 at 2:21 am

    This is a guide and tutorial… thanks for sharing man!

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Dimitris (1 Point) April 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Thank you so much for this excellent work!

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    Strobe Kit (1 Point) February 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Nice tutorial, i think i’m going to use this gradient background for my site.

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    lawrence77 (1 Point) February 8, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    All are ok David…

    Any tutorial to get this type of text??
    I love it rather than the background!

    pls mail me laranz.joe@gmail.com

    laranzjoe.blogspot.com

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    hi

    i’m a bit new to this, how did you create the gloss effect?

    Thanks,

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    Chaz (1 Point) May 19, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Nice tutorial.

    I’ve used this method before, just without the shape being bigger than the layout area.

    I’ve also made a background with a fill and applied a gradient through the blending options. It’s just as scalable, but I think using a vector shape is probably a slightly more elegant way of doing it! :)

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    veebi (1 Point) May 18, 2008 at 12:16 am

    thk…. 4 share
    this … cool tutorial fren :)
    keep up u r great job :)

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    The font used in the Tutorial9 logo is called “Bleeker”. You can find details to purchase it from Typodermic. If you are looking for free fonts that are similar, I’d suggest dafont.com.

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    Nice tutorial! I’m be sure to try this out. What is the name of the font you used? It looks nice with the background. :)

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  19. Add point Subtract point

    Hey Fred,

    It’s not a free font, so I’m not sure if it’s something you’d be interested in. You can grab lots of great free fonts over at dafont.com though!

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Fred (1 Point) May 5, 2008 at 12:54 am

    Hello,

    Thanks for your tutorial on scalable backgrounds — it was really informative.

    Is there any chance of finding out what font you used for “Tutorial 9″?

    Thanks again.

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Adrian (1 Point) March 23, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Hello,

    Really like your site and the tips have come in handy already.

    Is there any chance you could let me know what font you use for the above graphic “Tutorial 9″?

    Many thanks.

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    Agent2693 (1 Point) February 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I never thought about using that shape layer deal! Excellent.

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  23. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Vice! We’ll keep trying to offer PSD files where applicable ;)

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    I’ve been using the Gradient Overlay effect for quite some time now, but it never came across my mind to use shaped layers.

    Also, offering the PSD file is just awesome.

    Keep up the great work!

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  25. Add point Subtract point

    Great tutorial, Dave. The effect comes out perfectly and eliminates all “pixelation.” Nice work.

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    Glad it helped you out James ;)

    There are several better… well, “crisper” ways to get the pixelated effect you’re probably talking about. You can use the mosaic filter… or simply Zoom In on a piece you’re working with, take a screenshot of the desktop (Print Screen), and paste the zoomed in version.

    I might touch on that technique in a future tip to make it more clear.

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    james peotto (0 Points) February 15, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    This is a cool little tip, it answered two of my questions. How to scale without getting pixelation and how to get the pixelation. I always wanted to know how to get that “pixelated” effect on some of my pieces. Thanks alot on another great Tutorial.

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