Are Overlays worth it?

January 08, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

PosingPosing There seems to be endless supplies of commercial editing products for photographers as well as just the average cell phone camera user. Overlays are often artistic images themselves that are placed over top of an image, much like a new Photoshop layer, rather than behind the image such as a background. In some cases they take the form of a cell phone filter and the quality is more for entertainment purposes rather than anything else.

In other cases, they take the form of PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file that often has a transparent background so that elements from the original image show through the final product. PNG files have many uses, such as an earlier post that I wrote relating to desktop publishing shown here JPegs and PNG files.  Overlay files can of be found free on sites such as PNGtree or of course many be purchased through almost an endless supply of commercial sites. You can of course create your own PNG files directly from Photoshop as shown in this quick tutorial  Transparent backgrounds.

But the real question here is for the photographer who may be into the artistic editing side with their images, are commercial overlays worth your time and in some cases, expense?

Well here are some positive points to these images:

  • They can serve as inspiration, simply by looking at the overlays themselves
  • They can accent an image that may been ok, into an image that really catches one eye
  • They can improve your editing abilities, since many of them can be warped, toned, or otherwise manipulated to fit the overall theme of the image
  • Depending upon the overlay, they can be a tremendous time saver. You may know what you want but it may take a long time to create it with uncertain results.

Of course, almost everything has it's negatives:

  • The quality of some overlays is not professional grade
  • When used to excess, overlays may actually detract or decrease the value of an image
  • Reliance on overlays may limit your ability to learn and develop your Photoshop skills.
  • Some commercial overlays are overpriced for what they offer. The effect could be quickly and easily accomplished with only moderate editing ability.

Using overlay files in Photoshop is relatively simple. Steps are as follows:

  • Load your original image into Photoshop and make any necessary edits to that image.
  • Choose FILE...PLACE from the Photoshop menu
  • Navigate to where your overlay may be found and choose that overlay
  • Resize and rotate the overlay as appropriate then hit the check mark at the top of the screen
  • You may also add change the color of the overlay by adding a Hue and Saturation layer. You will need to apply this just to the overlay, not all layers.
  • For those more visually attuned, here is a quick demo  Using an overlay file  


Overlay files can be productive and inspiring as long as they are not overused!


Bob Barford is a published photographer based in Southern PA.





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