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Use Photoshop’s layer styles to simulate drops of sweat

Last update:  12-31-1969

Submitted by Doug Nelson

Photoshop’s layer styles are usually very effective and intuitive to use, but if you use them in some unintuitive ways they can be even more effective.

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Overall Recommendation

Highly Recommended




Expertise     9
Utility     7.6
Clarity     8.8
Relevance   10

1          I opened my image, doubleclicked on the background layer and renamed it Profile. I wanted just the man’s profile against a transparent background, so I used the Magic Wand tool set to a tolerance of 42 pixels and Contiguous and clicked on the blank wall area to select it. I used Select > Inverse to invert the selection, then clicked on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Then I flipped the layer left to right by selecting Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.





2          I gave the man an instant suntan by clicking on the Blue channel in the channels palette and copying it to the clipboard (Cmd/Ctrl+A then Cmd/Ctrl+C). I clicked the topmost channel to restore the full color view and moved back to the layers palette. I pasted the Blue channel as a new layer by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+V, named it Suntan, and set its blending mode to Luminosity. I restored the transparent area by pressing Opt/Alt and clicking on the line between the Suntan and Profile layers (making a clipping mask).







3          I made a new blank layer by clicking on the Add Layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and named it Drops. I chose the Shape tool icon in the toolbox (it’s located under the Type tool and next to the Pen tool). In the Options bar, moving left to right, I selected Fill Pixels and Custom Shape. In the Shape dropdown box I clicked the arrow in the upper right corner and loaded the Nature library. Then in the newly-loaded library, I selected the Raindrop shape.



4          With the Drops layer active and black as the foreground color, I dragged with the Shape tool to paint in the drops of sweat. It may take some experimenting to get used to, but you’ll quickly find its easy to draw in drops of any size and proportion. Since sweat accumulates as it runs down a face, I added smaller, rounder drops towards the top of his head and progressively longer and thinner drops as I moved downward. If you make some drops that aren’t to your liking you can use the Eraser tool to erase them. Plus, since we’re working on a separate layer, you can always discard the entire layer and start over.



5          Once I had the drops to my liking, I changed the Drops layer blending mode to screen and doubleclicked on its layer thumbnail to open the Layer Style dialog. I used the following settings:

  • Drop Shadow: Opacity 14%, Angle 79º, Distance 11px, Spread 4%, Size 17px, Contour “Cone”
  • Inner Shadow: Opacity 15%, Angle 79º, Distance 21px, Size 21px
  • Inner Glow: Blend Mode Multiply, Opacity 23%, Color Black, Size 17px
  • Bevel and Emboss: Depth 71%, Size 54px, Angle 79º, Highlight Mode Normal, Opacity 100%, Shadow Mode Lighten, Color White, Opacity 90%

The drops look good, but a bit opaque, so I lowered the layer opacity to 43%.





6          I opened the background image and pressed Cmd/Ctrl+A to select the entire canvas, then pressed Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy it to the clipboard. I moved back to the original image, pressed Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste the image as a new layer, and named it Beach. I dragged the beach layer to the bottom of the layer stack and positioned it in place with the Move tool. I added a depth of field effect by applying Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur set to 30 pixels.








  • Painting with a hard, black brush will let you make drops and even small pools of any size and shape.
  • Use the Wave filter to add a natural randomness to small pools on horizontal surfaces
  • Experiment with the layer style settings to make drops of other things like mercury, ice, oil
  • Use Hue/Saturation and other adjustment layers in a clipping group with the drops layer for additional effects
  • In the Styles palette, use the dropdown menu and New Style to save this style for use with other images
  • If you Cmd click/Right click on the style in the layers palette, you can copy just the style by selecting Copy Layer Style. Then you can Cmd click/Right click on any other layer in any other image and select Paste Layer Style to apply the style to that layer