Understanding the Layer Properties Palette

Understanding the Layer Properties Palette

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Hello! My name is Liz Staley and I’m a long-time user of Clip Studio Paint (I started using the program back when it was known as Manga Studio 4!). I was a beta-tester on the Manga Studio 5 program and for Clip Studio Paint, and I have written three books and several video courses about the program. Many of you probably know my name from those books, in fact. I write weekly posts on Graphixly.com and on CSP Tips, so be sure to come back every week to learn more Clip Studio Tips and Tricks from me!

The Layer Property palette is easy to overlook, but has several features that are really helpful in it. So let’s explore this palette in detail and find out what it can do!

In this article we will cover the following topics:

Changing Color Expressions
Layer Effects

Let’s dive right in!



Changing Color Expressions


Let’s take a look at the Layer Property palette, which I’ve moved into the lower right corner of the photo below.


In this section, we’re going to cover the features under the Expression Color section of this window. We’ll go over the “Effect” options in the next section of this article.

The dropdown in the Expression color section shows what our current expression color setting is. But using this menu we can quickly change to Grayscale or Monochrome, and adjust settings for each without making any permanent changes to our original image until we decide to commit the changes.

To change the photo to gray, simply change the Expression color to Gray from the dropdown menu, as shown in the image below.


You can see that now our Layer Property window says “Expression color (preview)”. This is because what we’re seeing is just that - a preview. We haven’t made a permanent change to our image, and can still revert back to Color at any time using the dropdown.

We have a few options in the Gray expression color preview, mainly in the form of the black and white boxes to the right of the dropdown. These little buttons allow us to “turn off” the black or the white colors in the image by clicking them. In the screenshot below, only the black colors of the image are still there, and now the light areas are transparent.


And in the next image, the dark areas have been turned off and now only the light areas are remaining.


As you can see, you can get some pretty cool effects quickly using these options! None of the changes will be permanent until you click the “Apply expression color of preview” button in the Layer Property window. You can continue to make other changes and edits to this layer or others without having to make the expression color change permanent.

Now let’s see what our image looks like if we change it to the Monochrome option!


Monochrome is an expression where there are only black and white pixels. This greatly reduces file size and is an efficient way to work when doing just line art or lineart and screentones. Working in Monochrome may allow you to work in a much higher DPI because having only two colors reduces the processing needed by the computer, and as mentioned above, it reduces the size of the files as well!

Monochrome also allows us to toggle the black and white pixels using the buttons to the right of the dropdown, as we saw in the Gray options. But there are more options hiding there too that we can use to adjust the look of our image. To the left of the dropdown you will see a + sign. Click on that and more options will be available.


In the above image I’ve reduced the Color Threshold slider to below the default value. This makes the overall image lighter. Increasing the number makes the image darker by increasing the number of pixels that are interpreted as black instead of white.

The Alpha Threshold slider controls opacity configuration for the borders between black, white, and transparency. Since there is no transparency in the test image above, this setting didn’t do anything when I tried it out. But if you are adjusting an image with transparent pixels and need to tweak the edges, this is where you’d do it!

The Reflect Layer Opacity checkbox is used for images that have an opacity less than 100%.

If you want to permanently apply your expression color changes to your base image, click the “Apply expression color of preview” button.

Now that we know about changing color expressions using the Layer Properties, let’s look at some effects that you can apply to your layers!



Layer Effects


In the area above the Color Expression dropdown there are four icons, each for a different layer effect. We will cover these going from left to right.

The first icon is for the Border Effect. This does exactly what it says on the tin - it applies a border around the edges of the layer! Now, if you have a layer filled from edge to edge, as in the example photo used in the previous section, this won’t work because the border will be drawn outside the edges of the canvas. So we’d either need to make the canvas larger or make the image smaller so that there’s a bit of transparency around the edges. Rather than do this, I instead decided to isolate the skull photo from the background so that there is transparency around the outside.

After doing this, I clicked on the Border Effect icon. The default border color is white, but clicking on the rectangle next to the Edge Color option allows you to change it to any color you wish. (Clicking on the Fill icon to the right of the current color rectangle will also “fill” the border color with the current active color selected in the color picker.)

Changing the Thickness of edges slider makes the edge thinner or thicker. The amount of edge thickness you use will depend on the style you’re going for as well as the size of your image. The photo I’m using as an example is quite large so needed a large edge thickness to really see the effect.

The “anti-aliasing on border effect” checkbox controls whether anti-aliasing is applied to the border. Anti-aliasing is a way of the computer smoothing out the edges of a line so it doesn’t have a hard pixel transition. In the close-up below, the anti-aliasing is turned on. Note the way that the edges blur slightly to provide a smooth look.


And in the image below the anti-aliasing has been turned off. Note the “pixelated” look to the edge of the line now.


The border effect can provide a stroke effect or turn the edges of our layer into a watercolor look. To do this, find the Border Effect option and click on the icon that looks like a filled in circle that’s slightly melting. The red arrow in the image below shows the location while also showing the look of this effect on the image.


If you compare the edge of the cutout in the above image to previous ones, you can see that it has a slightly darkened, “watercolor” effect to it. Rather than adding another border to the layer, this setting applies to the existing outer edge. Because of this, it works better on some images than others.

You will also see that there are a variety of slider options to control this effect. The nice thing about these layer effects is that you can turn it off whenever you want, so it’s easy to play around with without being afraid of ruining your original image!

Our next layer effect is the Extract Line effect, which is shown below.



This effect turns our image into a “line drawing” by auto-detecting the edges and drawing a line around them. Like most effects, this works better on some images than others. I think it looks pretty cool on our skull image though!

Below are several images showing what enabling or changing some of the Extract Line options look like.


The above image shows what happens when we enable the “Posterize first” checkbox. This simplifies the image first before drawing the lines, making it a bit cleaner.


In the above image, the Black Fill option has been turned up. This takes the darker areas of the base image and fills them with black, adding depth.


The image above shows the image with the Line Width option increased. The lines are now thicker overall.


Turning up the Edge threshold, as shown above, makes the program detect less detail in the image. On this busy photo, it makes for a much cleaner line drawing!


In the above image, I have turned off every “Direction of Detection” except for the Up direction. By default, every direction is turned on. Turning some of these directions off can provide a cleaner final effect. Again, feel free to play around with these options because you can always turn the effect off without making any permanent changes to your original image!


The next layer effect, Tone, is shown above. But it’s pretty difficult to tell what’s going on at this size, so let’s zoom in quite a bit.


The Tone effect changes the contents of our layer into a screentone pattern. Just like the other effects we’ve covered, this comes with some settings we can change to adjust the look of the layer.

The image below shows what happens when the Density option is changed from “Use color of image” to “Use brightness of image” instead.


As you can see, when using this option the lighter areas are replaced with transparency instead of being made of white pixels. By the way, screentones are made of only black and white pixels, like the Monochrome color setting we discussed earlier. The “shades of gray” are created by adjusting how many black pixels are in an area and how close together they are, as shown in the screenshot below.


If, for some reason, you don’t like the plain dot pattern, you can use the “Dot settings” dropdown to change the shape of the tones to things like lines, plus signs, ninja stars, hearts, and more. This may or may not make much of a difference. I found that in this example image the heart shape is only noticeable in the middle-gray areas.

The final layer effect in the Layer Property palette is the one that I use the most - Layer Color. One click on this icon turns the contents of the layer all to one color. By default, this color is a medium blue, which is shown in the image below.



I use this layer effect a lot! When I make a rough sketch and go to clean that sketch up with a second pass on another layer, I use Layer Color on the rough sketch layer so that it’s a different color and easier to tell where my cleaned-up sketch lines are. Then, when I’m going to ink a sketch I will use Layer Color to turn my final sketch to blue or another light color. Not only does this make it easier to see what I’ve already inked and what still needs to be inked when going over the sketch with black on another layer, but it also prevents from accidentally inking on the wrong layer.

When a layer is set to have Layer Color on, any new marks or fills made to that layer will be made in the set color. So, if you are digitally inking and select your sketch layer instead of the ink layer, new inking lines will show up as blue instead of black! By using this option, you can keep yourself from inking on the wrong layer.

You don’t have to have the layer as blue, by the way! In the layer color effect settings, click on the long blue rectangle next to the Layer color text to pick a different color.

When using Layer Color on a layer that has more than one tone of pixels (i.e. a pencil sketch), you can create cool looks by also changing the Sub color to something other than white. In the screenshot below the layer color has been changed to purple and the Sub color has been changed to blue.







The layer property palette is often overlooked but it contains a treasure trove of options that can be used in a variety of situations. I hope this look into the Layer Property window has taught you something and helped with your workflow!

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