Photoshop Layer Comps

Just a quick Photoshop tip today, but it’s something I’ve been making extensive use of the last few weeks, so I thought I’d share. If you happened to read my last post and/or watch the video, you would have seen that in my new metronome app, I’m handling interface rotation in a somewhat different way than most apps. Rather than using the standard system autorotations – using the usual springs and struts in Interface Builder or the UIView’s autoresizingMask property – I’m leaving the basic layout of the controls the same and just rotating the contents. It’s kind of hard to describe, so if that doesn’t make sense, skip to about the 10:00 mark on this video.

Here’s the gist of the code to make this happen:

  • In the main ViewController’s shouldAutorotate method I only return YES for  UIInterfaceOrientationLandscapeRight, the same orientation the app launches in. Meaning, the view controller will not do any auto-rotating once it’s loaded into its initial state.
  • I’ve registered for the UIDeviceOrientationDidChangeNotification. Even though the View Controller will not do anything automatically when the device is rotated, the system will still generate these notifications when the orientation changes.
  • When I receive this notification, I pass the message along, and the individual views apply whatever sort of rotation transform they need to in order to remain “right side up.”
  • If the Status Bar is visible, you can also programmatically set its orientation with:[[UIApplication sharedApplication] setStatusBarOrientation:(UIInterfaceOrientation)orientation animated:YES];

What this means from a design perspective, is that the UIImageViews themselves, which contain the main interface chrome, do NOT rotate at all. So, here on the right is what the main control frame looks in the launch orientation – notice the shadows, gradients, etc. all use the “canonical” iOS 90 degree light source.

Let’s say the user then rotates to LandscapeLeft – my subviews will rotate themselves, but the image will stay exactly the same. The image on the left is the same, but rotated 180 degrees. It’s strange how much different – and more noticeable – the light/shadow/gradient effects are when they’re flipped around the wrong way!

So, in order to maintain the right look, what I need to do is create separate images for each orientation and load these in as part of my custom rotation handling. Here’s where Photoshop layer comps come in. What they let you do is take snapshots of certain aspects of your document state and then reload them with one click. For example, in my case, I’ve set up one Layer Comp for each of the four orientations I’ll support. Here’s the workflow:

  • Setup the document for the current orientation. In the case of LandscapeRight, that means 90 degree light sources for all drop shadows, gradients that go light to dark from top to bottom, etc.
  • In the Layer Comps window – add it to the toolbar from the Window menu if you don’t see it – select New Layer Comp from the pulldown menu.
  • In the dialogue box that opens, give your comp a name, select which parts of the document state you want to be saved as part of the snapshot, and add any helpful comments you might have. 
  • For this particular case, I’ve told the Layer Comp to only save the Layer Styles of the document’s layers.
  • Repeat the process for each orientation, setting the light sources, gradients, etc. on the Layer Styles, and then saving it as a new Layer Comp.

By using vector/smart objects and layer styles – you are doing that aren’t you? – the exact same set of objects and layers is used for every orientation. I’m free to adjust the positioning, size, and shape of the objects, and then, when it comes time to export for each orientation, I just click through the four Layer Comps one by one, and all my light and shadow effects are applied instantly to all objects. It takes a bit of work to setup, but once it’s ready, it saves huge amounts of time over going to each object individually and resetting the properties every time I want to make a change in the design and re-export for each orientation. For things like the “Tap,” “+,” and “-” labels, and for different button states, I also have a set of Layer Comps which control layer visibility. So, for example, if I need to re-export the image for the “pressed” tap button – I hit the Layer Comp for the orientation I want, which loads the correct layer styles, then hit the “Tap Button Pressed” layer comp which won’t affect the layer styles, but will hide the normal Tap button layers and show the pressed ones. Two clicks and I’m ready to export. So, that’s how I’ve been using Layer Comps in my particular case to speed up my design workflow – hopefully it gives you some ideas for how you might be able to use them in your own workflow!