Making Web Buttons with PD Pro

(and then some...)

[more tutorials]

There are many tools out there which webmasters have used to quickly make 3D-looking buttons. One for example is the affordably priced PhotoLine32 ( which focuses on high-quality photo printing and editing and is available for Mac and PC. In a recent release they added tools for the web, including a tool to make buttons quickly and easily. The price is great too.

There are also some freeware tools or as I like to call it 'affordableware' very specially dedicated to making colorful 3D buttons, such as the ButtonMaker from Inet software

There are however occasions where you don't need to have it done in a split-second, and you just want to fiddle with it a bit longer and try other artistic effects on those buttons. Perhaps you want some kind of embossing effect on the text label that's on the button? Perhaps you need a different shadow drop? Perhaps you want to make it animated with wet paint or add lens flares?  For example, here are simple buttons we've created in PD Pro which can be created in earlier versions too. 

Project Dogwaffle comes to the rescue.  This tutorial was made with PD Pro 3.1

  • Activating Auto-Snap

Let's start by activating a few informative panels. For example, the Info panel, which might be useful with positional information as we move the mouse. Not really required, just for your information.

menu:  Window > Info panel...
Another tool we'll want to use for sure now is in the Display Settings panel. It allows us to lock the brush on a grid (auto-snap) as we paint or select.

menu:  Window > Display Settings...
Enable the Drawing Grid (to snap) and make it visible too so you know where it is.

The default grid size is fairly small. Perhaps you want to make it bigger.
Use the Horizontal and Vertical size sliders to change the distance between the lines.

They don't have to be square.
  • Drawing Selections  in Alpha

Let's start drawing a selection in the Alpha channel. This will eventually have the basic oval button shape. Click the oval/circle alpha tool
Select a place where the snap gridlines intersect. Click and drag the mouse....
... and move down right far enough to cross over another snapline, and see the rubberband oval/circular shape. Release the mouse. We now have the left (or right) end of the button.
Repeat the step to make the other end, but make sure you press and hold the SHIFT key down.

Holding the Shift key down while drawing in Amlpha adds to the current selection.

We now have two ovals/circles.
We will want to 'connect' the two shapes with a rectangle. Select the Rectangular alpha tool
Click and drag on one oval in the top snapline area (12 o'clock side), and move down to the otheroval's bottom crossline. (6 o'clock side)
Again, you need to have SHIFT pressed down during this selection. That will add the rectangle to the two oval selections.

If you forgot the SHIFT key, use 'u' or Control-Z to undo and try again.
You can now uncheck the snapping (Drawing Grid) and turn it off.
  • Storing the Selection for Later Use

We may at some point in time want to get back to exactly this alpha mask. So let's store it in memory. Select

menu: Alpha > Store alpha...
This places a grey-scale copy of thealpha channel in a stored memory buffer and shows you what it looks like. Later, we will be able to click 'Replace' to put this selection back in place if desired.
  • Painting or Filling the Selection with color

Now we can paint over the current selection. Click the brush tool to select the current brush.
Or right-click the same brush tool to see the predefined brushes. For example, select an airbrush.

If you have a mouse with middle button or scroll button you can press that directly in the painting buffer area for the menu to show with a trip to the interface (Tool panel).
Select a color (left mouse button)
Then paint over the selection mask to fill it with that color.

Note that you can use a shortcut to fill all: 'q' - it's also in the Buffer... menu

menu:  Buffer > Fill  (q)

  • First Effects from Alpha Channel

At this point we could already experiment with special effects available from the Alpha menu, such as shadow drop or embossing and alpha glow. These are available from the Alpha menu...
... but they are also available in the Alpha options panel. You can see that panel by right-clicking on any of the alpha tools in the main Tools panel.

Here's a look at the whole alpha panel. Notice some very useful features like Shrink, Grow, Invert, Clear and Alpha on/off.

For example, click the Emboss by alpha... option at the bottom of the Alpha panel.
Try various Smotthness settings from the slider.

You can apply it several times to accumulate the effect at various sizes...
  • Filling with a Color Gradient

Let's undo this for now, however. We'll try something else. Instead of filling the button selection area with a plain color, we'll fill it with a color gradient. This will convey the impression of lighting from above and make it look 3D.

Select the gradient tool from the Window menu or shortcut:  'p'
Here's tre almighty and extremely powerful gradient tool. It's used with the Fill tool and many other tools too (such as linear gradient tool)
Let's try a different gradient set (each set has 8 gradients).
Select the GunMetals collection
Move the Index slider to number 7. This gradient starts dark at left, rises to a top white shortly after the middle and returns to dark in the end.
Select the vertical gradient mode (top of gradient panel). The default is plain color mode and wouldn't have used the gradient.
Click the paint can in the main Tools panel to select the fill tool. Then click inside the Alpha selection area to fill that area with the current gradient.
Or, again, use the 'q' shortcut.

Notice that this gradient is showing the lighting effect below the centerline. Let's switch it upside-down.
There is a tow-arrow button in the gradient tool which reverses (flips) the gradient left-to right. This will flip it top to bottom if the mode is vertical.
While we're at it, let's try a different mode, one which goes vertical but also conforms to the shape by morphing into it.
Perhaps you'll like this better? It's very subjective of course.
We can now again try more embossing.

  • Got Text?

Ok, time to add text onto the button. Click the text tool.
There will be a small rectangle over the buffer somewhere. You can grab it's lower-right corner to resize it...
Make it about as wide as the button or whatever length you think you'll need for the text you're about to type.
Set the desired font size and other parameters.

Then Type the text. Adjust size as need.
Resize the active text area for a nice fit without much whitespace.
Click and drag outside of the active text area and it will snap and track your mouse motions. Use that to place it over the button.
Center the alignment.
Make fine-tuning adjustments for the position...
The apply the text.
The current primary color is used.
  • Text into Alpha

Click 'Show textbox' in the text panel. This will show the latest text at the same position.
Select "Text to Alpha". This time we'll cause the text to draw into alpha.
ready? Click Apply text again...
Voila! We have the text written into the alpha channel.
  • Embossing the Text

We may want to invert the alpha, so we get to choose the area outside of the text.
Use Emboss by alpha as before. This time it's not on the button, just on the text.
Perhaps the text will appear embossed outward. If we inverted it properly it will appear embossed inward.
Clear the alpha to see better.
so far so good.
  • Going back to the Stored Alpha

Let's get the original button's alpha selection mask back in. Click the Replace button on the stored alpha buffer panel.
We're back now with the original selection mask.
PErhaps we'll want to drop a shadow from the alpha channel.
there you go...
Ok, not bad.

What else?
  • Selection to Custom Brush

Forget the drop shadow for now.

Select just the area inside the selection (the button, that is).

Quick shortcut:  Control-C to copy the selection to the brush. It's a custom brush.
We can now click in area areas and the button in the brush is painted again.
We can make it a different size from the Brush resample menu.

Click to paint with the new size.
  • Brush PostFX

Notice the preview thumbnail in the Tool's panel's upper left corner.

Click that preview (left mouse button) to view the Brush Settings.
Select the PostFX tab... We can enable shadow drops from the brush there.
Check the box to enable the PostFX.
Click the show mode. Fiddle with the sliders for blur and such...
Paint with the new settings... now it generates a drop shadow on-the-fly.

try different offesets, opacities, blurriness...
When you have the desired effect in the buffer, we may want to grab the resulting image (button and shadow) and have it all in the brush. Use the Magic want and click on the white backdrop...
This will select the white stuff. Notice the marching ants highlighting the area around the button and shadow as well as the boundary of your buffer window.
Invert the alpha.
Now we've selected just the button and shadow.
Use Control-C as earlier, to pick up the selection as custom brush.
  • Out through the Clipboard

Then transfer that image from the brush out to the system's Clipboard. (who has time to save to file...?)
Use ALT-Tab to switch to another imaging tool. I'll use my favorite image viewer, Irfanview

Press Control-V to paste the image from the Clipboard into the imaging tool.
Do whatever else you want to do, like resize, then save...
Back to PD Pro, (Alt-Tab), we may want to get access to this brush later. Store it  into the brush manager.

menu:  Brush > Store / manage....
  • Make an Animated Brush

In fact, let's make an animated brush from this. Click the Filmstrip at the bottom of the brush manager.
It shows of course that so far there is only one image in the brush. It's a bit distorted in this case (the thumbnail is square but the button image is wide). No problem.
Click 'Add frame'.
A second image (identical copy of first) appears in the Filmstrip. It's now an animated brush (of 2 images)
Click 'Add Frame' a few more times until with have 8 frames in the brush.
We can now use the Brush Timeline editor to alter the frames in this animated brush.


Brush > Animated brush > Timeline...

  • The Brush Timeline Editor

This is a tool very similar to the animation Timeline editor from the Animation menu. But, instead of applying the filters to the frames in the animation buffer, it applies them to the images in the brush.

You see the source images near the top. The Destination images will appear when you select a filter and render it across the source images.

There are many effects you can apply to the brush in this manner.

One typical use for this is to transform (rotate/resize a bunch of identical flowers to look like more random. You can also change color and brightness across the set.
Select for example the wet paint effect.
Move the frame selector to the left for the first frame if it's not currently selected. Set the Wet paint slider to zero and click the 'Set key' button.
Then move the current frame selector to a position near the middle (shortly after it) and change the slider value, and click again the Set key button.
This records a second keyframe. The values show being interpolated with a smooth spline curve by default.
Advance to the last frame at right of the timeline, and set the slider value close to zero again. Not examply 0, since that value is used for the first frame and we don't want the last image to be identical to the first.

Select for example 4 and set the key.
We now have 3 keyframes.
Click the Render button
We now have a set of images in the Destination filmstrip area. The wet paint shows dripping down towards the middle where it was the highest value set by keyframe.
If we like the effect we can send it to the current brush.

Options > Use 'dest' as brush

Click the Store/manage option in the brush menu again. The Filmstrip will now reveal the new animation present in this new animated brush. The preview in the brush manager thumbnail will also gently cycle through the images of the brush.

At this point you may want to save the animated brush as such from the Brush > Animated Brush menu (*.anb file format).
  • The Tip of the Iceberg

What else now? Tons of opportunities to experiment with this animated brush. For example to paint it over an AVI file background of animated sky, using the ALT key to cycle through the background frames and quickly create an even wackier backdrop. Then apply filters like Snowfall, Ghost, Gaussian blurr, motion blurr... through the Timeline. Then perhaps use the Brush Keyframer for flying logo effects.

Finally we might want to do detailed matte painting and add lens flares, Aura glows and other visual effects.

Click the images to the right to view an animation example.

An AVI file using the Xvid codec  is here (800 kb)

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