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Using Photoshop for Video effects

Let's face it, Photoshop is an absolute necessity when it comes to working with your favorite non linear editing system. If you are not familiar with Photoshop in terms of how it works with video applications, the task can be daunting.

Costumers these days expect the seemingly impossible with digital photos, scanned images, and web content. They want all these elements to fit within their video production.

What are your options? Well, you can take a Photoshop for Video class. However, chances are the class will be a print class, which won't teach you the critical things about using Photoshop for video applications. In the video world, we are more concerned with aspect ratios, alpha channels, and the limitations of DV video (720 x 480). We don't care about CMYK color spaces, and we don't care about DPI. The only thing that really matters is how the final product looks on a standard television screen.

We want images that can be used as a glass bug. We want graphics that we can cut out and key over an image. We want the ability to add visual effects to our text objects. We want to take the logo from a clients stained business card and make it stand out within a video project. Finally, we want do this all of this very quickly. Sounds daunting, doesn't it?

Here are some key concepts of how to use Photoshop for Video. For this article, we will refer to two popular non linear editing programs, Avid Xpress, and Final Cut Pro. However, I am certain that these techniques will work with other editing programs as well. We will start by building a simple title and adding some layered effects to it.

Using Photoshop 7.0

Launch Photoshop, and navigate to the file menu, and select 'New' It is important that you select 720 x 534 when building your title. This is because Photoshop uses square pixels (rectangular), and our NTSC television sets use non-square or rectangular pixels. 720 x 534 (square) equals 720 x 480 non-square. We should therefore build our title at 720 x 534, and then resize it back to 720 x 480 right before we save it.


Make sure you select the transparent option within the contents section. This will allow you to build your title or graphic over a transparent background which will be interpreted as an alpha channel with the Avid or Final Cut Pro software.

Using Photoshop CS or Higher

New to Adobe Photoshop CS, it is the ability to work with square pixels. These means you can choose a resolution of 720 x 480, and let Photoshop display a proxy of what the image will look like with an NTSC square pixel aspect ratio.


The only disadvantage to allowing Photoshop CS to use an aspect ratio conversion is the fact that the image quality will suffer while it is displaying the conversion. This will not affect the final output, because it is simply displaying a proxy.


Photoshop CS will alert you to this fact so it clear that you are viewing a preview of what the image is going to look like.

Building a Title using Photoshop Effects Layers

The next step is to use Photoshop to create your title. This is fairly easy. Simply use the ‘text’ tool and click anywhere on the canvas to create your text layer.


Type your title within the Canvas window, when you are finished typing your title, double click on the effect layer within the layers palette.


Double clicking on the effect layer, will open the Photoshop layer style box which will allow you to add visual effects to your text.


Here is what the final result in Photoshop looks like. The particular graphic has several layer styles applied to it. Pay particular attention to the soft drop shadow.


Saving extra steps before continuing

First, make sure you always keep a 'unflattened' version of your entire composite. Therefore, save a .psd copy in case you need to come back and make changes to your graphic. Unfortunately, depending on the non-linear system your using, .psd files react differently in each application. Saving as a .png file is a much better choice for most non-linear editors.

If you are using Photoshop CS, and you built your graphic with the 'pixel apsect ratio correction turned on' for D1/DV NTSC .9, then all you need to do is save your file as a .png file. This will flatten your Photoshop image, but it will maintain all the alpha channel transparencies.

If you are lucky enough to be running Photoshop 7.0, NOT Photoshop 7.01 or CS (8.0 or higher), you can save your title as a .tga file. This will automatically merge all of your effects layers together and embed an alpha channel that both Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress will recognize.

*Since the .tga format will only work with Photoshop 7.0, I recommend saving your final image as a .png file, which works beautifully. Using a .png file will work with all current versions of Photoshop. This format will preserve any alpha channel transparencies.

Remember, once you save as a .tga or .png file, you will flatten your image layers. Therefore, make sure you save a version of your image as a .psd file so you can go back in and make changes, if needed.

I recommend resizing your image back to 720 x 480 before saving your file. If you are a Final Cut Pro user, it will definitely benefit you to resize the file before saving. To do this: Navigate to the 'Image' menu and select 'image Size'. Make sure you uncheck 'Constrain Proportions' so you can type in a value of 720 x 480.


Both Avid Xpress and Final Cut Pro support .psd layers. However, you will need to flatten any effects layers into 'real' layers in order for Avid or Final Cut Pro to recognize them properly. Both programs have different issues. If you do not need the ability to import .psd layers into Avid or Final Cut Pro, these steps are not required.

Creating effects layers into 'real layers' for video:

Final Cut Pro Edition
Avid Xpress Edition

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Quick Tip For Discovering Durations of Gaps in Final Cut Pro was the previous entry in this blog.

How to Export QuickTime Movies from your NLE - Part 1 is the next entry in this blog.

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