In my role as moderator of the member forums over at the National Association of Photoshop Professionals Website, I routinely help struggling users to come to grips with the powerful, yet temperamental program we all love. Some of the most common problems are the easiest to solve, but like many technical problems, the answer often lies in knowing how to ask the question. But, over on the forums, we get the questions asked almost every way you can imagine, and over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing you a series of problem-solving tips aimed at overcoming the most bothersome and common Photoshop annoyances.
If you’ve got a problem that’s stumped you, or an annoyance you’d like to see resolved, add a comment at the end of this article, and we’ll see if we can work it in! That’s what we do here at TipSquirrel!
So let’s start with that all-too-common ailment:
Problem: “I want to use the Photoshop Filter XXXXX, but it’s greyed out! Is there something wrong? Do I need to reinstall Photoshop?”
The good news is, there most likely isn’t anything wrong – we just need to make a few adjustments to the file with which we’re working.
In fact, the answer most likely is staring us in the face, right beside the menu:
Yes indeed, we are working with a file that has 16 bits per channel, clearly displayed as “RGB/16” in the caption bar of the image. This is the single most common reason for the filters to be greyed out. You see, a great number of filters are from an old batch of filter effects Adobe acquired many versions back, and those filters haven’t been updated to modern standards. So, while they will work with 8-bit files, they won’t work with 16-bit files.
Another related problem shows itself with the Clouds filter (Filter > Render > Clouds). Normally you would expect the clouds to be rendered in the foreground and background colors, but with a 16-bit file you always get black and white:
Here’s how to solve both of these problems very quickly: change the bit depth of your file from 16 bits per channel to 8 bits per channel by selecting Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel.
Once you’ve made this change, all the filters become available:
Problem solved, right?
Well, maybe not exactly. Changing a file from 16 bits per channel to 8 bits per channel can be a hindrance, in that 8 bits per channel has fewer colors available – 256 shades of color in each of the three channels, as compared to 65,536 shades of color per channel in a 16 bit file. You may notice a degradation if the image, especially in subtle gradients such as skies, skin and clothing. So, is there a workaround?
You bet there is. There are several workarounds, in fact.
1) Make a copy of your document, and convert the copy to 8 bits per channel. Run the filter there, and copy and paste the result back into your 16 bit file.
2) Convert your critical layer or layers to a Smart Object (select the layer or multiple layers, and choose Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. Then, change the bit depth of your file by choosing Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel as we saw above. In this case, two important things happen:
- The contents of the smart object remain at 16 bits/Channel!
- All the filters now work, and as a benefit, they are applied as Smart Filters (see below*).
We covered Smart Filters and Smart Objects in some detail awhile back – if you need a refresher, please see my earlier tutorials:
And, for even more in-depth studies of Smart Objects:
Picture Package with Smart Objects
Exposure Blending with Smart Objects
Nested Smart Objects – (Part 1) – (Part 2)
Max Stacks with Photoshop
Noise Reduction with Smart Object Stack Modes
Creative Stacking Diversions
Stay tuned next week as we continue to attack common problems in Photoshop.
- Resetting Text Attributes to Their Default in Photoshop
- Photoshop’s Share Button
- Adding Snow with After Effects and Photoshop
- The Green Room – 1: Stick That in Your Pineapple
- Animated Handwriting Techniques
- Adobe Essential Graphics
- Accessing Technology Previews in Lightroom CC Mobile
- The Details Panel in Photoshop Shake Reduction
- Dynamic Repeat Grids in Adobe Xd
- Create Easy Repeat Grids in Adobe Xd – And Make a Photo Grid for Instagram