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Learn about the many interesting and effective ways you can work with monochrome layers in After Effects.

If you're an experienced editor or designer who still feels lukewarm when you get into After Effects, I recommend you finally give it a try. Video editors may feel completely comfortable working entirely in their preferred NLE, and designers may feel discouraged by the technical side of the video, and that's perfectly understandable. However, After Effects offers many powerful tools that are significantly more advanced than those in Premiere Pro and Photoshop.

If you are still fairly new to the application, you can go a little deeper here. Let's demystify one of the most basic and important elements of After Effects – the solid color layer.

What exactly is a single color layer?

What exactly is a single color layer in After Effects? Simply put, it's a simple, single-color layer. In particular, it is a vector-based, two-dimensional object that is generated with minimal data – just a rectangle with assigned values ​​for color, height and width.

A single color layer in After Effects.

The solid color layer is one of several basic layer types in After Effects. Other layer types are shape layers, adjustment layers, cameras, lights, and null objects. Each has unique functions and parameters, some of which are more advanced than others. If you're not that familiar with After Effects, keep it simple. First, start by understanding the solid color layer. Once you get the hang of using solids with images and videos, you can take advantage of the full range of layer types.

Although solids are an older layer type in After Effects, they remain relevant because of their simplicity. For example, a fixed layer can achieve almost the same results as a shape layer. However, if you just need a simple rectangular shape, a fixed layer is much easier in terms of processing and storage. In addition, many powerful effects and plugins have been developed especially for solid layers such as Element 3D. This simple, yet robust functionality is precisely why single-color layers are fundamental to working with After Effects.

How do I create a fixed layer in After Effects?

Creating a solid color layer is easy. Go to layer Dropdown menu and below New choose Solid… or just use the key command (Command + Y. on the Mac, Ctrl + Y. on a PC).

Go to the Layer menu and choose from

To create a new monochrome layer, you can either go to the Layer menu and select the "Monochrome …" option under "New".

In the Fixed settings In the control panel, you can adjust the dimensions, aspect ratio and color of your new monochrome layer. If you want the dimensions of your solid to match those of your composition, just click Make the comp size. If you later need to adjust the dimensions or color of your solid, use the key command Shift + Command + Y. on a Mac and Shift + Ctrl + Y. on a PC.

I created a solid color layer. How do i use it

Once you've created your solid color layer, there are many ways to use it. Here I go into some of the most common uses for this essential layer type.

backgrounds

The monochrome background of your composition effectively stands for transparency.

The monochrome background of your composition is only for work in After Effects and effectively stands for transparency.

Perhaps the most important use of a solid color layer is to create a background for your composition. Of course, you can set a background color in your composition settings, but this function is only for working in After Effects. This means that the single-color background of your composition only serves to show you transparency. In fact, you can turn off this colored background to display the transparency grid that we found out to have worked in Photoshop or Illustrator.

You can toggle this button to display the transparency grid.

In fact, you can toggle this button to display the transparency grid.

For this reason, it is best to use a solid color layer as the background color, even if you only need a simple black background. Since solids are technically 2D objects, they can remain stationary in your composition even under dynamic animations and 3D objects. I personally like to add some depth to a background by giving my background layer a vignette with an effect. I'll explain more about applying an effect later.

This 3D scene has a 3D solid color layer as a background.

This 3D scene has a 3D solid color layer as the background.

Faux 3D

While a monochrome layer is a 2D object, you can transform it into a 3D layer in your composition. The same applies to any 2D object, e.g. B. a picture or a video. To convert a 2D plane to a 3D plane, simply toggle the box under the small cube icon in your timeline or right-click on the plane and choose 3D plane.

Toggle the box under the small cube icon on the timeline.

To convert a 2D plane to a 3D plane, toggle the box below the small cube icon in the timeline.

Though it's still technically a 2D object, your flat images can float in 3D space by transforming solids, images, and videos into 3D layers. This flat object has no side profile, but a front and back, which is in a kind of parallax.

2D objects can float in 3D space.

2D objects can float in 3D space when converted to 3D layers.

This feature allows you to create simple environments for a 3D scene, or even create rough but effective three-dimensional shapes if necessary.

Impact

Many effects are used to change and adjust an image or video that you have imported into After Effects. However, some effects are made specifically to generate new images and render simulated objects instead of simply manipulating an image. To be able to use this effect, you need a level where you can place it. This is where the solids come in.

Right-click the solid color layer to apply an effect.

Right-click the solid color layer to apply an effect.

To add an effect to your monochrome layer, you can either right-click on the layer and go Cause or highlight the layer in your composition and go to Effects menu at the top of your screen.

Here I applied a gradient ramp effect to a solid. I can adjust the settings of this effect either in the effects control or in my timeline.

You can adjust the settings of an effect either in the effects control or in the timeline.

You can adjust the settings of an effect either in the effects control or in the timeline.

Masks

Applying a mask to a solid is a great way to keep vector graphics in your After Effects project. Similar to Illustrator, you can use the Pen tool to create vector shapes directly on a layer. Once you have created a closed mask path, you can display (add) or cover (subtract) parts of this layer.

Use the pencil tool to create vector shapes directly on monochrome layers.

Use the pencil tool to create vector shapes directly on monochrome layers.

In fact, you can insert vector paths from Illustrator directly into After Effects. With After Effects and Illustrator projects open, switch to Illustrator to select and copy the vector shape you want to transfer (Mac: Command + C., PC: Ctrl + C.). Then go to After Effects, select the solid color layer you want to work with, and just paste it (Mac: Command + V., PC: Ctrl + V.).

A vector graphic inserted into a layer in After Effects becomes several editable mask paths.

A vector graphic inserted into a layer in After Effects becomes several editable mask paths.

You can certainly insert vector paths into a shape layer path, but the process can be a little more complicated. For more complex vector graphics, it is best to stick to solids as these are easier on your mind and masks are much easier to insert.

By inserting vector shapes directly into After Effects, you effectively keep all of the vector graphics in your After Effects project. You can also animate a mask by keyframing the mask path in your timeline. This offers much more flexibility than just importing vector graphics into your project.

You can animate a mask path in After Effects.

You can animate a mask path in After Effects. Simply edit the path and set keyframes along your timeline.

Track mat

Another very robust way to use a solid is to use it as a track mat. A track mat is a layer that shows another layer in a composition just below it. In particular, the layer directly below a track mat is displayed in exactly the same form as the layer that acts as a mat.

A track mat can display a layer in exactly the same form as the layer above it.

A track mat can display a layer in exactly the same form as the layer above it.

To use a fixed layer as a track mat, you need to switch the track mat setting of the layer you want to display. To do this, you must first place this layer directly below the layer that serves as the track matte in your timeline. Then locate the column marked in your timeline TrkMat and follow it to the dropdown menu for the level you want to view.

Under the column

Under the "TrkMat" column you can apply a track mat to a layer.

You have four options to choose from: Alpha, Alpha Inverted, Luma and Luma Inverted. Alpha shows your picture in the form of a mat.

An alpha matte shows a layer in the form of a masked solid.

An alpha matte shows a layer in the form of a masked solid.

Alpha Inverted gives you the reverse and shows everything outside the shape of the mat.

In the meantime, an Alpha Inverted Mat will do the opposite.

In the meantime, an Alpha Inverted Mat will do the opposite.

Luma and Luma Inverted work a little differently. If you're familiar with Photoshop, they work much like a layer mask, displaying an image along a grayscale value.

A luma mat shows a level along a grayscale value.

A luma mat shows a level along a grayscale value.

For example, if you add the Gradient Ramp effect to the Track Matte layer, applying the Luma Track Mat to your image will show more of your image under the lighter parts of your gradient, and your image will gradually fade out as the gradient darkens. Luma Inverted naturally does the opposite.

Here is a luma mat that is applied under a masked solid with a color gradient.

Here is a luma mat that is applied under a masked solid with a color gradient.

This method is great for creating smooth wiping transitions or using visually more complex matte layers.

Understand the solid to realize its potential

These are just a few of the many ways to use plain colors. There are so many other graphic effects and animations that can be achieved with this type of layer, precisely because of its simplicity. In fact, working with After Effects is an eternal visual problem solving exercise. Think of this as a creative logic problem that is rooted in levels and values ​​and is just waiting to be solved. Once you master logic, the possibilities are endless.

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