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Creating a Border Background with Photoshop

by Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns

Published 1999. Updated: March, 2006; September, 2007. Copyright © 1999-2016, Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns. All rights reserved. Published at with permission.

Example 1.1: Background image sample.

This tutorial will provide a basic introduction to creating a graphic left side border background for Web pages with plenty of screenshots and helpful tips along the way. September 2007: Updated for Photoshop CS3 with all new CS3 screenshots and additional tips! Although this tutorial is geared for making Web graphics with Photoshop CS3, it also works for Photoshop 5.5 and above. This tutorial will also work with PaintShop Pro 6 and above, too.

Available in PDF format for downloading:

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The following tools and dialog boxes are introduced and used while learning to create a left side border background Web graphic:

  1. Layers: new layer, naming layers, selecting layers, duplicating layers, linking layers, merging layers, filling layers.
  2. Marquee Tool
  3. Paint Bucket tool, filling selections
  4. Move Tool
  5. Canvas Size Dialog Box - larger, smaller (clipping)
  6. Color Picker, Web-safe Color window
  7. Layer Styles: Drop Shadows
  8. Save for Web Dialog Box: Saving an image file for Web use

I've written a lot of tips and details for this introductory tutorial. Whatever you're already familiar with, skip over to the next step.


Once you've effectively learned how to use the tools explained here, you'll probably be able to create a background graphic in less than 10 minutes, from start to finish.

In addition, once you've made one that you like, you can use it as a template or guide, substituting colors, altering the drop shadow, changing the width of the border, and changing a number of things from the original background graphic, saving it with a different name to maintain your original file.

  1. In Photoshop, open a new image with the following information (as shown in Example 1.2 below):

    Width=2400 pixels
    Height=50 pixels
    Resolution=72 pixels/inch
    Mode=RGB Color, 8 bit
    Background Contents=Transparent

    Click on the image to view the full dialog box, Photoshop CS3 Example 1.2: Create New Image Window, Photoshop CS3

  2. Since the image is so wide for the window, Photoshop typically reduces the image view. In this case the view was reduced to 25%.

    Let's go ahead and change the view to actual size.

    From the drop-down menu, choose View>Actual Pixels, or from the keyboard, click on ALT+Ctrl+0(zero).
  3. The next step is to create a new layer for the left side border strip. If you haven't worked with layers in Photoshop yet, these directions are simple. I encourage you to give it a try.

    From the drop-down menu, select Layers>New>Layer. A New Layer window box will open.

    Choose a descriptive name for your layer (I chose Left side border strip, as shown in Example 1.3 below).

    Click on the image to view the full version.Create new layer dialog box CS3  Example 1.3: Create New Layer Window, Photoshop CS3

  4. Now we're ready to create the left side border color strip. If your rulers aren't showing around the edge of your image, from the drop-down menu, select View>Show Rulers.

    Select the square/rectangle marquee tool. Using the rulers as a guide, drag the marquee tool from the top left corner across to 100 pixels and down to the bottom of the image (50 pixels) as shown in Example 1.4 below.

    Creating a rectangle with the marquee tool Example 1.4: Create Rectangle Shape with Marquee Tool, Photoshop CS3

  5. After choosing the color for your border (make sure it's the foreground color), pour your color into the selected area with the Paint Bucket tool, as shown in Example 1.5 below.

    Pouring color with the PaintBucket tool Photoshop CS3  Example 1.5: Pour Color with Photoshop's Paint Bucket Tool, Photoshop CS3

    New feature beginning with version 5.0:
    You can choose web-safe colors or millions of colors if you wish by checking or unchecking the left corner checkbox, “Only Web Colors”.

    Click on the image to view the full version.Color picker tool  Example 1.6: Color Picker Window, Photoshop CS3


    Editor note March 2006: Using one of the colors from the Web-safe palette used to help prevent dithering or other unsightly color shifting problems on the Web due to the variety of monitors, browsers and computer systems. That's no longer much of an issue at all now, although it's still a good place to start.

    Keep in mind that colors can still look different on the wide range of monitors out there, even though today's monitors support millions of colors.

    It's also important to consider people with color deficiencies and increasingly more people using mobile devices to access Web sites. Many mobile devices are in color, but there are still some out there with limited colors.

    See's Color Tools section for helpful color charts, swatches, and links to more on color, especially color choices for Web sites.

    See also's Recommended Books on Color.

  6. I prefer to save my work as I go along, and this is a good time to save your image before we go any further. Save your image as a .psd file, which will retain your Photoshop layers.


    To help keep your files organized, it's a good idea to save your images to a separate image directory / folder within your Web site project directory. It can also be helpful to save your design-specific images to a separate directory from your other images. Over time files can add up, even for smaller Web sites, so organizing them from the start can be a big help.

  7. Now we're ready to fill the text area. In the Layers palette, click on your other layer (probably labeled Layer 1), which we'll use for the background color as shown in Example 1.7 below.

    layers - select layer 1, Photoshop CS3 Example 1.7: Choose Layer 1, Photoshop CS3

    Let's go ahead and label that layer 'Text Layer' as shown in Example 1.8 below. From the drop-down menu, select Layer>Layer Options, or in the Layers palette box, right click with your mouse, and choose Layer Properties from the pop-up dialog box.

    Type in the name for your layer as shown in Example 1.8 below, and click OK.

    Layer Properties - name text area layer via Photoshop CS3 Example 1.8: Provide Descriptive Name For The Layer, Photoshop CS3

  8. If your border area is still selected, deselect it now. From the drop-down menu, click on Select>Deselect or with your keyboard, click CTRL+D.
  9. Fill the Text Layer with a color:
    Making sure the foreground color on the toolbar is the color you wish for your text area, fill the layer.

    Filled Text Layer, Photoshop CS3Example 1.9: Text Layer Filled, Photoshop CS3

    Save your image file at this point. You can either proceed to save it in .png format for your Web page (skip to Saving Your Border Background Image File for the Web below), or perhaps you'd like to add a drop shadow to it, as shown next below.


    When an entire layer is being filled there are at least a couple of ways to fill the text area:

    • You can fill it with the Paint Bucket, as we did above for the border color, - or -
    • From the drop-down menu, select Edit>Fill. In the Fill pop-up box, choose Foreground Color (or White, if you're using white).

Adding A Drop Shadow

There are many ways to add a drop shadow for a left side border. Let's try one of them with Photoshop's built in layer styles.

  1. Resize the canvas to a height of 100 pixels. To do this, from the drop-down menu, select Image>Canvas Size- or - press Alt+CTRL+C with your keyboard. In the Canvas Size window, adjust the settings as shown below and in Example 1.10:

    Width: 2400 (no change)
    Height: 100 (this is changed)

    Relative: NOT checked
    Anchor: Click the small box in the top left corner, as shown below. This will keep your existing image in the top left corner, expanding the canvas below it.

    Click on the image to view the full version.Canvas Size dialog box Photoshop CS3  Example 1.10: Canvas Size Window, Photoshop CS3

  2. Duplicate the Left side border strip layer. To duplicate the layer, from the drop-down menu, select Layer>Duplicate Layer. A Duplicate Layer window will pop up, and you can provide a name, although Photoshop's default is the layer name with 'Copy' added. Then click OK.
  3. With the Move tool Move Tool, Photoshop CS3, move the duplicate layer straight down vertically to fill the lower part of the image area, as shown in Example 1.11 below.

    Move layer down, Photoshop CS3 Example 1.11: Moving The Duplicate Layer Down, Photoshop CS3


    Alternatively, you can press the Down arrow on your keyboard, keeping it pressed until the layer reaches the appropriate spot. The Move tool is usually faster and allows you to move the layer anywhere, while pressing the Down arrow moves the layer directly down accurately.

  4. Link the duplicate border layer with the original border layer. To link these layers, in the Layers palette, press CTRL on your keyboard while selecting each layer. Then press the Links icon in the Layers palette (bottom left), as shown in Example 1.12 below.

    Linking layers via CS3 Layers paletteExample 1.12: Linking Layers, Photoshop CS3

  5. Merge the linked layers. From the drop-down menu, select Layer>Merge Linked. Or with the keyboard, click CTRL+E.
  6. Repeat Steps 2 through 5 for the Text Layer.
  7. Now we're ready to add the drop shadow to the red border background layer. Open the Layer Style window. From the drop-down menu, click Layer>Layer Style>Drop Shadow. Or from the Layers palette, double click on the Left side border strip layer.

    Click on image below for full size version. Layer Style Drop Shadow dialog box, Photoshop CS3  Example 1.13: Layer Style: Drop Shadow Dialog Box, Photoshop CS3

    The angle of the drop shadow needs to be set at 180 degrees to be in the correct direction for the border. The other settings can be adjusted according to how you wish your drop shadow to appear, whether bold, subtle, or perhaps a different color.

    The settings that I used for the example are shown in Example 1.13 above:

    Blending Options: Default
    Drop Shadow: Checked

    Blend Mode: Multiply
    Opacity: 40%
    Angle: 180 degrees
    Distance: 4 px
    Spread: 0%
    Size: 3 px

    Contour: (default, the angled box)
    Anti-aliased: Checked
    Noise: 0%
    Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow: Checked

    Once you've chosen your settings, click OK.

  8. One of the final steps is to resize the canvas back to its original height of 50 pixels. Open the Canvas Size window. From the drop-down menu, click Image>Canvas Size. Change the Height to 50, and for the Anchor setting, click on the far left middle small box as shown in Example 1.14. Click OK.

    Reduce Canvas Size via Canvas Size dialog box CS3  Example 1.14: Canvas Size, Photoshop CS3

    A warning message will pop up:

    The new canvas size is smaller than the current canvas size; some clipping will occur. Proceed or Cancel - Photoshop CS3  Example 1.15: Clipping Warning Message, Photoshop CS3

    Click Proceed.

  9. Save your image as a .psd file to retain the layers and the original image.

    Border background completed, Photoshop CS3 Example 1.16: Finished Border Background Graphic via Photoshop CS3

Saving Your Border Background Image File for the Web

Now it's time to save your border background as a .png file for Web pages.

  1. From the drop-down menu, click File>Save for Web & Devices - or - press Alt+Shift+CTRL+S on your keyboard.
  2. In the Save for Web dialog box, you can use the following settings to save your image in .png format, as also shown in Example 1.17 below.

    PNG-8 (Optimized file format)
    Adaptive (Color reduction algorithm)
    No dither (Specify the dither algorithm)
    Transparency: NOT checked

    Interlaced: NOT checked
    Colors: 8
    Dither (grayed out, does not apply)
    Matte: White
    Web snap: 0%

    Click on image below for full size version. Save for Web as .png file, Photoshop CS3Example 1.17: Save for Web Dialog Box, Photoshop CS3

That's it. Now you're ready to use your new image for your Web site.

Important TIP:

In case you're wondering why the canvas needed to be resized to 100 pixels and then sized back to 50 later:

The drop shadow creates a bit of a rounded edge at the top and bottom. If we had made the drop shadow without resizing, the result would have been a repeated rounded off break every 50 pixels. By making the canvas larger, making the drop shadow, then reducing the canvas, we eliminate the unsightly rounded edge, resulting in a continuous drop shadow line down the page.

Alternatively, you could create a new image with the 100 pixel height, knowing you'll be adding a drop shadow, and then resize it to 50 pixel height when you're finished and ready to save it for Web use.

Adobe Photoshop Books, Video Training, Software
Recommended by
  •  Adobe Photoshop CS3 Classroom in a Book. Adobe 04-2007 
  •  Cover: Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks Bible. by Stephen Romaniello. Wiley (May 7, 2007) 
  •  Photoshop CS3: Up To Speed. By Ben Willmore. Peachpit (5-18-2007) 
  •  Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers. by Martin Evening. Focal Press (May 28, 2007) 
  • Read short reviews and find more book recommendations on Web site-related topics in our Recommended Books, Software section!

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