If you are familiar with Citrusmoon's "OverAlls" and would like to try making some of your own, I've written a wickedquick guide to doing it. Although it may look complicated at first glance, it really isn't at all, and using this method, you can create a semi-transparent tile from an existing design in about 30 seconds!
Before we jump in, I'd like to note that I've used a tile with a fairly bold design with a lot of white space for our practice session, not because this is necessarily the best type to use for an OverAll, but so that the results will be visually unambiguous in our sample images. So. Ready? Let's go...
In Photoshop or similar program that offers layers, open your original, opaque tile image. (If it's a .gif, be sure to change the image mode from "indexed" to "rgb").
Paste it over a background layer filled with the color of your choice. (The background is unimportant; it's only useful so you can see how your pattern looks over a color once it's been made semi-transparent.)
Add another layer over your tile image.
You are going to want to fill this layer with a checkerboard pattern of one-pixel squares. You can make this checkerboard fill on your own, but why not just use mine? Just save this .gif:
Yep, that's it - that tiny dot up there is a 4-pixel by 4-pixel square of alternating black and white pixels. Open it in your graphics program and save it as a fill pattern (In Photoshop, use "Edit: Define Pattern), then, with your fill tool set to "pattern", fill in the top layer with this tiny checkerboard pattern (it will appear grey).
Now, with your magic wand selection tool (with "contiguous" turned off), click anywhere on the layer, and you will have selected either all the black or all the white pixels.
Next, in your layers palette, turn this top layer off, and go to your middle (pattern) layer. You should still see that every other pixel is selected. Now press delete, or use "cut" from the Edit menu, and you will have deleted every other pixel from your middle tile layer.
Deselect, and you will see the color from the bottom background showing through. Now you can choose to either leave the color as it is, or desaturate it. (In PS, Image: Adjust: Desaturate).
And why not see what it looks like inverted?
Finally, turn off your bottom layer, and save as a .gif, with transparency turned on.
You can see what the resulting tiles turned out like on this page. Want to practice using the same tile I did? Here you go:
Now, go forth and have fun with semi-transparency!
AKVIS Software has some interesting products, and I am passionately coveting Chameleon for collage, a plug-in that blends cut-and-paste objects with their new backgrounds. It's really much too much for me to spend on something that I mostly only do as a hobby, but I'm going to download the free trial when I have a couple of not-so-busy days, and see how good they are at convincing me to unclench the money fist. Prognosis: not likely. Money fist is mighty, and $70 for a plug-in? Ouch. But, we'll see. I'm nothing if not capricious.
This morning I had an email message asking about tips for creating tiles, and I thought it might be useful to publish the information here. These are the main tools I use: Many of Photoshop's regular plugins, but especially the "Distort" set; Sandy Blair's unspeakably useful Simple Filters; VanDerLee's "Unplugged" collection; Cybia's Alphaworks; and a set called "DSB Flux" from a group called "Digital Showbiz" that no longer seems to be with us. You can see the various Flux effects illustrated here, and if you search "DSB Flux download" you should be able to find it on the web (if not, drop me an email). I use other plugins sometimes, but these are my stalwart companions.
I also play around with any and all pattern generators that I find. Several of them are listed on my linkblog. Often I begin with a portion of an image that I like and then try to create some sort of pattern using that; some typical sources for these sorts of images would be botanical prints, illuminated pages, fabric swatches, and vintage illustration. Sometimes I spot some sort of pattern in real life that I try to duplicate digitally, and for fun I will often begin with blobs or strokes of colors that I happen to like together and see if I can make a pattern emerge from that randomness. I also use dingbat fonts as source material; something like "Pict Swirl", for example, (which you can find on this page can be very useful. I play around a great deal with layer transparency, color inversions, and sizing. I will frequently impose one pattern over another using layer transparency or the Alphaworks transparency filters. I often use PhotoShop's difference clouds to try to create a more nuanced effect when I don't want flat colors - this is usually how I get what I think of as the "silk" effect.
To risk being a little too poetic about the whole thing, for me, the process feels very much like I'm trying to "release" the pattern that I can almost see in an image. I have found that if you do it a lot, certain aspects of pattern design become like a second nature and you really don't have to think about it very much. In my early days, I would work very hard to force an image into a repeating concept, while these days it feels more like I just float along with it, following some more natural flow, which is why it's so very relaxing, and, in fact, quite meditative. Kind of "surfing the pattern", really. If I were starting this whole idea up fresh today, I would be tempted to call it something like "ZenPattern". Or something much more clever.
At any rate, if anyone has any specific questions, I will do my best to answer them; I'm sorry that my information so often has to do with Photoshop, but I'm sure just about whatever graphics program you use will have similar functions. If patternmaking intrigues you, I urge you to keep playing until you find your "voice", so to speak. Also, of course, I really want to put together a guest tile gallery, as I've mentioned before, so go on and get to work!
Have you ever seen a site where the colors look so rich and subtle that they just blow you away, and you wonder how the designer ever happened to settle on those particular colors? If you are designing a page to showcase an image, it seems obvious that you go to the image to find your basic colors, but even after hours of playing with variations of hue and saturation, etc., often what you end up with seems to lack quite the same deft touch that you've seen elsewhere. How do they do it? Well, I just don't know. But I did come up with an interesting idea yesterday that I've had a lot of fun playing with: use a mosaic filter on your image to give yourself a potential palette. I'm sure this is an old idea, but I haven't read about it before, so I'll share. To do this in Photoshop, just go to the regular filters and use Filter: Pixelate: Mosaic, and choose a cell size that gives you the number of options you feel comfortable working with. If you don't have any mosaic filtering options, use this trick: make your image tiny, save it as a .gif, then open the file again and increase the size. For example, if your image is 300 pixels x 300 pixels, reduce it to 10 x 10, save, re-open, then increase back to 300 x 300.
For a couple of quick demonstrations and a few more tips, keep reading.
For example, here's a .gif that shows an image, and a couple of basic background color choices. This is what I came up with from just looking at the image and going with my first inclination, and it's nice; I like it, but it seems maybe a touch flat and uninspired. So I did the mosaic trick, and used this array to begin playing with colors. Here's what I ended up with, which I like much better. My first choice wasn't a bad one though; here's an example showing one of the color choices from one of my mosaic palettes which is quite similar. If that first palette example seems like too many colors to choose between, just make your cell size larger when you pixelate the image, so that you end up with something like this, or this. Or you can narrow it down even further, using the maximum cell size, for a palette equivalent of Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky".
One note: on some images you will find that the colors are too subtle and/or similar or appear in spots that are too small for you to get a useful palette using this technique. In this case you usually end up with what looks like one solid-color square. Well, this color will probably be a pretty good choice, but to get back to having options, experiment with increasing the contrast or saturation on your image and then pixelating it. Once you manage to get a defined palette, work with those colors, decreasing saturation or brightness if needed. You can also try increasing your image size (just for establishing your mosaic palette).
Finally, one last tip (and I think this is a good one, so I shouldn't bury it down here, should I?): Choosing colors this way is nice aesthetically, but it doesn't necessarily make for the ideal web colors. I have a way to handle that . To get your chosen mosaic-inspired palette to be "web smart", I have a little shorthand trick (because let's face it, if you are going for 256 "web safe" palette, just choose one of the three or four colors that don't hurt your eyes and be done with it). Here's what you do: just make every second number or letter in the hexadecimal color code the same as the one that preceded it. That sounds complicated but it's very simple: for example, if the color you want is #49594D, make it #445544; if you want #568791, go with #558899; #A6A6CE becomes #AAAACC. Then you can go to the Smart Web Palette and look at your web-smart adjusted color and the colors around it to see what you prefer.
That's what I did on this example (except I just stuck with my shorthand colors) The background of the text area is #445555; the border between the background area and the text area is #664444; the border is plain black; the headline is #997766; the text is #888877.