Dysfunctional layer style and vector stroke interactions

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  • Problem
  • Updated 2 years ago
Photoshop v20.0.1
Windows 10


When using layer style effects on a vector layer with a vector stroke, you're bound to experience some unwanted rendering issues.

And this whole problem is somewhat complicated and difficult to describe so I've recorded a video showcasing some of the rendering stuff going on, and included the PSD I used.

Video filmed at 100% zoom, unless actively zooming in and out.

Photoshop team members familiar with the technicalities of how layer styles are rendered will hopefully understand what's going on here.
Rendering issues affecting layer styles seem to have gotten gradually worse over the last few years.
Felt I should speak up.

The problems:
I think the most fundamental issue here is that Photoshop is inconsistent when it considers vector strokes to be part of the layer's FILL or not, that is - the layer's native silhouette/alpha.
It's been this way since vector strokes were implemented, and not only is this decision confusing and counter-intuitive (even for me, a user of ~20 years) it's objectively problematic.
For one, it means that when you rasterize a vector layer using layer styles, that has a vector stroke, the appearance of the layer may change drastically, because upon rasterization the vector stroke DOES then become part of the layer's fill.

When you transform a vector layer that's using a vector stroke, the vector stroke IS calculated as part of the layer's total width and height.
Smart guides ignore the vector stroke however.
Vector strokes are also ignored when loading a layer's alpha as a selection (CTRL+LEFT CLICK layer thumbnail in Layers Panel).

timestamp: 00:56
Notice in the above video how Photoshop misreads Shape 3's alpha as I adjust the outside aligned vector stroke's width up and down. Yikes.
The layer style stroke and inner glow glitch randomly, since they depend on the layer's fill's edges and it appears that there's a SLIGHT sliver of alpha transparency between the layer's fill and the outside aligned vector stroke. Illustrator actually has this problem.

timestamp: 01:25
And since the implementation of the "mercury graphics engine", how Photoshop renders layer styles at different zoom levels may be random as well. Users need to check their layer styles at 100% zoom, in order to be sure how they really appear.

timestamp: 01:40
Notice how Photoshop does honor the vector stroke for determining how to draw the drop shadow. As the vector stroke is increased, the drop shadow adjusts.
But, the layer style gradient overlay ignores it, despite being set to "Align with layer".

timestamp: 02:15
Draw order of vector stroke and layer style arbitrarily changes per vector stroke alignment setting.
If set to outer or middle, vector stroke is drawn above all layer style effects except bevel.
If set to inner, vector stroke gets drawn below stroke and bevel.

I hope this is enough to get someone's attention.

I can do more tests and provide more visual aids if wanted.

Let me know what you think.

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Posted 2 years ago

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Photo of Jeffrey Tranberry

Jeffrey Tranberry, Sr. Product Manager, Digital Imaging

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I’ll dig in more when I’m back at the office. My first question is this new to 2019? (E.g. do the results change is you enable Legacy Compositing under Preferences > Performance...)
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Hi, Jeff!

Definitely not new to PS 2019.
I've experienced the rendering wonks you see in my video for years.

I just tried enabling Legacy Compositing, restarted Photoshop, and did some tests.
Nothing appears to be any different. I'm still getting the same rendering oddities whether Legacy Compositing is disabled or enabled.

Here's a screenshot of my performance prefs settings:

Unchecking "Use Graphics Processor" also makes no difference.
Photo of Jeffrey Tranberry

Jeffrey Tranberry, Sr. Product Manager, Digital Imaging

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Thanks. This is helpful. Let me run this by the layer FX engineers.
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NICE! Thank you!