Animated Sound Graphs in Adobe Photoshop

Inspiration for writing this tutorial was easy to find. I have several really great friends who run an online radio station, and several of them also work with graphics constantly. So I was checking out a few stereos at the store the other day because mine has gone poof, and when I saw the sound graphs everything clicked into this idea of making them in Photoshop. I’ve seen some music sites that use sound graphs in their headers, and others that use them inside advertising banners – the one thing that remains a constant is that they look cool.

Animating sound graphs takes just a few steps using Photoshop and ImageReady. Any version of Photoshop will work fine for this tutorial – you can even create these in Photoshop Elements, but the steps will change a bit so you’ll need to mess around with settings if you go that route.

One: Open a new canvas in Photoshop with a white background, in RGB mode. If you have a specific purpose in mind for your sound graph, size the canvas accordingly. Mine is sized at 200 x 150 pixels.

Two: First, we’re going to create a stylish “bar” for our graph. Start out with the rectangle tool, and draw a line up your canvas. Then, rasterize the shape (right-click and choose “Rasterize Layer”). Finally, hit your layer styles (Layer, Styles) and choose “Gradient Overlay”. Apply the settings shown below, and you’ll end up with something like this:

Three: Now we want that bar to go across the canvas. Duplicate the bar, and move each copy into place so that you have a full “graph”. Then, turn off your background layer by clicking the “eye” icon beside it, and right-click one of your bars and choose “Merge Visible” – this places all of the bars on one single layer. Finally, using your single row marquee tool, select and erase a regular number of “spaces” down the length of your bars:

Four: We’re almost ready to animate! First, we need some different colors so that our bars “jump”. So, duplicate your bars layer 3-5 times. On each layer, hit your Layer Styles and apply a gradient overlay set to “Color” mode. Then, erase several random bars on the copy layers – you need one base layer to remain untouched, with all the segments intact:

Five: Now we’re ready to animate. Click “File” and choose “Edit in ImageReady”. Everything will be taken over to the other program for you. When ImageReady is all open, you need to locate the “Animation” window. If you can’t see it, click “Window” and choose “Animation”. The Animation window looks like below. Note the labels – this is all you need to worry about while animating this graphic (which makes it a good introduction to animation):

The way frames work is simple: Whatever layer(s) is visible when that frame is selected, is the image that will display in that frame of the animation. What we need first is the same number of frames as we have layers – click “Duplicate Frame” until you have the same number. Then, match each frame with its corresponding layer, always leaving the base layer visible.

With that, you can save and have a fully animated sound graph. Try adjusting the color of your base bars – you could make them nearly the same color as the background of your web page or banner, to make the base almost disappear, or make them a dark color like I’ve done in the first illustration attached to this article.

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