How to create a simple flat web button

Here is an in depth tutorial explaining how to create the flat web button below in Photoshop and introducing the concept of the web designers’ secret penultimate pixels!

flat button

Go cmd/cntl-N or File > New… to create a new Photoshop document of the size of your button. This one has a width of 175 pixels and a height of 35 but it can be any size. (You knew that, didn’t you?). The Resolution should be 72 pixels per inch and Color Mode RGB for websites, of course, and I have the Background Contents to be White as the button is going on an area of a website that has a white background.

New photoshop document box

Draw a rounded rectangle with, you guessed it, the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) make the radius 3 pixels in the Options bar at the top.

rounded rectangle tool photoshop

Make sure the rounded rectangle snaps to the edges and fits exactly the size of the image. It doesn’t matter what color. Here’s a gray one zoomed in to 200%.

gray flat button 200 percent

Now there are two Layer Styles you want to give the rounded rectangle – Gradient Overlay and Stroke. So with the rounded rectangle selected in the Layers palette go to the “fx” icon at the bottom and choose Gradient Overlay.

gradient overlay layer style

On the first panel you should make sure that the angle of the gradient is either 90º or -90º so the gradient either goes straight up or straight down. (Otherwise keep the default values of Normal Blend Mode, 100% Opacity, Linear Style and 100% Scale). To choose the actual colors of the gradient you need to click on the gradient to get the Gradient Editor to pop-up.

photoshop gradient editor

Here the trick is to choose two colors that are of the same tone but very close together so that you can only just tell them apart. To choose the colors click of one of the colored squares (stops) with triangles on top of them underneath the gradient (the default is black and white). Once the stop is clicked on, click on the color where it says “Color:” and that will give you a Select stop color box. Here I have also copied the darker of the two colors in the Gradient Editor by option dragging the stop. This ensures that more of the gradient is a solid color and the color change occurs more quickly at one end (in this case at the top).
And the second Layer Style is Stroke. Here you want to choose a color that is darker than the darker of your two colors but only just (with the same degree of separation as the difference between the two colors in the gradient. The size should be 1 pixel and the Position should be Inside. The other values should be the default ones.

stroke layer style photoshop

Now your button should look like this:

boring flat button

… a little too flat! Now we’ve got to get a bit creative with our penultimate pixels!

The web designer’s secret penultimate pixels!

In order to give the illusion of a flat but 3D button there needs to be a slight highlight near the top and a slight shadow near the bottom – so slight, in fact, it’ll be the height of one pixel; so near the top and bottom, in fact, it will be offset by one pixel. In order to do this, it is necessary to create a new layer and select the Single Row Marquee Tool.

create new layer and select the Single Row Marquee Tool

You will need to zoom in to your button by going Cmd/Ctrl-+ a few times. And then position your single row of pixels with the marquee on the second row of pixels just below the top. You can do this easily by just dragging the Single Row Marquee Tool to the top of the image and then moving it down one pixel by hitting the down cursor key once. Now fill this white – (get the Default Background and Foreground Colors by hitting “D” and filling with the Foreground Color (white) by going alt/opt-delete). This will leave you with this:

flat button with white line

The do the same again but for the black line. First create a new layer (very important that the white and black lines are on different layers for reasons you will see in a moment), then put a row of black pixels on the second to bottom row of pixels using the same method. And you will be left with something like this:

flat button with white line and black line

There’s one more important thing to be done with these pixels. As the corners of this button are slightly rounded we need to shave a couple of pixels off the ends of the black and white lines. You can do this with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and using the cursor keys for positioning. Remember the marquee will move one pixel to the left, right or up or down every time you hit one of the cursor keys. If nothing happens when you hit delete be sure you are on the correct layer!

flat button deleting pixels

When you’re finished you will be left with something like this, with two pixels deleted off both ends off the black and white lines:

flat button with white and black lines shorter

The last thing that remains to be done (as you can see above) is just to make the white penultimate pixels line less prominent. Do this by changing the white line’s layer opacity to 30% (hit “3” with the layer selected).
And now you should by left with this:

blank flat button

Other web button tutorials

This is a very flat button. I have written lots of tutorials about more bulging, shiny, jelly buttons. Here is one for a cool, shiny, web2.0 button. (If anyone get excited by my use of the expression “web2.0” to describe the look of a button, please be advised that it wasn’t me who coined that first as a design term!!!)

cool web2.0 shiny button home

And, here’s another tutorial about how to create cool shiny buttons in Illustrator alone.

cool web2.0 shiny green button

That’s all for now and please accept a big apology, especially to my regular readers, for the month’s gap in between my last two posts. I will shortly be writing and backlogging a number of great posts about design and marketing so this won’t happen again. Goodbye, everybody!

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