Create DVD Menu & Button Highlights With Photoshop Layers

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the May, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Two types of menus can be created for a DVD: stationary menus with highlights and motion menus with highlights.

Motion menus are, generally, created in Final Cut Pro and the highlights are created in Photoshop. I’ll talk about how to create them in a future article.

NOTE: DVD Studio Pro also supports what’s called a Layered Photoshop menu. This allows you to change the look of your menu, by switching from one Photoshop layer to another when clicking a button. While cool, this technique is very, very slow and not encouraged for general DVD use. However, if you are building a kiosk application, where files play from a hard disk, this technique is worth looking into. This tutorial, however, discusses a much faster way to display highlights, suitable for use on DVDs.

This article looks at how to create good-looking menu and button highlights in Photoshop for use in DVD Studio Pro. (While you can easily use DVD Studio Pro’s templates, I am not a fan of them, as it is easy to create your own menus in Photoshop which provide you more control and customization.)

NOTE: This tutorial applies for both DVD SP 3 and 4, as well as all versions of Photoshop since version 5; and probably earlier.


Here’s the workflow in Photoshop:

1. Create your menu at a size specific to your video format
2. Design your background image
3. Design your buttons
4. Design your highlights
5. Resize the image
6. Save the image

Then, here’s the workflow in DVD Studio Pro

7. Import the image
8. Add it to a menu
9. Select the layers for the background
10. Select the layers for the button highlights
11. Draw buttons
12. Set the color of your highlights.


Because video images and computer images don’t use the same pixel aspect ratios, you need to design your menus in Photoshop to compensate for these differences.

This is similar to what we need to do in Final Cut when preparing still images. However, there’s a problem. Final Cut and DVD Studio Pro (DVDSP) don’t use the same math to calculate image aspect ratios. They should, but they don’t. So, some of the numbers we have memorized for Final Cut don’t work.

NOTE: Also, the Photoshop Film & Video presets in Photoshop don’t work properly for DVD Studio Pro either. They are close, but not exact.

First, create an image in Photoshop according the table below:

Video Format Master image Scaled Image
4:3 720 x 534 720 x 480
16:9 853 x 480 720 x 480
4:3 768 x 576 720 x 576
16:9 1024 x 576 720 x 576

In this example, we will create a 16:9 DVD for NTSC video.

NOTE: All DVDs contain only standard-definition video. If you need to create an HD disc, you will need to use the Blu-ray Disc format. That process is totally different from what we are describing here and DVD Studio Pro can not be used to create Blu-ray Discs.

In Photoshop, we start by choosing File > New and entering the image size numbers from the table above into our document: 853 x 480 x 72. Note that the Preset menu is set to Custom.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to create a VERY simple menu — just three buttons and a simple background.

In Photoshop, I’ve created four layers – the minimum you need is two – just to illustrate the process. You can design whatever you want, with as many layers as you need (up to a maximum of 99).

Highlights are that part of a DVD button that change color when you roll-over them or select them on the remote control. The “overlay” is the source image created in Photoshop, the “highlight” is the color of the overlay that represents it’s “state.”

Button highlights have three “states,” each represented by its own color:

  1. Not selected (normal)
  2. Selected (clicked)
  3. Activated (the Enter button was pressed).

All overlays need to be placed on a single Photoshop layer, in exactly the position you need them for your menu. You can not reposition them later. To keep thin lines from flickering, make your overlays big and bold. Avoid very thin lines, swirls, or lots of design elements.

You need to create overlays using one of three very specific color sets:

  1. Pure black for that which changes color and white/transparent for that which doesn’t.
  2. Four shades of gray: 100% white, 100% black, 66% black, and 33% black.
  3. Four specific colors: 100% white, 100% red, 100% blue, 100% black.

In all three cases, DVDSP will replace the source colors with highlight colors, which you get to select. Also, highlights must NOT contain any shadows or shade of gray. Anti-aliasing is not supported. Highlights are very, very simple graphically. Put your design skills to work in the backgrounds and button text, not in the highlights. Simple geometric shapes work best.

NOTE: Changing the color of button text, while possible, looks ghastly. The lack of anti-aliasing makes edges blocky and the highlight never precisely fits over the underlying text. This is why virtually every commerical DVD does not change text color, but uses a shape next to the button text to indicate the highlight.

In this example, I created very simple geometric shapes to use as overlays. I used the chroma method – red, blue, black – which allows me to play with more colors in DVD SP. (This image also displays the text, so you can see the spatial relationship. However, all overlays are on one layer and all text is on a separate layer.)

NOTE: For the commercial titles I create, I generally only use black overlays. The purpose of an overlay is to show what will happen when you press the Enter button. It is an indicator, nothing more. For this reason, I tend to keep them simple.

Notice all the overlays are in their final position.

Finally, when the menu design is complete, we need to resize the image so that it is ready for importing into DVD SP and correct for the differences in pixel aspect ratio. This is a key step — if you don’t resize the Photoshop document, your text will look moth-eaten and ugly.

To do this, go to Image > Image size and turn OFF Constrain Proportions. Set the menu at the bottom ot Bicubic Sharper, to keep edges looking sharp.

Keep the master file, and save a copy — the resized graphic for import into DVD SP. After you resize it, the image will look squished. This is OK, as it will be properly sized inside DVD SP.


Import the graphic into DVD SP. Switch to the Graphical tab and drag the image from the Assets tab into the Menu icon of your choice.

The menu will automatically configure itself to 4:3 or 16:9. If it doesn’t, you can change how it is displayed using the Inspector. (I’ll show you how in about two steps.)

Double-click the menu icon in the Graphics tab to load it into the Menu window.

In the Inspector, click the Menu tab and check all the layers you want to appear as the background of the menu. In our case, I checked every layer except the overlay layer because I want them all displayed in the background.

NOTE: This is also the tab to use if you need to change the aspect ratio of an image — adjust the Display Mode to 4:3 or 16:9 Letterbox (ignore the other two 16:9 settings).

Click the General tab and select the file containing the button overlays. In our case, this is the same PSD file that we used to create the menu background.

Select the layer in the PSD file that contains the actual overlays. Since you can only reference one layer in this menu, this is why all overlays need to be created in a single layer in Photoshop.

Using your mouse in the Menu tab, drag out a rectangular button so that both the button text and the overlay graphic are contained within it.

NOTE: You can view each of the three states of a selected button by clicking one of the button state buttons in the lower right corner of the Menu tab window.

With a button selected, go back to the Inspector and select the Colors tab. This allows you to specify whether your source overlays are:

In my example, I’m using Advanced and Chroma.

Finally, for each of the three selection states – Normal, Selected, Activated – set highlight colors to map to each of the three colors in your button. (There are actually four colors, but white is generally used to represent the transparent portion of the image, which means we have three remaining colors to play with.

Here’s an example of some settings, and what the resulting button colors look like.

Continue adjusting colors and opacity until you are happy with the look.


By integrating button overlays into the source file of your menu, you have fewer files to worry about, your image alignment is always correct, and you can always use “Open in Editor” to go back to Photoshop to make tweaks.

I find this to be a very efficient technique to use in creating DVD menus. Again, while I tend to always use overlays with one key color (black) for simplicity, you can pick the design style that works the best for your projects.

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9 Responses to Create DVD Menu & Button Highlights With Photoshop Layers

  1. […] I made some layered menus using a couple tuturials including this video intro and Larry Jordan’s text walk-through. Then I found a free plug-in for photoshop that made nice chroma-based […]

  2. Darren Lunny says:

    Hi Larry, I followed your steps above (although I’m sure I left out one or more steps) but when I import the rescaled image graphic into DVDSP I don’t get the list of layers with the tick boxes in the background layers of the menu section. Any ideas why?

    • Larry Jordan says:


      If the tick boxes aren’t there, then, I suspect, you accidentally saved the revised graphic in some other format than PSD.

      Check and make sure you are using the correct graphics format.


    • I had a similar problem, and while i saved it as a psd, I realized it was in 16bit and not 8bit. Once I changed it to 8bit in the original psd file it worked when I reimported to DVD Studio Pro.

  3. RNM says:

    Great Article.. I was curious ti know if you had any templates available for sale or know of any sites where i can purchase them.. Ive done my best to google it but its mostly brings up people lookng for free stuff… Can you help?

  4. Chris Carbone says:

    I have a question:
    I’m trying to design what I believe to be a very simple menu. I have a 35second video that can be looped, but I want to make it so the button does not reveal itself to the viewer until 10 seconds or so into the menu video. For example, the video clip I have made for the menu begins with some camera movement (a dolly in) when the camera stops (about 10 seconds later) I then want the button to pop up.

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you,


  5. vick says:

    Thanks this has been very useful in a project I’m working

  6. D Jude Anantth says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thanks, works goood

  7. David says:

    Hi Larry,

    I’m looking for recent programs that make dvd menus. What would be your suggestions?



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