Photoshop tutorial: Create a bold purple photo-illustration

Give your photomontage skills a boost with amazing coloured elements and dynamic splashes – here’s how.


It’s always tempting to err on the side of caution when it comes to employing colour in your images. However, this isn’t always the best solution: in this image, colour is definitely king. The bold, slightly retro purple grid sets the tone for the whole piece, and is offset by the paint splatters that add a dynamic feel to the enigmatic central figure.

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In this tutorial, Ee Venn Soh reveals colourization techniques that you’ll find yourself using on all sorts of other projects. You’ll also sharpen up your skills with the Pen tool, and use the Liquify tool, one of Photoshop’s most derided tools, to generate random shapes with shading. Finally, you’ll add a layer of polish to your image with a gleaming, chrome text effect.

The central figure was kindly supplied by photographer Marcus Ranum; you can download it for free from here.


Adobe Photoshop

Time to complete

5 hours

Step 1


Click here and download the model image; this portrait is supplied by Marcus Ranum. Open the image in Photoshop, select the Pen tool (P) and trace around the model: zoom in as close as you need to get the outline precise. Make a selection, invert it (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I) and cut out the photo. Now open a new A4 portrait document in 300dpi. Paste the model onto the new document, naming the layer ‘Model’.

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Step 2


Unless your cut-out skills are advanced, you may have a fine white line around your model. Get rid of this by selecting Layer > Matting > Remove White Matte. Next, soften the hard edges around the model: make a selection of the Model layer by holding Alt/Opt and clicking on the layer, then going Select > Modify > Feather. Set the Feather Radius to one pixel, invert the selection (see Step 01) and hit Delete. 

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Step 3


Instead of a conventional coloured gradient background, we’re going to create a colourful grid. Make a grid ten boxes wide by seven boxes tall, create a new layer and name it ‘Background’. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) and fill each box with a colour: pick colours that are all shades of the same gradient. The exact colours aren’t important as we’ll fix them later.

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Step 4


Now we need to adjust the colour of the ‘Background’ layer. Select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Colour Balance. Set the colour levels to the following: Shadows – 0; 0; -100; Midtones – 0; 0; -110; and Highlights – 0; -100; 0. Add a new adjustment layer, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation, and change the Hue to -80.

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Step 5


Next, add some gradient swirl lines around the body of the model, using a square-tipped brush. Create a new layer, grab a square brush and set it to 20 pixels, then draw some swirls around the model’s body. You might want to use the Pen tool to draw a perfect curve. Apply a Gradient Overlay to this by double-clicking on the layer in the Layers Palette and picking Gradient Overlay. Fade the swirl lines by gently erasing the tail of the line using the Eraser tool (E). Use various brush sizes to create the lines.

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Step 6


Eventually you’ll have something like this. Next, download the moped stock image from Stock.xchng. Cut out the moped and place it in the document, naming the layer ‘Moped’. Add a new adjustment layer, and select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Change the Hue to -80, and place the layer behind the ‘Model’ layer.

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Step 7


Now we’re going to create a repeating cut-out effect. With the Rectangular Marquee tool, select a portion of the moped, and then select Layer > New > Layer Via Cut (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Nudge the new layer using the keyboard cursor keys. Repeat Step 06 on new Layer Via Cut layer several times to achieve the effect shown here.

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Step 8


Now we need to create some varied shapes around the artwork. Create a new layer, and select the Pen tool in the Shape Layers setting. Draw some fluid shapes, more or less at random. Double-click on the layer and apply a Gradient Overlay, specifying the colours as (from left to right): #0d0d0d, #60009e, #f8ccc3, #8101b1, #2c0064, #8101b1, #f8ccc3, #6400a2. Set the angle to 0º, or try experimenting with different angles.

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Step 9


Next, we need to create some coloured blobs around the ‘Model’ layer: create a new layer, select the Pen tool, and draw a blob shape. Fill it with a purple colour (#a600cd). Select the Dodge & Burn tool (O) and start creating depths for the shape: use the Burn tool to darken areas, and the Dodge tool to lighten them. Repeat this step several times to create a range of blobs.

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Step 10


Creating fluid shapes with the Pen tool is time-consuming; experiment with the Liquify filter instead. Select an existing blob shape and select Filter > Liquify, and play with the filter.

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You can also use the Mirror tool and Turbulence tool. Experiment with these to create abstract shapes – you can create holes in the shapes using Mirror and Turbulence; and you can use the Freeze Mask tool to freeze a certain part of the shape if you’re satisfied with it. The Dodge & Burn tool may be handy for darkening and lightening some parts.

Step 11


Now for the water splashes. First, you’ll need to have a fairly good idea what your splashes will look like, so try sketching them by hand first. Select the Pen tool and start drawing on a new layer, then fill the shapes with black. Using the Pen tool again, create some holes within the water splash by deleting the unwanted areas and add some droplets coming off the main splash.

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Step 12


We need to add some highlights on the water splash itself. Select your Brush tool, and reset your brush tip to the default settings. Use a brush tip size of around 2. Set the opacity to 100%, hardness to 100% and colour to white. Paint on the area where the highlights will naturally fall. Follow this by using the Smudge Tool (R) at 10 pixels wide and 60% strength. You can also use a softer brush and add a few small white spots in the areas that would be most reflective.

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Zoom in and start smudging along the white lines. Try to smudge the ends of the white lines more than the middle parts, as we want to keep the opacity highest at the middle, slowly fading away along the ends. Remember to keep the highlights on a separate layer.

Step 13


Now it’s time to add a title to the artwork. I’ve gone for straightforward ‘Purple’, but you could call it whatever you like. Pick a fairly classic-looking font, and then double-click on the title layer to bring up the Layer Style menu.

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From the Bevel & Emboss menu, select Pillow Emboss from the Style pull-down menu, and Smooth from the Technique menu. Set the depth to 250, the angle to –90º and the altitude to 31º, and ensure that Use Global Light is ticked. Set the highlight mode to Screen with the opacity at 70%, and the shadow mode to Multiply with the opacity at 30%.

Step 14


When everything is done, we are going to make a final colour adjustment to the overall piece. Select the whole composition (Cmd/Ctrl + A), create a new layer, select Edit > Copy Merged, paste it (Cmd/Ctrl + V) into the new layer, then select Image > Selective Color.

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In the menu that appears, ensure that Relative is ticked for every colour, and pick the following settings: in the Reds menu, set the yellow to –100%; in the Yellows menu, set the magenta to –100%; in the Cyans menu, set the black to –100%; in the Blues menu, set the yellow to +100%, and in the Blacks menu, set both the cyan and magenta to +5%.

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Step 15


The Selective Color settings have made the colour more uniform, getting rid of unnecessary colours and making the overall image more dashing. You may want to tinker with the levels and colour balance a little more to achieve different colours. When everything is done, flatten your image and sharpen it (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen).

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