Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Digital collage techniques

This collage tutorial from illustrator Ciara Phelan is all about mixing analogue process and digital photography to create a summery, flowery photomontage.

Intro


This tutorial from one of our favourite collage illustrators Ciara Phelan is all about mixing analogue process and digital photography to create a vibrant and playful photomontage.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

The theme here is this summer’s fashion: soft clean textures with clean lines to which we’ll contrast brighter vintage floral elements, pastel paints and vector shapes.

You’ll learn how to use a variety of tools in Illustrator and Photoshop to layer scanned elements with photos and hand-made textures, and how to use adjustment layers and masks to unite the colour palette and composition of an illustration.

I’ve used a model shot from iStock, but it would be easy to substitute one of your own with a similar feel. The same is true for the vintage flowers I used from my own collection. You can download the watercolour and Indian ink textures I created below though.

Time to complete

3 - 4 hours

Software needed

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator

Downloads

Download the model shot

The watercolour and Indian ink textures can be downloaded here.

Step 1

STEP 1

The first thing we need to do is separate out the model from the background to make it easy to add collage elements in front and behind.

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Open the your model shot in Photoshop and, using the Pen tool (P), draw a path around the outline of the model.


Step 2

STEP 2

Once complete, save the path by going to the Path panel, clicking on the flyout menu and selecting Save Path.

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It is good to get in the habit of doing this as it may come in handy for editing in later stages. 

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Step 3

STEP 3

In the Layers panel, select the model layer and duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Link the two layers together by selecting them both and clicking on the Link icon at the bottom of the panel.

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Select the top layer, then select the saved path in the Path panel. Click on the flyout menu, then choose Make Selection.

Set the Feather Radius to 0.3 and press OK. In the layer window select the Mask button.


Step 4

STEP 4

You should now have two layers: the first is the model with a mask, and the second is the model and the background.

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Now you can start adding collage elements in front and behind the model. As this piece is very summery I have chosen to add flowers as an embellishment but obviously you can choose whatever you like as long as your library images are a single element on a single-coloured background (otherwise the below technique won’t work).


Step 5

STEP 5

Open the image you want to add and select the Magic Wand tool (W). In the top bar, set the Tolerance to 20 so it picks up most of the stray pixels. Untick the Contiguous box so the wand selects all the single-colour background.

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Now click anywhere on the background to select it (white in this example), leaving your element unselected. Invert your selection so you’ve got the elements by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+I. Copy the selection and paste it into your main illustration.

Repeat this for the rest of your collage elements.

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Step 6

STEP 6

Now’s the time to have little fun and start dropping in different elements and arranging them as you want.

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I have concentrated the flower collage around the model to make it feel like she is standing in a blossoming patch of foliage.


Step 7

STEP 7

As collages are usually comprised of elements from different sources, it is important to play around with each element’s Levels to make sure all elements have a similar contrast and saturation.

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You can do this by selecting the layer you want to change and selecting Levels in the Adjustments panel. You can then tweak the darks and lights as necessary.


Step 8

STEP 8

I like to add bursts of colour to pull a composition together.

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To do this, open Illustrator and draw fluid shapes using the Pen Tool (N).

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Step 9

STEP 9

Copy these shapes and paste them into the main file in Photoshop. In the Adjustments panel select Hue/Saturation and change the colour to suit the composition.

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Step 10

STEP 10

It’s always good to add a bit of texture to an image, especially if you are mixing collage and vectors as I am here.

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Using watercolour paint and Indian ink, I created random marks that I scanned into Photoshop so I could add depth to the fluid blob shapes I created in Illustrator. You can find these in this tutorial’s project files.


Step 11

STEP 11

Using the Marquee Tool (M), select an area of texture that you want to use and paste it onto a layer above a vector shape.

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Step 12

STEP 12

While holding Alt on the keyboard, hover and select between the two layers. This will create a layer mask that applies the texture just to shape of the vec-tor layer below.

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Step 13

STEP 13

I also added paint marks in the background to roughen things up a bit.

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To do this, repeat step 10 but instead of applying the texture to a layer, give you layer a Multiply blending mode. You can change the colour of the paint by repeating Step 8 and adding a Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer.


Step 14

STEP 14

From here on it’s all about detail. To break up the composition I added small vines that are growing out from the main foliage.

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To create these this I used the Pen tool (N) in Illustrator to draw curly vines and I then copy-&-pasted them into Photoshop.

It’s worth noting here that I used a graphics tablet and pen to create these, which is easier than a mouse.

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Step 15

STEP 15

It is unusual to find flora and fauna without wildlife so using the same method as Step 5, I used the Magic Wand tool to select an image of a bird and some bees to add a little life to the illustration.

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Step 16

STEP 16

Now for the finishing touches. The background in this image isn't great so I decided to retouch some of the scuff marks out. Photoshop’s Clone tool won't create a very smooth finish, as the whole background is too rough – so I used the Brush tool to paint over large areas.

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Step 17

STEP 17

To do this, create a new layer above the background. Select the Brush tool (B) and set the opacity to 40%. Using the eyedropper, select near where you want to retouch and gradually paint over it.

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This may take a while as you will need to take samples with the eyedropper several times (depending on the area you are painting).

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Step 18

STEP 18

Finally I added a bigger topknot to the model’s hair. This was a purely personal choice as I felt her bun wasn't big enough!

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STEP 19

Use Adjustment layers where possible. This gives you the opportunity to re-tune and change colour, contrast and saturation.

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STEP 20

Keep an eye out for interesting imagery and old photographs in charity shops and car boot sales.

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