Photoshop tutorial: Create digital collages without using filters

Traditionally trained artist Scott Rhodes reckons that it is layers – not filters – that can create a perfect mix between illustration and digital collage styles.


You can create a digital collage to combine your own drawings with stock or found art, photos and scanned textures into a single illustration, that has more interest than just flat colour, and without each element looking stuck on or out of place.

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However, rather than using filters, which can look obvious, I tend to use combinations of layers, changing their opacity and the lighting options. Experiment with these combinations to get different effects.

I always start with a hand drawing, and a rough idea of how the illustration should fit together, but this can change. I prefer a ‘non-perfect’ line in my artwork. It gives a more human touch, and avoids the image looking too ‘digital’. Remember, the computer is just a tool, and a pencil and paper are just as important. To create an illustration like this, you should expect to spend about 4-5 hours

Step 1


Draw some figures in pencil, and scan them into Photoshop at the standard 300dpi in greyscale. To tidy the illustration, go to Images > Adjustments > Levels. Move the outer sliders in towards the edges of the histogram to make the illustration more black and white, looking at the illustration as you do it. You may still have unsightly marks on the illustration, so paint them out in white using a hard brush.

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Step 2


Find some hamburger photos – these can be easily found on the likes of, or take some digital photos of your own. Carefully draw around them using the Pen tool. Copy-&-paste them into your drawn file, ensuring that you have converted this file to CMYK by choosing Image > Mode > CMYK. Change the drawn layer options to Multiply, allowing it to be transparent. Position the burger layers together so that they make one large burger. Merge these layers together by clicking on them, while holding the Shift key, then select Layers > Merge layers. You may want to name your layers, as it can get complicated later on when you have many layers to contend with.

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Step 3


Find a paper texture and copy-&-paste this into the illustration, positioning this under the rest of the layers. Now add a new layer on top of this choosing Layer > New > Layer. Create a square marquee from the top, taking up most of the image. Add a colour, such as an olive green, with a CMYK breakdown of 34 per cent cyan, 6 per cent magenta, 52 per cent yellow, and 18 per cent black. Use the paint bucket to add the colour. Now choose Select > Inverse and fill the rest of the page with the purple colour (24 per cent cyan, 52 per cent magenta, 6 per cent yellow, and 18 per cent black). Change the opacity on this layer to 60 per cent, so it shows the craft paper underneath.

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Step 4


Find a rougher texture and copy-&-paste it onto the picture on top of the other background layers, but underneath the burger. In the Layers palette, change the normal setting to Soft Light. Duplicate this layer, but change this copy setting to Overlay, and change the opacity to 50 per cent. This will create a texture, but allow the colour to show through. Name the layers Texture 1 & 2. Select all the background layers, and click on Layer > New > Group From Layers. Name the new group ‘background’.

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Step 5


Find a photo of some paving slabs (or similar ground element), and place it in the lower right-hand corner. Press Alt + Shift to copy the paving, and drag the duplicated area across, repeat this again, until you have paving right across the lower area. Merge these floor layers into one, and change the Layers menu to Soft Light with an opacity of 80 per cent. Make a marquee rectangle with a feather of 50px to go over the white edge of the paving. Press Delete.

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Step 6


Open the file buildings.tif from the download. Click Image > Mode > Duotone. Click on the colour, and put in the figures 65 per cent cyan and 100 per cent yellow. Name this monotone ‘Green’. Copy-&-paste this into the illustration three-quarters of the way up and make it transparent (Multiply in the Layers palette). Ensure it is over the top of the texture layers.

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Step 7


Draw around the buildings with the pen tool to make a path, squared off to the top of the illustration. Join it together to make a sky area – click on Make Work Path > Save Path > Make Selection. Add a new layer and ensure it is below the texture layers, 1&2 within the background group. Add the colour 31 per cent cyan, 7 per cent magenta, 4 per cent yellow and 18 per cent black. Click on Overlay on the Layers palette.

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Step 8


To make the burger look more integrated into the illustration, click on Overlay in the layers palette, and duplicate it using Layer > Duplicate. On the duplicated layer, select Hard Light with an opacity of 65 per cent. Open the file called flash.eps from the download and click on Path > Make Selection, and paste it into the illustration. Remove the parts of the buildings and flash that are showing behind the burger layer by selecting the burger with the magic wand and clicking on the buildings layer, then pressing Delete. Now click on the flash layer and delete the area behind the burger.

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Step 9


Create a new layer underneath the characters, and paint on a flesh colour (30 per cent magenta with 20 per cent yellow), using a soft watercolour brush. Do not worry about getting in between the lines. Once painted, add the same colour onto the painted area with the bucket tool, creating a rough, painted-style edge.

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Step 10


Change the opacity on the flesh tone layer to 60 per cent. Select the flesh tone area, and click on the very bottom layer, the craft paper. Paste this onto a new layer directly below the flesh tone layer. This creates a texture underneath, with more depth and interest than just a flat colour.

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Step 11


Create a new layer (ensuring that’s it underneath the drawn figures). Using the same watercolour brush as before, paint in the colours for the hair, mouth, and clothes. Mix the colours beforehand using the CMYK four colour combinations.

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Step 12


Scan in some fabrics to use for the clothes. Select the area on the character layer you want to paste into. Copy-&-paste the fabric into the particular area. This will create a new layer that you can move the fabric around, underneath a mask. Experiment with how you want the clothes to look, changing the opacity and lighting options.

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Step 13


Look out for interesting, creative commons licensed images on the Internet, take your own photos, scan fabrics, and use them to give your work more detail. Cut them out and paste them in. Be careful not to over do it though, and remember to experiment with the layer styles so they look integrated and not too cut out.

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Step 14


As the final touches, I add a border, and some text. After printing, look again at the results, some of the colours may need tweaking, and you may spot little mistakes you couldn’t see on screen.

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