Photoshop tutorial: Fake x-ray effects

Look beyond the surface and create intriguing X-ray images.


Capturing the inner beauty of an object with an X-ray is not an easy task. Only a handful of photographers combine photography as an art form with radiology – which might have something to do with the fact that achieving the effect requires highly-specialised equipment, that bombards the subjects with potentially-lethal ionizing radiation.

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Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t come cheap, so in this tutorial, we save you some pennies by inviting Mark Mayers to show you how to achieve a similar effect in Photoshop.

You’ll discover how to re-assemble the inner workings of a computer mouse using a variety of blending modes to reveal hidden detail. Next we’ll add some distress layers to add interest to an otherwise clinical illustration. Finally, you’ll add some 3D renders to really finish off the effect.

This is a great technique that works with almost any technical appliance that can be dismantled – but don’t expect to be able to use them again afterwards.

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.

STEP 1

We’ll be working from the base of the mouse upwards; so download this tutorial's project files (registration required), open Mouse_1.jpg and select Image > Rotate Canvas > Flip Horizontal -- remember, you’re looking from above.

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Cmd/Ctrl + click ‘Clipping 1’ path (in the Paths palette) to generate a selection, then hit Cmd/ Ctrl + J to float a new layer and label it ‘Mouse back outer ’. Generate a selection from ‘Clipping 2’ and hit Delete, then fill the base layer with white. This will be your working file for the first part of the tutorial.


STEP 2

Open Mouse_2.jpg and create a path-based selection, copy-and-paste it into a new layer and label it ‘Mouse back inner ’. Lower the layer’s opacity and scale and position it using the central hole as a guide.

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Now Cmd/Ctrl + click the first layer’s thumbnail to generate a selection. Invert it (Cmd/Ctrl + I), ensure your new layer is targeted, then use the Eraser tool in the circle. Set the opacity back to 100%.

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STEP 3

Open Mouse_3.jpg, generate a path-based selection, copy-andpaste it into a new layer and flip it (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Position and re-size, and label it ‘Mouse circuit outer’.

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Next open Mouse_4.jpg, drag and drop as a new layer (there’s no path), and label it ‘Mouse circuit inner’. Lower the opacity, then position and re-size it over your previous layer. Generate an inverted selection from the underlying layer, ensure your new layer is targeted and erase only the lower inner and outer areas – don’t worry about the cable yet.


STEP 4

Follow the supplied paths to paste new layers into your working document from Mouse_5.jpg (labelling it ‘Mouse top inner’) and Mouse_6.jpg (labelling it ‘Mouse top outer’).

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When you’re happy with the positioning of all your layers, generate a selection from your uppermost layer and create a new Alpha Channel filling the active selection with white. Next paint out the wheel slot using a white, hard-edged paintbrush, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the Channel.


STEP 5

Delete the background layer, then add a group folder at the top of the layer stack. Shift + click your top and bottom layers and drag them into the group folder. Cmd/Ctrl + click on your new Channel thumbnail to generate a selection.

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Target the group folder and go Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection to trim away the excess areas. Target the ‘Mouse top outer’ layer and draw closed paths around the areas circled in red, make a selection and hit Delete.

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STEP 6

Disable the visibility of all layers but ‘Mouse back outer’ and clip an adjustment layer by holding Alt/Opt while clicking on the ‘Create new fill of adjustment layer’ icon at the foot of the Layers palette. Select Hue/Saturation.

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In the next dialog box, check Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask. Set the Hue to 171 and the Saturation to 25 with the Colorize preset checked.


STEP 7

Set the ‘Mouse back inner’ layer’s blending mode to Pin Light; clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, setting the Hue to 296 and the Saturation to 25 with the Colorize preset checked. Do the same for the ‘Ball’ layer using Hue = 318, Saturation = 31, but leaving the blending mode unchanged.

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STEP 8

Set the ‘Mouse circuit outer’ layer’s blending mode to Screen. Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, setting Hue = 175, Saturation = 25 with the Colorize preset checked.

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Set the ‘Mouse circuit inner’ blending mode to Soft Light. Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with Hue = 218, Saturation = 25, with the Colorize preset checked.

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STEP 9

Set the ‘Mouse top inner’ blending mode to Saturation. Clip a Hue/ Saturation adjustment layer, with Hue = 182, Saturation = 25, with the Colorize preset checked.

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Set the ‘Mouse top outer’ blending mode to Overlay. Clip a Hue/ Saturation adjustment layer setting the Hue to 302 and the Saturation to 25 with the Colorize preset checked.


STEP 10

Make a start on the background by first selecting R = 184, G = 175, B = 217 as your background colour. Create a new A4 portrait document in RGB mode, 300dpi with the Background Content set to Background Color.

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Open Distress_1.jpg and Shift + drag the layer icon into your new canvas, labelling the layer ‘Polaroid 1’. Both files share the exact pixel dimensions, so Shift + dragging pin-registers the new layer. Now set the blending mode to Soft Light and lower the opacity to 60%.


STEP 11

Shift + drag Distress_2.jpg as a new layer, set the blending mode to Screen, the opacity to 80% and label it ‘Polaroid 2’. Follow the same technique for X-ray.jpg, setting the blending mode to Overlay and labelling it ‘X-ray’.

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STEP 12

Drag the mouse Group Folder into your new canvas and position, rotate and scale it as shown. Next drag and drop Bones_render.png as a new layer and label it ‘Bones’. Set the blending mode to Linear Dodge (Add) and lower the opacity to 35%, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the selection.

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Drag and drop Skin_render.png and label it ‘Skin’. Set the blending mode to Linear Light and drop the opacity to 35%. Align the hand and bone layers, then Shift + click both layer icons and scale and position them over the mouse as shown.


STEP 13

Draw an open path for the cable extending into the mouse. Add a new layer above the mouse folder, then select a hard-edged 60-pixel brush. Pick a pale pink as your foreground colour and click on the Stroke path icon at the foot of the paths palette.

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Add an Inner Glow Layer Style with a Multiply Mode using a dark purple. Adjust opacity to 55% and the Size to 32 pixels. Now set the blending mode to Luminosity.


STEP 14

Continue stroking the path on new layers with a 20-pixel brush using colours sampled from the illustration. Experiment using different blending modes such as Difference, Lighten and Overlay as well as lowering their opacities.

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Now use the Move tool to nudge some layers by a couple of pixels so that they overlap, giving them a more natural look. Next add all the wire layers to a new Group Folder, add a mask and gently blend the wires into the mouse.

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STEP 15

Adjust the hue of the hand by generating a selection from its layer, then filling with a mid-purple on a new layer beneath the bones. Set the blending mode to Soft Light and drop the opacity to 40%.

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It’s down to individual taste on how far you take the illustration from here. Here, I’ve added a pale shadow around the hand and mouse, as well as defining two of the fingertips further with a duplicated masked layer.