19 August 2010

Back-to-basics photo illustration techniques

With the recent release of Adobe CS5, it’s easy to get carried away with the new tools and presets. They might be designed to maximise workflow efficiency, but an over-reliance on these can give your work a generic feel To keep your style fresh, you need to get back to basics.

In this tutorial, Markie Darkie shows you how to create a stunning photomontage. You’ll master repetition and layering of shapes, efficient use of simple colour palettes with the aid of Layer Style effects, or a file of vector elements.

The file for this tutorial is available from the Download Zone, but you’ll also learn how to create your own design elements that you can use on future projects.

Step 1 Download and open the Geometric Design Elements.ai file in Illustrator. You can use it as a reference or resource file for this project. Creating images from scratch is useful – not only does it save you searching for stock image files, you also build up a valuable archive for future projects.

Step 2 Next, click the View tab and enable Smart Guides and Snap to Point. This will allow you to align paths and points with ease. Use the space inside the dashed box as your work area. Using the Selection tool (V), select Shape 1, create a copy and change it to Colour Swatch 2 using the Eyedropper tool (I). Right Click on the edited path and select Transform > Reflect. Then set the orientation to Vertical and angle to 90°.

Step 3 Connect the two paths to look like a pyramid, select both and hit Cmd/Ctrl + G to group the selection as one object. You now have a base design element that you can modify to create more variations. Use the Selection tool (V) to change the width, height and angle of the basic form.

Step 4 Next, we’ll enhance the forms by adding a basic stripe pattern. Copy Shape 2 and change the colour to Swatch 3. HitShift + Cmd/Ctrl + F10 to bring up the Transparency Window and change the Opacity to 30%. Create three copies of the path and stack them on top of each other to create the pattern.

Step 5 Place the stripe pattern on top of the form. Group the selection as one object, tap Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + F9 for the Pathfinder window, then select the Merge option tab and use the Direct Selection tool (A) to delete excess paths. Use the Selection tool (V) to tweak the dimensions and angle of the new element.

Step 6 Now copy and select Shape 4 from the downloaded file. Click Effect > 3D > Revolve to bring up the 3D Revolve Options Window. Press OK and the default Off-Axis Front Position will give you an instant sphere. You can create various spheres by using the Eyedropper tool (I) and selecting different colour swatches.

Step 7 Next, open Photoshop and hit Cmd/Ctrl + N to create a new Canvas. Specify the size and resolution of the file. I normally go with an A4 size and 300dpi for a lot of design projects. Press F7 to bring up the Layers Panel and change the background colour to black using the Paint Bucket tool (G).

Step 8 Place the model shot on the centre of your artboard. This image has been kindly provided by photographer Kate Frankfurt but you can use stock photos from our Download Zone or use your own pictures. If your model is on a background, make sure you cut them out so you can wrap elements around them.

Step 9 Create a folder by hitting the Create A New Group button on the bottom section of the Layers Panel. Rename it as ‘Foreground Elements’ and place it on top of the model shot layer. Create another folder and rename it as ‘Background Elements’ and place this under the model shot layer. This will help you classify layers when you start placing multiple design elements on your artboard.

Step 10 Now it’s time to create an array of dynamic visual compositions using the design elements you made in Illustrator. This can be achieved by aligning and redistributing multiple design elements using the Align tool (Shift+F7) in Illustrator or just by randomly grouping them.

Step 11 Create various repeating patterns in Illustrator and place them on your artboard in Photoshop. You can vary the sizes and orientation to make the patterns interesting, or change their colours to add some contrast between designs elements.

Step 12 Make individual layers for each pattern you’ve created. Place them inside the ‘Foreground Elements’ folder if you want them to appear on top of other design elements, or in the ‘Background Elements’ folder if you want them to appear on the background. This technique will create visual depth when you apply Layers Styles such as Drop Shadow and Outer Glow on selected design elements.

Step 13 To help define your foreground layers, apply Drop Shadow and Outer Glow in the Layer Styles palette. The default settings are good enough but feel free to experiment and change the opacity, angle, distance, spread and size of the layer styles you want to use.

Step 14 Create more depth and volume by adjusting the opacity of the background layers to between 80-40% on the upper right section of the Layers Panel. This will fade the background layers a little, giving the entire visual composition a 3D-like quality.

Step 15 Masking is another method that you can use to enhance the relief and 3D qualities of your work. You can adjust opacity on certain areas by masking your layers. To apply a layer mask, click the Add Layer Mask tab on the bottom of the Layers Panel. Use The Brush tool (B) with a Black colour swatch to mask layers. Adjust the brush softness, size and opacity according to your preference.

Step 16 Finish up with more details, textures and visual elements using the same layering and styling techniques. Attention to detail is very important if you want to make your work stand out. It might be time-consuming but your patience will definitely pay off once you see the fruit of your artistic labour.

Markie Darkie


  1. where is the "download zone?"

  2. No download zone, it's just tutorial


Follow on Buzz