In this tutorial, Dwayne Bell details how to use Photoshop to enhance a retro-styled illustration by digitally applying textures and patterns. He notes that while in this instance the effects are applied to a hand-drawn original, the techniques shown can easily be applied to any Photoshop project to bring depth and originality.
Time to complete
Tools & materials
Photoshop, coloured pencils, coloured sugar paper, paints
First, you’ll some drawings to work with. I draw from photographic reference – in this instance my girlfriend and I converted the kitchen into a studio by pinning a white sheet to the wall.
Scan your drawings into Photoshop at a resolution that will give you an image larger than you will need. This gives you a little security and wiggle room later; you can always reduce scale but enlarging isn’t a great idea.
Separate the linework onto its own layer, so you can drop colours and textures behind it.
Using a Levels adjustment (
Cmd/Ctrl + L), adjust the scan until you have a good contrast between page white and line black without losing any quality or detail – and without adding any distortion. Once you’re satisfied, use Select > Colour Range to select the line. I find the Fuzziness of between 150 and 200 usually gives best results. Once you have a selection, create a new layer and fill the selection with flat black.
Save the linework file to a folder dedicated to this illustration. If you’re scanning other drawings, save and add these. Any textures and marks you scan should also be saved here, so if any amendments are needed in the future you know exactly where everything is.
Create a fresh document at the size you require your final piece to be. Drag in the linework from the previous step and compose it on the page. Keep all the layers separate. It’s also a good idea to name them – you’ll be glad you did when there are dozens piling up.
We can start blocking in large areas of colour straightaway. For this image, I wanted a warm, textured look throughout – inspired by mid-20th century pulp magazines and paperback novels. To achieve this, scan a single sheet of coloured sugar paper at a large resolution, which will allow the paper fibre to show through clearly. Drag this in to your image and place it beneath the line work.
Select the linework layer and use the Lasso tool (
L) to roughly select an area you want to colour. Select the sugar paper layer, then copy and paste it onto a new layer. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment ( Cmd/Ctrl + U) to alter the colour. Repeat this for other areas.
Avoid being too precious with your selections – imagine you’re cutting rough shapes with scissors. You can fine-tune details later.
Group these layers into folders, but don’t merge them together – as this will make things easier as you go and especially if amendments are needed.
Once you have the basic shapes blocked in, it’s time to start adding some detail and further textures. I’ve used a few different techniques to bring depth and contrast to this image, which we’ll look at separately.
For the man’s tie and woman’s dress, I wanted a repeating pattern that would act as a subtle visual link between the two characters. In this instance, I wanted a simple 1960s-style pattern of circles added to the appropriate areas via a Pattern Overlay layer style.
To create a pattern, you only need to create one element – Photoshop will repeat it for you. Scan or create a single element – I’ve used a distressed, semi-transparent paint swirl – and create a selection from it as it should appear in your pattern. Then select
Edit > Define Pattern.
Use the Pen tool to create a filled-in shape for the area you want to apply your pattern to. Go to the layer styles menu (double- or right-click on a layer) and select Pattern Overlay. Select your new pattern from the options.
Rasterize the layer, then use layer blending modes to blend the pattern in with the image (Multiply or Soft Light usually work best). To alter the colour of the pattern, again I used a Hue/Saturation adjustment. As before, I keep these layers separate in case I want to change things later.
For the man’s suit, I wanted to create a pinstripe effect that would remain perfectly geometric and ignore the illusion of form. For this, I used Photoshop’s Actions. Here’s how you can use them for the same effect.
On a fresh layer, create a pair of two-coloured stripes the full height of the shape you want to apply the pattern to, then open the Actions panel (
Alt + F9). Create a new set called ‘Repeat’ using the folder button, then a new action called ‘Stripes’. Photoshop will now record your next command(s).
Duplicate the layer and then use the cursor key to move the repeated stripes to the right to form the beginning of the pattern. Press Stop in the Actions panel.
Still in the Actions panel, select your new Action and press play. Your stripes will repeat again. Keep pressing Play until you have enough pattern for the full width of the area.
Select all the repeated elements, then hit
Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them. To get the pattern to fill the area in question, place the pattern layer above the layer of the object to be filled, right-click on the layer tab for the pattern and select Create Clipping Mask.
The image contains various textures to add depth and variety including charcoal, paint, ink and felt pen – and adding them is easy.
Create your textures or marks using real craft tools. Select them with contrast in mind – I stick to black on white wherever possible. Scan these and – using the technique in steps two and three – separate the mark as new layer.
To change the colour of these shapes, simply click on their layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel, while holding
Cmd/Ctrl, then fill the resulting selection. Fill on a new layer to avoid dark outer pixels on these elements. Use blending modes to blend these elements into the image, and Hue/Saturation adjustments to fine?tune the colours.
The image also has a halftone layer over everything. Save a copy of your file, open the copy, flatten it and then select
Image > Mode > Grayscale and Image > Mode > Bitmap. Use a Method of Halftone Screen… and experiment with the settings until you get a look you like.
Convert the halftone image back to Grayscale (
Image > Mode > Grayscale) and drag it to your original document, making sure it’s the topmost layer. Using Select > Colour Range, select the black area, then hide (but don’t delete) the halftone layer.
Create a new layer and fill the selection with a colour. Use blending modes and hue saturation find a result that adds a pleasing finish to your piece.
As you have retained all the layers, ordered them in folders and named them, it’s now very easy to fine-tune and amend the final image until you have it exactly as you want it.