When combining bright and bold Photoshop effects with graphic and photographic elements, you need to be extremely careful if you want to avoid the end result looking like a dog’s dinner.
See also: 83 Best Photoshop tutorials
Here illustrator Gordon Reid details how he mixes such components to create a work based around a theme of time travel, applying a psychedelic look based on a retro-futuristic sense of what travelling in time entails.
Time to complete
Photoshop CS5 or later, Illustrator CS5
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
here Project Files
Login / Signup here to download this tutorial's project files (it’s free!)
Before you start, you’ll need a model shot of someone floating for the focal point of the illustration. Place it in the centre of your composition.
We’ll begin with getting the blending of the early layers right. Go to
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and alter the RGB, red and blue curve. Play about with this until you find a high-contrast, oversaturated tone that fits with the overall feel of the composition.
Using the Pen tool (
P) cut out your image, making sure your pen is set to paths rather than shape layers. Use the Quick Selection tool ( W), clicking while holding down Alt to refine the hair. When you’re finished, create a layer mask from the selection.
Create a selection around the hair, and then another layer mask. Choose the mask in your Layers panel and press
Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + R to bring up the Refine Mask dialog box. Tweak the settings until it works with the image.
Fire up Illustrator and experiment with bold geometric shapes and stand out colours that you feel could interact with the image using the Pen (
P) and Ellipse ( M) tools.
It’s now time to add some light effects. Find an image of a supernova – the one I’ve used is from Shutterstock at
, but you can use a free one from NASA ( shutr.bz/187qhAq ) if you prefer. nasaimages.org
Change its blending mode to Screen and hit
Cmd/Ctrl + L to add a Levels adjustment. Increase the black input to reveal just the bright star.
We need some graphics, so open Illustrator. With the Polygon tool selected (
M), double-click on the artboard to reveal some editable options. Use this to customise your polygons – I’ve created a hexagon and an octagon.
Now copy and paste each different design three times, and resize two smaller polygons, placing them inside one another. Use Smart Guides to line the shapes up, then colour to your taste – remember we’re going for a heavily saturated look.
Next, we need some geometric shapes. The best approach is to create a honeycomb grid, which can be used to craft various geometric shape patterns. Design some interesting shapes, and apply vibrant colours to them.
Start to add these shapes back into your Photoshop file. To blend them into the illustration, add filters such as Inner shadow, playing about with the distance and size to create an almost 3D effect. A slight bevel – with contours switched on – will help.
Let’s add some more colour to the main character to blend her into the illustration. With that layer selected, double-click on the Gradient icon on the Gradient Fill layer, and click on the Gradient Editor. Use the sliders to add some different hues.
Add Gradient Map adjustment layers to the photo to create some complementary hues, using a blending mode of Colour. Then, go into the adjustment layers, and with your chosen colours, set the image to multiply.
Now to tackle the background. Select a rough paper stock image or roughen up a piece of paper and scan it in. Add a new layer behind it and fill it with black using the Paint Bucket tool (
G). Edit the Levels ( Cmd/Ctrl + L) of the paper image to bringing the black up, then press Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the layer.
Next, we’ll add some more futuristic effects, and add some glowing lines around the character. First, draw round the model with a thin white brush, then apply an Outer Glow layer style (found at the bottom of the Layers panel). I’ve used an electric blue with a spread of 14% and size of 32px.
It’s now time to add a warm glow to the piece. First, go to
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter. Use a Warming Filter with 41% Intensity. Create a new layer with all the other layers merged into it ( Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E), go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and set the Radius to 15px. Change the blending mode of this layer to Screen and the opacity to 20%.
Add a new layer on top of your background and star layers. Fill it with black. Go to the Brush Tool (
B) and select a soft-edged brush with a Color Dodge blending mode. Create a few circles in white, which, along with the star and other texture layers, should combine nicely to bring out the background.
Finally, to tie it all together, create some bold lines of colour using the Pen tool (set to shape layers). I went for a three-way colour split. To create the shadows, I isolated the flat parts of the layers, then selected
Cmd/Ctrl + L and changed the levels to make each shape darker.