Recreating colourful, 1980s-style graphics isn’t hard – the tricky bit is updating them for the 21st century. In this tutorial, Karan Singh shows how to add a 1980s twist to stock or specially taken model shots, to jazz up your photos.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
You’ll master vector gradients, including useful tips for successfully working with gradients. You’ll also use pre-prepared elements that you can scatter both in front of and behind your model to integrate her fully into the image.
You’ll learn to vary your vector elements using Layer Styles, adding glows, drop shadows and other variants. You’ll also learn tips such as adding a vignette behind other layers to subtly direct the attention towards your model.
Karan Singh has provided a selection of vector elements for you to use; you can download these below.
Time to complete
Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop
Click here to download this tutorial's project files
Download and open the vector elements file in Illustrator; we’re going to apply some colour schemes to the objects. I’ve included some of the colours I used here in the Swatches palette for you to use if you like. Open the Gradient panel (
Window > Gradient or Cmd/Ctrl + F9).
You can add more sliders to the gradient by clicking anywhere along the track. Use the top and bottom sliders to create a combination that you like. You can adjust the gradient’s colours by selecting them in the panel and then adjusting their values in the Color palette (
Window > Color).
Fill a simple shape like a circle with the gradient you’re adjusting colours on. This way you can see the results more clearly. Once you’re satisfied with each gradient you create, save it to Swatches by dragging the gradient fill square on the Gradient panel into the Swatches palette.
Select one of the objects and apply your gradient by selecting it from the Swatches palette. You can control how the gradient looks on the shape by selecting the Gradient tool from the main panel (
G). Click and drag on the artboard with the object selected and tweak until satisfied. Save a version of the Illustrator file when you have finished colouring the objects.
Open Photoshop and set up your document with a background colour and gradient to compliment the colours you applied to the vectors (I’ve used #F79D86 and #FCC081 in a radial gradient). Lock this layer by pressing the Lock All Icon in the Layers palette and save it.
Next, open up your model shot. I’ve used an image from my photographer buddy
Christian Hertel. Click the Create New Path icon at the bottom of the Paths panel ( Window > Paths) and, using the Pen tool, carefully cut out the model from the background. Right-click on the path and select Make Selection. Feather the radius by 1px.
Copy and paste the model into your saved Photoshop document and adjust the Curves (
Image > Adjustments > Curves) as well as the Color Balance ( Image > Adjustments > Color Balance). This is so that the image doesn’t look out of place in comparison to the background. Try to match the tones of the background colours you have chosen, then save the file.
Before you start introducing vectors, it’s a good idea to set your cursor to Auto-Select a layer. Click on the Move tool (
V) and then in the top panel, tick Auto-Select and choose Layer from the drop-down menu. This makes working with multiple objects easier, as you can select them just by clicking them on the canvas, rather than locating their layer.
Open your coloured objects in Illustrator. Copy them from Illustrator and paste them into your Photoshop document. You’ll be asked how you’d like to import the object as; select Vector Smart Object. Import one of each object. You can always duplicate them once they’re in the document.
Name the Vector Smart Object layers as you go, as things can quickly get confusing. Organising and arranging is time-consuming but important, so take your time transforming and positioning the objects. Use alternative colours to draw attention to certain shapes.
To add depth to the piece, bring some vectors of varying scale in front of the model too. Less is more for this piece, but adding a couple of elements in front of her is an effective way of adding a dimension to the piece.
Once you’re satisfied with the arrangement you’ve created, you can add effects using the Layer Styles panel. I’ve chosen to add a glow
to the specks and also to some of the brush strokes I’ve imported.
Double-click in the space next to the name of the layer you’d like to customise and the Layer Styles panel will appear. Tick the desired effect and adjust the settings accordingly.
I’ve also used the Layer Styles panel to add drop shadows to some of the vector objects. In this case I’m using black for the shadow cast on the model’s top but I recommend using different coloured shadows for the objects behind her. It’s a subtle way of adding more colour.
Next, let’s create some noise. Create a new layer at top of the layer stack and fill it with white. Click
Select > Filter > Add Noise. I’ve added 5% monochromatic Noise on with the distribution set to Gaussian. Select OK, change the Noise layer’s blending mode to Multiply, and set the opacity to 60%. Lock this layer as it’s at the very top and if left unlocked, auto-select will keep choosing it.
Let’s add a vignette. Reset your foreground and background colours to default (
D). Click the Gradient tool ( G) and set it to Radial. Set the white stop to 80% and the black stop to 100%. Set the white’s opacity to 0% and black to 100%.
On a new layer create the gradient by clicking and dragging from the centre to the top edge of the canvas. Set the layer’s blending mode to Vivid Light. Lock this layer too.
Finally, add an adjustment layer to tighten up the overall look of the illustration. Select
Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer (it’s at the bottom of the Layers palette). You can add multiple adjustment layers if you feel you need them. Here, I’ve added a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, boosting the Brightness by 5 and Contrast by 25.
To further integrate the model with the background, add a shadow behind her. We’ve positioned this to match the studio lighting of the model shot.