Tony Ariawan shows you how to use warping, layer masks and simple colour tweaking for an incredible high-tech look that’s out of this world.
Whether it’s the speeded-up glow of car headlights in a night-time city scene, an alien spacecraft or a deep-sea jellyfish you’re recreating, this far-out neon look is a highly useful trick to master. It conveys a sense of movement and energy, and the colours can be tweaked to give a surprising range of effects.
In this tutorial, Tony Ariawan provides a step-by-step guide to creating this look, using simple resources and Photoshop tools. He shows that you don’t need particularly advanced tools to create a high-tech look: sometimes the simpler tools, applied with care and skill, can have far more impact.
Time to complete
7 hours Project files
The files for this tutorial can be downloaded from
In Photoshop, open
girl_portrait.jpg (see the link in the Intro to download this). Create a new adjustment layer, and select the Levels ( Cmd/ Ctrl + L). Set the Output Level white to 130.
neon lines_1.jpg, and use the Hue/Saturation controls to make it black and white. Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select one of the lines.
Using the Move tool (
V), drag this selection to girl_portrait.jpg. Change the blending options to Screen. Transform the layer using Cmd/Ctrl + T, and start to rotate it. Right-click ( Cmd/Ctrl + click) to choose the Warp tool.
Now you’ll see a six-section grid section on the layer, which allows you to move every section or every point. Let’s move it so it matches the one seen here.
Enter when done, and add a layer mask onto the layer. Start brushing the layer mask, by using black to erase. For a smooth effect, try setting the Brush Opacity to 10 per cent.
Duplicate the latest layer by hitting
Alt+Cmd/Ctrl+J. Start painting the layer mask by using black to erase, again setting the brush opacity very low.
Select both layers and merge them (
Cmd/Ctrl+E); don’t be surprised by the black areas. Change the blending options to Linear Dodge and repeat this until the girl is entirely outlined.
Still using the same selection from
neon lines_1.jpg, start warping again, using this image as an example, using the warping position to trace the detail on the ear. Duplicate this layer, place the shading of the ear and start warping again.
Now for the hair. Import the selection from
neon lines_1.jpg again, change the blending mode to Screen and try warping it so that it looks like the image on the right.
Use the Eraser tool to take out any unwanted lines. Duplicate the layer -- we’ll still need this layer for another part of the hair. Start warping around this layer to fill in the hair.
neon lines_2.jpg and make a new selection (see Step 02) to fill the body section. Don’t forget to set the blending mode to Screen, and start warping again around this layer. On this layer, add a layer mask to erase unwanted sections of the image.
Duplicate the layer (
Cmd/Ctrl + J) and start warping once again. Repeat this process until the black areas have been reduced. Select the layer on the body section and merge the layers. Layer mask to erase unwanted sections, and set the layer’s opacity to 70 per cent.
Let’s fill in the face. Return to
neon lines_2.jpg and make a different selection. Copy this into the main image over the face and start warping again, starting around the nose.
Duplicate the layer, move it to the side slightly and continue warping. Merge the layers.
Now it’s time to start adding colour. Merge all of the warp layers together (not forgetting to set the blending mode to Screen). Add an adjustment layer, selecting Gradient.
Let’s set the gradient from dark blue to bright blue, set Style to Linear and Angle to 180°. Make another Adjustment Gradient, this time merging from medium green to bright green.
Customize the colour by making individual adjustment curves. Adjust the Red, Green and Blue channels individually, rather than adjusting the RGB marker.
To create the particle effect, make a selection from
neon lines_2.jpg and start warping outside the figure. Open neon lines_3.jpg and make a selection; place this over the girl’s hand. I also added some particle effects on the final images, on a new layer, using the Brush tool.
Set the brush’s Tip Shape, check the Shape Dynamics and set the Size Jitter to 100 per cent. Check the Scattering, and set Scatter to 1,000 per cent. Now start brushing the layer in smooth lines, varying the size of the brush. When you’ve finished brushing, add a mask to erase unwanted particles.
Tony Ariawan is a freelance graphic designer based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He works for clients around the world, providing graphic design solutions including 2D and 3D illustrations, logos, motion graphics and Web design services. He also produces personal projects, which are showcased on his Web site.