3D suites such as Cinema 4D or Maya are capable of some amazing renders, but adding textures and colour adjustments to achieve believable results can be a complicated process. The same is true for Photoshop’s built-in 3D tools.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
Often it can be faster to use Photoshop’s standard, manipulative tools. The results are often better too, as there’s a lot you can do to quickly bring dull renders to life.
In this tutorial, Thomas Burden will show you how to create this Tom Waits-inspired piece, with a grubby old-school New York coffee house aesthetic. He’ll use a mixture of textures, pre-made brushes, Curves adjustments and colour overlays.
You don’t need any particular 3D suite as you’ll be working from Thomas’ base rendered artwork. This, plus some texture elements, can be found in the project files.
Time to complete
Photoshop CS5 or later
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
First, install the brushes and curve preset included in the project files. Open another Finder/Explorer window and go to Photoshop’s Presets folder. Click and drag the Retro.acv file into the Curves folder. Next, drop the Smoke.abr file into the Brushes folder.
Start up Photoshop and open
. As you can see, I’ve already created the elements in Cinema 4D and exported them with an alpha layer, so they are separated from the background. Nice Girls.psd
Here I’ve added a few textures in Cinema 4D, though it’s far quicker in Photoshop to add the more specific textures and adjust the colours to give it more character. Click
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves.
In the Adjustments panel (or the Properties panel if you’re using Photoshop CS6), select Retro from the Preset drop-down menu.
If Retro isn’t in that list, click on the panel’s flyout menu and select Load Curves Presets. Find
in the project files and load it. By increasing the reds and greens in the lighter areas, and doing the same to a lesser degree with the blues in the shadows, the colours will get a nice retro boost. Retro.acv
onto your composition. Place it underneath the curves adjustment layer in the layer stack. Set the blending mode to Multiply and turn the opacity down to about 35%. Lock this layer; you won’t need to modify it again. Old Paper.jpg
Create a new layer above the Curves adjustment layer and fill it with a dark blue. Set the blending mode to Exclusion and turn the opacity down to about 35%. This helps to soften the colours a little so they don’t become oversaturated. Lock this layer, too.
Create another new layer above the blue one and fill it with a deep orange. Set the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and turn the opacity down to 15%. This will brighten the image and boost the reds, yellows and oranges. Lock the layer.
Now we’re going to add a hint of a window frame. Create a new layer above all the others in the Layers panel, and fill it with a rich cream or off-white colour.
Use the Marquee tool (
M) to select a large rectangle in the middle of the page. Delete it to produce the outside of the frame. Create a maroon rectangle inside the cream frame and repeat the process to build an inner border that stops an ugly hard edge from appearing between the cream and the black.
from the project files. Drag the ‘Flame’ layer into your main composition and set the layer’s blending mode to Screen to knock out the black. You can now duplicate these and place them on a couple of the match heads. Fire.psd
Drag in the ‘Fag End’ layer and place over the ends of the cigarettes, resizing and erasing them so they blend in the with the rest of the artwork.
Now we need to add a few touches of smoke. With the Brush tool selected (
B), click the Brush size box in the Options bar. From the flyout menu in the top right of the drop down, select Smoke Brush. Choose Append in the dialog box that pops up.
With the Brush tool still selected, create a new layer and name it ‘Smoke’. Place it above the Artwork layer in the Layers panel.
Choose one of the smoke brushes and add a touch of smoke roughly where you want it to come off the cigarette or lit match. Then resize it using Transform (
Cmd/Ctrl + T). Use Distort or Warp if needed ( right-click > Distort or right-click > Warp).
Repeat as necessary, experimenting with different smoke brushes and using the Eraser to fade bits in and out.
Let’s add a bit of grime to the bright whites of the coffee cup and mug. Open up
from the project files folder and drag this into your main artwork, placing it just above the artwork layer in the Layers panel. Set this new layer’s blending mode to Multiply and place it over the paper coffee cup, adjusting the position to your liking. Coffee Stain.jpg
Using the Pen tool (
P), draw an ellipse shape following the opening of the coffee cup. Then right-click > Make Selection to make the selection (setting the Feather Radius to 0 in the dialog box).
Select the Marquee tool and
right?click > Invert Selection. Using the Eraser, brush away all the bits where you don’t want the texture to appear. Repeat this for the coffee stain in the china mug.
We now need to add a touch of glow to the neon tubes. Select, the ‘Artwork’ layer and duplicate it. Using the Lasso tool, draw around the neon ‘You’, ‘E’ and ‘Off’ parts of the type. Using the marquee or lasso tool, hit
Ctrl+Click > Invert Selection and delete the selected area of the new layer.
To add the glow, in the top tool bar, select
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set it to about 35 in the dialog box. Duplicate the layer for more glow and experiment with different levels of blur.
Now we just need to make a letter ‘R’. Create a new layer and name it ‘Coffee’. Using the Pen tool (
P) draw a fluid-looking R shape flowing out of the paper cup. Then Ctrl + Click > Make Selection, set the feather to 0 in the dialog box and fill with a gradient going from light brown at the top to dark brown at the bottom.
Double-click the layer to bring up the layer effects box. Click Bevel and Emboss. In the Structure section, set the depth to 121, the size to 24 and soften to 13. In the Shading section, set the highlight opacity to 61 and the shadow opacity to 81. Repeat this for a few other splashes about the piece, including one for the apostrophe between the ‘N’ an ‘T’ of ‘DON’T’.
Finally, we’re going to add one last texture to further hint at a grimy coffee house window. Open up the
from the tutorial files folder and drag the steamy window layer into the Steamy Window.psd . Place it above everything except the top two window frame layers that comprise the window frame and turn down the opacity to around 50%. All done. Feel free to play around with further textures and glow effects. Nice Girls.psd