Life & Style tutorial: Knockout mixed-media techniques

Mix and match images to stunning effect, with these fantastic tricks from Mark Mayers.

Comping images together is one of those tasks that can look horrendous when it’s done clumsily. Fortunately, Photoshop has plenty of tools to help you create images that leap off the page.

In this tutorial, Mark Mayers guides you step-by-step through the process of combining photos, vector files and paint textures together, using blending modes, Magic Wand selections and opacity to achieve a look that’s at once edgy and polished.

We’ve supplied all the paint files to follow this tutorial on the cover CD or they can be downloaded here. The photos can be bought affordably from iStockPhoto. You can buy the source images from the following links: (for the car), (for the figure), (for the palm trees) and (for the buildings). Alternatively, it’s simple to use the same techniques on your own images.

01. Before touching your computer, dig out your long-forgotten paints and brushes, roll up your sleeves and paint a series of background textures. Use thick paint on board for an impasto effect, and a dryer brush on canvas to capture the texture. If you’d rather not get messy, the source files are on this month’s cover CD or or can be downloaded here, and are called Paint_1.jpg, Paint_2.jpg and so on.

02. Throughout this tutorial we’ll be referring to the files supplied on the CD. If you’re using your own textures, allow them to dry and scan them at 300dpi. Start by opening Paint_1.jpg and drag and drop Paint_2.jpg in as a new layer, setting the blending mode to Saturation. Now drop in Paint_3.jpg, position it on the top left of the screen, and set the blending mode to Multiply.

03. Import from the cover CD into Photoshop, setting the resolution to 300dpi, and drag and drop it into a new Group Folder within your working document. Open Blue_canvas.jpg, select all and copy it to the clipboard. In your working document, use the Magic Wand tool set to Contiguous to select a blue strip. Now hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + V to paste this strip into the active selection, then scale and position it as required. Select All from the new layer and copy. Repeat the paste command for the remaining blue areas.

04. Follow the same technique for the red of the flag (using Red_canvas.jpg from the cover CD) and also the white (using White_canvas.jpg). Darken the textures by moving the original Illustrator flag layer to the top, setting the blending mode to Multiply and adjusting the Opacity to 80%. Now link each layer to their corresponding masks by clicking between their thumbnails.

05. Open the car image and select Image > Adjustments > Posterize and enter a value of 7. Drag and drop this as a new layer above the flag, resize, and position as shown. Set the blending mode to Vivid Light and adjust the Opacity to 90%. Blend the colours by clipping a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (see Tip box, right) and decrease the Green by -83 and the Cyan by -28 by using the Edit drop-down menu. Now target the flag folder and rotate as shown.

06. Open the buildings image and use the Magic Wand tool with a Tolerance of 55 to make a rough selection of the sky. Invert the selection (Select > Inverse) and copy and paste this into your working document above the car, before Posterizing it using a value of 4. Now select Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, resize it and position it to the left. Set the blending mode to Overlay and delete the bottom area.

07. Drag and drop the palm tree image as a new layer above the buildings, setting the blending mode to Hard Light and adjusting the Opacity to 85%. Blend the image by double-clicking on the layer thumbnail to access the custom blending options. Directly under Blend If, you’ll see the options for ‘This Layer’. Hold Alt to split the slider, drag the left one to 45 and the right one to 64.

08. Continue adding further paint layers to create a sense of depth. Here I’ve used Paint_4.jpg and Paint_5.jpg (both in Multiply mode), but feel free to use your own textures for a more personal look. You can achieve some unexpected results by experimenting with different blending modes.

09. Open the man image and create a closed path around the figure. Don’t sweat over the hair too much, as it will be hidden in the final composition. Now select Image > Adjustments > Posterize and enter a value of 4. Next go Cmd/Ctrl + click on your path thumbnail to generate a selection, and copy it to the clipboard.

10. Paste this selection as a new layer at the top of the stack, resize and position it as shown, then set the blending mode to Vivid Light and adjust the opacity to 75%. Now hit Cmd/Ctrl + click the layer icon to generate a selection, target the palm tree layer and go Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. Do the same for the buildings and the car layers, as well as the flag Group Folder.

11. Open Paint_6.jpg and use the Lasso tool to create a selection around an individual brushstroke, then select Edit > Define Brushset. Follow the same technique for the remaining strokes to create a series of brushes. By default these will appear at the bottom of your current loaded brushes.

12. Use your new brushes on the car, buildings and palm tree layer masks to get rid of any hard edges. Draw a closed path around the car roof, generate a pathbased selection, target the flag mask and erase. Next clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the figure, check the Colorize option and adjust the Hue to 45 and the Saturation to 37.

13. Open Spray_1.jpg from the cover disc, convert it to RGB, then use the Magic Wand tool with a Tolerance setting of 55 and the Contiguous option unchecked to generate a selection, filling it with pale orange. Now copy and paste this into a new Group Folder within your working document. Repeat this technique for Spray_2.jpg and Stencil_1.jpg. Duplicate them a few times, and use a combination of Hard Light, Soft Light and Overlay blending modes.

14. Open Tape_edge_1.jpg from the cover disc; this image was created by painting over some masking tape applied to canvas then peeling away the tape. Generate a selection from the black with the Magic Wand tool, fill it with white and copy it to the clipboard. Create a new Alpha Channel in your working document (click on the button in the top right corner of the Channels palette and select Create New Channel), and paste in the selection. Enable the composite RGB channel, then rotate and scale the image, positioning it in the bottom left. To make things clearer, try changing the default red of the channel to a blue and lowering its opacity by double-clicking the channel thumbnail.

15. Open Tape_edge_2.jpg and select areas using the Magic Wand tool with Contiguous checked. Fill with white, and copy and paste this into your new channel. Try using some of the spray images as well to build up a grungy border. When you’re done, Cmd/Ctrl + click on the Channel icon to generate a selection. Next, create a new Group folder at the top of the layer stack, add a new layer and fill the active selection with a mid-red, setting the blending mode to Soft Light.

16. Add a new Alpha Channel and follow the same steps to create another grungy border. Fill this selection with a mid-orange on a new layer and set the blending mode to Hard Light. Now add a layer mask to the folder and mask the figure as before. Finally, add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer at the top of the layer stack with the following settings: Master Hue: +6, Red Hue: +3/Saturation: -7. Yellow Saturation: -8. Lower the opacity to 60%.


The benefit of using adjustment layers is that no edit is permanent until you flatten the image. You can revisit the image at any time and finetune the adjustment by doubleclicking its layer icon. A normal adjustment layer affects all the layers immediately below it. To clip an adjustment to just a single layer, hold Alt/Opt while clicking on the ‘Create New Fill of Adjustment Layer’ icon at the foot of the Layers palette and you’ll be presented with a new window. By checking ‘Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask’ you’ll only affect that layer.

Who: Freelance illustrator and designer Mark Mayers is based in Cornwall. With over 18 years’ experience, he can recall life before Macs and is a reformed technophobe. He now writes tutorials for leading publishers worldwide, and has won awards including MetalFX Designer of the Year 06. Contact:
Software: Adobe Photoshop
Time to complete: 2 hours if using the CD files.
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or are available on the cover CD.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...