Photoshop tutorial: Compose fantastic images using non-destructive blending

Illustrator Jason Feeny shows how you can put Photoshop CS3/CS4’s Smart Objects function to good use to composite incredible images.

One of the many benefits of working digitally is the ability to compose and composite quickly and efficiently. Photoshop and Illustrator offer tools to make this ever easier and now, and with some new additions in Adobe Creative Suite 3 or 4, it’s better then ever.

My favourite new function in Photoshop CS3 (which is also in CS4) is the ability to turn any item into a ‘Smart Object’. This allows non-destructive scaling when using bitmapped images.

Before this function was introduced, designers had to duplicate images, save a master version, tinker with the duplicate until satisfied then fetch the master and scale it accordingly – or reimport the bitmap altogether.

In this tutorial I will explain my compositing process using both Photoshop and Illustrator to create high-res images for print. In this image I’ve used 3D renders created in Maya, but you can use any image you like – it doesn’t have to be 3D.

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Step 1
Before you start composing, sketch out your desired layout on paper and prepare the elements individually. The finished illustration will very rarely look exactly like your original sketch, but it’s good to have a logical starting point. Leave the layout open for change, just in case you happen upon a pleasant accident during compositing.

Step 2
Once you have all your elements prepared and at hand, it’s time to get stuck in. Place all the assets you want in your drawing in individual layers, at full resolution. Convert each bitmapped layer into a Smart Object by right-clicking (Ctrl + click) on the respective layer and choosing ‘Convert to Smart Object’. It’s good practice to render all your bitmaps at a higher resolution than you feel you may need. This will allow you to scale up the size of a layer if needed.

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