Photoshop tutorial: Photoshop's layer effects explained

How to create vibrant images with Photoshop's layer effects
  • James White (Digital Arts Magazine)
  • 20 August, 2010 10:36


Creating vibrant, eye-catching images like this one needn’t be a complex or time-consuming affair. In this tutorial, James White shows how to add a vivid retro flair to a striking model shot kindly provided by

You’ll learn to hone your skills with the layers palette and useful tips in applying masking, Blending Modes and Hue/Saturation. You’ll also learn how layers react with one another when overlayed in certain ways, and how selective colour can be added to enhance the overall design.

Don’t be afraid to leave yourself open to experimentation. Try different things as you go along to see what results you may come up with.


Step 1 Start things off with a few sketches to get a general idea of what the final composition might look like. These make for useful guidelines when you start working on the elements in Photoshop. I’ve included some inspiration regarding form and style with the end two images.

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Step 2 Using the Clone Stamp tool with a soft brush, clone out the necklace and any other obvious blemishes or stray hairs. Try to keep the skin-tone even throughout and watch for shifts in highlights and shadows.


Step 3 Next, cut out the head using the Polygonal Lasso tool. Click around the head and neck to select, then hit the Layer Mask button to knock out the background. You can then use the Brush tool to round off and fix the mask as needed.


Step 4 With the headshot selected, open the Hue/Saturation palette and slide the Hue to 187 and the Saturation to 9. This will drop all natural color out and leave a hint of blue. Then, to add a bit of contrast, slide the shadow arrow in Levels to 21 and the highlight to 247.

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Step 5 Now we need to add a bit of softness to that grainy skin. Duplicate the headshot layer, go to Filters > Gaussian Blur and apply a 4.7 blur to the new layer, then drop it’s opacity to 51%. You may need to do some selective masking to retain sharpness in some areas, like the sunglasses.


Step 6 Create three new layers. In the first two new layers, select the Brush tool with a hard-edged brush and add some scribbles to the back portion of the model’s head. Switch to the third layer, and with the Polygonal Lasso tool, round off and fill any flat areas where the photo was cut off.


Step 7 Create a new layer, and set the Blending Mode to Multiply. Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool and click to outline the lip area, ignoring the teeth. Then fill the selected area with a hot pink to really add a splash of colour to the face.

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Step 8 Create a new layer. Click around the edges of the lenses with the Polygonal Lasso tool until they are selected, and fill with black. I added a bit of a subtle star-field to mine for adde d interest. Apply the same effect to both lenses.


Step 9 In order to add more detail to the lenses, I added a second layer of stars and shifted them to a blue hue using the Hue/Saturation palette. You can find plenty of star shots on the web for this effect.


Step 10 For the mercury tears, I used a picture of water drops, turned them to greyscale using Hue/Saturation, then used the Levels palette to amp up the contrast. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the drops and hit the Layer Mask button to drop out the background. Apply a subtle Drop Shadow layer style to add depth to your drops.


Step 11 Create a new layer and, using the Brush tool, add some wild colours over the top of the drops. Once the colours are done, set the Blending Mode to Overlay and reduce the opacity to 60%.


Step 12 Hunt down a couple of light source images, I suggest streetlights or eclipse shots. Paste them into Photoshop, set the Blending Mode to Screen, adjust the levels in order to drop out the background and apply any masking that is necessary.


Step 13Create two new layers. On the first, set the Blending Mode to Screen and the opacity to 46%. Use the Brush tool to apply some soft colour to the back of the head – I suggest using pink and blue. Then on the second layer, use the Gradient tool to apply a full blue to pink gradient across the canvas. Set that layer to Overlay and the opacity to 22%.

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Step 14 Create a new folder in the layers palette, and add a new layer inside it. Using the Rectangle tool with a de-saturated blue, draw a rectangle across the face. Duplicate that layer, hit the Lock Transparent Pixels button and fill the new rectangle with pink. Select both layers and angle them using the Transform controls. Add a layer mask to the folder in order to remove the stripes from the face.


Step 15Find a gritty texture with some nice contrast and paste it into your work to cover the entire design. Use Hue/Saturation to remove the colour and Levels to add a bit more contrast.


Step 16Set the texture layer Blending Mode to Overlay and reduce the opacity to 73%. Then drag that layer to the bottom of your layers palette, just above the background layer.