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Illustration

How to Create a Digital Collage with 3D Shapes, Patterns, & Colors

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In this tutorial we'll create a surreal and delicious photo manipulation combining organic and digital elements.

You can find the Photoshop PSD file and a ASV file in a directory labeled "source" that came in the ZIP file that you downloaded. You may wish to look through these files briefly before we begin.

Update: the images used in this tutorial were formerly found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. However, since this tutorial was published some of these images were removed from public access. You may still be able to find similar images from stock photography resources and follow along. A preview of the final image is below.


Step 1

First, we will be creating a background. Instead of a normal gradient-colored background. We will be creating a pattern and shade it instead. Open a new document at 40 pixel by 40 pixel and with a Resolution of 300.
Create a new layer and fill it with a light gray (#efefef). Next, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and fill the top left corner with black. Notice we don't fill everything up, leave some space so the whole background won't be too tight looking. Save the pattern (Edit > Define Pattern).



Step 2

Next, we will need a good image to work on. I am going to use a fashion and glamour looking portrait from katanaz-stock There are tons of great and high quality photos collection there. Be sure to favorite it. I will be using the image shown below.



Step 3

We need to cut the photo out using the Pen Tool. This might take a while, but it won't be hard as the background and the main image is clearly separated. Select the Pen Tool (P) in Path setting and trace the outline of the lady. Zoom in closely by tapping on the Command and Plus Key a few times until you are comfortable with the image size.




Step 4

Next we are going to create the background. Open a new document at 2000 pixels by 2000 pixels, and 300 Resolution. Create a new layer and name it "Back," then fill it with light gray (#efefef). Next, create another layer and name it "Background." Click the Paint Bucket Tool (G) and change it to fill pattern. Fill the "Background" layer with the pattern we created earlier.



Step 5

Doesn't it look a bit too rigid and dull at the moment? So, instead of just filling it with a pattern. We will edit and shift the pattern around. First, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and select some of the pattern, then delete that. Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), copy and paste instead of delete. Just do it randomly but keep it minimal as we don't want a messy background.




Step 6

Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M). Select any portion of the pattern you want to move. Move the pattern around by nudging it using the keyboard Arrow keys few times. For me, I just nudged the selected pattern down four or five times. Repeat Step six on different areas of the background.




Step 7

You will notice from Step 5, when we did the cut and paste, there will be many new layers created. So now, we need to merge all the additional layers, into one layer. Select all the layers we are going to (Merge > Right-Click > Merge Layers). After merging, we name the new merged layer "Background."



Step 8

We are not quite done with the background yet. We need to further enhance it by applying some blur and noise. Click Filter > Convert for Smart Filters (Only for PS3 and above). The reason we convert it, is so we can edit the filters settings again in the future. Apply Shape Blur to it (Filter > Blur > Shape Blur). Choose any shapes will do. It won't affect much. Then add noise to it (Filter > Noise > Add Noise).




Step 9

Now, we will add a color tone to the "Background" layer. Create a new layer and named it "Color." Double-click on it to add a layer style to it. We will be adding a Gradient Overlay to the "Color" layer.




Step 10

After creating the "Color" layer we won't be changing the color in the future anymore. So, we will convert it into a Smart Object (Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Objects). After that, rasterize the layer (Layer > Rasterize > Smart Object). Change the blending mode of the layer to Multiply. Now we have something like below.



Step 11

Now, we will be creating some random rectangles for the background. Make sure your Foreground color is set to white (#ffffff). Click on your Pen Tool (P). Change it to Shape Layers and start by creating some shapes. Notice the color for the right rectangular and left are different. This is caused by the "Color" layer. Name both of the layers "Shape."




Step 12

We will now create some patterns and fill in the rectangles we created for Step 11. Select the Rectangle Marquee Tool (M) and create a rectangle. Fill the rectangle in with black. Transform the position of the rectangle to diagonal (Command + T).

We will create many more of these rectangles. So select the rectangle layer and duplicate it (Layer > Duplicate Layer). Move the duplicated rectangle away from the old rectangle (Command + T). Create more of these. Instead of creating all these manually, just use (Command + Alt + Shift + T). This will duplicate and transform the rectangle.





Step 13

Now select all the rectangle layers and merge them together (Layer > Merge Layers), then name the resulting later "Pattern." Double-click on it to add a layer style to it. We will be adding a Gradient Overlay to the "Pattern" layer. After that, select the "Pattern" layer, then perform a clipping mask on the "Shape" layer (Right-click "Pattern" layer > Create Clipping Mask).





Step 14

So now, we have finished creating our background. Next, we are going to start working on the lady we have just cut it out at Step 3. Place it at the middle and name the layer "Girl." We are going to pixelate some parts of her.

First, grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M). To create a perfect rounded selection, hold down the Shift key and make a circle with the mouse. Then featherize the selection by going to Select > Modify > Feather (Alt + Command + D). Give it a Radius of 50. Next apply the Mosaic filter (Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic). Notice you can use different cell sizes for different parts of the selection.




Step 15

Now we are going to create a pattern behind the "Girl" layer. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and create a rectangle. Duplicate it and make them a total of three rectangles. Use the Pen Tool (P) and make a triangle selection. Inverse the selection by going to Select > Inverse (Shift+ Ctrl + I). Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase some parts as shown. Don't deselect the triangle selection yet. Then we are going to add a layer style to all the rectangles by adding a Gradient Overlay to it.






Step 16

Next create a layer mask to all the rectangles. Select the "Rectangle" layers and create a layer mask. (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All). After that, set your foreground color to black and select the Brush Tool (B). Inverse your triangle selection again. (Select > Inverse) (Shift + Ctrl + I). Mask those areas inside the triangle selection. Notice the color gradient in the rectangles don't look well balance out. So we need to edit it in the gradient editor.





Step 17

Create three new layers and name them "Blank 1," "Blank 2," and "Blank 3," then place them in an order below the "Rectangle" layers. Next, Alt-click the "Rectangle" layer to make a selection. Use the Brush Tool (B) and fill it with a light gray (#efefef). Merge all the "Rectangle" and "Blank" layers by going to Layer > Merge Layer. Next name the resulting layer "Shape." Add a texture to the "Shape" layer by adding noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise).




Step 18

Next, we are going to add some apples to the piece. I have managed to search through some nice stocks from sxc.hu. By looking at the image below you know see how I placed and arrange the apples. Of course you can use other stock photos and place them in any directions and positions you like.

Cut them out using the Pen Tool (P), just like what we have done in Step 3. Also, cut some leafs that attached to the apple and place them around too. The final result is shown below. Notice the color of the apples are different. In the next step, I will show you how to fine tune the color.




Step 19

Notice all the apples have a different colors and they don't actually go very well with the overall artwork. So we will be tuning the color of the apples to somehow mix perfectly with the piece and we will take the "Girl" as our main source of color inspiration.

I will be taking one of the apples and show you how you can fine tune the color. For the rest of the apples, you just have to repeat Step 19. First, adjust the level of the apple by going to Image > Adjustment > Levels (Command + L). Then, adjust the Hue/Saturation by going to Image > Adjustment > Hue/Saturation (Command + U).

Now change the color balance by going to Image > Adjustment > Color Balance (Command + B). Finally, we will use the Dodge and Burn Tools (O) for the final touch up. Repeat this for all the other apples. Note that each stock will require different settings than shown below, as every stock photo chosen has various original color tones. You just have to adjust the color to something close to the "Girl."






Step 20

Now, we are going to create the 3D shapes. Use the Rectangle Marquee Tool (M) and make a rectangle selection. Now we will need to edit the selection by going to Select > Transform Selection and then Edit > Transform > Skew.

Create a new layer, shape and fill it with black (#000000). Duplicate the layer and place it somewhere below that layer. Next, we apply a Gradient Overlay on the "Shape" layer. Save the Gradient Overlay settings for future use.

After that, create another new layer and name it "Shape2,&quot: Select the Pen Tool (P) and the Shape Layers setting, then create another rectangle that links from the "Shape" rectangle to the duplicated rectangle. Apply the same Gradient Overlay settings for "Shape2,"

Next, create another new layer and name it "Shape3." Select the Pen Tool (P) and Shape Layers setting, then create a rectangle that links the "Shape" and "Shape2" rectangles. Apple the same Gradient Overlay settings for "Shape3." After all is done, you can Delete the duplicate layer as it just acts as a reference to create a perfect perspective shape. The good reason that we use Pen Tool Shape Layers setting is that we can always change the shape using the Direct Selection Tool (A).





Step 21

After the overall shape has been created, let's add surface shading to it. "Shape3" is our surface. So select that layer and duplicate it by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Name the layer "Duplicate" and Rasterize the "Duplicate" layer by going to Layer > Rasterize > Shape. Next, convert it into Smart Object by going to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. Also, apply Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges.




Step 22

We are going to create another 3D shape again. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), hold down Shift, and create a perfect square selection. Next, edit the selection by going to Select > Transform Selection and then Edit > Transform > Skew.

Create a new layer and name it "Shape," then fill it with black (#000000). Duplicate it and name the duplicate layer "Duplicate." Put it somewhere above the "Shape" square. Next, apply a Gradient Overlay to the "Shape" layer. Use the same gradient color that we used in Step 20, but change the angle setting to 45.




Step 23

Use the Pen Tool (P) with Shape Layers setting selected, and create a new rectangle that links "Shape" and the duplicated square. Name the new rectangle "Shape2" and apply a Gradient Overlay to it using the settings shown below. Save the new Gradient Overlay settings.

Using the Pen Tool (P) again, create a new rectangle that links "Shape" and "Shape2." Name the new rectangle "Shape3." Apply the same gradient color we used for "Shape2," but change the Color Stop positions instead. Next, apply a shading on the overall shape - repeat Step 21.





Step 24

Repeat those steps to create more 3D shapes for the artwork and eventually you will have something like below. Now everything looks good, but there are still miscellaneous and additional efforts that can be done on this piece. We will be adding some glows and lights to the piece.

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and in the Path setting draw some triangles around the piece. Set your foreground color to #e4c5aa. Command + Click the triangle path to make a selection. Create a new layer and name it "Light," then use the Gradient Tool (G) to fill it. After that change the Blending Mode to Linear Light.





Step 25

Repeat Step 24 with different shapes in different locations around the piece, then you will end up with something similar to that shown below. Now there still some elements we could add in, so let's do that.
Select your Rectangle Marquee Tool (M) and Pen Tool (P), then create small white (#ffffff) rectangles and triangles as shown. Name all of the layers as "Misc." Then we can add some color dots around the piece. Create a "Dots" layer. Use a small brush size with hardness set to 100%. Sample some colors using the Eyedropper Tool (I) from the artwork and then click around the piece.





Step 26

Next, we're going to create more random gradient-colored shapes for the piece. Use the Pen Tool (P) and create some random shapes and fill it with gradient colors sampled from the artwork itself. Named all the layers as "Shape".

Now we are going to create some pattern-filled circles. Create a new 30 pixel by 30 pixel document with a 300 Resolution. Create a new layer and select the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M). Hold Shift and create a perfect circle in the middle of the document, then fill it with white (#ffffff). Delete the background layer so we will be left with a transparent background with a white circle in the middle. Go to Edit > Define Pattern to save it as a pattern.

Go back to our original artwork document. Create a new layer and name it "Circle." Create a circle using the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and fill it with a gradient color. Create a new layer and named it "Pattern." Select the "Circle" layer and Command-click it to make a selection. Go back to the "Pattern" layer and fill it with the pattern we just created.






Step 27

After that, we are going to create a name for this artwork. I call it "Apple!" Create a new layer and named it "Title." Using the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M), press Shift and make a selection. Fill it with black (#000000). Next, add a Gradient Overlay to the "Title" layer. Using a serif font and type your title for this artwork. In my case "Apple!"




Step 28

Finally, everything is done. We are just left with one last part. That is the coloring part. Create a new Adjustment Layer for Color Balance (Select > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance). Follow the settings as shown below.

Select all the layers by going to Select > All (Command + A), then choose Edit > Copy Merged. Create a new layer and named it "Final" and paste it into it. After that, we are going to do a major color adjustment by using Selective Color (Image > Adjustment > Selective Color). Load the Selective .ASV file that is in the PLUS membership "source" file, and you will have a whole new Apple-li-cious artwork. See the Conclusion for the final artwork.




Conclusion

This is a lengthy and time consuming process to create this artwork. But the final outcome is satisfying. Try to experiment with different shapes, colors, and patterns. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and have fun applying these techniques within your own artwork!


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