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Create a Retro Urban Gig Poster in Photoshop

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Digital graphics are largely dependent on the software used to create them. Given the clean, pixel-perfect nature of Photoshop, artworks always risk looking too perfect therefore it's important to learn how to bring nature's random variations into our digital creations. In this tutorial we'll create an atmospheric poster for a dance party using the textured, retro look that's so popular nowadays.


Tutorial Assets

We will make use of a texture and a photograph. Here are the download links:


Step 1

Create a new document in the B2 format which is traditionally associated with posters. It measures 500x707 mm and of course you should choose the CMYK color mode and 300 pixels/inch since we're designing for print (1a). Fill the canvas with a medium blue-green solid tint (1b).


Step 2

Hit B to activate the Brush Tool and select a very large, round and soft-edged brush preset. Pick a light blue-green shade and start painting randomly across the canvas (2a). Keep going using different hues, both light and dark blue, and vary the brush's diameter to create a hazy pattern of swirls (2b). Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use a high enough value to smooth the pattern, eliminating any visible harsh brush strokes you might have (2c, 2d).


Step 3

Pick a light yellow color and create a small circle on a separate layer (3a). Double click the layer to open the Layer Style window and add a 1px Stroke in the same color (3b). At the same time reduce the layer's fill to 0 so only the stroke will be visible. Reduce the Opacity to 50% also (3c).


Step 4

Duplicate the circle three times and vary the opacity of the copies. The largest circle's Fill should not be 0 but 10% (4a, 4b). Group the 4 circles together and scatter a few copies across the top section of the canvas, scaling them and making them more or less transparent (4c).


Step 5

Duplicate the background layer by first double-clicking it (to turn it into an editable layer) then hitting Command+J (5a). Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and choose 2% (5b). Now click on the mask button at the bottom of the Layers palette to give the layer a blank mask (5c). Click the mask then hit B to activate the Brush. The foreground/background colors will be automatically changed to white and black. Hitting X will reverse them. Paint black strokes on the canvas with the big soft brush tip you used earlier to erase some parts of the noisy background (5d). The result is barely visible at this resolution but now the background transitions smoothly from polished to noisy (5e). It's a subtle effect that can be skipped but it adds some nice little variation.


Step 6

Let's create an interesting line pattern to add complexity to the background.
Draw a vertical line with the Line Tool (U). Keep using the light yellow from the circles (6a). Make evenly spaced copies across the entire width of the poster (6b) then duplicate and rotate them 90 degrees to create the horizontals. Add the necessary lines to cover the height (6c).


Step 7

You can collapse the horizontal and vertical lines by grouping them together then hitting Command+E. You should have two layers now. Select the vertical lines and go to Filter > Distort > Wave. Use the settings in image 7a to turn them into an interesting broken pattern (7b). Now go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates and make sure the first option, Rectangular to Polar, is selected and press OK (7c). Now the lines have been arranged into a one-point front perspective radial pattern (7d).


Step 8

Select the horizontal lines and apply the Twirl filter from the Distort group (8a). The lines now follow an uneven wavy arrangement that pulls slightly to the top right corner (8b). Reduce the Opacity to 50% (8c) then duplicate the lines. Rotate the new layer 90 degrees to create the vertical waves (8d). The circles may disappear under the grid so bump up their opacity to make them more visible (8e).


Step 9

Place the cardboard texture in the document and resize it to fit the canvas (9a). Switch it to the Multiply blending mode (9b). The shade looks good but it's a bit too dark. Bring up the Levels (Command+L) and move the center slider to the left to increase the overall brightness without changing the black and the white points (9c). Now the image is lighter (9d). The background is finished.


Step 10

Place the skyline picture at the bottom of the canvas (10a) and set it to Multiply (10b). Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (or the corresponding Adjustment if you're in Photoshop CS4). Activate Colorize and match the sliders to image 10c until the buildings have a retro brown tint. Beware that the Adjustment will affect all layers underneath it so click on the clipping icon to affect only the skyline (10c, 10d).


Step 11

On a new layer behind the "cityscape" create a tall red rectangle to extend the leftmost skyscraper (11a). Change it to the Lighten mode, 60% opacity (11b). By the way, here's a screenshot of our layers so far (11c).


Step 12

As you can see the rectangle doesn't match the skyscraper's perspective (12a). Correct that by hitting Command+T (Free Transform) and by selecting Skew from the right-click menu. Skew the rectangle to the right until it matches the inclination of the building (12b). Now hit Q to enter Quick Mask mode. Paint the top of the rectangle with a soft black brush (12c) then hit Q again. A selection marquee will appear: click the Mask button to add it as a mask (See Step 5). The rectangle now fades away at the top (12d).


Step 13

Add a Ripple filter from the Distort group (13a) to make the rectangle wavy (13b). Now add a Radial Blur (from Filter > Blur) (13c) to turn the rectangle into a smoke column (13d).


Step 14

With the same technique create three shorter smoke columns behind the right-hand skyscrapers, fading them at about half the poster's height (14a). Activate the Custom Shape Tool (U) and choose the crescent shape from the shape menu (14b). Draw a crescent around the first circles we created, using the previous light yellow and setting the layer to the Overlay mode (14c).


Step 15

The necessary typography should be added in Illustrator because it handles type better than Photoshop but for the sake of this tutorial we'll stick to one software. Add a line of text in orange in Overlay mode so the background shows through (15a). Add the rest of the text in light yellow, Overlay mode (15b). Finally add a Drop Shadow to the main text and the crescent moon (15c) to make them easier to read (15d). The poster is finished.


Conclusion

In this tutorial we have seen how easy it is to create interesting patterns with simple lines and Photoshop's powerful Distort filters. Sometimes it's important to get rid of the over polished digital edge to avoid the otherwise inevitable uniform look. One way to do that is by employing textures and photographs. With minimal editing they can add a nice retro taste to any clean composition that needs a bit of grunginess.

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