1. Design & Illustration
  2. Interface

How To Create A Desk Environment In Photoshop From Scratch!


I recently did an artwork where I was creating a desktop feel. It was filled with all sorts of objects you would find strewn across a desk. In this tutorial, I will be recreating them so you can design your very own desks.


Ok, so obviously a desk will be filled with whatever you require. There are unlimited variations, so today I'll be showing you a few effects to get you started:

  • Torn paper notes
  • Doodles, the drawn kind
  • Scratches
  • Polaroids (with tape)
  • Post-it Notes

This should surely get you started on your desk interface. Bear in mind, this is from a birds-eye point of view, not a 3D, with the light-source coming from 120º (top left).

For a background image to start with, you will need a relatively big wood texture. For this one, Banxter has kindly provided this perfect wood texture for us.

Torn Paper Notes

Torn Paper Final

The torn paper effect originally came from another tutorial I was reading, but I found it to look inauthentic, so I created a smoother and faster method. Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1

First some patterns we will be using.

Paper Texture

  1. Fill a 150x150px new document with a neutral grey, such as #bfbfbf.
  2. Apply some really light noise (Filter> Noise> Add Noise) to the layer with these settings: Amount: 2.5%; Distribution: Uniform; Monochromatic: Selected.
  3. To turn it into a pattern, click (Edit> Define Pattern) and call it 'page texture' or whatever else you deem suitable.

Paper Lines

  1. Create a new document with the dimensions of 1x18 pixels (the height is whatever line-height you want for the text).
  2. Using the Pencil Tool (B) on 1px with the color light blue (This will be the color of the lines, so pick whatever color the lines are in your notebook. I used #1a438d.), click the very bottom pixel so a dot appears.
  3. Define this as a pattern too, name it something like 'paper lines'.

Step 2

So now that you have these two patterns, it's time to make our paper. Fill a selection with the paper texture we made. Add a light Gradient Overlay, from white to very light grey, and lower the Opacity to about 70% so it is still bright white, but you can still see the page texture. Add a Pattern Overlay using the 'paper lines' pattern we made earlier. Lower the opacity a little till it looks realistic. Finally, add some shadow. Our Light Source is coming from 120º (top/left). Add a Drop Shadow that is only 50% Opacity.

Step 3

Now we'll make our paper look torn. Select the Lasso Tool (L), and zoom in. Run up and down roughly with the Lasso Tool all the way around the edge of the paper. Once you reach the end, double up and go all the way back around the outside in a large circle. Press Delete, so the edge now looks rough.

Step 4 (optional)

Zoom in super close this time and select a 3px Smudge Tool (R), strength 70%. Go all around the edges and smudge away from the paper so it creates the torn effect.


This effect is really easy to pull off, and looks great if you get the right colors and density.

The brush

We use a 1px Brush (B) with an Opacity of about 70%. You can use any color you want, but I used #234b94, #942323, or #4b4242.

The drawing

There isn't any trick to this. If you have a tablet, this step is a whole lot easier. I use a trackpad for this, and hold one finger on the click and my drawing hand's index finger to draw on the trackpad. Just, well, doodle. This part of the tutorial is the creative part. The picture above is what I came up with. On top of doodling, you can use some text in a handwritten-style font if you want.


Next we'll emulate the look of graffiti scratched into a hard surface. This technique isn't restricted to wooden backgrounds!

Step 1

Draw your text in white or write it using an appropriate font. Set the Blending Mode on your scratchy layers to Soft Light.

Step 2 (see final example above)

Duplicate the layers and Invert (Ctrl+I) their color to black. Move your second layer up and left 1px or 2px if you want a deeper scratch.


Polaroids are a great way to show off work and are more interesting than just a thumbnail. They are just as easy to make as well!

Step 1

It's easier to start off with the images that will be the features for the polaroids. I'm using the Picture of the Day from Wikimedia on 25th Dec 2007, MalŽ.

Step 2

Once you've scaled the images you're using down to your chosen size, use the Rectangle Tool (U) to create a rectangle around the pictures with margins of roughly: top: 10px, right: 10px, bottom: 30px, left: 10px. These need not be measured out exactly — you can create a more authentic look if it's not perfectly aligned. Pull the rectangle below the feature on the Layers Palette and add a Drop Shadow similar to the torn paper. Next, add a Gradient Overlay of white to light grey, top to bottom respectively, and on a slight angle.

Step 3

Next, add a caption in the 30px margin. I find that a fixed-width font looks good here. I used Monaco. Link the three layers that have been created here and rotate them a little so they don't look perfectly aligned.

Step 4

To add tape, we use a bit of transparency. Fill a Horizontal Rectangular Selection (M) in a new layer with any color, roughly the width of tape (about 60px). Deselect and click the Lasso Tool (L) again. Rough out the left and right edges with a maximum depth of 3px max.

Step 5

Position or rotate the "tape" over our polaroid. Add these layer effects: Gradient Overlay, white to light-grey; Outer Glow; Blending mode, Normal; Opacity: 15%; Spread: 0%; Size: 5px. Then lower the Opacity of the layer to about 50%.

Step 6 (optional)

This step is if you want your tape to wrap around the polaroid card so that instead of sticking to the desk, the tape is sticking the feature to the card. Zoom in, and using the Polygon Lasso Tool (L), select the tape that overflows the card (around 1 px away from the polaroid) and delete. Repeat for the side. You will then need to add a VERY light Drop Shadow on the feature, as it is not flush with the card.

Post-it Notes

Finally, how to make Post-it notes! You can pick whatever color you want for these, and there are some great preset gradient swatches here .

Step 1

Let's start this with a square shape. Add a Gradient (any color, but I'm using blue) from dark to light, top to bottom respectively. Now for a little corner. Zoom in on any corner and use the Modify Anchor Point Tool (P) to twist the corner slightly. Add a new layer.

Step 2

On the new layer, load the selection of the Post-it square, and using a black to transparent gradient, drag from the tip of the twist we did to towards the center about 20px. Set the Blending Option to Soft Light.

Step 3

Merge the layer we just worked with and the Post-it square together, then select the Burn Tool (O). With different sized soft, large brushes, play around with the Burn Tool till you get an effect you like. Add a Drop Shadow similar what we used on the Polaroid and paper.

Step 4

Glue time. Create a new layer, choose a brush about 20px in diameter with Hardness of 70% and Opacity of 70%, and in white scribble along the top of the Post-it. Set the layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light. Smudge it a little with the Smudge Tool (R). Lower the Opacity to 70%.

Step 5

Add some text and maybe some doodles like in the "doodles" section of this tutorial, and you're done!

Well Done!

You're on your way to creating a desk environment! You could even add the coffee cup from this tutorial to your desk. Enjoy!

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