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Render a Stunning Space Cadet Illustration in Photoshop

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This tutorial will focus on the capabilities of Photoshop as a rendering tool to bring your vector illustrations to life utilizing raster effects. With just a few coloring techniques, namely adjustment layers, layer masks, and layer styles; you'll notice that the process can become quite repetitive thus making it a fairly intuitive and efficient workflow. Let’s get started!


Before You Begin

Open spacecadetBASE.psd from the source folder of your download. In it, you will discover multiple layer groups that have been brought in from Illustrator by simply copying and pasting different vector elements one at a time into a blank Photoshop file. This particular file should consist of the following:

  • Text group - 3d extruded text layers
  • Glows group - All white line work will be located here
  • Cadet group - The female figure
  • Robot group - The robotic anomaly behind her
  • Lazerz group - The white lines vanishing in perspective
  • Grid Layer
  • Robot back drop group
  • Panels layer


Step 1

Add an Adjustment Layer directly above the 'cadet' group. The adjustment layers menu can be found at the bottom of the 'Layers' tab. In the Adjustments tab click on the gradient bar to bring up the Gradient Editor. Select the "Blue, Red, Yellow" default gradient map under the presets.



Step 2

Add another gradient map above the 'robot backdrop' group. Let's rename this new gradient map layer 'red atmos'. Go to the Gradient Editor and select the 'Red, Green' default map. If your image looks inverted, switch the red and green stops to opposite ends of the track in the Gradient editor. Now, double click on the green stop and change it's color to more of a dark brown (#2f1900).



Step 3

Select the 'highlights' layer under the 'cadet' group. Apply a layer mask. Select the brush tool and set it to 0% Hardness with a 30px diameter. Set your foreground color to black and start to slightly hide the highlights as shown below. You can also adjust the 'Opacity' and 'Flow' percentage of the brush to control its strength. Turn on the 'airbrush' setting as well.



Step 4

Let's try and add some more shadow to our cadet figure. Select 'Layer 1 copy 4'. Go to the adjustment layers menu and select 'Levels'. Press 'Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G' to clip mask it to the cadet layer. Adjust the highlight output level to about 127. Click on the layer mask and choose the gradient tool. With a linear gradient setting click + hold and drag from the upper shoulder to the lower thigh of the cadet. Make sure that black is the front shade, white is the background in your colors.

Now, add a second 'Levels' adjustment layer, clip mask it and change the highlight input level to about 230.



Step 5

Duplicate the 'highlights' layer. Move it below the original and clip mask it.'Cmd/Ctrl + CLICK' on the layer to create those 'marching ants' or a marquee selection. Go to the top menu and select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to about 4.4 or so. Press Cmd/Ctrl + D to deselect.



Step 6

Duplicate the 'red atmos' adjustment layer you made in Step 2 by click it and pressing Cmd/Ctrl + J. Move the copy above the 'highlights copy' layer and clip mask it. So far we have been assuming that the main light source is coming from the upper left. Follow that logic as you mask away with a soft black brush making certain points a little lighter.



Step 7

Now it's the robot's turn. Select the robot layer in the group (layer 2 copy). Add a Level Adjustment layer, clip mask it (Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G), and set its highlight output level to 105. Mask away with a soft brush in relation to the direction of your light source. Make a second Level adjustment layer, clip mask it and set it's highlight input level to about 233 or so.



Step 8

Copy the cadet layer (layer 1 copy 4) and paste it within the robot group. Rename the layer 'shadow' and press CTRL + L to bring up a levels window. Set it's highlight output level to 0. Next, clip mask it and set its blending mode to 'Overlay' and lower its master opacity to 60%.



Step 9

Find and duplicate the 'red atmos' gradient map layer and place it above the 'shadow' layer. Clip mask it and and use a soft black brush to mask away according to the origin of your light source like before.



Step 10

Select the red atmos layer copy and duplicate it. Rename the layer 'blue overlay'. Clip mask it and change it's stop colors in the gradient editor to dark blue (#1f03af) and light blue (#02fffe). Slide the dark blue stop over the track to about 15%.



Step 11

Add a 'Color Fill' Adjustment layer, make it red (#ff0000) and clip mask that. Now select the layer mask and press Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the mask to black. With a soft white brush start to reveal some of the red along the bottom of the robot. This is to make it visually respond to the effects we will now add to the floor in the following steps.



Step 12

Select the panels layer and Cmd/Ctrl + click on it to make a marquee selection. Select the gradient tool and set it to a radial gradient mode. Click + hold from the center of the selection and drag outward to apply it on the floor. Deselect the layer.



Step 13

Duplicate the 'red atmos' gradient map and clip mask it to the grid layer. Use the gradient tool to apply a radial gradient masking. Black should be the central shade.



Step 14

Now let’s apply a glow to the grid. Click on the 'fx' menu at the bottom of the layer tab and choose outer glow. Copy the settings shown below.



Step 15

Apply an inverted layer mask to the grid layer (hold Alt + click on layer mask option). Set the background color to white and reveal the grid with a soft eraser this time (if you wish to use the brush just set the foreground color to white). You can use the eraser settings shown in the image below. Be sure that the airbrush setting is on.



Step 16

Add a clip masked Levels adjustment layer to 'Layer 5' in the 'robot backdrop' group. Set the highlight output level to 93. You can slightly mask away certain areas if you wish too.



Step 17

Create a new layer within the group. Cmd/Ctrl + click on layer 5 to create a marquee selection. Select the marquee tool and right click. Select Stroke and apply a width of 1.5px on center. Add an outer glow with a yellow (#fff145). Make sure that your color is white. Use the Layer style settings below.



Step 18

Now add a layer mask (Alt + click). Reveal the glows as shown below, using a soft white brush.



Step 19

Select Layer 6 in the robot backdrop layer. Apply a clip masked level adjustment with a highlight output level of about 40. Mask away to have some light hit the object.



Step 20

Now let’s return to our cadet and start to apply a little more "flash" to her appearance. Go to the 'glows' group > 'cadetglows' subgroup. Add a new layer and name it 'red outline'. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the 'layer 1 copy 4' under the 'cadet' group to make a marquee selection. Apply a 2px stroke on center in the 'red outline' layer.



Step 21

Add an outer glow (#ff4242) and a color overlay (#ff7376) to the stroke.



Step 22

Apply an inverted layer mask and reveal some areas with a soft white brush or eraser.



Step 23

Unhide Layer 9. Apply an outer glow (#ff2099)



Step 24

Repeat step 22



Step 25

Duplicate Layer 9 (Cmd/Ctrl + J) repeat step 22. This is to further accentuate certain areas.



Step 26

Unhide Layer 10 and make a duplicate layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Hide the duplicate.



Step 27

Select layer 10 and apply an outer glow (#ff3636) and a color overlay (#ff000c). Make an inverted layer mask and reveal with a soft white brush along the bottom edge of the boots.



Step 28

Unhide 'layer 10 copy' and add an outer glow (#ffbf36) and a color overlay (#feabf9)



Step 29

Add a layer mask and begin to hide away at certain areas with a soft black eraser to make its materiality look little less flat.



Step 30

On Layer 13, let's add some layer style to that as well. (outer glow: #ff15cb, color overlay: #fffbbf). Apply an inverted layer mask and start to reveal with a soft white brush.



Step 31

On Layer 21, add an outer glow and color overlay (both #3ae1ff).



Step 32

Now let's duplicate the red outline layer you made in step 20 and rename it 'magenta outline'. Select its layer mask and press Cmd/Ctrl + L and adjust the shadow output level to 255 to make it completely white, revealing everything. Change its outer glow color (#fd64ff)



Step 33

Cmd/Ctrl + Click on Layer 10 to create a marquee selection. Choose the marquee tool and set to subtraction mode. Click and drag over the whole figure select except for the helmet. Only the helmet selection should remain as shown below. Now apply a 2px stroke on center.



Step 34

Invert the layer mask (Cmd/Ctrl + I) and reveal in accordance to where you perceive your light source is coming from.



Step 35

Now let's add some sparkle. Make a new layer and label it 'sparkles'. Choose the line tool (press U) and set it to "fill pixels" mode. Draw two, 2px diagonal lines that intersect in the middle. Then, use a 46px soft brush with a flow and opacity setting within the 60% range and apply at the center with a few clicks. Finally, go in with a soft 48px eraser and erase the tip ends of both line segments.



Step 36

Select the move tool (V) and hold Alt. Your mouse pointer should be become a double white/black pointer arrow. Continue holding Alt and click and drag the sparkles layer all over the cadet figure. Hold shift and select all duplicate layers and merge by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + E.



Step 37

Turn on all layers in the 'robotglows' group. Cmd/Ctrl + Click on 'layer 1 copy 4' (under cadet group). Select the robotglows folder and Alt + Click the layer mask option. This will hide anything visually obstructing the cadet figure within this group.



Step 38

Hide all layers under the group except for Layer 12. Apply an outer glow (#7dfbf7) and a cover overlay (#fffcaa).



Step 39

Apply an inverted layer mask and reveal with a soft brush.



Step 40

Create a new layer and rename it 'outline'. Cmd/Ctrl + click on 'Layer 2 copy' under the robot group to create a marquee selection. Apply a 2px stroke on center.



Step 41

Apply an outer glow (#c0f8fc), add an inverted mask and reveal with a soft brush.



Step 42

Now duplicate the layer, rename it 'red outline' and change it's glow color (#ff3c3c). Set the mask to complete black and reveal some of the outline along the base of the robot.



Step 43

Turn on Layer 20. Apply an outer glow (#49ffa3).



Step 44

Repeat step 43 for layer 23. Mask the area overlapping the foreground robot illustration as shown below.



Step 45

Time to add more detail to the background. Let's create a new folder directly below the 'lazerz' group and name it 'starfield'. Make a new layer and name it 'stars'. Select the brush tool and set it to 7px 100% Hardness, Opacity and Flow. Click around to make a bunch of points.



Step 46

Now duplicate that layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and press Cmd/Ctrl + T to bring up the transform box. Shrink the layer to a smaller size and press enter to confirm.



Step 47

With the move tool selected, hold Alt + Click & Drag the layer to create multiple copies.



Step 48

Select all the star layers and Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them. Add a layer mask and start to mask away at certain areas to create some variance in brightness and depth. Right click on layer mask and Click 'Apply Layer Mask'.



Step 49

Repeat step 46



Step 50

Repeat steps 45-49 until you have a result similar to the one below



Step 51

Create a new layer and name it 'shooting stars'. Draw a white diagonal 2px line. Apply an outer glow (#fc2cff) and color overlay (#ffeb8c).



Step 52

Use a soft eraser to fade one end of the line.



Step 53

Keep drawing a few more lines in this fashion.



Step 54

Our star field is currently obstructing our robot backdrop group. Let's fix that by Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + clicking the robot backdrop layers (layers 5 & 6) and adding a layer mask to the starfield group by Alt + clicking the layer mask option.



Step 55

Turn on the 'lazerz' group. Apply an outer glow (#bc53ff), inner glow (#06fff6), and color overlays (#fcd7e2) to both layers within the group.



Step 56

Apply a layer mask to both layers and mask from the vanishing point outwards as shown below.



Step 57

Repeat what you did in step 54 for the lazerz group.



Step 58

It's now time to apply some atmospheric affects from the subtle to the substantial. In the next series of images pay close attention to the various blend modes, master opacity and other settings use. Let's start by creating an 'atmosphere' group directly below the 'text' group. Add a Gradient Adjustment layer set it to a radial style and create a custom tricolor palette of #d5fff5, #9076ff, #03f0ff (from left to right). Set the opacity stop for #03f0ff to 0%. To create a third stop just simply click anywhere below the color track in the gradient editor.



Step 59

Make a new layer and select the brush tool. Set the diameter to 1000px or so with a flow setting of 27%. Click on the torso of the figure a few times.



Step 60

Adjust the layer's blend mode, opacity and fill. Apply an inverted mask and start to reveal. Now atmospheric affects can be quite subtle so there is plenty of room for variance. From here on you will see some examples of my own masking density.



Step 61

Add another Gradient adjustment layer with two stop colors (#ff7676, #ae00ff) and in a radial style. Set the stop opacity for #ae00ff to 0%. Press ok in the Gradient Editor. With the 'Gradient Fill' window still up move the gradient to the bottom of the canvas over the floor. You don't have to select the move tool to do this.



Step 62

Add a Level adjustment layer. Set the highlight output to 76 and apply a layer mask. This is to help accentuate some focus in the piece.



Step 63

Add a new 3 stop Gradient adjustment layer and set the end colors to #c1f7ff, #a3fffc, #c6fff0 (from left to right). Click above the color track to add an opacity stop in the middle. Set the opacity stops at either end of the track to 0%.



Step 64

Duplicate the light blue gradient fill and apply a layer mask with a radial gradient.



Step 65

Now for the finishing touch. Open the 'text' group. Duplicate the '10000LYIS' layer and treat both layers as shown in the corresponding image below. The font used for the text can be downloaded here: Star Jedi



Step 66

Create a 2px outline stroke in a new layer. Add an outer glow (#ffd257) and apply a mask.



Step 67

Place the extrusion layer in a new group. With the new folder still selected, Cmd/Ctrl + click the 10000LYIS layer and Alt + click on the layer mask option.



Step 68

Add a new gradient map layer and clip mask it (Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G) to the extrusion layer. Set the stop colors to #ff0000 and #fffc00.



Step 69

Add another clip masked gradient map with the stop colors #d800ff and #00f6ff. Invert the layer mask (Cmd/Ctrl + I) and mask accordingly.



Step 70

Create an 2px outline stroke layer of the extrusion in a new layer and add a glow (#57fff5)



Step 71

Find the 'lazerz' group mask and mask the part that is obstructing the view of the text as shown.



Step 72

Add some sparkle as we did back in steps 35 and 36.



Step 73

Lastly we need to 'ground' the figure a bit, so let's create a simple reflection. Find the layer that has the figure, copy and paste it. Let's rename it 'reflection'. Cmd/Ctrl + T, right click and select 'Flip Vertical'. Move it to the bottom of the canvas below the cadet's feet as shown. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the reflection layer.



Step 74

Move the layer to the bottom of the group and apply the layer settings indicated below.



Final Image


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