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Create a Big Air Event Poster with Photoshop and Illustrator

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Read Time: 19 min
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What You'll Be Creating

Create this poster, based on a vert skate competition, using both Photoshop to bring the elements together and Illustrator to assemble the final, print-ready artwork.


I recently came across the work of illustrator Chrissie Abbott and I was immediately struck by her clever use of combining retro and modern imagery and her use of bold, vibrant colors. In this tutorial, I'll walk you through the creation of an extreme sport event poster using a similar style.

The poster theme is based on a vert skate competition, so all the imagery, such as space, mountains and flight are all relevant and have been sourced either from my own collection of vintage, copyright-free magazines or stock websites, as well as some freely available images courtesy of NASA. I'd also like to thank surf/skate photographer Paul Frost for kindly allowing me to use his skateboarder photo.

As far as techniques go you'll discover how to create precise bleed and crop marks in both Photoshop and Illustrator. You'll also master Illustrator's Pathfinder and Offset Path commands to create some cool ornate lettering. Finally, you'll bring all these elements together with Photoshop and assemble the final, print-ready artwork in Illustrator.

You'll find the Photoshop PSD file in a directory labeled "source" that came in the ZIP file that you downloaded. You may wish to look through it briefly before we begin. You'll also find some images to complete the tutorial, as well as the completed, print-ready Illustrator artwork.

You'll also need the following stock images, textures, brushes and fonts:

Step 1

Launch Photoshop and set your Background color to black. Create a new A4 portrait document (21cm x 29.7cm) at 300dpi in RGB Mode, then set the Background Contents to Background Color.

Now hit Command + Y to enable Proof Colors – this allows you to work in RGB Mode, while previewing in CMYK – this will avoid any unexpected color shifts when the document is finally converted to CMYK for commercial printing.

Step 2

Ensure you've got Snap and Snap To Guides/Document Bounds selected (located under View). Now pull in the guides and snap them to all four edges of the canvas. Next, go to Image > Canvas Size (Option + Command + C). Add 6mm to both the Width and Height fields, then select the central Anchor point and set the Canvas extension color to Background.

This is a great technique to quickly add bleed and guides to any document; it also cuts out the calculation work of manually placing guides via the View menu.

Step 3

Load the space brushes, then create a new layer. Select a dark purple (#642b65) and use the Brush Tool (B) to begin painting the sky. Add another layer and use a pink (#ec4296) to add more galactic swirls. Remember to rotate and flip your brushes as you work, to avoid repetition.

We'll be using a lot of layers throughout this tutorial – so get into the habit of naming them. Now add your layers into a Group Folder and label it "SKY."

Step 4

Paint on additional layers using some blues (#3e5e7e and #2376a1). Now load the cloud brushes and use these to build up the sky effect.

Step 5

Add some lighter brush work using yellow (#ffef50) and white, again on separate layers. If you feel you've overworked any areas, feel free to use the Eraser Tool (E) as needed.

Step 6

Open the Gradient Editor and load the Special Effects library. Now select Russell's Rainbow and edit the color stops as shown, then click the New button to save it.

Add a new layer labelled "Rainbow" within the folder. Set your new gradient to Radial and Shift-drag from the center of your canvas. Add a layer mask, then set your Foreground/Background colors to default by pressing D on your keyboard. Now Shift-drag a Foreground to Background Linear Gradient on the mask to hide the bottom half of the rainbow. Next, set the layer Blending Mode to Screen and drop the Opacity to 45%.

Step 7

Click on the Create new fill or adjustment layer pull-down menu and select a Curves adjustment at the top of the stack. Click to add two anchor points, using the settings shown – if you need to reset the curve, hold Option and the Cancel button becomes a Reset button.

Step 8

Open the "Skater.jpg" from the "source" folder. This image was kindly donated by Paul Frost, so please respect its copyright and usage restrictions. Select the Crop Tool (C) and delete the bottom half. Now set the Pen Tool (P) to paths and carefully clip around the skater (shown in magenta). Don't sweat over the hair, just clip inside – we'll fix that in the next couple of steps.

Step 9

Set the Pen Tool to Subtract from path area to plot the inner sub-path (again shown in magenta). Now zoom in and fine-tune both paths by pressing the Command key to access the Direct Selection Tool and adjust individual direction/anchor points as required.

Step 10

Switch to the channels palette and cycle through each channel in turn to determine which holds the best contrast between the skater and background. In this instance it's the Blue one. Duplicate it by dragging its thumbnail onto the Create new channel icon.

Next, hit Command + L to access the Levels dialogue box and use the settings shown below.

Step 11

Command-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection, then with your duplicate channel targeted and white set as your Foreground color, hit Delete to fill the selection with black. Now hit Shift + Command + I to Inverse the selection and use a large, hard-edged white brush to paint out all the background – leaving the skater's hair intact.

Step 12

Target the top RGB composite channel and disable the visibility of the duplicate channel. Now switch to your layers palette and drop in a new layer.

Next, we're going to fix the missing tail of the skateboard. Extend your canvas to the left using the Crop Tool. Then draw a closed path where the tail should be. Make a path-based selection, then use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) set to Current & Below to add the missing area. It's always good practice to carry out any retouching on a new layer, just in case things go wrong.

Step 13

Once you're done, Command-click the retouch layer thumbnail to generate a selection, then target the duplicate channel and fill the active selection with black – we now have a clean mask of the skater.

Generate a selection from the channel, Inverse it, target the composite channel and switch back to your layers palette. With the selection still active, flatten the image and Copy to the clipboard.

Step 14

Add a new folder into your working document and label it "SKATER." Paste the selection within the folder and hit Command + T to Transform. Duplicate the layer, then go Filter > Convert for Smart Filters. Now go to Filter > Other > High Pass and drag the Radius slider to 60.0 px. Finally, set the "Skater copy" layer to Hard Light.

Step 15

Next, drop a Levels adjustment above the "Skater copy" layer using the settings shown.

Step 16

Set your Foreground/Background colors to #ec4296/#ffef50. Now add a gradient Map adjustment layer selecting the Foreground/Background preset. Now knock back the intensity by setting the adjustment layer's Blending Mode to Color.

Step 17

We now need to clip these adjustments to the original "Skater" layer. To do this hold down Option, while hovering your cursor between the "Gradient Map" and "Levels" layer thumbnails. When your cursor changes to a double circle icon, click to clip the upper layer down. Repeat for the remaining layers as indicated.

Save, then flatten the file and hit Shift + Command + S to Save As a TIFF.

Step 18

Launch Illustrator and create a new A3 CMYK portrait document. With your Rulers visible (Command + R), zoom into the top-left corner and drag the rules origin point to the top-left edge of the artboard. Next, set the toolbar's fill and stroke to none, then select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click anywhere on the artboard. In the next window enter a Width of 216mm and a Height of 303mm. To make things easier you can toggle Outline Mode by hitting Command + Y.

Add another rectangle with a Width of 210mm and a Height of 297mm. Select both rectangles and click the Horizontal and Vertical Align center icons. Now with both objects still selected, use the Reference Point Locator to position them dead center to the artboard (X: 148.5mm and Y: -210mm).

Step 19

Hit Option + Command + Semicolon to unlock your guides and pull across a vertical guide. With the guide selected, use the Reference Point Locator again to position it centrally (X: 148.5mm). Now use the same keyboard command to lock the guides.

Step 20

Select the outer rectangle and hit Command + 5 to convert to a guide, then select the inner one and go to Object > Crop Area > Make. You now have precise bleed/central guides and trim marks.

Next, choose File > Place, check the Link option and navigate to the TIFF you saved in Step 17. Enable Smart Guides (Command + U) to position to the outer guide box, then check its coordinates with the Reference Point Locator.

Step 21

Label the default layer "Base artwork" and lock it. Add another layer called "Graphics" and click on the canvas with the Type Tool (T) to add the text "big" using the MDRS-FDO1 font. Align centrally by hitting Command + Shift + C, then set the point size to 165 and the tracking to 147.

Now grab the Selection Tool (V) and Option + Shift-drag down to duplicate, then change the wording to "air."

Step 22

Select both lines of text, then hit Shift + Command + O to Create Outlines. Now grab the Direct Selection Tool (A) and delete both dots from both of the "i" letters. Next, Shift-drag the ascender of the "b" up and the leg of the "r" down as shown.

Step 23

Open the Pathfinder palette and use the fly-out menu to select Make Compound Shape, then hit the Expand button. Next go to Filter > Stylize > Round Corners and enter 4mm in the next window.

Step 24

Copy over some flourish shapes from the iStock vector flourishes. Alternatively, feel free to make your own ornate shapes.

Step 25

Fill the smaller flourish (shown bottom-right in the previous step) with white and use a combination of the Scissors (C) and Knife Tools to cut and delete points. Now resize, flip/rotate, copy and position around the letterforms as shown.

Step 26

Use the Direct Selection Tool to pull any points into position, following the contours of the lettering. When you're happy, Select All and Make Compound Shape/Expand again. Next, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and enter 2mm in the next window. Now give the offset shape a stroke of 2pt and a fill of none.

Step 27

Fill your remaining flourishes with white and place them around the outer path as shown.

Step 28

Use the same technique as detailed in Step 25 to chop away unwanted areas. You can also tidy up end points by Shift-clicking them with the Direct Selection Tool, then going to Object > Path > Average, or hitting Shift + Command + J.

Step 29

Continue to duplicate, flip, and rotate the flourishes to decorate your lettering until you're happy.

Step 30

Select All, then double-click the Scale Tool (S) and enter 80% in the next window. With all the paths still selected go to Offset Path again, but this time enter a value of 5mm.

Give the new shape a fill of C=75, M=68, Y=67, and K=90. We'll eventually be pasting this artwork into Photoshop – so this color breakdown is Photoshop's equivalent of black.

Apply the Make Compound Shape/Expand pathfinder function to the new shape. Now press Command + Shift + Left Bracket key to send to the back, then Select All and Copy to the clipboard.

Step 31

Re-open your Photoshop layered file and add a new folder below the "SKATER" and label it "VECTOR SHAPES." Now Paste the Illustrator heading as a Smart Object within the new folder accepting the Place prompt. Next, Transform -30 degrees and OK the Place prompt again.

Step 32

Create a new CMYK Illustrator document, then add a rectangle that is 40mm by 100mm and fill it with C=5% and M=80% as shown.

Next, go to Object > Transform > Transform Each (Option + Shift + Command + D) and enter 40mm in the Horizontal Move field, then hit the Copy button.

Fill the second shape with M=45% and Y=100%. Now press Command + D to repeat the transformation and fill the third shape with Y=100%.

Step 33

Select the Polygon Tool (found within the Rectangle Tool's fly-out menu) and click on the artboard. In the next window enter a Radius of 120mm and 3 in the Sides fields, then rotate the shape 180 degrees.

Now use the Direct Selection Tool to Shift-drag the bottom point just above the base of the blocks.

Select All, then go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object (Shift + Command + C), then Copy the whole shape to the clipboard.

Step 34

Go back to your PSD file and Paste As a Smart Object, below the main text within the "VECTOR SHAPES" folder. Temporarily disable the visibility of the "SKATER" folder and Transform the shape so it radiates from the center. Duplicate the layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, then position on the opposite side of the canvas as shown.

Step 35

Now add some vector circles within the "VECTOR SHAPES" folder using the Ellipse Tool (found within the Custom Shape Tool's fly-out menu) and fill them with black. Add further shapes, but use #ec4296 and #ffef50. Next, switch to Illustrator and ungroup the cloud shape (from the iStock vector flourishes), then fill with white and Paste As a Smart Object. Duplicate, flip horizontal, then stack the shape layers as shown.

Step 36

Open "Moon.jpg" from the "source" folder and Shift-drag a selection using the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M). Don't worry if you don't accurately select the moon the first time – use Select > Modify > Expand or Contract accordingly, as well as the arrow keys on your keyboard to nudge the selection into place and Copy.

Add a new folder labelled "OBJECTS 1" above the "SKY" folder and Paste the selection into it. Position top-left, bleeding off the canvas and Transform as shown. Now change the Blending Mode to Color Dodge.

Step 37

Open the mountain image and go to Filter > Extract (Option + Command + X). Use a small brush, remembering to use the Smart Highlighting option on any well-defined areas to isolate them from the sky.

Step 38

When you're done, drag it into your working file as a new layer above the "Moon" and name it "Mountains." Transform and position as shown – you can also temporarily drop the Opacity of the "VECTOR SHAPES" folder to make positioning easier.

Generate a selection from the "Mountains" layer, then target the left rainbow vector layer. Next, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.

Add a mask to the "Mountains" layer, then Shift-drag a black to white Linear Gradient from the bottom of the canvas. Now hold down Option while selecting a Levels adjustment layer. In the next window check Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask and enter the settings shown.

Step 39

Open the "Telescope.jpg" from the "source" folder and isolate using the Pen Tool (shown in magenta), not forgetting the inner sub-paths. You don't have to worry about being 100% accurate here, as you'll be reducing the image in the next step.

Step 40

When your done, generate a path-based selection and Copy > Paste at the top of the stack within the "OBJECTS 1" folder and name it "Astronomer." Transform and position bottom-left, then clip a Levels adjustment as shown.

Step 41

Clip the Asteroid image using the Pen Tool – using your judgement around the shadow areas, then Copy to the clipboard.

Paste the selection as a new layer at the top within the "OBJECTS 1" folder and name it "Rock." Transform and position to the right of the skater's knee, then clip a Levels adjustment as shown.

Step 42

Open the "UFO.psd" from the "source" folder and drag it in as a new layer at the top within the "OBJECTS 1" folder and name it "Flying saucer." Transform and position over the moon, then clip a Levels adjustment as shown.

Step 43

Open the first Bird, then add a new layer to carry out some retouching. Grab the Clone Stamp Tool and set it to Current & Below. Now use a small soft-edged brush to get rid of the object in the bird's mouth.

When you've finished, flatten, then go to Select > Color Range and set the Fuzziness slider to around 96.

Next, go to Select > Refine Edge (Option + Command + R) and use the settings shown.

Step 44

Add a new folder labelled "OBJECTS 2" above the "SKATER" folder, drop the bird in as a new layer and name it "Bird 1." Clip a Levels adjustment as shown, then use the Burn Tool (O), set to Midtones to darken the wing as indicated.

Duplicate the bird and it's adjustment layer, then flip/Transform the bird over the skater's shin.

Step 45

Open the second Bird and use the same techniques to isolate it. Add it as a new layer at the top of the stack within the "OBJECTS 2" folder and label it "Bird 3." Now clip a Levels adjustment as shown.

Step 46

Isolate the Balloon by using whatever technique you're more comfortable with and drop it in at the top within the "OBJECTS 2" folder and label it "Balloon." Transform/position top-right, then clip a Levels adjustment as shown.

Step 47

Open the first Astronaut and plot an outer path using the Pen Tool (shown in magenta) and omitting the strap on the left hand.

Now set your Pen to Subtract from path area to create the inner sub-path (again in magenta). When you're done generate a path-based selection and Copy.

Step 48

Paste as a new layer into the "OBJECTS 2" folder, label it "Astronaut 1" and Transform/position as shown.

Now set your Foreground/Background colors to #ec4296/#ffef50 and clip a Gradient Map adjustment to the new layer using the Foreground/Background preset. Soften the effect by setting the adjustment layer's Blending Mode to Color and dropping its Opacity to 50%.

Step 49

Cut out the second Astronaut and Transform/position as shown, then label accordingly. Now clip the same Gradient Map adjustment as the previous step.

Step 50

Let's rough-up the illustration with some grungy textures; first add a new folder at the top of the layer stack and label it "GRUNGE." Now open IMG_4680.JPG from the Markerboard textures and go to Image > Rotate Canvas > 90 degrees CCW. Next, hit Command + I to Invert.

Drag/drop the texture into the new folder and name it "Distress 1." Next, Transform to cover the canvas and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 51%.

Step 51

Open "IMG_4702.JPG" from the same texture folder and Rotate 90 degrees CCW again. Add this as a new layer within the same folder, resize and label it "Distress 2." Now change its Blending Mode to Soft Light and drop the Opacity to 85%.

Step 52

Open the "Torn_paper.jpg" from "source" folder and Select All > Copy. In your working file switch to the channels palette and add a new channel by clicking on the Create new channel icon. Now Paste the selection into the new channel.

Command-click the new channel to generate a selection from the white areas, then target the top RGB composite channel and switch back to the layers palette. Add a new uppermost layer within the "GRUNGE" folder and fill the active selection with #9b9f91. Now set the Blending Mode to Screen, the Opacity to 56% and name it "Distress 3."

Step 53

Add a mask to the "GRUNGE" folder and use a medium, soft-edged black brush to hide any intrusive areas.

Step 54

Next, were going to add some selective mono areas to the composition. First, disable the visibility of all folders apart from the "SKY." Next, drop an empty layer at the top within the "SKY" folder and go to Image > Apply Image. In the next window select the Blue from the pull-down Channel menu and ensure the Blending is set to Normal. You'll now see the empty layer is filled with all the visible Blue channel information.

Step 55

Enable your guides and pull down a horizontal guide to where the rainbow shapes meet. Use the Pen Tool to draw a series of closed paths radiating from the center to the edge of the canvas – as I've indicated in white.

Step 56

Generate a path-based selection, target the "Merged" layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Step 57

Next, increase the contrast of the "Merged" layer by clipping a Levels adjustment to it using the settings as shown.

Step 58

The layered file is now completed, so be sure to Save it. Now flatten all layers, then go to Image > Mode > CMYK Color and delete the extra channel used in Step 52. This flattened file can now be Saved As a TIFF.

Step 59

Reopen your Illustrator artwork document and delete all the layer content from the "Graphics" layer – or place it outside the artboard area if you wish to keep it. Next, unlock your "Base artwork" layer, select the placed image and go to File > Place, check the Replace button and navigate to your TIFF file from the previous step.

Step 60

Lock the "Base artwork" layer, then begin to add your venue, dates and any other graphics – such as sponsor logos on the "Graphics" layer. I used a mix of the free font PlainGermainica and various weights of a commercial font called Din. I also used the Offset path function on the heading beneath the main title, as well as rotating all these elements -30 degrees to match the angle used in Step 31.


Once you're happy, outline all the fonts and Save As a PDF file for your printer. I would normally avoid embedding the image file and supply that along with the PDF – but as always, it's good practice to check with your printer in advance.

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