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How to Create a 90s Graphical Photo Effect in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

The nineties were packed with incredible, bold colors and abstract shapes! And you can create an awesome nineties-inspired photo effect using custom shapes and more in Adobe Photoshop.

Learn how to create the initial background before applying the shapes, model, and final colors to the composition.

Want more ideas? Create cool retro photo effects using Photoshop Actions from Envato Elements.

Let's begin!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial:

Music Video Inspiration

One of the best places to find inspiration is in your favorite music videos. This tutorial is inspired by the cool 90s vibes from the music video: Hard Times by Paramore.

Instead of making a carbon copy of the original, we'll just take note of all the different design elements seen here. They'll help guide us to our own result!

So I'll focus on adding simple shapes and bold colors to achieve this effect.

1. How to Create the 90s Background

Step 1

Create a New Document at 1000 x 648 pixels. Fill the background with a deep purple color #211f26 using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

Fill the background

Step 2

Right-click the background layer within the Layers panel and select Blending Options. Using the Right Diagonal Line preset, add a Pattern Overlay with the following settings:

Add a pattern overlay

Here is the result. The background appears dark at first, but we'll lighten it in later steps.

Lined backgound result

Step 3

Add a New Layer above the background. With a Soft Round Brush (B) at 0% Hardness, paint a large blue #2e6be1 spotlight in the top left corner of the composition.

Add a soft blue spotlight

2. How to Add the Initial Abstract Shapes

Step 1

Before we add the model, let's focus on creating the initial abstract shapes for the scene. We'll need to access all the shapes under the Custom Shape Tool (U) in order to do this.

Select the Custom Shape Tool (U), and then select the drop-down options and select All. Once you're prompted to replace/append, select Append.

Enable all the shapes

Now you have all the necessary shapes needed for this tutorial!

Step 2

Select the Ellipse Tool (U) and place a large blue #0467ea circle a little off the center.

Add the circle

Step 3

Adding a few shapes to the circle will really make it pop! Start with a custom one by using the Line Tool (L).

Create a zigzag-like shape with the following settings:

  • Weight: 4 pixels
  • Color: #002ad7
Create a zigzag line shape
  1. Start by making one line, and then hold Control-J to duplicate it. 
  2. Rotate the copy with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) so that it's perpendicular to the first line.
  3. Continue this process of connecting the lines together. Do this until you have a shape like the one above.

When you're finished, select all the shapes and right-click to Merge Shapes.

Step 4

Hold Control-J to create a few more copies of your new zigzag shape. Place the zigzag shapes all around the circle. Then select all the shapes and right-click to set them as a Clipping Mask to the circle.

Add more zigzag shapes
Notice that I have only a few shape layers but many zigzags. Create groups of zigzag shapes before merging them together.

Now create a skinny black line with a 2 px Weight. Duplicate it twice (Control-J) to get three black lines on the circle. Keep setting the shapes as Clipping Masks to the ellipse.

Add skinny lines

Step 5

Add more abstract shapes! Use the Custom Shape Tool (U) and select the Triangle Frame option to add several colorful triangles to the circle.

I used these colors:

  • Green: #39b54a
  • Yellow: #fff568
  • Pink: #f06eaa
Add the triangles

Follow up by adding a few small white circles into the mix using the Ellipse Tool (U).

Add small white circles

Select the Custom Shape Tool (U) again, to add a few white circle frame shapes.

Add white circle frames

Then finish with some custom cross hairs. To make these, simply create a white 1px line then Duplicate it (Control-J) before Rotating and Merging the shapes together. Add as many as you'd like to the ellipse.

Add the cross hairs

3. How to Add More Shapes and Color

Step 1

To balance out the shapes we have going on in the circle with the rest of the composition, we'll add a few to the background as well. But first, let's adjust the colors.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness & Contrast and add the following settings:

  • Brightness: 21
  • Contrast: 25
Add a Brightness and Contrast adjustment

Step 2

Add some large, dark purple #292631 triangles to the background. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to adjust the triangles to different angles.

Add a few more triangles

Create a New Layer above the shapes. Then use the Brush Tool (B) at 0% Hardness to paint a large, green #2edfb0 spot light on top of the blue light in the upper left corner. Adjust the Opacity to 42%.

Add green spotlight

Experiment often. Adding more shapes will create an even better composition!

Add more triangles
  1. Add three large, dark triangles. Make them overlap the others.
  2. Use black and blue #07101c colors for the first two.
  3. Then create the third blue #242954 triangle shape and add a Gradient Overlay with the following settings:
Gradient Overlay Settings

Add a few more triangles to the composition, including these green #00a651 ones.

Here is the result when you're finished.

Add green triangles

Step 3

For more atmosphere, let's create a quick vignette. To do this, create a New Layer above all the others.

Then select the Gradient Tool (G) and apply a black to transparent Radial Gradient to the layer. Make sure the Reverse option is checked to get a good vignette effect.

Add a vignette

Follow up with two new Adjustment Layers. First, create a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup. Set the 3DLUT File to 2Strip.look.

Add a color lookup adjustment layer

Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance. Adjust the settings under the Midtones and Highlights to the following:

Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer

For more intensity, add a New Adjustment Layer of Brightness and Contrast.

  • Brightness: 27
  • Contrast: 54
Add a brightness and contrast layer

Now let's finally add the model!

4. How to Add the Model

Step 1

This effect is framed around the model's image, so use a photo of yourself or grab a neat stock like this fashion model with glasses:

Model stock from Envato Elements
Model stock from Envato Elements.

The key here is to pick a photo with the same 90s vibe for the overall effect. Study fashion styles to achieve a seamless look. This denim jacket, for instance, never goes out of style and is great for that hipster 90s vibe.

Copy and paste the entire image onto your background and position it into place. Then add a Layer Mask and use the Brush Tool (B) to paint black on the areas that you want to hide. Play with Brush Hardness levels, try to reveal only the model while softening the image in the bottom-right corner.

Add a layer mask to the model

Step 2

Right-click the model layer and go to Blending Options. Create a quick Drop Shadow with the following settings:

Add a Drop Shadow

Step 3

Now create a New Layer set to Hard Light. Set it as a Clipping Mask to the model. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint soft black shadow onto the model. Try to diffuse the intensity of the image with some shadow. Adjust the Opacity to 34%

Add shadow to the model

Set a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup as a Clipping Mask to the model. We need to adjust the image's colors to complement the background.

Set the 3D LUT File to FoggyNight.3DL then set the Layer Blend Mode to Luminosity.

Add a color lookup adjustment

Just like before, add a New Adjustment Layer as a Clipping Mask, this time of Brightness/Contrast.

  • Brightness: -1
  • Contrast: 12
Add a brightness and contrast adjustment

5. How to Add the Final Effects

Now that we've got the majority of this style in place, all we need to do is make a few more tweaks for a better composition.

Step 1

Create a New Layer set to Difference. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint soft blue #202e4d shadow on the right side of the composition. Melt the model into the background.

Paint more shadow

Step 2

Let's tackle the glasses!

Create a New Layer and use the Pen Tool (P) to fill the glasses with black.

Fill the glasses with black

We'll use the black as a base to apply more color. Set several New Layers as Clipping Masks to the black lenses.

On each layer, use the Pen Tool (P) to create one colorful lens shape for the glasses. Build different shapes and colors until you're happy with them.

Here I used these colors:

  • Pink: #fe4b86
  • Purple: #c813af
  • Blue: #5b6090
Add color to the glasses

To make the lenses more realistic, let's add some shadow! Clip another New Layer to the shades base and set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply. Use the Brush Tool (B) at 0% Hardness to paint soft shadow around the edges of the glasses. Diffuse the sharp lines for a cool, natural effect.

Add shadow to the glasses lens

Step 3

For a trippy line effect, use the Pen Tool (P) to create a selection around your model (don't worry too much about a clean line shape—the crazier the better).

Then right-click and select Stroke Path (make sure that your Pencil Tool is set to 2 pixels in Size). Set the Stroke Path options to Pencil Tool with Simulate Pressure Unchecked.

Feel free to use white or any other color for this step.

Create line effect

Duplicate (Control-J) this line layer several times. For each new line layer, adjust the shape and size of the line with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T). Stretch them out in ascending order.

Then right-click each line layer and go to Blending Options.

Use the Color Overlay option to change the lines to different colors.

Here I used:

  • Pink: #ffa5c5
  • Yellow: #fff7b4
  • Purple: #242645
Color the lines with Color Overlay
Here is just one of the Color Overlay layers. Use the same general settings for each new color.

Check out the result below.

Coloring each outline with blending options
Here are all of the different line layers created for this effect.

Step 4

Set a New Layer above all the other layers to Overlay. Use a Soft Round Brush to paint soft white over the model's chest, bringing some light back in. Lower the Opacity to 65%.

Follow up with two last Adjustment Layers, to tweak the colors.

The first, for Color Balance, with the following settings for Midtones and Highlights.

Color Balance Settings

And the second, Color Lookup, with the 3D LUT File at 2Strip.look. Lower the Opacity to 45% for this brilliant blue look.

Color Lookup Settings

That's it! Check out the final result below.

And try out this effect on other photos for more awesome results!

Alternative 90s photo effect
Here is a similar effect with a slightly different stock and color scheme.


Celebrate classic 90s styles with an awesome photo effect!

In this tutorial, we learned that a few well placed shapes can highlight any cool stock photo. Remember to unlock presets to access awesome vector shapes and more, and experiment with Adjustment Layers to tweak your color scheme to the one you want!

I hope you enjoy trying out this tutorial. Feel free to leave your questions and result in the comments. 

90s Photo Effect Photoshop Tutorial

And for more awesome photo effects, check out my tutorials below:

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