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How to Create a Colorful Clone Effect Action in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Music Video Inspired Effects.
Solarized Like Zayn: The Digital Sabattier Effect for Surreal Portraits
Create a Glass Shard Reflection Double Exposure Effect in Adobe Photoshop
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Music videos are often on the cutting edge of a culture's creative expression, both in terms of music and visual effects. They also serve as an excellent source of creative inspiration. In this series of tutorials, we will take a look at how to use Photoshop to reproduce some of the most eye-catching effects. 

In this tutorial we go a bit beyond just creating the effect—we record the steps as a Photoshop action. Actions are an excellent resource for being able to quickly produce a complex effect at the press of a button. For example, just take a moment to browse through the impressive actions available on Envato Market.

1. Gather Resources

Let's begin by taking a look at the inspiration for this effect. It's the wonderfully poppy and colorful music video for Lush Life by Zara Larsson. The effect that we want to focus on is the colorful clones effect seen notably around 0:35, 1:04, 1:58, and 3:07. 

Not only do we want to reproduce the effect, but we would like to create it as an action so it is easy to apply to other images.

The effect will work best on an image where the model is isolated on a pure white background—like this image of a beautiful blond girl in mini-skirt with summer hat available for purchase on Envato Market.

beautiful blond girl in mini-skirt with summer hat
Envato Market

2. Record the Action

The effect is relatively straightforward to accomplish in Photoshop. But if you want to create a reliable Action, some of the steps are not very intuitive. That's because the action needs to operate properly on images of different sizes, so some steps need to use relative size positioning instead of absolute pixel measurements. Otherwise, if an image is too small, the effect won't stay within the canvas size. 

It should be specified that the action will also require that the starting image is a single background layer, and has an active selection around the model. 

Step 1

Make sure the file is only a single background layer. If not, go to Layer > Flatten Image. Then use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to create a selection around the model. This will be the starting point of any image the action is used for.

Begin with a flattened file and a selection around the model

Step 2

Open the Actions panel with Window > Actions (Alt-F9) and use the icon at the foot of the Actions panel to Create new action. Name the action "Colorful Clones". As soon as you hit the Record button, be mindful of every step you take as Photoshop is now recording your actions.

Begin recording a new Action

Step 3

Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J), double click on the layer name, and call it "Copy 1".

Create a new copy of the selected model

Step 4

Create four more copies of the layer and name them in series "Copy 2", "Copy 3", "Copy 4" , and "Copy 5". Be sure to rename each layer as it is created; don't wait until after all the copies are made. This risks the action not being able to detect the correct layer to rename when it is played back.

Create four more copies

Step 5 

The canvas needs to be extended to create room for the effect. Go to Image > Canvas Size (Alt-Control-C), set the measurements to percent, and enter 280% for the Width. Using percentages means that the action will work on images of multiple sizes, not only this exact pixel dimension. Set the anchor point to the right center and the Canvas extension color to White.

Extend the canvas to make room for the effect

Step 6

Go to Select> All (Control-A) to select the entire canvas. Then go to Select > Modify > Contract, contract the selection by 150 px, and enable the Apply effect at canvas bounds option. This insets the selection by 150 pixels.

Create an inset selection

Step 7

Select the Copy 4 layer and go to Layer > Align Layers to Selection > Left Edges to move the copy to the far end of the canvas. Then go to Select > Deselect (Control-D) to cancel the selection.

Align the Copy 4 to the left edge of the selection

Step 8

Hold down the Control button and click on each of the Copy layers 1, 2, 3 and 5. So all five copy layers should be selected. 

Note: Do not use the Shift-select method to select the group of them at once, as that method is not reliable with an action. Each layer must be specifically selected by name in the action script.

Select all the copy layers

Step 9

Go to Layer > Distribute > Horizontal Centers to arrange the layers across the canvas.

Distribute the copies

Step 10

Set the Opacity setting for the layers as follows:

  • Copy 4: 50%
  • Copy 1: 60%
  • Copy 2: 70%
  • Copy 3: 80%
Set the Opacity for the copies

Step 11

Use the Control-click method again to select each of the copy layers 1-4 and go to Layer > Merge Layers (Control-E) and rename the merged layer to "Clones".

Merge the copies 1 - 4 into a single layer

Step 12

Set the Foreground color to a hot pink (e50fed) and the Background color to a neon green: (30ff07). Then go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient, leave the name as the default "Gradient Fill 1", and use the following settings for the Gradient Fill:

  • Gradient Preset: Foreground to Background
  • Angle: 45
  • Scale: 100%
  • Enable the Align with layer option
Add a Gradient Fill layer

Step 13

Set the Foreground color to a bright yellow (f7fa04) and the Background color to a neon blue (0719ff). Then go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient, leave the name as the default "Gradient Fill 2", and use the following settings for the Gradient Fill:

  • Gradient Preset: Foreground to Background
  • Angle: 315
  • Scale: 100%
  • Enable the Align with layer option
Add a second gradient fill layer

Step 14

Set the second gradient layer's blending mode to Hard Light to create this multi-colored quad-gradient effect. Then Control-select both gradient fill layers and merge them together with Layer > Merge Layers (Control-E). Rename the merged layer to "colorfill".

Merge the gradient fills into a single layer

Step 15

Go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (Alt-Control-G) to clip the colorfill layer to the Clones layer.

Clip the color gradient to the clones layer

Step 16

Select the Clones layer and create a new copy of it with Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J). This adds a new copy of the layer, but notice that the colorfill layer is now clipped to the copy.

Copy the clones layer

Step 17

The original clone layer needs to be repositioned over the colorfill layer, but reordering layers in the Layers panel is unreliable in actions. Instead, select the Clones layer and go to Layer > Arrange > Bring to Front (Shift-Control-]).

Move the original clone layer to the top

Step 18

Now go to Layer > Arrange > Send Backward (Control-[) to move the Clones layer down one spot in the layer order. Then change the blending mode to Luminosity and reduce the Opacity to 65%.

Move the layer again and set the blending mode and opacity

Step 19

In the actions panel, hit the Stop button to stop the recording.

Stop the action recording

3. Test and Edit the Action

The whole point of an action is to be able to use it to create this effect on other images quickly and easily. If the action doesn't have much flexibility, then its usefulness is severely limited.

Step 1

Reopen the starting image that was used to create the action. Create a selection again with the Quick Selection Tool. In the Actions panel, find the top of the Colorful Clones action and press the Play button.

Test the Action

The end result should look identical to the result created while recording the action.

Final Effect

Step 2

Open a different image and try it again. Ideally, the testing should be done with various sizes of images, as it is unlikely that you will always want to use the action on the same size image.

test the action on other images too
Toy Bunny

Step 3

If you detect a problem with the action playback, go to the Actions panel menu and select Playback Options. Then change the Performance setting to Step by Step. This means the action will play back more slowly, so you can see where things might be going awry.

Use the Step by Step setting for troubleshooting

Step 4

If something needs to be corrected, it doesn't mean you have to record the entire action all over again. Steps can be moved or deleted from the action script, or you can even begin recording new steps mid-action. Just select the step in the action script where the new procedure should occur and press the record button. Photoshop will insert any new steps right into the action script at that point. Then when finished, press the stop button and test the action again.

Edit the action instead of starting over

Enjoy the Finished Action

When the action is done, enjoy the freedom it brings. You can easily create this fun, colorful clones effect any time in just mere moments...

Lush Life music video inspired effect

... with any image you want!

Plush Life bunny effect

Need More Help?

Want to learn more about creating Actions in Photoshop? Consider my course on Building Your Own Actions in Adobe Photoshop.

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