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How to Create a Human Cyborg Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

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Read Time: 14 mins
This post is part of a series called Science Week.
How to Draw a T-Rex Dinosaur
How to Create a Retro Poster With an Astronaut Child in Adobe Illustrator
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What You'll Be Creating

The future is near. Are you ready for a world of cybernetic organisms? Learn how to transform your photos into cool cyborgs in the tutorial below. I'll show you how to use techniques like Frequency Separation to remove skin imperfections before bringing our cyborg to life!

Find more great sci-fi Photoshop add-ons and cybernetics Photoshop brushes and actions on Envato Elements. The resources available there will save you hours of work and you'll get a professional and outstanding result. This cool cyborg Photoshop action is just one of the options available for you:

Check out this cyborg Photoshop action to give yourself a sleek futuristic look!Check out this cyborg Photoshop action to give yourself a sleek futuristic look!Check out this cyborg Photoshop action to give yourself a sleek futuristic look!
Check out this cyborg Photoshop action to give yourself a sleek futuristic look!

And you may also want to check out our free course on compositing in Photoshop. Daniel White shows you how to create a post-apocalyptic robot scene in a series of detailed videos. Or learn the basics of photo manipulation in Photoshop with Abbey Esparza.

What You'll Learn in This Cyborg Face Photo Manipulation Tutorial

  • How to find inspiration
  • How to airbrush your photo
  • How to create the cyberpunk face lines
  • How to build the cyborg background
  • How to add details and color to the cyborg design
  • How to finish the cyborg manipulation

What You'll Need

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

1. How to Find Inspiration

Every great photo manipulation needs a collection of good stocks on deck as well as some inspiring reference art. For this cyborg, I was inspired by the popular style of manipulation seen in work by artists like Michael Oswald.

So to complete our cyborg, we'll need to keep a few important notes in mind:

  • Cyborgs have clear, human features...
  • ... though their bodies are usually broken down into several bionic components.
  • They'll integrate modern technology into their design.
  • They can come in any race.
  • And they sometimes take over the world. Simple, right?

Be deliberate about your stock choices. For our subject I've chosen this Woman Stock. Though the image is no longer available, you can find many incredible stocks like it on Envato Elements.

Cyborg reference from photoduneCyborg reference from photoduneCyborg reference from photodune

The reason why I chose this stock is because of the woman's intense gaze. So try to find images with commanding body language that you can easily manipulate down the line. Beauty and glamor photography work great for this, although you may have to deal with simple edits later (like removing skin cream from her face).

2. How to Airbrush Your Photo

The cyborgs we've come to know in the movies have smooth, perfect-looking skin, most likely because they're made out of metals or other advanced materials. So to achieve this look in photography, we'll turn to the technique of Frequency Separation.

Step 1

Open your reference into Photoshop, changing the dpi to 300. Create a New Group named Retouching. Control-J to Duplicate your reference, placing the copy into the group.

Create a New GroupCreate a New GroupCreate a New Group

Step 2

Before we smooth out her skin, we'll need to remove the white dots of skin cream on her face. So select the Polygonal Tool (L) and make a selection on the left side of her face.

Select the skin with the polygonal lasso toolSelect the skin with the polygonal lasso toolSelect the skin with the polygonal lasso tool

Copy and Paste that selection onto a New Layer, and Flip it by going to Edit > Transform Flip Horizontal. Place the skin copy over the white dots, using the Eraser Tool (E) to erase any harsh edges.

Cover the skin cream with skinCover the skin cream with skinCover the skin cream with skin

Merge the layers together. Clean up the skin with the Stamp Tool (S). First select the tool and hold Alt to source the skin, and then use the sourced skin at 30-50% Opacity to blend it into the skin area. We'll clean up any other imperfections next.

Face After Hiding Skin CreamFace After Hiding Skin CreamFace After Hiding Skin Cream

Step 3

Now for the Frequency Separation. Learn more about this technique in this tutorial: Using Frequency Separation to Retouch Skin.

Control-J to Duplicate the revised stock. Name the top layer High Frequency and the bottom layer Low Frequency. Turn Off the Visibility of the High Frequency layer, and then select the Low Frequency layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting the Radius to any number that blurs the details of your portrait. Here, I set mine to 7.

Blur the Portrait with Gaussian Blur - Frequency SeparationBlur the Portrait with Gaussian Blur - Frequency SeparationBlur the Portrait with Gaussian Blur - Frequency Separation

Turn the Visibility On for the High Frequency layer. With this layer selected, go to Image > Apply Image and enter the following settings:

Apply Image Settings - Frequency SeparationApply Image Settings - Frequency SeparationApply Image Settings - Frequency Separation

Make sure the Blending is set to Subtract and the Layer is set to Low Frequency. Then plug in the numbers above for the Scale and Offset. After you hit OK, set the Layer Blend Mode for the Low Frequency layer to Linear Light.

Frequency Separation Layers After Apply ImageFrequency Separation Layers After Apply ImageFrequency Separation Layers After Apply Image

Step 4

What we have done is separated the texture (high frequency) from the tones and colors (low frequency). Now we can airbrush the skin to make it look smoother.

With the High Frequency layer selected, grab the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and create a selection of the skin, making sure that the selection's Feather is set to 25-30. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and blur the skin. Continue doing this all around her face, changing the Radius each time depending on how much you want to soften the skin and lessen the look of pores.

Merge the frequency layers together when you're finished.

Smooth the skin with gaussian blur and frequency separationSmooth the skin with gaussian blur and frequency separationSmooth the skin with gaussian blur and frequency separation

Here is the model with much smoother skin. We'll continue to adjust it as we proceed.

Frequency separation resultFrequency separation resultFrequency separation result

3. How to Create the Cyberpunk Face Lines

Step 1

Let's move on to the cyborg drawing sketch! It's important to note that you'll need a Graphics Tablet as we'll be employing some important digital drawing/painting techniques later down the line.

Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Hard Round Pressure Opacity Brush to begin drawing your cyborg details. Keep the Flow and Opacity set at 100% but make sure the Pen Pressure for Opacity option is checked.

Hard round brush settingsHard round brush settingsHard round brush settings

Draw simple gray lines over the model indicating the areas where you would like to break down her robotic components. Try to be cognizant of how the human body relates to certain parts moving or connecting together.

Study other cyborg drawings or look up robots for indications of where it might be a good idea to place these cyberpunk face lines.

Draw the cyborg sketch over the referenceDraw the cyborg sketch over the referenceDraw the cyborg sketch over the reference

Step 2

Switch over to a much harder brush, with an Opacity and Hardness of 100%. Starting with the face and hand, make those lines much crisper.

Create Cleaner Lines and DetailsCreate Cleaner Lines and DetailsCreate Cleaner Lines and Details

Continue to push forward by making some of those lines thicker. This is when we begin to fully develop the model as an actual robot.

Darken the robot linesDarken the robot linesDarken the robot lines

The hands and neck, for instance, have components that are painted black to represent the spaces needed for those moving pieces. Try to understand the possible functions behind your details for a more believable result.

close up of the hand detailsclose up of the hand detailsclose up of the hand details

Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase the parts of the gray sketch that are still showing through underneath. Concentrate on creating super clean lines to the best of your ability because this is a machine after all.

To create more of a robotic expression, fill in the eyes with some black as well, using the Brush Tool (B).

Here is the cyborg drawing so far. Let's move on to the background scene.

Cyborg progress with crisp black linesCyborg progress with crisp black linesCyborg progress with crisp black lines

4. How to Build the Cyborg Background

Step 1

Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the white background of the original reference and hit Delete on your keyboard to remove it.

Delete the white backgroundDelete the white backgroundDelete the white background

Then Copy and Paste your Metal Texture onto a New Layer below the woman layer. Adjust the position so that the circular part fits behind the model's head.

With the texture selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and blur the background with a Radius of 5 pixels.

Blur the metal backgroundBlur the metal backgroundBlur the metal background

Step 2

Copy and Paste the Electric Circuit Stock onto a New Layer. Adjust the position so that the lines flow from behind her head, and set the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay.

Just like before, blur the circuit stock by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, with a Radius of 5 pixels.

Add the Circuit StockAdd the Circuit StockAdd the Circuit Stock

5. How to Add Details and Color to the Cyborg Design

Step 1

For a more cohesive look, let's get rid of her blonde hair. Create a New Layer and select the Brush Tool (B). Set the Hardness to 50-80% and start to paint black all over the hair using the same brush as before. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Color Burn and adjust the Opacity to 87%.

Paint the hair a darker colorPaint the hair a darker colorPaint the hair a darker color

Step 2

Let's tackle the skin again. Create a New Layer and use a Soft Round Brush with 30-50% Opacity and 0% Hardness to soften her skin with more color. Hold the Alt key over her skin to set that color as your Foreground Color, and then begin painting with it in the nearby areas.

Continue to do this with the rest of her face and body. Imagine that her skin is made out of hard, reflective materials. Try to make her skin as silky as possible without losing too many details.

Paint the skin for a smoother effect Paint the skin for a smoother effect Paint the skin for a smoother effect

Step 3

Incorporate more technology. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to cut out the USB port from its reference. Paste it onto the canvas on a New Layer and create two more copies. Position each port side by side and Merge the layers together.

Add the usb portsAdd the usb portsAdd the usb ports

Step 4

Let's add color! Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup above all your other layers. Set the 3DLUT File to Crisp_Winter.look.

Add a color lookup adjustment layerAdd a color lookup adjustment layerAdd a color lookup adjustment layer

Next, add a Levels Adjustment Layer with the following settings for the RGB and Blue Channels to intensify the lighting and give a blue tint to the scene.

Add a levels adjustment layerAdd a levels adjustment layerAdd a levels adjustment layer

Add another Color Lookup Adjustment Layer. This time set the 3DLUT File to Crisp_Warm.look. Place it above the Levels layer for more contrast. Lower the Opacity to 70% and set the Blend Mode to Darken.

Things are getting pretty intense.

Add another color lookup adjustment layerAdd another color lookup adjustment layerAdd another color lookup adjustment layer

Step 5

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select an area of the Blue Gem Stock and Paste it onto a New Layer. Position the stone over the triangle and onto her forehead. Add a Layer Mask to the gem layer and paint black onto it to shape the stone into a triangle.

Add the gem stockAdd the gem stockAdd the gem stock

Set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the stone. Use a dark blue color #00197a to paint an inner shadow along the edges of the triangle.

Add shadow to the stoneAdd shadow to the stoneAdd shadow to the stone

Step 6

Fill in the rest of the metal details with solid color. Feel free to experiment with which colors you like best.

Fill in the metail detailsFill in the metail detailsFill in the metail details

6. How to Finish the Cyborg Manipulation

Step 1

This next series of steps involves a lot of painting, so a graphics tablet is necessary. Dedicate New Layers to highlights and shadows. 

Add highlights and shadowsAdd highlights and shadowsAdd highlights and shadows
Here's a side-by-side look as the cyborg gets highlights and then shadows.

Step 2

Start using a Hard Round Brush with an Opacity of 80-100% to make your details crisper.

Paint more crisp detailsPaint more crisp detailsPaint more crisp details

Notice that I've added light tan highlights #ece6f0 around the black robotic components. This will help give them more volume and sheen. Continue to evolve the shading of your cyborg by paying attention to the edges of the skin surface.

Paint darker skin tones, #6a4f65 particularly within the dark spaces of her fingers, to make them look as if there's real thickness in the material used to create her. Continue this effect with the rest of the body, especially with her chest and arm.

Paint the highlights and shadows on her handPaint the highlights and shadows on her handPaint the highlights and shadows on her hand

Step 3

Add more character with unique details. Create bolts for her forehead, make the stone more 3D, and even draw the symbols for the USB port.

Paint more detailsPaint more detailsPaint more details

Step 4

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Curves. Adjust the curves for the RGB and Blue Channels to bump up the intensity of the lighting.

Add an adjustment layer of curvesAdd an adjustment layer of curvesAdd an adjustment layer of curves

Let's add some warmth. Follow up with a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer. Set the 3DLUT File to FallColors.look and lower the Opacity to 25%.

Add a color lookup adjustment layerAdd a color lookup adjustment layerAdd a color lookup adjustment layer

Step 5

Finish your manipulation by diving back into the details. Fix the neck and collar bone areas to give them more volume.

Fix the collar boneFix the collar boneFix the collar bone

Switch over to a Hard Round Brush with 100% Hardness to clean up the edges of your manipulation.

I also elaborated on the robotic details found in the black spaces of her neck and fingers. Sometimes you can make up components like this as long as they generally make sense.

Clean up the edges with a hard brushClean up the edges with a hard brushClean up the edges with a hard brush

Step 6

Finish with one more layer of highlight. Set a New Layer to Overlay and use a light pink color #cfc0e1 to paint soft highlights onto her chest, shoulders, and hand. The arrows indicate the areas that were affected the most. Check out the final result below!

Add one last layer of highlightAdd one last layer of highlightAdd one last layer of highlight

Congratulations, Your Cyborg Face Photo Manipulation Is Done!

This tutorial requires you to put all your Photoshop knowledge to the test! By incorporating photo retouching, photo manipulation, and finally, digital painting techniques, you can achieve an incredibly realistic human cyborg.

The key to this project is to stay patient so that you can fine-tune the results as much as possible. Make your lines super sharp so that she appears more like a machine than a human.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to leave me any questions on the forum and post your results, no matter your skill level.

Human Cyborg Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial by Melody NievesHuman Cyborg Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial by Melody NievesHuman Cyborg Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial by Melody Nieves

5 Top Cybernetics Photoshop Brushes and Actions

Now that you know how to turn yourself into a robot, it's time to explore other options to save yourself some time or achieve similar cool results! Here are some cybernetics Photoshop brushes and actions from Envato Elements you can download today:

1. Artificial Intelligence Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN, PAT)

Artificial Intelligence Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN, PAT)Artificial Intelligence Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN, PAT)Artificial Intelligence Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN, PAT)

Give your images a futuristic look with this cyborg Photoshop action. While this one isn't a full cyborg face makeover, it can certainly give you a cool futuristic look! The robot face filter kit includes:

  • one ATN file (action)
  • one ABR file (brush)
  • one PAT file (pattern)
  • help file and step-by-step tutorial with images
  • fully editable and organized layers

2. Abstract Plexus Particles Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

Abstract Plexus Particles Photoshop Brushes (ABR)Abstract Plexus Particles Photoshop Brushes (ABR)Abstract Plexus Particles Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

Cyborg designs aren't complete without proper abstract, cyborg backgrounds. Here's where this cybernetics Photoshop brush comes in handy. Just like the action above, this is the kit you need to recreate the cyborg background!

This cool cybernetics Photoshop brush kit comes with a high-resolution brush and ten transparent PNG files of these brushes with polygonal shapes and connected dots.

3. Artificial Intelligence Photoshop Action (PSD)

Artificial Intelligence Photoshop Action (PSD)Artificial Intelligence Photoshop Action (PSD)Artificial Intelligence Photoshop Action (PSD)

Here's another cool robot face filter action to consider! If you're looking for other styles of futuristic cyborg designs, this one could work! The cyborg Photoshop action only needs a few clicks to work!

4. Particles With Connected Lines Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Particles with Connected Lines Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Particles with Connected Lines Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Particles with Connected Lines Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

If you're a fan of cyborg backgrounds, here's another cool cybernetics Photoshop brush kit! The download includes ten hi-res cybernetics Photoshop brushes that are extremely versatile for retouching an image, adding drama to photo manipulation, or adding new details!

5. Sci-Fi Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, PAT, ATN)

Sci-Fi Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, PAT, ATN)Sci-Fi Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, PAT, ATN)Sci-Fi Cyborg Photoshop Action (ABR, PAT, ATN)

Are you wondering how to turn yourself into a robot using only one action? This is the action for you! This sci-fi cyborg Photoshop action does everything in a few clicks.

The action saves you hours of work. You'll get a well-organized and structured file with many layers, folders, and settings to help you improve the final result.

Explore More Photoshop Tutorials and Resources

You've completed this tutorial on how to turn yourself into a robot using Photoshop! Luckily, Envato Tuts+ has many more amazing tutorials on photo manipulation and Photoshop resources for your next projects:

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is the Associate Editor of the Tuts+ Design channel.

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