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How to Create a Melting Portrait Photo Effect Manipulation in Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a melting effect in Photoshop. First, we'll add a curtain background and retouch the model. After that, we'll build a melting candle on top of the model's head and some wax around his body. We'll refine several details, paint the light effect, and use an adjustment layer to enhance the final melting face painting.

Looking for a quick melting effect Photoshop action? Head on over to Envato Elements where you can find this wet paint Photoshop action, which creates a melting effect.

Wet Paint Photoshop ActionWet Paint Photoshop ActionWet Paint Photoshop Action

What You'll Learn in this Adobe Photoshop Tutorial 

  • How to create a melting effect in Photoshop
  • How to use adjustment layers in Photoshop 
  • How to add fire in Photoshop
  • How to create a surreal portrait effect in Photoshop 
  • How to make something melt in Photoshop

Follow along over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel, where you can find even more awesome Photoshop video tutorials.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this melting face Photoshop tutorial:

1. How to Make the Base Background

Step 1

To start our melting face tutorial, first create a new 2000 x 2000 px document in Photoshop with the following settings:

photo effect - new file photo effect - new file photo effect - new file

Step 2

Open the curtain background image and drag this image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Place the upper half of the curtain onto the canvas and hide the floor.

photo effect - add curtain photo effect - add curtain photo effect - add curtain

Step 3

On the curtain layer, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 21 px. You can change these settings depending on the dimension of your document or when you feel it's soft and blurry enough. This step is to separate the background from the main subject and make some depth for the whole scene.

photo effect - curtain gaussian blur photo effect - curtain gaussian blur photo effect - curtain gaussian blur

Step 4

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and decrease the lightness until it's almost invisible. On this layer mask, activate the Brush Tool (B) and select a soft round one with black color. Lower the brush's Opacity to about 10-15% to paint on the middle of the background to reveal some light on the wrinkles of the curtain in a subtle way.

photo effect - curtain curvesphoto effect - curtain curvesphoto effect - curtain curves
photo effect - curtain curves maskingphoto effect - curtain curves maskingphoto effect - curtain curves masking

Step 5

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the blue of the curtain. Reduce the Saturation to -90.

photo effect - curtain hue saturationphoto effect - curtain hue saturationphoto effect - curtain hue saturation

2. How to Retouch the Model

Step 1

Cut out the model from the background and place him in the lower half of the dark canvas. Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush to remove the top part of the head.

photo effect - add modelphoto effect - add modelphoto effect - add model
photo effect - model maskingphoto effect - model maskingphoto effect - model masking

Step 2

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Reds and Blues settings. This step is to adjust the tone of the model's face and his shirt to match the background.

photo effect - model hue saturation 1 redsphoto effect - model hue saturation 1 redsphoto effect - model hue saturation 1 reds
photo effect - model hue saturation 1 bluesphoto effect - model hue saturation 1 bluesphoto effect - model hue saturation 1 blues

Step 3

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights values. The aim is to give the model some golden light reflection as we'll be adding the flame effect above his head in the next stages. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the light effect on his skin and on the lower part of his shirt where it's less affected by the light than the rest.

photo effect - model color balance highlightsphoto effect - model color balance highlightsphoto effect - model color balance highlights
photo effect - model color balance midtones photo effect - model color balance midtones photo effect - model color balance midtones
photo effect - model color balance maskingphoto effect - model color balance maskingphoto effect - model color balance masking

Step 4

Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. On the layer mask, paint on the front of the model to reveal the lightness there.

photo effect - model curves 1photo effect - model curves 1photo effect - model curves 1

Step 5

Use another Curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast of the model. Paint on the front of the mouth, chin and shoulders and any details you feel are too dark or contrasting.

photo effect - model curves 2photo effect - model curves 2photo effect - model curves 2

Step 6

Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to reduce the golden light after increasing the contrast. Bring the Saturation values down to -32:

photo effect - model hue saturation 2photo effect - model hue saturation 2photo effect - model hue saturation 2

Step 7

Create a new layer and use a medium-soft brush with the color #0d0907 to paint more shadow below the model's lips and nose. We've added more light and contrast, so the shadow should be more visible and a bit larger.

photo effect - model face shadowphoto effect - model face shadowphoto effect - model face shadow

3. How to Build the Candle

Step 1

Cut out the candle 1 image and use the Lasso Tool (L) to select the top of this candle in Photoshop. Drag this part onto the front of the model using the Move Tool.

photo effect - add candle 1photo effect - add candle 1photo effect - add candle 1

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the bottom of the candle and the wick, and blend the top with his face. Lower the brush's opacity when blending on the intersection between the face and the candle.

photo effect - candle 1 maskingphoto effect - candle 1 maskingphoto effect - candle 1 masking

Step 2

Use the Lasso Tool to select another part from the original candle image and add it to the face of the model. Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the hard edges and blend this part with the face.

photo effect - add  another part of candle 1photo effect - add  another part of candle 1photo effect - add  another part of candle 1
photo effect - candle part 1 maskingphoto effect - candle part 1 maskingphoto effect - candle part 1 masking

Step 3

Select a long, thin part from the side of the candle to add to the right of the model's face (from the viewer). Add a mask to this layer and take a hard black brush to trim this part into several lines flowing from the top of the head. Lower the brush's size to get a more natural result.

photo effect - add more part of candle 1photo effect - add more part of candle 1photo effect - add more part of candle 1
photo effect - candle part 2 maskingphoto effect - candle part 2 maskingphoto effect - candle part 2 masking

Step 4

Select all of the candle layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group's mode to Normal 100% and create a new layer within the group. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to reduce the light on the part above the nose.

photo effect - candle 1 cloningphoto effect - candle 1 cloningphoto effect - candle 1 cloning

Step 5

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and set it as a Clipping Mask. Adjust the Saturation values to desaturate and change the color of the candle.

photo effect - candle 1 hue saturationphoto effect - candle 1 hue saturationphoto effect - candle 1 hue saturation

Step 6

Create a Curves adjustment layer to decrease the lightness. On this layer mask, paint on the middle area to reveal the lightness there, leaving the shadow visible on both sides and the space between the candle wax lines.

photo effect - candle 1 curvesphoto effect - candle 1 curvesphoto effect - candle 1 curves

Step 7

Move the candle 2 image into the main document and place the candle's flame on top of the middle of the existing candle. Add a mask to this layer and use a medium-soft black brush to erase most of the candle, leaving the candle's flame and its glow visible.

photo effect - add candle 2photo effect - add candle 2photo effect - add candle 2
photo effect - candle 2 maskingphoto effect - candle 2 maskingphoto effect - candle 2 masking

Step 8

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above this candle layer and set it as a Clipping Mask. Change the Hue values a bit to +8:

photo effect - candle 2 hue saturationphoto effect - candle 2 hue saturationphoto effect - candle 2 hue saturation

Step 9

Make a new layer below the candle 2 layer. Use a soft brush with the color #e2b588 to paint around the candle's flame. Change this layer mode to Color Dodge 80% and use a layer mask to erase the light around the head.

photo effect - paint candle glow 1 photo effect - paint candle glow 1 photo effect - paint candle glow 1
photo effect - candle glow 1 result photo effect - candle glow 1 result photo effect - candle glow 1 result

Step 10

Create another layer and use a soft brush with the color #9b6837 to paint above the candle's flame to make a light reflection there. Alter this layer mode to Hard Light 40%.

photo effect - paint background light reflection normal modephoto effect - paint background light reflection normal modephoto effect - paint background light reflection normal mode
photo effect - background light hard light modephoto effect - background light hard light modephoto effect - background light hard light mode

4. How to Add the Candle Wax

Step 1

Open the candle wax 1 image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select a part on the right to place on the left of the model's face. Flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) and add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush to blend this part with the existing candle's surface.

photo effect - add wax 1 part 1photo effect - add wax 1 part 1photo effect - add wax 1 part 1
photo effect - wax 1 part 1 masking photo effect - wax 1 part 1 masking photo effect - wax 1 part 1 masking

Step 2

Select other parts from the candle's wax to add around the shoulders and the left ear. Use Control-T to rotate these parts to different angles and sizes. Add a mask to several wax layers to blend them with the existing candle and shirt and remove the hard shadow of the wax on the left shoulder.

photo effect - add more parts of wax 1photo effect - add more parts of wax 1photo effect - add more parts of wax 1
photo effect - wax 1 parts maskingphoto effect - wax 1 parts maskingphoto effect - wax 1 parts masking

Step 3

Create a group for these wax layers and make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the wax.

photo effect - wax 1 hue saturation photo effect - wax 1 hue saturation photo effect - wax 1 hue saturation

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to this wax. On this layer mask, paint on the shadow areas of any details you feel are too bright.

photo effect - wax 1 curvesphoto effect - wax 1 curvesphoto effect - wax 1 curves

Step 5

Open another candle in Photoshop. Use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to select different parts of wax to add to the head, face, and shirt. Add a mask to each of these layers, use a soft black brush to blend the top of the wax with the existing candle, and use a hard black brush to trim these pieces of wax in different lines flowing along the face.

photo effect - add wax 2photo effect - add wax 2photo effect - add wax 2
photo effect - wax 2 maskingphoto effect - wax 2 maskingphoto effect - wax 2 masking

Step 6

Make a group for these wax layers and make a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to alter the color of the wax.

photo effect - wax 2 channel mixer redphoto effect - wax 2 channel mixer redphoto effect - wax 2 channel mixer red
photo effect - wax 2 channel mixer bluephoto effect - wax 2 channel mixer bluephoto effect - wax 2 channel mixer blue

Step 7

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the color of the wax lines a bit to make them match the rest of the candle.

photo effect - wax 2 hue saturation photo effect - wax 2 hue saturation photo effect - wax 2 hue saturation

Step 8

Make a Curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast of the wax. Paint on any details you feel are too dark or contrasting.

photo effect - wax 2 curvesphoto effect - wax 2 curvesphoto effect - wax 2 curves

Step 9

Create a new layer below the candle wax groups. Use a soft brush with the color #1c1b1b and Opacity about 30% to paint shadow below the wax on the shirt.

photo effect - waxes shadowphoto effect - waxes shadowphoto effect - waxes shadow

5. How to Make the Final Melting Effect in Photoshop

Step 1

Make a new layer on top of the other layers and use a brush with the color #753c23 to paint on the lower lip, avoiding its highlight. Change this layer mode to Multiply 40% to reduce the light on this part.

photo effect - reduce lips highlightsphoto effect - reduce lips highlightsphoto effect - reduce lips highlights

Step 2

Create another layer and use a soft brush with the color #2a1503 to paint on the candle's flame. Change this layer mode to Color Dodge 100%.

photo effect - candle glow 2photo effect - candle glow 2photo effect - candle glow 2

Step 3

Use another brush with the color #d5af5a to paint more glowing light on the bottom of the flame. Alter this layer mode to Hard Light 100%.

photo effect - candle glow 3photo effect - candle glow 3photo effect - candle glow 3

Step 4

Make a new layer and change the brush's color to #0d0907. Use a medium-soft brush to paint the shadow of the head, including the top of the candle, on the shoulders and neck. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 80%.

photo effect - paint head shadowphoto effect - paint head shadowphoto effect - paint head shadow

Step 5

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray.

photo effect - DB new layer photo effect - DB new layer photo effect - DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range and Exposure about 15-25% to refine the light and shadow of the details of the candle, face, shoulders, and face, especially the space between the wax lines. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

photo effect - DB normal modephoto effect - DB normal modephoto effect - DB normal mode
photo effect - DB overlay modephoto effect - DB overlay modephoto effect - DB overlay mode

Step 6

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to increase the light, color, contrast and vibrance of the whole scene.

photo effect - whole scene color balance midtonesphoto effect - whole scene color balance midtonesphoto effect - whole scene color balance midtones
photo effect - whole scene color balance shadowsphoto effect - whole scene color balance shadowsphoto effect - whole scene color balance shadows
photo effect - whole scene color balance highlightsphoto effect - whole scene color balance highlightsphoto effect - whole scene color balance highlights

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the process of creating an interesting melting face painting and learned something new for your own projects. Feel free to share your own version of this melting effect in Photoshop or leave your comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

If you enjoyed this melting face tutorial, you'll love our free course on compositing in Photoshop. Daniel White shows you how to create a post-apocalyptic robot scene using stock images and some cool effects!

Or take Abbey Esparza's free introductory course on photo manipulation in Photoshop. You'll learn how to create new landscapes from multiple different photos, how to extract people and objects, and how to blend them into your new environments.

Here are some more interesting portrait photo effects:

photo effect - final resultphoto effect - final resultphoto effect - final result

Need to Create a Melting Face in Photoshop Fast? 

Try one of these premium actions that will create an instant melting face in Photoshop with just a few clicks! 

Wet Paint Photoshop Action

Wet Paint Photoshop ActionWet Paint Photoshop ActionWet Paint Photoshop Action

If you are wondering how to make something melt in Photoshop quickly and easily, check out the Wet Paint Photoshop Action! It's not limited to creating a dripping face in Photoshop—it can do whole bodies or objects as well! 

Liquify Photoshop Action

Liquify Photoshop ActionLiquify Photoshop ActionLiquify Photoshop Action

When looking at how to make something melt in Photoshop, there is no better action than the Liquify action! Not only does it add dynamic shapes of liquid around your subject, but it also adds depth to the foreground of the image. This is the only action you'll need for a full-blown image edit! 

Dripping Gold Photoshop Action

Dripping Gold Photoshop ActionDripping Gold Photoshop ActionDripping Gold Photoshop Action

The Dripping Gold action turns full subjects into metallic liquid that can resemble not just gold, but silver and other metals as well. This action also comes with its very own tutorial showing you how to create a melting effect in Photoshop!

Cartoon Melted Drips Action

Cartoon Melted Drips ActionCartoon Melted Drips ActionCartoon Melted Drips Action

Create a dripping face in Photoshop and give it a colorful spin with the Cartoon Melted Drips action. Create colorful melting drips on both models and objects, giving everything an ultra-stylistic feel. Perfect for CD covers and band posters!

Liquify 2 Photoshop Action

Liquify 2 Photoshop ActionLiquify 2 Photoshop ActionLiquify 2 Photoshop Action

Combine today's melting face Photoshop tutorial with the Liquify 2 action to create a fire and water effect! This action can be paired with any portrait effect or placed on a new image and used all on its own. Create splashes of dynamic water in just a few seconds!

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