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How to Create a Wanted Poster Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Round up your favorite Western criminals with this fun wanted poster!

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a Western-inspired photo manipulation. First we'll create the initial poster design as a Smart Object before nailing it onto a tree in Adobe Photoshop.

Find more great Western Design inspiration on GraphicRiver.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Create the Wanted Poster

Step 1

Open your Grunge Paper Stock in Photoshop. This stock is awesome becomes it already comes with two convenient versions: solid and torn edges. Save time by choosing the one with the torn edges for a more authentic feel.

Double-click the background to make it a New Layer and rename it "poster."

Open the torn edges paper stock

With the Magic Wand Tool (W), select the white background and hit Delete on your keyboard to remove it. Now it will be the perfect base for our poster.

Remove the white edges

Step 2

Create a New Layer above the paper and Right-click to set it as a Clipping Mask to the paper. Now set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply and use the Brush Tool (B) at 1-50% Opacity to burn more soft grunge around the edges of the paper with a light brown color #966934.

Burn the paper edges

Step 3

Copy and Paste your subject above the paper layer. Here I'll be using this Cowboy Stock. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply, and add a quick Layer Mask to the image.

Add the cowboy stock

Select the Layer Mask and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to create two selections on the top and bottom of the cowboy image. Fill these selections with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to give us more room for text.

Add a layer mask to the cowboy

Step 4

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Threshold. Set the Threshold Level to 111 and the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Lower the Opacity to 54% and Right-click to set this adjustment as a Clipping Mask to the cowboy. 

Add a Threshold Adjustment Layer

Add two more New Adjustment Layers of Hue/Saturation and Posterize with the following settings below. Lower the Opacity of the Posterize layer to 40%:

Hue and Saturation and Posterize Adjustment Layers

Right-click to set them as Clipping Masks to the cowboy layer as well.

Add the adjustments as clipping masks

Step 5

Let's add some text to the poster! With the Type Tool (T), add the following text to the poster. Make sure "Wanted" is underlined and that the rest of the text is in all capital letters.

Feel free to use the fonts you prefer; I used the Bell MT font for the majority of the text and Bookman Old Style for the cash prize.

Bonus points if you can come up with a quirky crime!

Add the text

Step 6

Right-click one of the text layers and go to Blending Options. Add a brown #6d4a0e Stroke and a rich brown #6a3f23 Color Overlay with the following settings:

Add a stroke and color overlay layer style

Right-click the layer to Copy the Layer Style, and then Paste the Layer Style onto every text layer as well as the cowboy layer. Set the layers for "Wanted" and "Billy the Bull" to Overlay, and set the rest of the text layers to Soft Light.

Here is what it should look like now.

Copy and paste the layer styles

Finish the poster by adding an "X" over the word "dead." Do this by using the Line Tool (U) to create two slanted black lines at a Weight of 20 pixels. Again, Paste the Layer Style from before, and then Merge the shapes together. Set the layer to Soft Light and lower the Opacity to 75%.

Add the strikeout to dead

Here is the poster when you're through. Make sure to Save this as a PSD file so that we can use it later for the manipulation.

Wanted poster result

2. How to Prepare the Tree Background

Step 1

You can nail this poster onto many different backgrounds, but you will need to adjust the lighting according to your image. Here I'll be using this Tree Stock.

Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), make a selection on the tree next to the squirrel.

Tree Stock From Pixabay

Now Copy and Paste the tree bark selection over the squirrel to cover it up. Merge the layers together.

Cover the squirrel with tree bark

Step 2

Control-J to create a Duplicate of this background layer. Add a Layer Mask to the copy and paint black onto the white Layer Mask using a Hard Round Brush. Focus the black only on the left and right sides of the tree so that it stands alone.

Then create a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the first layer. Set the Blend Mode to Soft Light and lower the Opacity to 58%. Use this layer to paint soft black shadow onto the background to help the tree stand out.

Paint shadow onto the background

3. How to Apply the Poster to the Tree

Step 1

Time for the poster! First open your poster file in Photoshop. Select all of the layers and Right-click to Convert to Smart Object. Then Right-click the Smart Object and choose Export Contents, and Save your poster as a Smart Object.

Export Smart Object

Switch over to your new file with the tree background. Go to File > Place Embedded and place your saved Smart Object above the tree layers.

Now, if you need to edit the poster at any time, you can do so without having to start over.

Place the Smart Object

Step 2

Control-T to Free Transform the poster. Warp it so that it appears to be nailed to the tree.

Warp the wanted poster

Right-click the layer and go to Blending Options. Create a quick Drop Shadow with the following settings, but Hide the Visibility of the shadow for now:

Add a drop shadow

Add a Layer Mask to the poster. With the Brush Tool (B) selected, paint black onto the bottom right corner to remove the edge. This will help the poster appear behind the foreground bushes.

Mask the poster

Step 3

Before we correct the lighting, let's add the bullet holes and nail to the composition. First, Copy and Paste the Bullet Holes Stock onto the canvas, Rotate it to the position you prefer, and set the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Add the bullet holes

Right-click the bullet holes layer and go to Blending Options. Add two quick Layer Styles of Bevel & Emboss and Drop Shadow with the following settings:

Add bevel and emboss and drop shadow

Step 4

Extract the nail from the Nail Stock with the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and Copy and Paste it onto a New Layer. Position it at the top of the poster so that it looks as if the poster has been nailed to the tree.

Add the nail

Step 5

Now add some falling leaves. To do this, first use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection around the leaf next to the tree.

Then press Control-J twice to Duplicate the leaf onto two New Layers. Control-T to Free Transform each leaf, Rotating them before applying a Motion Blur at 65 degrees and a Distance of 15 pixels.

Add the falling leaves

4. How to Adjust the Final Lighting and Color

Step 1

With the majority of our composition complete, it's time to adjust the lighting for a more harmonious color scheme. First, set a New Adjustment Layer of Curves as a Clipping Mask to the bullets. Raise the curve so that more light hits the holes.

Add Curves to the bullets

Step 2

Let's add a little more grunge to the poster. Fill a New Layer above the poster with brown #704f25 and set the Blend Mode to Multiply. Add a Layer Mask to the layer but Fill the mask with black.

With the Layer Mask still selected, paint white onto the areas where you would like to apply more grunge and shadow. Make sure you add a little shadow underneath the nail too!

Apply more grunge to the poster

Step 3

Now for some color adjustments! Add two Color Lookup Adjustment Layers with the following settings. Lower the Opacity for the teal one to 70% and the sunset adjustment to 76%.

Add Two Color Lookup Adjustment Layers

Next, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Choose a black and white Linear Gradient and set the Blend Mode to Saturation. Lower the Opacity to 35%.

Add a black and white gradient map

Step 4

This composition could use a little smoke! Copy and Paste your Smoke Stock onto the canvas and Control-J to Duplicate it. Place the original and the smoke copy over the bullet holes and set the Blend Modes to Screen.

Add a Layer Mask to each and Mask out the edges of the images to help blend them into the scene.

Add smoke to the composition

Step 5

Go back to the duplicated layer of the tree background, the one we masked earlier. Add a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the tree. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint soft black shadow onto the right side of the tree. This will add more atmosphere.

Paint black shadow onto the tree

Step 6

Unhide the Visibility of the shadow Layer Style for the poster. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup to create a somewhat sunset-like color scheme. Set the Blend Mode to Darken and the Opacity to 83%. 

Add a Candelight Color Lookup Adjustment Layer

Step 7

Create a New Layer set to Overlay. Use a Soft Round Brush to paint light tan #b1a9a3 highlights onto the background of the scene. Apply more highlights to the bullet holes, nail, and leaves.

The point here is to build the lighting scheme and composition around the poster. Try to make the viewer's eye immediately go towards it.

Apply highlights onto the scene

Step 8

Add one last Color Lookup Adjustment Layer for more contrast. Lower the Opacity to 40%.

Add a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer

Step 9

Feel free to stop the manipulation here. Since I want the details of the poster to be crisp, I'm going to sharpen them. To do this, first Merge all the layers together. Duplicate the merged layer and go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Set the Radius to 4.5 pixels and hit OK.

Change the Blend Mode to Overlay. With the copy selected, use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase everything except the tree and poster. Now it should look much sharper! Check out the final result below.

Add a high pass filter

All Done!

Congratulations on completing this manipulation! Switch out the photo for an image of you or one of your friends, and have fun with this tutorial.

I hope you've enjoyed this lesson. Feel free to share any questions or results in the comments below. And for more wonderful photo manipulation tutorials, check out these links:

Western Wanted Poster Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial
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