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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Poster Design

How to Make an Action Movie Poster in Photoshop

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today we will be looking at how to make an action movie poster in Adobe Photoshop. We will build an action movie poster PSD step by step, creating a composition that can be easily replicated using different actors or models.

The key to a good action poster is simplicity with high visibility. You want to grab the viewer's attention and then stay in that viewer's memory, making sure they can't resist wanting to watch this film—even if it doesn't really exist! 

And if you are looking to create eye-catching action posters in a hurry, try one of the dozens of professional presets and add-ons on Envato Elements! Get a Hollywood action movie poster look in seconds! 

Cortisol Photoshop Action

Movie Poster Design in Photoshop: Tutorials and Tips!

Head on over to our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel, where you can learn more about poster design in Photoshop with my free video course Movie Poster Design in Adobe Photoshop.

What You'll Learn in this Adobe Photoshop Tutorial 

  • How to make a movie poster in Photoshop
  • How to structure an action movie poster PSD
  • What are a movie poster's dimensions?
  • How to create action movie typography 
  • How to color grade an action movie poster 

Tutorial Assets

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

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Set Up an Action Movie Poster in Photoshop

Step 1

Let's start our action movie poster in Photoshop by creating a new 27 x 40 inch canvas.

If you have no intention of printing this as a full movie poster, then feel free to go smaller, but keep the same ratio.

movie poster size

Step 2

Next, if your design will make it to paper, design in the CMYK Color Mode. 

If it will be web-only, then RGB is better for web and other electronic uses. I will be using CMYK for my design today. 

movie poster resolution

Step 3

Finally, if printing, set your DPI or Resolution to 300. This will make sure your image prints nice and sharp.

If it will be web-only, then the default 72 is fine. 

cmyk color

2. How to Create a Hollywood Action Movie Poster Composition 

Step 1

Create a Color Fill layer and fill it with a mustard yellow #d3a033.

yellow background

Step 2

Take a concrete wall with rust spots texture and place it over the Color Fill layer. If it's like the stock image above, make sure you enlarge it so that only the wall texture is showing. 

Turn the texture black and white. I like to use Hue/Saturation for this, but it doesn't matter. 

rusty texture

Step 3

Set the texture's layer mode to Overlay. 

Duplicate the texture so that it is even more harsh and vivid.

Group the two textures and the Color Fill layer, naming the group "Background." 

set layer to overlay

Step 4

Next, take your three main subjects and extract them from their backgrounds using your preferred method

Since I am going for a rough, imperfect look, I used the Select Subject tool. If you need something more precise, you can use the Pen Tool and Refine Edge. 

If you only need to place one or two subjects, that's fine! But try to place no more than three, as it can come off too busy otherwise. 

Right-Click > Convert to Smart Object all of your subjects so that you can resize them as you go and not have to worry about quality loss or blurriness.

extract subjects

Step 5

Place the subjects in order and size of importance. Here is a general guide: 

  • If featured on the poster, then the villain should be the largest subject. They should be placed overhead, looming over everyone else to show they are a threat. 
  • If you will only be featuring the main subject, be it a person or item, then they/it should be the largest. 
  • All side characters should be sized according to their importance to the story. 

So in my case, the masked man is the villain, the woman is the hero, and the child is a side character who is important to the story but is not the hero. 

Tip! Try and place your subjects so that they form a triangle shape.  

place subjects

Step 6

Next, darken and adjust the contrast of all three of the subjects using a clipped Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer.

You can use Layer Masks to mask out any areas that seem too dark or contrasting.

Masked Man's Settings

  • Brightness: -91
  • Contrast: -37
  • Layer Mask: Mask out the edges of the mask, leaving the inside of the mask white. 

Woman's Settings

  • Brightness: 18
  • Contrast: 34
  • Layer Mask: none 

Child's Settings 

  • Brightness: 0
  • Contrast: 28
  • Layer Mask: none
adjust contrast

Step 7

Create and clip a New Layer into the woman, setting the layer to Multiply. 

Create a shadow on the lower half of her body using a dark brown color #201512

You can do this on any subject that needs more separation to stand out amongst the other subjects. In this case, it will help the woman and child not blend into each other. 

add shadow

Step 8

For the subject's hair, create and clip a New Layer into both the woman and child's layer. 

Paint using a hard round Brush blue #0099c3 onto the edges of the child's hair and yellow #f7b62c onto the edges of the woman's hair. This will give it a harsh illustrative effect. 

hair highlight

Step 9

Now, create and clip a new layer into both the woman's and child's layer, setting it to Lighten. 

Fill in the goggles using a hard round Brush set to a light yellow color #ffdb51, giving it a stylized reflection effect. 

yellow goggles

Step 10

Finish up the subjects by giving the bad guy some blue goggle reflections using a Curves layer.  

Again, this is in the CMYK color profile. If you are working in RGB, it will be different. 

cmyk curves

Basically, you just want to make it clear that the child and woman are on the same "team", while the man is not. This is represented by the different colored goggles. Any similar effect will work just as well. 

Make sure each subject is in its own group, naming each according to the subject inside. Mine are "Woman", "Child", and "Man"

blue goggles

Step 11

If your subjects are lopsided, like the villain here, try to make them symmetrical. Here I copy and pasted the man's shoulder pad from the left side onto the right side. Since it's armor, it didn't need any precise blending.

This step is optional. 

make symmetrical

3. How to Use Clipping Masks in Photoshop 

Step 1

Create a New Layer between the "Woman" and "Child" group. 

Using a large soft round Brush, paint teal blue color #003943 across the canvas, as you can see below. 

I will name and refer to the layer as "Fade."

add teal gradient

Step 2

Clip an image of sand dunes into the teal gradient by dragging and dropping an image of sand dunes onto the canvas, placing it above the gradient, holding Alt, and then hovering the mouse between the two layers. 

When you see a symbol of a box and an arrow appear, then click. The dunes layer should clip into the gradient layer. 

Set the sand dunes layer to 50% Opacity. 

add dessert

Step 3

Adjust the dunes using a Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. 

Hue/Saturation Settings 

  • Hue: 0
  • Saturation: -100

Brightness/Contrast Settings 

  • Brightness: -90
  • Contrast: 100
color adjustments

Step 4

Finish up by creating a New Layer above the "Child" group.

Repeat the above two steps on the new layer to hide the bottom edge of the child image. This will be referred to as the second "Fade" layer. 

add second fade

4. How to Create Action Movie Poster Design Typography 

Step 1

Now onto the typography, starting with the title of the film!

My title is two words, so I will be splitting the title into two, placing each word on its own layer using the Furiosa Font.  

The first word, "Dust", will be placed above the "Woman" group and the first "Fade" layer. 

The word "Town" will be placed above the second "fade" layer.  

I used the same mustard color #c29c2e as the background fill layer. 

add title text

Step 2

Copy and paste the same rusty background texture from the background group, keeping them set to Overlay and clipping them into both title words. 

add text texture

Step 3

Create and clip a New Layer into both title words, setting it to Overlay. 

Use a soft round Brush to paint white in the middle of each word, and black around the edges, creating a radial gradient effect. 

Group each word into its own group, named accordingly. In my case, it's "Dust" and "Town."

add gradient to text

5. How to Make an Action Movie Poster Color Grade 

Step 1

Finally, in our action poster we have a color grade consisting of four adjustment layers. These will enhance and adjust the current orange and blue color scheme. Orange and blue is a go-to for action movie posters as it's high-contrast and attention-grabbing. 

First, create a Curves adjustment layer, with the Cyan curve pulled up into the shadows. The Magentas should be just slightly pulled into the shadows and slightly removed from the highlights. And then create an S curve in the Yellows. 

curves for color grade

Step 2

Next, use a Levels adjustment layer to slightly increase the contrast by adjusting the toggles, pulling the highlights inward. 

levels for action movie poster

Step 3

Add a Hue/Saturation layer to slightly shift the colors' hue into a warming orange and more teal blue. 

hue for action movie poster

Step 4

And finally, we need a Selective Color Layer focusing on the Blacks. Add in some Cyan and Magenta and remove just a touch of Yellow. This will make the shadows a nice cold blue and not as green. 

If the color grade ends up looking too harsh, group all of the adjustment layers together and bring down the opacity of the group. I set mine to 70% Opacity. 

action movie poster color grade

Try an Action Movie Poster Mockup!

Finally, even if you won't be printing your poster, you can give people a taste of the real thing using a mockup template like this one on Placeit! 

movie poster design in photoshop tutorials

That's It 

And that is how to make a movie poster in Photoshop! While this movie poster design in Photoshop tutorial is focused on creating an action poster, you can easily apply the same principles to other genres as well.

how to make an action movie poster

If you want to make a quick but effective action poster design that still looks Hollywood-approved, then check out these presets and add-ons from Envato Elements!

Triple Exposure Photoshop Action

Triple Exposure Photoshop Action

The Triple Exposure Photoshop Action will instantly combine three photos to create the ultra-trendy double exposure effect, but plus one! Combine three action-packed images to create a dynamic yet classy action movie poster design. 

Fervent 2 Photoshop Action

Fervent 2 Photoshop Action

Fervent Action 2 is an action preset that creates an intense instance photo manipulation effect! With deep orange colors and explosive details, it's easy to see how this can be worked into an action movie poster design. Just run the action, add your title, and you are done! 

Glitch Poster Maker Photoshop Action

Glitch Poster Maker Photoshop Action

The glitch poster maker creates a trendy glitch effect that focuses on a cyberpunk look! Include the glitch effect on your movie's title to tie everything together. 

Blast Photoshop Action

Blast Photoshop Action

The Blast Photoshop action tells you everything you need to know about it in its name! It will add orange sparks and flames around your main subjects. However, unlike other spark actions, this preset really lets your model shine, keeping things minimal and sleek! 

Looking for more movie poster design in Photoshop tutorials? Check out some more tutorials below: 

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