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How to Make a Rorschach Inkblot Effect in Photoshop

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Read Time: 11 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today we will be learning how to make a Rorschach effect in Photoshop. Using a combination of different ink blots and textures, no two designs will look the same! This is a great freestyle effect that requires no precision or planning, just creativity! And thanks to the Symmetry tool, you can create this effect using a mouse just as easily as you can with a pen tablet. Let's get started!

Ink Watercolor Effect Action PhotoshopInk Watercolor Effect Action PhotoshopInk Watercolor Effect Action Photoshop

But first, if you want to create a Rorschach effect in Photoshop even faster, you can try one of the many ink-inspired add-ons and actions over on Envato Elements!

Fancy watching video tutorials instead? Then visit the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel to find the best tutorials, like this new video on how to make a Rorschach effect in Photoshop:

What You'll Learn in This Rorschach Effect Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to make an inkblot effect in Photoshop 
  • How to make a paper texture in Photoshop 
  • How to use Photoshop shape brushes
  • Where to find images of ink blots
  • How to use symmetry in Photoshop 

What You'll Need

To complete this project, you will need the following resources:

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Make a Texture Paper Background

Step 1

Let's start by creating a simple paper texture background. First, create a Solid Color layer set to a light gray #d7d7d7 color. 

And then we're going to drop texture "78" from the Black Ink Backgrounds Vol.8 texture pack, and set it to Multiply at 15% Opacity. 

base background base background base background

Step 2

We want to bring out more of that paper grain effect by adjusting the textures: Image > Adjustments > Levels. Try to recreate something like what you see below, though settings like these never need to be exact. 

levels settings levels settings levels settings
paper texture paper texture paper texture

2. How to Turn a Model Into an Ink Effect

Step 1

Next, we can extract and place our subject. I used Select Subject since the model was on a nice flat background, but any method will work. 

Keep in mind that since we're doing a messy ink effect, the extraction does not have to be anywhere near perfect!

We also want to set the subject layer to Multiply. 

place subject place subject place subject

Step 2

Now, we can get into the ink effect, which will be done using five different Smart Filters. 

A Smart Filter is an adjustment filter applied to a Smart Object. So Right-Click > Smart Object to make sure your subject is a Smart Object if they aren't already. 

And we're going to start with an Image > Adjustments > Black and White with the default settings. 

turn subject black and whiteturn subject black and whiteturn subject black and white

Step 3

Second, we're going to add a Filter > Camera Raw Filter.

We're going to go into the Detail menu and set the Noise Reduction to 100. 

Depending on the subject, this will drastically change the final effect. You may end up dialing this filter back or doubling up on the filter later on. Feel free to come back and play with this setting after applying the rest. 

remove noise remove noise remove noise

Step 4

For our third filter, we have an Image > Adjustments > Curves.

This setting will vary wildly from subject to subject and will mostly depend on image lighting and skin tone. If your subject is very pale and bright, you might need to skip it altogether. 

We want the main features—like the eyes, eyebrows, lips, hair, and the main curves of the face—to be dark, while the rest of the skin is very bright. 

This setting might need to be adjusted after applying the upcoming filters.

curves settings curves settings curves settings
brighten subject brighten subject brighten subject

Step 5

Our fourth filter is an Image > Adjustments > Posterize filter. Set the Levels anywhere from 2 to 5. I choose 2 for a very dark ink effect. 

The Levels setting controls how many level shades will be used in the image. So Levels of 2 means if it's not black, it will be white, and if it's not white, it will be black. The higher the Levels amount, the more variation in shades of gray will be incorporated. 

This is also the point where you may want to go back and adjust both your Noise Reduction and Curves filters. It took me 15 minutes or so to pinpoint my exact Curves settings. 

posterize subject posterize subject posterize subject

Step 6

Finally, we can add a Filter > Distort > Ripple filter once we are happy with our base ink effect. Set the Amount to 75%. 

apply ripple effect apply ripple effect apply ripple effect

Step 7

Now, we can take that subject and Flip her Horizontally, placing her on the opposite side of the canvas. We also want to group the two subjects together, naming that group "Subjects."

duplicate subject duplicate subject duplicate subject

3. How to Create an Ink Blot Effect in Photoshop

Step 1

We can start building out the main inkblot design now that the subject is placed. 

I'll be using these 19 Mystic Ink Shapes from Envato Elements. They are all PNGs, so they're super easy to use, but any ink blot on a flat white background will also work. 

Before placing the textures, we want to create a Group below our "Subjects" group, naming that Group "Ink."

Then, using the Rectangular Marquee tool, we want to select half of the canvas and add a Layer Mask to the group. 

Below is my selection, and I also filled the group with a yellow Fill Layer so you could better see what the Mask looks like. 

mask half of the canvas mask half of the canvas mask half of the canvas

Step 2

Now, we can start building up our ink design. How you go about this is up to you. I grabbed the ink PNGs from the graphics pack and brought them onto my canvas one by one, setting each PNG to Multiply and moving them around to create interesting shapes. 

This is texture "15" laid over the face of the subject. I liked how the ink almost mimicked the shadow of her cheekbones. 

This is an experimental process, like a puzzle with no wrong pieces or answers. You'll also notice that some of the ink texture will be cut off because of the masked group. That's perfectly fine; we want to focus exclusively on the left side for now. 

place ink blot place ink blot place ink blot

Step 3

Here is my final main ink design. It's okay if it's dark; we'll be doing some final detail masking at the end. We only want to focus on creating the main shapes of the inkblot. 

I used textures 15, 10, 13, 6, and 9, all set to Multiply

We want to make sure we are 100% happy with our design if we're going to keep perfect symmetry, so make sure to make any changes before moving to the next step.

build inkblot design build inkblot design build inkblot design

Step 4

If we are happy, we can duplicate the "Ink" group, Right-click > Flip Horizontally, and move it to the right side of the canvas. 

You can hold Shift and use the Right Arrow key to move the "Ink Copy" over without worrying about it shifting up or down. 

Group the two "Ink" groups together and name the group "Main Ink."

Rorschach effect photoshopRorschach effect photoshopRorschach effect photoshop

4. How to Use Symmetry in Photoshop

Step 1

Now, we can paint some smaller ink details using some Photoshop Ink Brushes. I highly recommend this set as it's not only very realistic but also contains both stamp-style brushes and painterly brushes. That's ideal if you use a tablet. 

Step 2

Once we have a good set of ink brushes, we can set up our canvas for painting in Symmetry. Symmetry works well whether you use a pen tablet or not. 

Let's choose our Brush tool and click the icon of a Butterfly Split in Two. Choose the Vertical split. This is what you'll see: 

activate symmetry activate symmetry activate symmetry

Step 3

Hold down Shift and use the Anchors to position the Symmetry area around your canvas, with the middle guide placed directly over the middle of your design.  

set up symmetry boundaries set up symmetry boundaries set up symmetry boundaries

Step 4

From here, you just paint on one side of the canvas, and the same brush stroke will appear on the opposite side. 

Below is an example using a hard round red Brush. 

paint using symmetry paint using symmetry paint using symmetry

Step 5

Create a New Layer outside of your "Main Ink" group but below the "Subjects" group. Use your ink brushes to paint details in the ink design—things like small accent dots or longer fine lines. 

It's smart to try to find the lines that already exist and then bring them out to a finer point. Make sure to remove any harsh edges and keep things nice and messy. Also, use the ink brushes with the Eraser bush to remove parts of the ink but still keep the ink-like texture. 

paint inkblot details paint inkblot details paint inkblot details

Step 6

Along with those finer ink details, you can bring out the detail in the subject's face or darken larger areas of the primary ink design. 

Also, try to bring some lighter washes of ink around the darker edges of the subject, especially around areas like the chin that may come off a bit too clean and sharp. 

You can add and adjust these parts of your ink blot at any time, so feel free to revisit this layer to make any changes. Just make sure Symmetry is still on if you do.  

rorschach effect photoshoprorschach effect photoshoprorschach effect photoshop

5. How to Refine Layer Masks in Photoshop

Step 1

Keep the Symmetry area turned on and add a layer mask to the "Subjects" group. 

Use this Mask to mask any areas of the subject that are too harsh and any details you don't want. I masked out the edges of the face and parts of her top. 

mask out unwanted detail mask out unwanted detail mask out unwanted detail

Step 2

Finally, we can add a Layer Mask to the "Main Ink" group and use the ink brushes to mask and refine the main design. Since the Symmetry guide is still on, we only have to mask one side, and the other will be masked along with it. 

This is your chance to create more negative space, add more white to your design, or create a more intricate design within the main blot of ink. Again, there is no one way to go about doing this. Just mask things in and out using the ink brushes until you are happy with the design. 

Remember, you can always paint more details on a New Layer or go back and adjust your previously painted details as long as Symmetry stays active. 

If you close Photoshop and want to make sure you're using the same Symmetry guide as before, you can go to the Symmetry button and choose Last Used Symmetry. 

mask in negative space mask in negative space mask in negative space

Step 3 (Optional)

A great way to go about that is by dropping in a colorful ink texture and setting it to Lighten. And then we can just line it up with the middle of our inkblot, Duplicate, and Flip Horizontally. Align that duplicate, and we've transformed the ink into a watercolor effect. 

watercolor photo effect watercolor photo effect watercolor photo effect

You've Done it! 

That's how to make a Rorschach inkblot in Photoshop. Having good, high-quality images of ink blots is the key here, and then you just let the Symmetry tool do the rest! This is a great effect to do over and over since it's hard to recreate the same inkblot design twice. And let's face it, they are just fun to make!

how to make a rorschach inkblot in photoshophow to make a rorschach inkblot in photoshophow to make a rorschach inkblot in photoshop

Create Ink Effects Even Faster With Envato Elements! 

Envato Elements has hundreds of different ink-inspired graphics, resources, add-ons, and actions! All of them are high-resolution, professionally made, and easy to use. Here are my five favorites: 

Ink Watercolor Effect Action Photoshop (PSD)

If you're wondering how to make an inkblot effect in a hurry, this action is for you! Just drag and drop your image into the PSD, and watch your photo being transformed into an inky work of art. 

Ink Watercolor Effect Action PhotoshopInk Watercolor Effect Action PhotoshopInk Watercolor Effect Action Photoshop

Ink Bleed Effect (PSD)

Photoshop ink blot effects aren't only for photos; they make great text effects too! This PSD will turn any font, logo, or shape into a smudged inky halftone effect. 

Ink bleed effectInk bleed effectInk bleed effect

Ink Painting Effect for Posters (PSD)

This Photoshop ink blot effect is high resolution and highly detailed, making it the ideal effect for posters. Drop your image into the PSD, and it will be instantly turned into a realistic inked design!

Ink Painting Effect for PostersInk Painting Effect for PostersInk Painting Effect for Posters

Ink Bleeds Effect (PSD)

Want to know how to make a Rorschach inkblot in Photoshop, but with logos, text, and graphics? Use this PSD! Simple to use and so satisfyingly realistic, this effect gives you that perfect wet and smudged inky look. 

Ink Bleeds EffectInk Bleeds EffectInk Bleeds Effect

Ink Art Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

Wondering how to make an inkblot test on a more dynamic full-body image? Then this action has you covered! It even comes with a set of Photoshop shape brushes that you can use with the action or on their own. 

Ink Art Photoshop ActionInk Art Photoshop ActionInk Art Photoshop Action

Now you know how to make a Rorschach inkblot in Photoshop and where to find the best resources to speed up the process. If you'd like to explore even more cool Photoshop resources and tutorials, check these out:

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