Step 1: Let’s Get Started
Open up a new document in Illustrator and set the color mode to RGB. Then select the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle with width of 346 pt and height of 237 pt.
With the rectangle still selected, apply some rounded corners (20 pt) by going to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners.
Step 2: An Easy Way to Apply Rounded Corners
Now we have some rounded corners. We want them to be expanded, so go to Object > Expand Appearance. This will remove the Style.
Select the rounded corner shape and apply an Offset Path to it. To do so, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and enter a negative number (-25pt). This will proportionally shrink the rectangle.
Once that is done, ungroup the two shapes (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G), select the smaller inner rectangle and apply another round corner effect with the Radius of 5 pt.
Afterwards, expand the appearance again ( Object > Expand Appearance).
Step 3: Creating the Framework
Now that we have created two rounded rectangles (one smaller than the other) we can fill them both with black. This is the framework (or base shape) for the digital clock: the outer/bigger shape is the frame and the inner/smaller shape is the clock face.
Step 4: Adding Highlights
Now, I will show you how a few simple shapes created with the Pen Tool (P) can add a 3D look. Select the Pen Tool (P) and draw a similar shape for the highlight on the left side of the frame. Leave a small gap between the edge of the rectangle and don’t overlap into the smaller inner (clock face) rectangle.
Fill the shape with a black/gray linear gradient with the Gradient Tool (G), oriented vertically. By placing the gradient highlight towards the top and blending into the black color of the frame towards the bottom, the shape will look like it bevels outwards.
Create a similar shape for the top part of the framework and also give it a linear gradient.
And then create another highlight at the bottom. As you can see, our clock is already coming to life.
For the corners, create small, semi-rounded shapes and fill them with a gradient.
Here is the bottom-right corner.
Here’s the highlight for the top-right corner.
Here is our digital clock icon thus far with all the gradients.
Step 5: Adding Details
Make a copy of the inner rectangle on top by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and then using the Paste in Front command (Cmd/Ctrl + F).
Cut away a big part of the top—you can do so by either using the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) or the Scissors Tool (C). Then, fill it with a dark teak to light teak color.
Step 6: Create the Clock Face’s Background
Next, select the inner rectangle (the clock face base shape), add a light gray stroke, and then set the fill to the same gradient as in the previous step.
Step 7: Adding Dimension
Now we will add an effect to bring the clock instantly to life. Select the inner rectangle and add an Inner Glow (Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow). This effect will give the clock face the needed inset look.
Step 8: Small Details Can Make a Big Difference
Now we are just adding some stylistic elements. These thing are always optional and you can add whatever shapes, buttons, numbers or text of your liking. I added two small rectangles at the left side of the frame that will serve as controls for the digital clock (maybe they are the snooze and alarm controls – let’s just use our imagination), one in red and one in gray.
Step 9: Adding the Digital Numbers
A digital clock is nothing without the digital numbers that represent the time! Add the numbers either with a free font (such as DS-Digital font) or draw them yourself with the Pen Tool (P). Usually digital numbers have cut-off endings in a 45o degree angle.
Step 10: Add More Elements to the Clock Face
Here is the clock with numbers, text and some more design elements.
Step 11: Adding Stylized Elements
I thought I’d spice up the digital clock icon with some colored elements. To do so, start by making a copy of the inner rectangle and removing the gradient of the copied shape.
Then cut away the left part and slice it into three parts. You can do so by drawing two lines across the shape, selecting the shape and the lines, and then dividing them with the Divide command in the Pathfinder Panel.
Color each part differently by selecting them with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and choosing your colors. Then set the layer mode to Overlay in the Transparency Panel so that the buttons embody the contours of the clock face.
Step 12: Adding Handles
Let’s add some handles to the clock. Create a rounded rectangle and fill it with a white/black linear gradient.
Then make a copy of it below by copying the shape (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and using the Paste in Back command (Cmd/Ctrl + B). Fill the new shape with black. Move it towards the right and bottom so it sticks out a little.
Select both objects, group them together (Cmd/Ctrl + G), duplicate the group by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C), paste (Cmd/Ctrl + P) it, and then reflect the duplicated group horizontally by going to Transform > Reflect, choosing Horizontal for the Axis option in the dialog window that appears. This will be the handle for the other side of the clock, so move it across to the other side.
Step 13: Creating a Back Shape for an Outer Glow
Now select all the shapes you have created so far, make a copy and group them. We want to make one solid shape that is the outline of the entire digital clock. Select the grouped shape and click the Unite button in the Pathfinder Panel. Afterwards, fill the shape with black.
Step 14: Add an Outer Glow to the Back Shape
Add an Outer Glow (Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow) to the back.
Then place the shape with the outer glow behind your digital clock so that it looks like it’s casting a shadow (you might have to reorder your layers so that the back shape with the outer glow is below all of the digital clock’s parts).
Not bad so far, our digital clock is coming along, it’s just a little flat at this point.
Step 15: Make the Shiny Stuff
Let’s add some shine to our digital clock to make it more interesting. Make another copy of your back outer glow shape and fill it with a light blue/black radial gradient.
Edit the gradient so the gradient fill is an ellipse rather than a circle by choosing the Radial for the Type option and then modifying the shape of the gradient to a vertically-oriented ellipse.
You can easily change the color of the radial gradient and give the clock a different color shine if you prefer another color over a blue-dominant color.
Then place the shape on top of all other shapes by selecting it and going to Object > Arrange > Bring to Front (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + ]).
Allow the contours and shapes of the clock face to shine through the shape by setting the layer mode to Overlay in the Transparency Panel.
Step 16: Don’t Forget a Light Reflection
A nice shiny object is not complete without a little reflection. Create a shape similar to the one in the image below. To make the shape, take a copy of the inner rounded rectangle and subtract a large ellipse from it by creating an elliptical shape with the Ellipse Tool (L) and then using the Minus Front command in the Pathfinder Panel. Otherwise, if you have steady hands and a good free hand ability, using the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shape is another (more laborious and probably less accurate) option.
Fill the shape with a lighter teak color and set the layer mode to Multiply. Place it on top of the clock shape, but below the Overlay shape from Step 15.
Step 17: Giving the Clock a Shadow
Whenever there is light, there is a shadow of an object. Let’s create one. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with a white/black radial gradient. Place it below the clock shape.
Then make a copy of it and place it to the right.
Then set the layer mode to Multiply.
Step 18: Reflection, Reflection, Reflection
Let’s add some more reflective elements to our digital clock. We’ll make it to look as if the clock is standing on a glossy surface. Group all shapes except the shadow parts, make a copy and reflect them vertically by going to Object > Transform > Reflect and choosing Vertical for the Axis option.
Place the grouped, reflected shapes below the clock. Afterwards, set the Opacity to 40%
Once that is done, select the reflected group and apply an Opacity Mask so that the bottom part of it fades away.
Step 19: Adding a Backdrop
This final step is really optional: We are just going to add a simple background to help frame our subject.
Start by adding a big rectangle behind the clock and filling it with a vertical linear color gradient.
Duplicate the background by copying it (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and then pasting it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + F). Fill it now with a transparent white gradient.
Set the layer mode to Overlay.
This is it. A glossy digital clock designed solely in Illustrator.Though some might think that Photoshop is an easier way for creating icons with lots of reflective elements and color gradients, I hope this tutorial showed you that Illustrator is not only capable of such design styles, but that it actually does a great and efficient job at it.
Using Illustrator also makes you more flexible as you can increase and decrease the icon’s size without loss of quality. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.
Download Tutorial Source Files
- digital_clock_icon (ZIP, 1.62MB)
Click on the preview image below to see the final product in full scale.
- Paper Texture by Zen Textures
- Grunge Texture by Zen Textures
Step 1: Working away from the computer
To create our folded text, we first want to see in real-life how folded strips of paper would look. This technique lets us reduce the amount of guessing we have to make and gives us a reference point. These tutorials can give you the skills you need to design media for your site so you won’t have to pay a web designer to do them!
So first, take a piece of regular 8.5” x 11” paper and cut it into strips using scissors or a box cutter.
Start folding the strips to the letters that we want. I’m folding all the letters at roughly 90o angles except for the letter “N” (which we need the angle on).
Now we can see exactly how the folds will look for the letters we’re using.
Step 2: Setting up the document
Now that we have a general idea of how the fold on our paper strips should look, we’re going to go into Photoshop and create a new 1200 x 600px document.
Write out “DESIGN” and a smaller “INSTRUCT” below it using the Horizontal Type Tool (T), something like I have done below. I’m using Futura Bold for my font because it has a retro look to it. If you don’t have Futura, try using any wide, bold font that gives us room to work with.
We’re going to use this as our type’s base for sizing and width guides while making our folds.
Step 3: Adding color
Next, we’re going to change the color of our text. First, the “DESIGN” text is going to be a different color for each letter. Your colors don’t have to be the exact colors that I’m suggesting below, but I’m trying to go for a wide variety of colors that I think will translate into some nice retro colors.
The letters and their corresponding hexadecimal color values are as follows:
- D: #00AEB7 (blue)
- E: #FF9900 (orange)
- S: #BA0000 (red)
- I: #01AD4E (green)
- G: #FEDE58 (light yellow)
- N: #FF99AB (pink)
Also, we’re going to change the “INSTRUCT” text to a brown color (#3B2601). If you aren’t sure of what colors to use, try using a to mix them up!
Step 4: Guiding the “D”
Lets start off by working on the “D”. Let’s make a new Photoshop group (Layer > New > Group). We’ll name this group, “D”.
Next, create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) within the “D” group.
We’re going to lay out some Photoshop guides to help us with the shaping our “D” letter. We want a guide on the top, bottom, left-right and the inside-left side of the “D”.
Step 5: Creating the template
Since all the strips of paper are the same width, we need to make sure the lines of the “D” (and the rest of our letters) are the same width. We’re going to do this by first clicking on the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) in the Tools Panel to activate the tool.
While holding down Shift to make a perfect square, click and drag a square selection starting from the top left of the “D” towards the inside guide.
Create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) and fill it (Edit > Fill) with black (#000000) so that we can easily see it (the color doesn’t matter because this square is just for helping us shape our text).
This will be our template to make sure everything is the same size. We’ll be moving this square template throughout the creation process with the Move Tool (V).
Step 6: Adding more guides to the “D”
Now that we have the template, we can drag down a guide so that it’s on the bottom of the box we just made.
Click and drag the box down to the bottom guide and place a guide on the top of the box.
Also, using the Move Tool (V), move the box to the right and put a guide on the left side of that box. What we’re making with the guides is a hole in the middle, while making sure all the lines are the same width.
Step 7: Subtracting from the “D”
Now that we have our first letter all mapped out, we can start editing it. In the Layers Panel, click on the “D” layer we made in Step 4 to make it our active layer. Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), make a box around the outer guides so it covers the letter. Afterwards, fill it with the same blue as our “D” (#00AEB7).
Before we subtract the middle part, we want to right-click on the “DESIGN” text and choose Layer > Rasterize > Type. This will make it so we can delete areas from the original text—we can’t do this if it’s still a text layer.
Create a selection using the inner guides, click on the “D” layer in the Layers Panel, and then press the Delete key to remove the area beneath the selection.
We can also completely delete the “D” from the original base text layer because we don’t need it anymore.
Now you should have a box with a white hole in the middle.
Step 8: Shaping the “D”
Now we’re going to chop off the corners on the right side to start to give us a “D” shape, similar to how our real-life reference looks.
Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), click on the intersection of the top and inner right guide. Then click on the intersection of the inner top and outer right guide. Finally, close the path by the clicking around so you get that top right corner selected and then hit Delete to take away the section under our selection.
Now we’re going to do the same thing with the bottom right corner.
Step 9: Adding imperfections
Since these letters have a folded look, we’re going to give them some slight imperfections by making the ends of the folded strip of paper overlap past the letter.
Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), make a square within the top two guides and out past the left side of the “D”. Fill the selection (Edit > Fill) with the blue color (#00AEB7).
Move the marquee selection down to the bottom two guides and fill that area with the blue color (#00AEB7) as well.
Step 10: Adding guides to the “E”
We’re going to work on the shadows and finishing elements later on, so lets move on to the other letters next. Create a new group (Layer > New > Group), call it “E” and create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) within that group.
Now we’re going to use the square template that we created for the “D” to make sure our letter has a consistent width.
Since we created the guides for the “D”, we notice already that the top and bottom arms of the “E” aren’t quite tall enough. We can also assume that the middle part of it also has the same problem. We should fix those issues.
Bring in our square template and put it in the center of the middle arm. Put a guide on the top and bottom of the template.
Also make guides on the left and right sides of the “E”, as well as where the middle arm ends.
Step 11: Filling out the “E”
Click on that layer we created in the “E” group. Use the same orange color (#FF9900) as the “E” to fill in the areas so the arms are the same as the stem of the “E”.
Step 12: Shaping the “E”
Bring our template to the top left of the “E” letter and make a guide on the right side of it so that it follows the inside of the stem. Just like in Step 8, we’re going to chop off the corners of the “E” from the original text layer.
We’re also going to make the middle stem extend out the same way we did in Step 9.
Step 13: Creating the “S”
Create a new layer group called “S” and a new layer inside that group.
We’re going to base off the letter “S” with our existing letter “E”. First, select the area from the top guide to the edge of the left side of the “S” to the very bottom guide, at the right edge of the “S”, and then fill it with the red color (#BA0000).
We want all the letters to be the same height so that’s why we’re cutting off the top and bottom edges of the “S”.
Step 14: Roughing out the “S”
Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), select the two areas between the guides that goes in between the arms of the “E”, and then press the Delete key to remove the area beneath your selection. This should give us three horizontal bars with the same width as the “E”.
Step 15: Shaping the “S”
Put the template on the top left corner of the “S” shape and then place a guide on its right side. Move the black square template to the bottom right and put a guide on its left.
Now using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the area, fill the empty area on the top left and the bottom right with red (#BA0000).
Step 16: Rounding out the “S”
Toggle off the visibility of the original text layer from our view to make this next process easier.
We want to get rid of some of these corners, just like with our “D” and “E”. The two ends don’t get their corners chopped off because they don’t fold.
The “S” looks kind of funny right now, but it’ll look fine later on once we start applying shadows on it.
Delete the “S” from the original base text layer if you want, because we no longer need it.
Step 17: No change to the “I”
The “I” will stay as-is since there aren’t any folds to it.
Step 18: Creating the basic shape of the “G”
Make a new group for “G”, and—you know the drill by now—a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) inside it. Just like with the “S”, we’re going to select the area from the top to bottom guides and the left to right edges of the “G”.
Once selected, fill it with our yellow color (#FEDE58).
Now, let’s put a guide on the left and right sides of the box.
Step 19: Shaping the “G”
This will start out similar to the “D”. First, put the square template on the top left and put a guide on the right side of it.
Next, put the template on the bottom right and put a guide on its left side. Select the area that the guides make inside the box, and then delete it from the box and the original text.
Step 20: Finishing off the “G” shape
To make our letter into a “G”, we’re going to move our square template so the top of it is resting on the top of the inner circle. Create a guide on the bottom of the template to help us.
Now, using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), select the area that starts at the top of the inner circle to the guide we just made so we can get rid of the top right side of the box.
Step 21: Rounding off the “G”
Now we want to get rid of all the right-angle corners of our letter (as shown below). Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make the selection, and just press the Delete key to clear the area below the selected area.
Step 22: Reduce the width of “G”
Our “G” is a little too wide for our design. To fix that, get the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and select the right half of our letter.
With the appropriate area selected, click on the Move Tool (V) on the Tools Panel, hold down Shift, and move the selected area to the left.
Step 23: Creating the basic shape for the “N”
For our letter “N”, let’s create a new group and also a new layer inside the group. Create a box around the original “N” and fill it with our pink color (#FF99AB).
Move our square template with the Move Tool (V), placing it at the top left corner of the letter. Also place a guide on the left and right to make our selections easier and more accurate.
Move the square template to the right corner, and also place guides on the left and right sides.
Now select the middle part with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and delete it.
Step 24: Adding the crossbar
Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) again, we’re going to create a box around the right stem of the “N” and duplicate the selection into a new layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + J.
Take the stem we duplicated and then use the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) to angle it so that it turns into the crossbar of our “N”.
With a little experimentation, the top left corner should line up with the left corner of the left stem and the bottom left corner should line up with the bottom left corner of the right stem.
Select the part of the crossbar that goes above the top guide with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and delete it.
Step 25: Finishing off the “N”
If you look at the actual fold of the letter “N” in our reference photo, you’ll notice that the folds at the top and bottom aren’t completely horizontal. We’re going to create these angles by moving the square template to the top left.
Use the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) and move a guide on the horizontal middle transform control. What we’re doing is making a guide at the halfway mark of the template. Do this for the bottom right corner.
With the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), delete the corners using the guides we just made as the side points.
Step 26: Cleaning up the text
Right now, you should probably have something that looks pretty messy. Let’s clean up the type by deleting the extra elements we don’t need in the original text.
We also want to get the letter “E” on one layer. Click on the original text layer in the Layers Panel while holding down Ctrl/Cmd. Then with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), hold down Alt/Option to create a square selection around the “I” to subtract it from the current selection.
Now hold down Shift + Ctrl/Cmd and click on the rest of the “E” in the “E” group. Click on the “E” layer in the “E” group and fill the selected area with our orange color (#FF9900).
Step 27: Creating the folds on the “D”
Now we can start creating the folds for the letter “D”. To create the folds, we’re going to use our guides as well our real-life model for reference.
The horizontal pieces are the ones on top for the “D”, so the two vertical pieces are going to have shadows on them.
To create the shadows, select the area in the middle with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and make a gradient with the Black to Transparent gradient preset using the Gradient Tool (G).
Play around with this until you get something that looks good. If you don’t like the gradient you made, just press Ctrl/Cmd + Z to undo it, and then try again. Try not to start the gradient right at the edge, but try not to make it too subtle and understated either.
To get rid of the excess gradient, Ctrl/Cmd + click on the “D” layer, go to Select > Inverse (Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + I) to invert your selection, and hit the Delete key to get rid of the selected area.
Step 28: Creating the folds on the “E”
With our “E” letter, the vertical stem is going to be the top piece with the three arms getting the shadows (exactly like our real-life reference).
Step 29: Creating the folds on the “S”
For the “S”, the curved parts are going to be the ones on the top, with the rest shaded.
Step 30: No folds on the “I”
Our letter “I” is pretty boring — there aren’t any shading that needs to be done for the “I”.
Step 31: Creating the folds on the “G”
For the “G”, the two vertical lines are going to be on top, so the horizontal ones are going to have the shadows.
Step 32: Creating the folds on the “N”
For the “N”, the left stem is going to be under the crossbar and the crossbar is going to be under the right stem.
Step 33: Overlaying the shadows
Now we’re going to change the blending mode of all the shadow layers to Overlay except for the right fold on the “N”, which will be changed to Soft Light.
Step 34: Desaturating the backside of the “D”
The folds look pretty good now, but we want to define the front and back a little bit more by dulling down the color that would be the back of the paper to give the letters some depth.
Select the pieces that would have been folded under with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and open up the Hue/Saturation image adjustment command (Ctrl/Cmd + U).
Note: To make multiple disjointed selections like the image below, hold down the Shift key (this should put a small “+” on your mouse cursor, indicating that it’s the correct mode).
Change the Saturation to -40 and the Lightness to +20. We’re using the Lightness option in the Hue/Saturation because it washes out the colors, which is what we want.
Step 35: Desaturate the rest of the letters
Apply the Hue/Saturation from Step 34 to the rest of the letters.
Step 36: Add a Satin layer style
Click on the “D” layer and go to Layer > Layer Style > Satin. This will give the text a little bit of a shine and highlight the middle areas of the text.
Apply this to the rest of the letters as well. A shortcut would be to right-click on the “D” layer, choose Copy Layer Style, select the other layers, right-click on them, and then pick Paste Layer Style from the contextual menu that appears.
Step 37: Adding a Gradient Map
We’re going to add some effects to our text and image. First off, we’re going to go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map.
Click on the yellow to red gradient preset and also choose the Reverse option.
Drop the opacity of the Gradient Map adjustment layer down to about 15%. This should be your topmost layer. This will give our entire piece a yellowish, aged look.
Step 38: Adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
We’re also going to drop the brightness of our work. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.
Step 39: Give the text an uneven look
Now we’re going to give our text a little bit of an uneven, natural look. First, make sure the foreground and background colors are black and white (press D to reset your colors).
Create a new layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N, and then go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Make sure the layer is just below the Gradient Map and the Hue Saturation layers.
Change the blend mode of this new layer to Overlay and the drop the Opacity down to 50%.
Step 40: Adding a background texture
Let’s open up the paper texture included in the Resources listing in Photoshop.
Alternatively, use a paper texture of your own, or look around the Freebies section of Design Instruct for textures that you might want to use instead.
Go to Image > Image Rotation > 90o CCW so that the binding of the texture is at the bottom of the canvas.
Go to Image > Image Size and change the width to 1200px to make the texture the same width as our main canvas.
With the texture prepped, copy and paste it into our retro folded paper Photoshop canvas.
Change the blend mode of the texture’s layer to Overlay and then open up the Levels image adjustment dialog window (Ctrl/Cmd + L). Change the option values so that they are similar to what I have below—these settings will make the texture stand out more.
Step 41: Adjusting the texture
Open up the Hue/Saturation dialog window and drop the Saturation to -40. Also, drop the opacity of this layer to about 50%. This will make the color of the texture more subtle.
Step 42: Adding a second texture
Duplicate the paper texture with Ctrl/Cmd + J and move it down the layer stack below all the letters.
Change the blend mode to Multiply and drop the opacity to 20%.
Step 43: Adding a vignette
For artistic effect and to draw the eyes of the viewer towards the center of our piece, we’re going to darken the edges of the canvas, creating a faux vignette. Click on the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) on the Tools Panel, and in the options bar, change the Feather to 50px. Click and drag a box around the entire canvas (or press Ctrl/Cmd + A).
Go to Select > Inverse and fill the inverted selection with black (#000000). This should fill just the edges.
Change the blending mode of the vignette layer to Overlay.
Step 44: Alternate texture
You can also play around with additional textures. I’m going to keep the background with the same paper texture. I’m going to hide the paper texture that was above the text.
Next, I’m going to bring in this other texture (also included in the Resources listing above) to give the image a dirtier, grungier look. Play around with different textures to create something that’s all your own.
Step 45: Final adjustment
I moved the letters around a little bit to get the kerning to be a little more even. You can do this more accurately with Photoshop’s Ruler Tool (I), but eyeballing it is fine—perfect spacing isn’t important because we want the text to have an imperfect, hand-made feel to it.
In this Photoshop tutorial, I showed you how to create an interesting folded paper typography. First, we created a real-life model of our text, which I hope shows you the value of having a reference before firing up your favorite graphics editor and creating artwork digitally. These skills are great to have at all levels of web design! A college could use these skills for their university’s web design or teach it to their students! It’s very valuable to learn these design skills!
We used simple Photoshop techniques such as selecting areas manually using the Photoshop’s Lasso and Marquee tools. To make our selections more accurate and our letters more uniform, we created a square template and used a copious amount of Photoshop guides. To finish up the piece, we applied some basic adjustment layers to give our product a retro, faded look.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and I look forward to seeing your own versions in the Design Instruct Flickr group pool.
Download Source Files
- retro_folded_paper (ZIP, 14.6 MB)
Here are various resources suggestions for you to use. Do not feel obligated to use them and feel free to experiment.
- Rocky Mountains National Park landscape
- Paisaje de montañas /Mountains landscape
- Niagara Falls Ice Mass
- American Falls
- Niagara Falls, New York 4
Mosques for the Temple Cities
- Grand Mosque
- blue mosque istanbul
- ortakoy mosque
- Sheikh Zayed Masjid
- Blue Mosque 4
- Sultanahmet Mosque-2
Hills and Mountains
- New Mexico Landscapes
- New Mexico Landscapes (2)
- New Mexico Landscapes (3)
- Up in the mountains 2
- Tasman Glacier
- Arches 2
- Laos meditation
- Apple tree 2
Flock of Birds
- Homing pigeons
Traditionally, matte paintings were made by artists using paints or pastels on large sheets of glass for integrating with the live-action footage in film.
As the ages passed, the technology has developed and helped in creating some groundbreaking matte paintings for the films like Avatar, Indiana Jones, created by artists such as Linwood G. Dunn and Norman Dawn.
To see more matte paintings, visit the gallery section of MattePainting.Org.
Step 1: Sketching the idea
Before starting the matte painting scene, make a rough sketch of the world that we are going to create. It does not have to be pretty, it just gives us a rudimentary picture of how to lay out our scene.
Step 2: Look for images to use as inspiration and reference
It’s good to use some reference images that could help us in our matte painting for colour correction and for the depth of field. These images might not be used in the scene, but rather, are just to serve as our guide for how things look in the real world.
You can have them open in Photoshop and/or another simple image viewer that you can look to whenever you need a reference point.
Here are a few reference images used in composing the scene:
Rocky Mountains National Park landscape
Paisaje de montañas /Mountains landscape
Niagara Falls Ice Mass
Step 3: Creating the perspective
The first step is to make sure that our perspective, angles and vanishing points are accurate. We will be bringing in various stock imagery at different sizes and angles, so we need a sort of guide to make sure that they fit together well.
First thing’s first, create our main Photoshop canvas with the canvas size set to 1680x1050px.
Mark a vanishing point on the canvas and draw a series of lines from that point with the Line Tool (U), as shown. This will just be a reference layer that we can switch on and off.
Step 4: Make the waterfalls
Import the American Falls stock image on to the canvas and transform it (Ctrl/Cmd + T) to fit the perspective with the Move Tool (V), using the lines we created as our guide.
Keep the work organized by naming the layer something intuitive like “niagara 1”.
Then erase the edges of the waterfalls using the Eraser Tool (E).
In the similar way, import another view of Niagara Falls (you can use the Niagara Falls, New York 4 from the Resources listing) and place it under the “niagara 1” layer. Name this layer “niagara 2”.
Step 5: The making of the first Temple City
Now import a mosque image (you can view a collection in the Resources listing—I used the Grand Mosque stock image for this part), move it to a location according to our sketch and name the layer as “mosque 1”.
Use the Perspective Transform command (Transform > Perspective) to tweak and align the mosque to our vanishing point grid.
Note: for each object that we place into our composition, you will need to extract them from their background using your favorite method (such as using the Polygonal Lasso Tool to trace around their edges). I leave it up to you to do this for each image that we import.
Similarly, import another mosque and place it above the “mosque 1” layer, then name the layer as “mosque 2”. Here, I chose blue mosque istanbul but this process of building our mythical Temple City into our scene is very subjective, and you should feel free to experiment with your own stock images.
Now import another mosque and place it below the “mosque 1” and “mosque 2” layers. This time, I used the ortakoy mosque image. Keep our work consistent by naming the layer “mosque 3”.
Step 6: Adding some fog
Make a new layer above all the layers named “fog 1” and add some fog into it using the Brush Tool (B) with a soft brush tip. Make sure that the colour selected is white (#ffffff). Experiment with various brush tips as well as the Flow and Opacity brush options if the fog is too prominent. Additionally, you can lower the Opacity of the layer.
Step 7: Colour correction through exposure adjustment
Once the fog is added, merge all the mosque layers into one by selecting them in the Layers Panel and then pressing Ctrl/Cmd + E.
On the newly-merged mosque layer, change the exposure values by going to Image > Adjustments > Exposure. Here are suggested settings:
- Exposure: 0.00
- Offset: +0.1204
- Gamma correction: 1.13
Step 8: The making of the second Temple City
In this step, we will make yet another Temple City, at the opposite side of the scene. This will be the exact same process as the step for the making of the first Temple City.
Use your favorite mosques from the resource listing or experiment with your own structures.
In order to blend the structures into the scene, we have to set the Curves and the Exposure values.
Step 9: Create the mountain backdrop
Import a hill image that you think will be a good match for our matte style scene (I used the New Mexico Landscapes stock image from the Resources listing).
Erase the sky in the image before importing it on to our main canvas. After copy and pasting it into our scene, name this layer as “hill 1”.
Now place the “hill 1” layer behind the second Temple City as shown.
Import another hill image (see the Resources listing for suggestions—here we can use the New Mexico Landscapes (2) stock image) and name it “hill 2”. Move the second hill beside “hill 1” with the Move Tool (V).
As shown in the reference/inspiration images, the mountains that are furthest from our standpoint look dimmer and paler.
To be able to do this to our matte scene, adjust its Curves (Image > Adjustments > Curves) to the values shown below.
Now, to make the mountain look dimmer, use the Exposure image adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Exposure). Here are suggested settings for adjusting the exposure of the image:
- Exposure: 0.00
- Offset: +0.0469
- Gamma Correction: 1.0
Since the “hill 2” mountain is cut off on its left, we have to digitally extend it using another image.
Import the extension image of the hill—New Mexico Landscapes (3) from the Resources listing —and flip it horizontally using the Flip Horizontal Transform command (Transform > Flip Horizontally or right-click on the image and choose Flip Horizontal).
Scale as needed to match “hill 2” using the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) and try to match it seamlessly.
Colour correct the hill extension layer by changing the curve levels (Image > Adjustments > Curves).
For further colour correction and matching, use the Exposure image adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Exposure) to change the Offset value to +0.1204.
Let’s make it colder by importing a vastly different mountain from the Nevada desert mountains: Up in the mountains 2 and Tasman Glacier.
Again, adjust the Exposure of the image, this time setting Offset at +0.1857.
Step 10: Adding the sky
To make the scene look realistic, we will need a sky. For artistic purposes, we can use a grey, overcast sky to give the scene a darker mood. Also, you would not expect to find a rainbow (which we will paint in later) when it is bright and sunny outside.
Make a new layer for the sky beneath all the layers and fill the layer with grey colour (#d9d8d8) using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).
Now add clouds using a brush tip of clouds (you can check out this one and install it) with a white foreground colour (#ffffff).
Step 11: Adding more fog
Since the scene contains huge waterfalls, there must be some fog covering the view.
Make a new layer above all the layers and add some fog using a soft brush tip with a white foreground colour (#ffffff).
Step 12: Making the pathway to the Temple Cities
Now we need to make a pathway to the cities so that people can get to them—a pathway which is carved out of rock (Arches 2 from the Resources listing).
Cut the portion of the stock that we need using the Lasso Tool (L) and place it onto our main canvas. Position it as per the sketch we made at the first step.
Step 13: Correct the colour of the pathway
Correct the colour the pathway using Curves (Ctrl/Cmd + M).
Now change the pathway’s Exposure values. Here are suggested settings:
- Exposure: 0.00
- Offset: +0.0102
- Gamma Correction: 1.09
Step 14: Add our monk
Cut out the monk from its original image using the Pen Tool (P), right-clicking on the path and choosing Make Selection.
Then import it into the canvas. Resize our monk to fit the scale of our scene using Free Transform (Ctrl/Cmd + T). Colour correct the monk using the curves and the Exposure values.
Make a new layer under the monk layer for the shadow of the monk. Using the Brush Tool with a soft-tipped paint brush, add some black colour to resemble the shadow of the monk and set the opacity to 40%.
Step 15: Cutting out the tree from its background
Now we are going to incorporate an apple tree into our scene, but because the stock’s background and the tree’s branches are a bit more complex, I’ll share with you a method of how you can effectively cut it out from its background.
First step is to open the Apple tree 2 stock in Photoshop (included in the Resources listing). Go to the Channels Panel (if you do not have it open, go to Window > Channel first) and then hide all of the channels except the Blue channel.
Afterwards, go to Image > Calculations.
Select Blue in the Channel option drop down list for Source 1 and Source 2, as well as set Blend to Multiply.
Now go to Select > Load Selection and select “Alpha 1” in the drop down list of Channel which will create an selection around our tree.
Turn on all of the Channels again. Copy (Ctrl/Cmd + C) and paste (Ctrl/Cmd + V) the tree into our main canvas, placing it over the “monk” layer.
If done correctly, you will have saved some time manually cutting out the tree from its background.
Step 16: Use Curves to correct the colour of the tree
Use the Curves image adjustment (Ctrl/Cmd + M) to colour correct the tree, making it match our scene.
Step 17: Add fog on the tree and monk
In the same method as previously mentioning in this tutorial, add some fog that covers the tree and some part of monk.
Step 18: Import the seagulls into the composition
Import a seagull or an interesting bird (such as Seagull from the Resources listing) into our matte scene and resize it to fit our perspective. Place the seagull in the desired position using the Move Tool (V).
Once the image is placed in the position, go to Image > Adjustments and change the Curve levels and the Exposure values.
Now using the Lasso Tool (L), select the wings and the edges of the tail of the seagull and feather the edges to 40px.
Add a radial blur (Filter > Blur > Radial Blur) with Amount set to 12.
Step 19: Add distant birds
Now import the flock of birds into our matte scene (Homing pigeons from the Resources listing) and name its layer “birds flock”.
Let us soften up the edges of our flock of birds. Having the “birds flock” layer selected, run the Gaussian Blur filter on it (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius set at 1.5 pixels.
After, change the Exposure values (Image > Adjustments > Exposure) of the “birds flock” layer to the following values:
- Exposure: 0.00
- Offset: +0.0755
- Gamma Correction: 1.0
Place the “seagull” and “birds flock” layers under all the fog layers.
Step 20: Paint the rainbow
As the last step, we are going to paint the rainbow. As seen in the reference/inspiration images that we used in the beginning, there was a rainbow near the waterfalls. So let’s add one in our matte painting style scene.
Make a new layer for the rainbow (name the layer “rainbow”).
Press B to activate the Brush Tool, set the brush tip to a soft, round brush, the Master Diameter (the size of the brush) to 18px, and then select an orange foreground colour (#ff940a).
Now select the Pen Tool (P) and make an arc; we’re using the Pen Tool first because it is easier to create a good arc with its Bezier curves than doing it freehand with the Brush Tool.
After creating the arc path, right-click on the path and pick Stroke Path.
Select Brush for the Stroke Path option.
Similarly, add a few more colours like red, yellow and green.
Still on the “rainbow” layer, add a Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius set to 26.1 pixels to soften up its edges and also to blend the colors together.
Place the rainbow layer under the fog, “monk” and “tree” layers.
To give it a bit more transparency, reduce opacity to about 75%.
Thank you for following along. In this Adobe Photoshop tutorial, I shared with you many tips and techniques for composing a surreal and matte-painting-like scene. I discussed a technique for using images as reference and inspiration, having them open in Photoshop or an image viewer just as a grounding point for our work.
You saw the need for making a vanishing point grid to help us align the stock imagery that we bring into our matte painting style scene. We used a variety of processes to ensure that the elements we use in the scene are consistent in colour; particularly, we relied heavily on Curves and Exposure image adjustments.
We covered a technique of cutting out a complex object (an apple tree) from its complex background using the Channels Panel and the Image Calculations command. I also showed you an easy way of painting a rainbow into a scene.
If you have questions, thoughts and opinions, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments!
Download Tutorial Source Files
- matte_painting_tutorial (ZIP, 16.3 MB)
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Yesterday Luke, Bill and I had lunch with Jeremy, Justin and Carl from Cleveland Brothers.
We were talking about pay-per-click advertising and Luke said that the keywords with the highest cost per click (CPC) would make a good blog post.
So here it is!
I looked into this a little while ago and remember that clicks for personal injury lawyers are pretty expensive, at about $20.00 apiece.
I thought that was about the highest CPC out there.
Boy, was I wrong!
It turns out that every one of the top 25 most expensive keywords belongs to one of 10 industries. I averaged their click costs to give you: