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January 25th, 2009 / 1pm
Miscellaneous Tutorials

Depth Photoshop Signature Tutorial

In this tutorial I will be explaining some great techniques to create Depth and how to optimize it for your signatures or other types of art, and how it can add a sense of reality to your work.

I’m going to start with this wallpaper from

adding depth

Creating Depth with Layer Masks:

The most common and easy way to create depth is by blurring. There’s several ways you can do this. If for example we would like to focus on our main character in this wallpaper, these techniques can be used:

1. Layer Masks. Duplicate your wallpaper, and go to “Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All…”. This will create a white image next to your layer on the layer window:

duplicating the layer

adding the layer mask:

layer mask

the layer mask shown at our layer window:

layer window

2. Now we have to select our actual wallpaper instead of the layer mask, and blur this layer. To do this, click on your wallpaper in the layer window, and go to Filter > Blur… Now there’s several blur options we can try. For this example, I’m going to use Gaussian Blur. The reason for this is because its the easiest effect to work with and makes the most sense for our wallpaper. Set your Gaussian Blur between 1.5 and 3 pixels depending on your wallpaper:

layer picture

Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and pick your settings:

gaussian blur settings

My result after blurring:

blurring result

3. Now we have to mask the background, but have our character stand out in the foreground. Select the layer mask in your layer window, and pick your brush. You will see that your brush will automaticly take on two colors, black and white. If you brush black on the layer mask, the layer will dissapear where you’ve brushed. For example, I will make a straight line in the middle:

layer mask

After brushing 2 black lines randomly onto the canvas:

random brushing

You can see our blurred layer dissapear. We’re going to use this technique to show our character, but blur the background. If you’ve experimented with the layer mask, undo your moves, or otherwise select all and fill it with white.

4. Grab your brush, and select a hard round brush. With a black color, brush on top of your character

brush settings

Now remember, if you miss your characters outline and go over it, don’t worry about it. Just continue brushing. This is the advantage of using a layer mask over erasing, when you’re done you can simple grab a white brush and show parts that you’ve missed!

blur brushing

blur brushing 2

blur brushing 3

blur brushing 4

5. As you can see, I now have the main outline of our character. However, this looks a bit sketchy and needs fixing. Zoom into areas where you’ve made mistakes, and brush with a white color:

zoom into the wallpaper

After brushing with a white brush:

fixing the wallpaper

Some brushing tips to improve your result:

  • When you’re brushing, make sure you don’t keep your mousebutton held in for too long. If you go over large areas without releasing your mouse button every so often and you make a mistake, you cannot undo your action (CTRL + Z) because the entire area you just brushed will be reset. Try releasing your mouse button now and then so you can reset every action or mistake you make.
  • Don’t worry if you’re not very accurate, most people won’t notice if you blur the edges a bit.
  • You can change the opacity of your brushing in the toolbar window on top if you’re having trouble with hair or other edges.
  • You can copy/paste your layer mask to see your brushing. To do this, simply press CTRL + A to select all, CTRL + C to copy, and CTRL + V to paste.

My layer mask pasted onto a new layer before fixing. This is a good method to check spots that you’ve skipped or missed:

layer mask pasted

My result after fixing the edges:

blurred wallpaper

Now as you can see, we created a focal point into our image by adding depth to the background. However we’re not done yet, we can add some more effects to it. Another method to add depth is to add different lighting:

Adding Lighting to create depth:

The best way to add depth with lighting onto your image is by using adjustment layers. The easiest way would be a Levels layer. Another advantage of using layer masks is that we can reuse it with our adjustment layer!

Possible result by using a levels layer:

levels layer full quality

6. First, create a levels adjustment layer. You can do this by going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels… (or pressing the black and white circle on your layer window and selecting Levels). You will see another layer mask on the layer window next to the levels. We’re going to copy the one we used for the blurring on this new layer mask. Here’s how it goes:

When you’ve made a new levels layer, you will see this window appear. If you play around with its settings, the colors will change. I found that the best method to darken while maintaining color is to use the grey handle and move it to the right:

levels layer settings

You will see your entire canvas darken or lighten depending on the levels you’ve changed. Select the layer mask in your layer window. You can now either brush over the parts that you want to remain in the previous lighting, or you can copy/paste the layer mask we used with the bluring. CTRL + Click on the layer mask, press CTRL + SHIFT + I (or Selection > Inverse Selection…) and fill this with black:

control clicking the layer mask

Inverse the selection, and fill this section with black on your layer mask:


selection filled

our result:

levels layer full quality

Combining Lighting and Blurring

These are just a few out of many techniques you can use to add depth. You can experiment by combining the previous two steps, adding the blurring and lighting together. Also try out different types of blurring, like Lens Blur, Motion Blur, Smart Blur, Radial Blur, Smart Blur, or many other filters. I added the two effects together into this image:

final result

As you can see, we’ve really put this character into the spotlight! I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to comment or make any suggestions.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Base. I've been developing and designing websites and graphics since 2004, and I love sharing my knowledge with the rest of the world!

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