Ten steps to creating a poster illustration with Adobe Photoshop CS6
Ten steps to creating a poster illustration
with Adobe Photoshop CS6
Adobe Photoshop is a powerful design tool used to manipulate photographs and create illustrative graphics.
Photoshop can be used for tasks as simple as applying color corrections to a photograph or as complex as
combining multiple images and special effects into an illustration. If you are a photographer or designer
interested in creating high-end designs for print, web, and mobile, Photoshop is a tool you cannot live
Photoshop CS6 introduces a range of performance improvements and tool updates, including new brush
features with stylus support and improved photo editing filters and adjustments, just to name a few.
Photoshop CS6 Extended now provides enhanced support for 3D text extrusion and video editing in the
new Timeline panel.
In this article, I guide you through some of the main features in the Photoshop workspace and introduce
you to a basic workflow for creating an illustration. The expressive features in Photoshop can be used for
many possible workflows. This tutorial is designed to help you take your first steps as a designer. You'll
build a poster illustration by combining photographs, an imported typographic element, and graphics
created in Photoshop (see Figure 1). You'll also learn how to create an editable master Photoshop file using
composite elements as well as how to set up the final design for both print and web.
Figure 1. The sample project is composed of photographs, typography, and effects.
Step 1: Create a new file at print resolution
Design projects created in Photoshop use an editable master file called a PSD file. The PSD file separates
elements with layers, saves color selections as masks, and preserves the ability to edit many of the effects
applied to images and text. You can always return to the PSD file to make changes as needed.
Photoshop is primarily used to render bitmap graphics. Unlike vector images created in Adobe Illustrator or
Adobe Flash Professional, bitmap images are composed of a grid of colors. The colors appear as dots side
by side in rows and columns. The number of dots per inch (dpi) defines the resolution of the image. The
higher the resolution, the more detail and clarity the image contains.
Tip: Photoshop CS6 introduces a new set of real vector drawing tools, enabling you to work with both
photographs and vector shapes in an easy way.
Photoshop projects are usually created in high resolution at 300dpi for print design or in low resolution at
72dpi for web and mobile design. High-resolution projects produce a larger file size but enable you to
publish for both print and web.
Tip: If you're working in 3D without bitmaps, you'll see the best performance if you start at a low
resolution (150dpi or lower).
In this step, you'll create a new high-resolution PSD file.
Before you get started:
1. Download the project files (ZIP, 5 MB) and unzip the archive. Save your published files in this
folder and use the project assets to follow the steps in the tutorial.
2. Download the completed project files (ZIP, 45 MB) to use as a reference. You can deconstruct
these files if you run into problems.
3. Download the free trial of Photoshop CS6 and install the application if you haven't already done
so. You can use Photoshop CS6 for all the steps in this tutorial except for Step 9, which requires
Photoshop CS6 Extended. Step 9 demonstrates an optional enhancement that is not required to
complete the composition.
Create a new file and get familiar with the Photoshop workspace:
1. Open Photoshop and choose File > New to create a new PSD file.
2. Enter the following information to set up the file:
o Name: SampleIllustration
o Width: 5 Inches
o Height: 7.5 Inches
o Resolution: 300 Pixels/Inch
o Color Mode: RGB Color
3. Take a moment to explore the Photoshop workspace (see Figure 2). The canvas is the white area
of the screen that defines the boundaries of the image and the space in which you view and edit
graphics. Tools and properties work together to enable you to paint, select, or otherwise
manipulate your graphics. Layers and channels enable you to keep graphics separate and editable
as well as save selections.
Figure 2. Get familiar with the Photoshop CS6 workspace (click to enlarge).
Tip: Use the workspace switcher pull-down menu in the top right corner of the Photoshop workspace for a
preview of how the Photoshop panels can be configured for different tasks. Select the Essentials workspace
for this tutorial.
Step 2: Import artwork
You can import photographs, artwork, typographic elements, and 3D objects in Photoshop to use as
building blocks for the design. This is common practice when creating illustrations from composite images,
and it's a great way to quickly create special effects and color themes.
In this step, you'll import two photographs and a typeset vector graphic for your design.
Import artwork for your design:
1. Choose File > Place. Navigate to the clouds.jpg file in the project folder. Click the Place button to
import the image. Note that the image appears with size handles. Use the handles to make the
image the same size as the canvas.
2. Import the sunflower.jpg image from the project folder. This time, scale the image to be about
two-thirds the height of the canvas (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Scale the sunflower image to be two-thirds the size of the canvas.
3. Import the sunflower_text.ai file. This file contains text set along a path in Adobe Illustrator.
Position the text above the sunflower.
4. Save the file.
At this point, you've imported the primary graphics for the composition.
Step 3: Work with layers to organize your artwork
Layers are an important component of the Photoshop workspace. They enable you to keep your content
separate so you can edit each element individually. Layers are used to define the stacking order of the
graphics in the image and to lock and hide graphics while working with overlapping elements. Layers can
also be used to apply editable color corrections, filter effects, and masks to graphics. Photoshop CS6
introduces an improved Layers panel, enabling you to filter large stacks of layers by type and manipulate
multiple layers at once. These improvements enhance support for drawing vector shapes by adding a new
type of layer called a shape layer.
Keeping your content organized with named layers is an important best practice. Notice that the layers
containing the imported images inherit the filenames of the images. In this step, you'll hide the imported
images and add two new layers.
Prepare the layers for drawing:
1. Click the eyeball icon next to each of the image layers in the Layers panel to hide the graphics.
Click the Create A New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel (or choose Layer > New >
Layer) to add a new layer. You'll use the buttons at the bottom of the Layers panel routinely
throughout this tutorial. Notice that the panel includes controls for adding effects, masks, and
adjustments as well as adding and removing layers and layer folders.
3. Double-click the new layer's name and rename it Border.
4. Add another new layer and name it Sky. Select the Sky layer and drag it to the bottom of the layer
stack. Layers on the bottom of the stack appear behind other layers.
5. Save the file.
At this point, you've created two empty layers that are ready for artwork (see Figure 4). Take a moment to
get familiar with the controls at the bottom of the Layers panel.
Figure 4. The Layers panel shows the imported graphics plus two new layers.
Step 4: Work with tools to create content and navigate
The tools in Photoshop can be used for a wide range of tasks. For example, you can use the Pencil and
Brush tools along with new erodible brush tips to simulate sketching or painting. Use the shape tools to
create rectangles and ovals, and use the Text tool to create text. Use the selection tools to select areas by
shape or color. Use the Clone, Blur, and Sharpen tools to correct damaged areas in an image. Use the
Eyedropper and Pain Bucket tools to sample and apply color. And use the Zoom and Hand tools to navigate
through your work at high resolution. You typically use these tools together to control the workspace and
see the details of your images.
In this step, you'll add some simple compositional shapes to the illustration.
Draw a background rectangle and outline:
1. Select the Sky layer in the Layers panel.
2. Select the Rectangle tool (press U) located near the bottom of the tool bar. (Be sure to select the
Rectangle Shape tool and not the Rectangular Marquee tool at the top of the tool bar.) Notice that
the Rectangle tool properties appear in the Properties panel. In Photoshop CS6, you can choose
whether the rectangle shape has a fill color, a stroke (outline) color, or both. Click and drag from
the top left of the canvas to the lower right to draw a rectangle. Notice as you're dragging that the
new rich cursor feature shows you the width and height of the shape. The rectangle should have
about a half-inch margin from the edge of the canvas.
3. Select the Border layer. Draw another rectangle the same size as the first. Set the fill color to no
fill, and set the stroke color to black with a width of 5 (see Figure 5). Notice that the rectangle
shapes look crisp and clean due to the new Snap To Pixel Grid option. The Snap To Pixel Grid
and Align Edges features snap the edge of the shape to pixel boundaries when you draw or move
4. Save the file.
Figure 5. The rectangles are the foundation of the design.
Step 5: Work with selections, channels, and masks
Selections are another important concept in Photoshop. Selections enable you to isolate specific colors or
areas within an image so they can be manipulated independently of other parts of the image. Selections
appear as a series of moving dashed lines called marching ants. You'll most commonly create a selection
using the Marquee, Lasso, or Magic Wand tool. When you create a selection that will be used repeatedly,
you can save it in a channel. Channels by default appear as a black and white representation of the selection
shape in the Channels panel.
Masks are another important concept. A mask is a selection applied to an image so that it appears to crop
the image. For example, you can create a selection that isolates a person from the background and apply the
selection as a mask. The result makes the background disappear as if it were deleted. The best part is that
you can turn the mask off to see the entire image again or edit the mask as needed.
In this step, you'll create a selection, save it in a channel, and load the channel to create a mask.
Remove the background from the photographs using selections and masks:
1. Select the Sunflower layer and click the eyeball icon to show the image.
Select the Magic Wand tool (grouped with the Quick Selection tool). Hold down the Shift key and
start clicking the blue areas of the sky to create a selection. Be sure to select as much of the blue as
Choose Select > Inverse to invert the selection so that it defines the area of the flower instead of
the sky. Select the Rectangle Marquee tool, hold down the Alt key, and click and drag near any
areas that you do not want to appear in the selection (see Figure 6).
Figure 6. Isolate the sunflower to create a mask.
4. Choose Select > Refine Edge. In the dialog box, you can use several tools to refine the edge of the
selection, including Contrast, Feather, and Smooth. You can also output the selection directly to a
5. Take a moment to experiment with the Edge Detection and Adjust Edge settings.
6. Change the Output To field to Layer Mask and click OK. Notice that the background of the
sunflower image is masked from view (see Figure 7). Also notice that the Sunflower_text layer
now includes a linked mask. You can click the mask icon on the layer and open the new Properties
panel to modify the mask or show or hide it.
Save the file.
Figure 7. The sunflower photograph now has the background masked out.
Step 6: Work with color and color corrections
Working with color and color corrections is a common task in Photoshop. You can sample colors using the
Eyedropper tool, add editable color adjustments to apply corrections and create special effects, and blend
colors across images using blend modes.
In this step, you'll add a gradient color effect to the rectangle on the Sky layer and blend the cloud image
with it using a blend mode.
Create special effects using gradients and blend modes:
1. Select the Sky layer.
2. Select the Rectangle tool. In the Properties panel, click the Fill button and select the Gradient
option at the top of the fly-out panel. This changes the fill from solid blue to a gradient.
3. Double-click the color box below the left side of the gradient to launch the color picker. Enter the
following RGB values:
o R: 102
o G: 175
o B: 210
4. Click OK to change the left side of the gradient to light blue (see Figure 8).
Figure 8. The new gradient defines the rectangle's fill color.
5. Change the color on right side of the gradient to:
o R: 1
o G: 44
o B: 95
6. Select the Cloud layer and click the eyeball icon to show the image.
7. From the Blend Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel, choose the Overlay layer. Notice that
the cloud image blends with the gradient.
8. Save the file.
At this point, your graphics blend together nicely (see Figure 9).
Figure 9. The photographs appear to have the same monochromatic color adjustment.
Step 7: Modify images with filters
Photoshop is all about special effects. Perhaps the most fun way to create effects is to use filters. Filters are
used to distort a graphic or change how it looks. For example, you can use the Twirl filter to give an image
a twirled look, or you can use the Oil Paint filter to make a photograph look like a painting.
Tip: Photoshop CS6 introduces the new Mercury Graphics Engine, which provides faster performance for
the new Crop tool, Puppet Warp, Liquify, Adaptive Wide Angle, Lighting Effects Gallery features, and the
new Oil Paint filter.
In this step, you'll experiment with filters to add more special effects to the images.
Add filters to create effects:
1. Select the Sunflower layer (select the image, not the mask).
2. Choose Filters > Oil Paint. You can experiment with the settings or click OK to apply the effect.
Note that the effect applies to the whole layer. You can toggle the effect on and off as needed.
3. Repeat the process for the cloud image.
4. Save the file.
At this point, the image is complete (see Figure 10).
Figure 10. The completed image uses the Oil Paint filter.
Step 8: Work with typographic elements
You can create simple horizontal and vertical text elements directly in Photoshop using the Text tools. For
more elaborate effects such as text along a path, you would typically create the text shapes in Adobe
Illustrator and then import them to Photoshop for further embellishment.
In this step, you'll stylize the imported typographic element and add supporting text.
Paint the typography using strokes and gradients:
1. Select the Sunflower_text layer to show the text.
2. Click the Add A Layer Style button at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Drop Shadow.
3. Update the following settings:
o Distance: 10
o Spread: 15
o Size: 15
o Noise: 25
4. Click OK. Notice that the effect appears on the layer so you can turn it on and off.
5. In the Layer Style dialog box, select the Gradient Overlay option on the left. Click the gradient
color from the Gradient Overlay options to launch the Gradient Editor. Choose the Orange,
Yellow, Orange option from the presets or make your own gradient.
6. Select the Stroke option in the Layer Style pop-up menu. Set the width to 8 and choose red or
brown for the color. Click OK.
7. Select the Text tool again and choose the following attributes:
o Font: Book Antiqua
o Weight: Bold
o Size: 60
o Color: Black
8. Type the text CAFE and place it below the flower image.
9. Right-click the Sunflower_text layer and choose Copy Layer Styles from the context menu.
10. Right-click the CAFE layer and choose Paste Layer Styles. Notice that all the effects now appear
on that layer.
11. Complete the design with the last bit of text. Select the Text tool and choose the following
o Font: Harlow Solid Italic
o Size: 21
o Color: Red or Brown
12. Type the text Open Friday – Tuesday from 9am – 10pm and place it below the CAFE text.
Notice that the text includes en dashes, rather than ordinary hyphens. You can add en dashes and
other ASCII characters on Windows by using Alt-key codes. For en dashes, press Alt+0150
(Windows) or Shift+Option+hyphen (Mac OS). Save the file.
Tip: You can use the new Character Style and Paragraph Style panels in Photoshop CS6 to save styles for
use between projects.
At this point, you've completed the poster design (see Figure 11).
Figure 11. The typographic elements are painted with strokes and gradients.
Step 9: Add 3D elements for depth
Photoshop CS6 Extended enables you to extrude shapes in 3D. New updates completely overhaul the 3D
workspace, making 3D features more intuitive, fun, and easy to use. This can be particularly useful when
creating text elements that need to pop off the page.
In this step, you'll enhance the typographic element by extruding it.
Use the 3D extrusion feature:
1. Select the Sunflower_text layer and choose 3D > New 3D Extrusion From Selected Layer. This
step switches you to the 3D workspace where you can rotate the text, change the light direction
and shadows, and so on. Click and drag the text to experiment with placing the text in 3D space.
2. When you're happy with the preview, right-click the Sunflower_text layer and choose Render to
render the object into high quality.
3. Save the file.
At this point, the illustration is complete (see Figure 12).
Figure 12. The extruded text in the 3D workspace.
Tip: Check out Photoshop Dimensions magazine to learn more about working in 3D in Photoshop CS6
Step 10: Publish for print and web
The last step in any Photoshop project is to publish the PSD file to a flattened image format. You'll keep
the PSD file so you can edit as needed, but the original file is not intended for distribution.
In this step, you'll publish for both print and web.
Publish the PSD file:
1. To publish for print at high resolution, choose File > Save As and choose a non-lossy format such
as TIFF. Name the file and click Save.
To publish for the web at low resolution, choose File > Save For Web. Choose an image format
and change the width and height settings. The JPEG format is a good option for the web. Click
Save to publish the image.
That's all there is to it! From here, you should archive the PSD file for future editing and publish as many
variations as needed at 300dpi or less.
Where to go from here
Adobe Photoshop is a powerful tool for simple and complex image editing tasks. New 3D and video editing
features open up new possibilities for just about anyone working in the creative field. Take some time to
explore the 3D workspace features and the video timeline features, and think about how you can enhance
your creative projects using the expressive tools in Photoshop CS6.
For more information about Photoshop, check out the following resources:
• Photoshop CS6 new features: Quick overview (video)
• Tips for getting started with Photoshop CS6 (blog)