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Make snappy vector illustrations from your photos

Added on Friday 27th of July 2007 02:19 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS2, Adobe Illustrator CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


While Photoshop is famous for its pixel-pushing power, never underestimate its capabilities. You can actually create one-of-a-kind designs with a vector appeal. All it takes is a little ingenuity, a few images, and some Photoshop know-how. We’ll show you how we turned a few standard photos, shown in Figure A, into the vibrant illustration shown at the top of the page.



There are times when you’ll want an original illustration, but you’ll want to base it on some familiar imagery that you have on hand. Sure, running a few filters to achieve a cool effect gets the job done, but it doesn’t shout unique. On the other hand, this technique doesn’t sport a one-size-fits-all approach. You can customize it to fit your needs and your imagery. Let’s take a look at how we created our sample illustration.


If you want to view a low-resolution version of our final illustration, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file rockstar.psd.




The cityscape

We’ll start with the cityscape. First, we drew a path with the Pen tool around the outline of the city to isolate the skyline. Then, with the path still active, we created a vector mask (Layer > Add Vector Mask > Current path) as shown in Figure B.


Tip: This technique requires using lots of layers, so we found it very helpful to organize different sections of our illustration into Layer Groups.





Next, we added a red Color Fill adjustment layer and created a clipping mask for that layer. This way, the color would apply to just that one layer, as shown in Figure C.




To create the window lights in the buildings, we first duplicated the Cityscape layer and moved the Cityscape copy layer above the Color Fill adjustment layer. Unfortunately, this released the clipping mask so we had to reapply that. Once we got our layers palette back in order, as shown in Figure D, we were ready to create a mask to reveal the red building once again, and apply a layer style to illuminate the windows.



To create the mask, we went to the Channels palette and duplicated the Red channel, which had the most contrast. We then adjusted the Levels to deepen the contrast further. From there, we painted with black on the layer over areas we wished to hide, for results shown in Figure E.



We then loaded the channel as a selection and went back to the Layers palette. We selected the Cityscape copy layer and applied a new layer mask based on our selection. For our final step to complete the cityscape, we added a light orange color overlay layer effect as shown in Figure F.


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