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Supersize your solarization effect with custom settings

Added on Sunday 27th of February 2005 12:28 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Black-and-white images are in a class by themselves. Rich in tonal values, they create a unique look that’s often more appealing visually than a full-color image could ever be. One way to add a real boost to your black-and-white imagery is to solarize it. By doing so, you can enhance the contrast in the image and give it a chrome-like cast.

In this article, we’ll show you how to create a custom solarized effect. Although Photoshop has a built-in Solarize filter, we’ll steer clear of it and create the effect on our own. The built-in filter doesn’t allow you to fine-tune your results or modify the effect at all, whereas our technique will give you better results and much more control, as you can see in Figure A.


Figure A


For more control over the way your image is solarized, create the effect yourself, rather than relying on Photoshop’s built-in filter.


Let there be light

To solarize our image, we’ll first select a grayscale image with which to work. Then, we’ll use a Curves adjustment layer to solarize it. From there, we’ll mask out areas of the effect that we don’t want to show. And last, we’ll place our original image over the affected image to tone down some of the hard lines created in the Curves adjustment layer.


Pick a picture

Select a grayscale image with which to work. If you don’t have a grayscale image readily accessible, you can use a color image converted to grayscale. For a quick conversion, open your image in Photoshop. Then, choose Image > Adjustments (Adjust) > Desaturate.



Note: For more information on converting color images to grayscale, check out the article “Control grayscale conversions easily with Calculations,” in the March 2005 issue of Inside Photoshop. You can find the article online at  

Solarize your image

To create the solarization look, we’ll adjust the curves of our image. To do so, click the Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer button CREATENEWFILL in the Layers palette, and select Curves from its pop-up menu. Now, in the resulting dialog box, you can change the curve to modify the tonal range of your image. For a quick solarization effect, select the Arbitrary Map tool ABITRARY and [shift]-click on the bottom-left corner, the center, and finally, the bottom-right corner of the Curves Input and Output grid, creating an upside-down V shape, as displayed in Figure B. Now, select the Fixed Point tool FIXEDPOINT in the Curves dialog box and modify the curve even further to fine-tune the effect.


Figure B

To solarize your image, change your curve so it increases the contrast in your image.


If you’re having difficulties obtaining a solarized result using the V-shaped curve, try to create a curve similar to the one shown in Figure C. The more waves in your curve, the more contrast there will be. Because every picture has different values, you should take your time and experiment with the settings until you’re happy with the results. Then, click OK to apply the curve to your image.