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Create grungy metal surfaces with sophisticated corrosive effects

Added on Saturday 16th of May 2009 12:47 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Making metal textures in Photoshop is common practice as you can find numerous techniques almost anywhere on how to create chrome, brushed metal, metallic fonts, galvanized steel, etc. These are all okay if you like shiny new sparkly things, but how can you make super-realistic metal imagery that stands out from the others? Think grungy.

To show you how to make grungy metal with character, we’ll:

Convert basic shapes into realistic cylindrical metal pipes to form a valve.

Add texture to the shiny plumbing hardware by adding tarnish and rust to create a realistic aged look.

Erase portions of the rust layer to blend the old weathered look with the underlying shiny metal.

Metallic effects are nothing new to graphic design. They can enhance any composition whether it’s inspired by the Constructivist artwork produced at the Bauhaus school at Dessau or the high-tech industrial graphics of today. They’re used as textures for type, user interfaces, information graphics, and artistic pursuits.

While you can create compelling metallic effects easily using Photoshop, adding a timeless corroded metallic finish to your designs is a little more complicated. However, you can accomplish this task by creating 3D forms from basic shapes and layering realistic rust textures. We’ll show you how.

Make metal hardware one piece at a time

To illustrate our layered metal effects, we’ll show you how to add metallic textures to the basic steam valve shape shown in Figure A. To follow along with our valve transformation, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article, extract the file valve.psd, launch Photoshop and open the file.

To create valve.psd, we drew simple shapes on separate layers to make each valve piece. If you plan on creating your own plumbing hardware or other metal object, it’s best to keep everything on separate layers—that way, you can apply separate gradients to each shape to give realistic dimension to each part.


Add dimension with gradients

Pipes are easy to make. With straight pipe fittings like our valve, you only need to apply gradients to create the perception of form. The trick to applying gradients to pipes is to use the right gradient combination.

To apply gradients:

1. Scroll down to the bottom of the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and select the Main Pipe layer.

2. Click the Add A Layer Style button at the base of the Layers panel, and select Gradient Overlay from the pop-up menu.

3. Choose Reflected from the Style pop-up menu, select the Reverse check box, and move the Scale slider to 150%.

4. Click OK to create a shaded cylindrical pipe.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 for each piece of the valve by selecting each layer, and then using the Layer Styles dialog box to customize each gradient.

Depending on the shapes you're working on, select either the Reflected, Radial, or Linear gradient Style option. As you apply the gradients to each part, be sure the light source is consistent throughout the entire valve. Once you've finished applying gradients to all the pieces, you’ll have the basic shiny valve that you see in Figure B.


Merge the layers

So it’s easier for you to add the corrosive effects, you’ll create one merged layer from the multiple valve layers.

To get a good working copy of the valve:

1. Create a new layer at the top of your layer stack.

2. Press [command][option][shift]E ([Ctrl][Alt][Shift]E in Windows) to create a merged copy of the valve.

3. Name this merged layer Valve.

At this point, we suggest that you save your document because you just put a lot of work into adding dimension to the valve.

Corrode with texture

Adding texture to your metal with tarnish and patina effects is the all-important step to creating a realistic look. For example, most metals change as they age. Brass, copper and silver all darken or tarnish over time, or develop other surface reactions called patinas. A common patina is the green coating on many copper statues and roofs. Depending on the metal colors you’re working with, you may be able to incorporate a variety of other colors into your layout.

Layer on the tarnish

Tarnish works best when built up in layers, as we’ll show you. We want to make our valve look old but still have some shine.

To create a brassy layer:

1. Duplicate the Valve layer by dragging it onto the Create A New Layer button.

2. Create a separate new layer above the Valve Copy layer.

3. Name the new valve layer Brass Valve.

4. Use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the new layer with a brass-like brown color.

5. Set the blending mode of the color layer to Color Burn and merge it with the Valve Copy layer. Now, the valve is brassy but the background is filled with white, as shown in Figure C.