Signalnoise tutorial: The O series

The O Series tutorial

I have had many requests for tutorials over the past months, but given that they are quite time-consuming to create I have stayed away from them to continue with my poster designs and freelance work.

Last week I posted a few images entitled The O Series.  The process behind the images is fairly simple and I thought it would make for a good first tutorial post. There is nothing advanced here, and all you will need is a basic knowledge of the layers palette, blending modes and masks.

So, if you were at all interested in the creation of these pieces, here you go.

Step 1
Start by creating a white circle in the middle of the canvas, and apply a radial gradient layer mask so the center is faded out. Drop the opacity down to 15%.

The O Series tutorial

Step 2
Duplicate the circle layer we just made, and move it up and to the left. Bring the opacity up to 100% and set the layer Blending Mode to Overlay.

The O Series tutorial

Step 3
Duplicate the layer we just made and drop the opacity down to 25%. Set the Blending Mode of this new layer to Color Dodge. Move the circle a bit to the right on the canvas.

The O Series tutorial

Step 4
Duplicate the layer we just made, bring the opacity back up to 100% and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Shift the circle to the left a bit, and this time scale the circle down a little.

The O Series tutorial

Step 5
Make a straight duplicate of the layer we just made, and shift it a bit to the right. Keep all the layer settings the same.

The O Series tutorial

Step 6
Now that we have all of our circles in place, it’s now time to add some shadows and highlights to bring a bit more definition to the shapes. Create a new layer, and set its Blending Mode to Overlay. Using the Brush Tool set to black, proceed to paint in a few soft shadows concentrating more on the lower-left portion of the sphere. Then on the same layer, set your brush to white and paint in a few highlights. Try to keep in mind where a light source might hit our sphere, and paint the shadows and highlights accordingly. I lassoed where I painted for the sake of clarity in the example image.

The O Series tutorial

Step 7
To make the shading and highlights a bit more dramatic, duplicate the layer we just made and set its opacity to 50%. Keep the Blending Mode at Overlay.

The O Series tutorial

Step 8
Now we need to make the highlights really pop. Create a new layer and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Then using the Brush Tool with a soft setting, paint in a few focused highlight areas building on where you placed highlights in step 6.

The O Series tutorial

Step 9
Duplicate the layer we just made and set the Blending Mode to Overlay.

The O Series tutorial

Step 10
Once again, duplicate the layer we just made and this time drop the opacity to 50%.

The O Series tutorial

Step 11
Create a new Adjustment Layer and select Levels. When the levels dialogue box appears, set the white side to 145 and the dark side to 15, and click Okay. Keep this new layer above all of the layers we have created so the level setting will be applied to all.

The O Series tutorial

Step 12
Finally, we can now add some color to our sphere. Create a new layer, and remember to keep it below the Levels Adjustment Layer we just made. Using the Brush tool on a soft setting, paint in some color highlights on the sphere. Do this for a few colors to add some interest to the composition, in my case I chose red and purple.

The O Series tutorial

Step 13
Set the Blending Mode of our color layer to Overlay. You can continue to add some color on this layer until it feels right.

The O Series tutorial

Step 14
After placing so many overlays on top of gradients you will notice some fragmentation or banding. To solve this, switch the canvas to 16-bit and everything will smooth out. Simply go to Image > Mode > 16-Bits/Channel. After saving your PSD as 16-bit, you can then flatten your canvas and switch back to 8-bit to save your work as a jpeg.

The O series tutorial

The O series tutorial

Step 15
Have some fun and try a few different color treatments using the Brush Tool or some gradients. Also shift the circle layers around a bit for more diversity.

The O Series tutorial

I tried to keep this is simple and straight-forward as I could, so I hope this helps out those curious about my process. I do a great deal of adjusting and experimenting with my work, so be sure to try new things as you go to see how the slightest of alterations can change how color and overlays react with one another. But most of all, have fun.


  1. Wow… really cool tutorial, simple yet very effective, well done… great result :)

  2. Wow, wow, wow! I’ve been waiting a looong time for a tutorial from James White…thanks James. ;)

  3. Fantastic! Thanks a lot James, you rock ;)

  4. This is amazing. It’s so great to finally get an insight into your workflow. Thanks for sharing with us. Fabio is right. You rock!

  5. james (Author)

    My pleasure, gang. I appreciate the kind feedback.

  6. Hey wow, very nice tutorial.

  7. So effin excited to work through this today. Thanks so much.

  8. daniel

    Wow, cool tutorial. thanks so much!

  9. Thanks James, always great to get insight into a designers process.

  10. awesome, really interesting to read :)

  11. super sick! thanks for the insight.

  12. mAx

    Nice use of the layers palette :)

  13. Wow! Great tutorial.

    I followed it, screwed it up, stopped it, shut the tutorial window and gave it my own twist:

    Click here for my result (1440×900)

  14. james (Author)

    Thanks so much, everyone. Happy to hear you are enjoying the tutorial.

  15. Eli

    Interesting outcome/tutorial. Although when the light gets more intense the colors start to clash a little (if you know what I mean). You should also show the readers what it would look like with a different background.

  16. Looks great James! Thanks for doing a tutorial! Hope to see more in the future!

  17. Hey, nice tut! Thanks for putting the time in to do this.

  18. Really great tutorial. Thanks!

  19. I really like it..thanks James for the rock!..hope to see more tut from you in the future..

  20. F_man

    Thanks! It’s great and easy tutorial!

  21. unbelievable man. thanks for bringing us inside your head!

  22. frans

    nice! thnx

  23. james (Author)

    Eli, I’m a fan of amping up my highlights using multiple overlays, which does cause a high contrast in the overall range, if that is what you are referring to. The tutorial is built so you can nullify that on the layers palette according to your taste. Thanks a lot for the feedback.

    Grant and Starlight, I have another tutorial on the way and will be sure to announce when it is available.

  24. Finally one great tutorial from one of my favorite artist of the computer graphics century. You kick!

  25. I love this. I am O so excited to do undertake it.

  26. blackshaolinkungfu

    This was a long waited from you! MANY, MANY THANKS! ! ! !
    Love your work!

  27. moshman

    This i sreally interesting, wat agreat result 4rm cul and chanllenging process.
    keep it on my Lecturer.

  28. Liza

    yay! this is really cool

  29. Hey James;

    Ran across your website for the first time yesterday and enjoyed your articles very much. Nice to see fellow Canadians designing stuff at this level. Awesome tutorial!



  30. KB

    Hi James,

    I tried switching the mode to 16-bits/channel, though it didn’t seem to smooth out the banding problem… I’m new to Photoshop, would you care to explain why? I found some tutorials using noice to fix it, but don’t like grainy look…



  31. Really inspirational! Great work as always.

  32. leilei


  33. Hey James,

    thanks for sharing your technique, it’s great. Always wonderful to see, that it’s absolutely possible to create something really outstanding with relatively simple methods.

  34. Gaz

    When I make white circles I can’t make them transparent. I can set the gradient overlay to go black to white but not white to transparent.

  35. james (Author)

    Gaz, see step 1. You create a white circle then apply a radial layer mask to make the transparency.

  36. eiche

    hey james,

    very nice tut…i hope i’ll get the same result.

    i have a question. do you use RGB or CMYK mode?
    because i have problems with th first step.

    thanks for answering

  37. james (Author)

    Eiche, I use RGB mode. You might have to apply the gradient a few times on the layer mask to get a more distinct fade.

  38. Gus

    Im such a noob, Im stumped on step 1 where it says “apply a radial gradient layer mask” I dont know how to get my layers palette the same way as yours (underneath the sphere folder in pic #1)

    Anyways, epic artwork man!

  39. james (Author)

    Gus, select the layer with the circle and click the ‘Apply Layer Mask’ button on the bottom of the layers palette (should have an icon of a square with a circle in it). This will add your layer mask shown as a separate pane, like mine above. Simply add your gradient to that additional pane.

    Hope that helps :)

  40. Thanks for the tips, I love finding out about new tricks

  41. What a great way to use pretty simple shapes! Great job on the tut, very informative. Thank you!

  42. Wow, awesome! I’ll try it!

  43. Backrap

    Your explanation skills lack. I couldn’t get the same result as yours. I tried so many gradient styles with white gray and black, i kept editing the stops of the gradients and nothing. The result is this. God i was so pissed. Be more explicit next time, will ya!?


  44. Tom

    Great tutorial, I especially loved the shadow and hightlights parts, thanks for sharing.

  45. rishi

    Really good tutorial lighting effect is beautiful

  46. u’ve got the midas touch…. this is wicked….. thanx man…

  47. vasu

    Great, Excellent……
    You have created something

  48. amr

    i tried this tutorial a month couldnot finish it but now after some training and experience I DID IT perfectly am sooo happy the thing i was missing i guess when he shadowed the O drop the opacity of the brush to like 25 that will help u to shadow the O without printing on the sphere
    thank you for ur effort of this tutorial hoping for something new interesting and tweaking like this one

  49. OMG I am going to try this out. Supercool!

  50. Natalie

    I finally got a chance to try this out. And experienced a few things:
    1.) I was not able to get the radial gradient to be as soft as James’. I tried multiple passes with the gradient on the adjustment layer. In the end, I had to take a soft brush to punch out the middle
    2.) I got the most odd effect on that 3rd layer when we set to Color Dodge. It looked like a big paint splotch in the middle of my circle, with hard edges. So I had to move that circle around till that funny effect dissipated
    3.) When I did the adjustment layer, my whites really blew out so i got a not so nice end result

    I think, as James says, it takes a lot more playing around with things to achieve the look. I loved this peek inside the work-flow to at least get a feel for the steps to take. I’m going to try again tomorrow to see what sort of magic (if any!) I can create with fiddling about a bit more.

    Very kind of you to share your technique here with us James!

  51. An amazing tutorial Good work! I have given it a go and got some very good results from it! Well done

  52. Daniel

    great tutorial…very simple but outstanding

  53. Thank you. Simple yet dynamic design.

  54. OMG great tutorial…very simple but outstanding Very helpful in designing

  55. Amazing….thanks for sharing….

  56. Fantastic tutorial, thanks a lot!

  57. rica ann


  58. Alex

    Great tutorial. I had some issues but after playing with the highlights and shading got some great results!

  59. Great tutorial! Really easy to follow :)

  60. crytoy

    can you put more details about the RADIAL GRADIENT LAYER MASK

  61. Thank you so much, James, for this. Learned and enjoyed : )

  62. Dayko

    Found you today.

    Great, thank you


  63. Thanks for taking the time. Nice effect

  64. Very nice . Great tutorial!

  65. chris

    Hi! nice tutorial, but can you make a video tutorial? it´s easier then :P

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