As some of you know, I spoke at FITC Toronto last month where I included a small and simple Photoshop tutorial on how I achieved the rainbow shard effect seen in many of my poster designs over the last few years. What I showed to the crowd was a stripped down version so I could demonstrate easily and quickly how the effect was created in about 4 minutes. We can’t have only those who attended have all the fun, so here is the web version of the tutorial in the exact way I presented it at the conference.
But before we begin, please PLEASE try experimenting with various steps along the way. I understand tutorials are meant to be a map from point A to point B where you can create the exact results shown, but screw that. Try your own stuff, add images, change the shapes, switch up the colors. Anyone can read and follow instructions, it’s the exploration and playing that makes it your own and can lead down other creative paths. I endorse learning, not replicating.
Bear that in mind, and lets get to it.
Step 1: In Adobe Illustrator, create some basic shapes using a few varying degrees of greys. Try to get a good range so they don’t look so monotone. If you are looking to get things lining up later on, be sure to hold down the Shift key while making these so all lines are perfectly horizontal, vertical or 45º.
Experiment tip! After you’ve run through this tutorial once, try creating some other shapes to play with later on. It’s super fun, trust me.
Step 2: I originally used Flash in order to create these random little groups, but you really don’t have to. Take the shapes you created in Step 1 and make a few groups with a variety of size and dispersal. Take a bit of time here to play with the shapes and get the groups looking as random and interesting as possible. If you are adjusting lengths, be sure to hold down the Shift key to maintain that 45º angle so things line up properly.
Experiment tip! Seriously, don’t cut corners here because it will hurt you later. The more interesting the groups are here will improve depth later. Try using different shapes and arrangements to see what results they might yield. Think of these groups as your tools, the better they are the better they will work for you.
Step 3: Copy and paste 2 of the groups you just created into Photoshop onto a black canvas, then drop the opacity of these layers down to 50% each. Expand the size of the shapes a bit so they bleed off. You can set the dimensions of the canvas to whatever you like, I just chose this format because my it was for my Keynote presentation.
Step 4: Copy and paste 2 more groups of shapes into Photoshop on top of the previous ones from Step 3. Again, expand the groups so they bleed off the edges of the canvas.
Step 5: Set the Blending Mode of those 2 new layers of shapes to Overlay. You should now be able to see some interesting things happening as the shapes react to those underneath.
Experiment tip! Try adding as many layers as you wish to this step. Also try adjusting the scale and opacity of the shapes to see what happens.
Step 6: Now it’s time to add color. Create a new layer, select a full spectrum linear gradient and apply it across the canvas. I then selected the shapes below in order to apply a layer mask to the color layer. Looks pretty gross, huh?
Experiment tip! Try using different colors, radial gradients or using the airbrush tool to create custom color fills.
Step 7: Set the Blending Mode of the color layer to Overlay, and set the opacity to around 35%. This coloring doesn’t look too interesting but there is a method of applying color I discovered quite by accident, which is by way of layering colors over top of one another …
Step 8: Duplicate the color layer 3 times so you have 4 layers of color. This will improve the saturation of your colors without over-blowing or pixelating the shapes. You might have to adjust the opacities of your color layers individually of they are reacting too harshly with one another. I included my layers palette in this image to show you how I have things set up so far.
Here is the clean version of Step 8.
Step 9: Now we are going to add some subtle highlights and shading to the shapes in order to create a bit more dimension. Create a new layer and set the Blending Mode to Overlay. Select the gradient tool with a setting of white to transparent, and apply a radial gradient to the upper-right corner. Do the same steps and apply a black radial gradient to the lower-left corner. You can adjust the opacity of this overlay if the highlight or shadow are too harsh.
Experiment tip! Try using this method of highlight and shadow in different areas to either bring elements forward or knock parts back. It can add quite a bit of dimension to your work.
And there you go, nothing to it.
This is a fairly simple tutorial, but I hope you can understand the possibility of experimentation particularly in the early steps. It’s nothing to just follow instructions to yield to same outcome, the real power comes from playing with elements along the way to see what results might come about.
So have fun, and feel free to post your creations in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with.