Mad skills at Photoshop: A Vader Tutorial

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A couple weeks ago, I didn’t know a damn thing about photoshop. Now, I can do all sort of snazzy things and you can to. Don’t pay some scammer “artist” or “graphic designer” when you have it in you to make art yourself. I have the artistic talents of a 5 year old, but with some quick youtube tutorials, I can just about create whatever I want. The below graphic was drawn using the above picture as a guide. All of the coloring and tracing is pretty easy to do, but a little time consuming if you have OCD. If you want to make a bunch of Hope posters, you can create all sorts of variations using what I show you below.

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Now, this wasn’t easy nor was it fast. In total, I think I spent around 2.5 hours making this work. This is because even though I mastered the concept of layering, to do something of this detail, I had to do a ton of layers. How many?

52 fucking layers.

It was tedious as shit, but if you are making a unique book cover, or decorating your website you can pretty much do the same thing if you have the time and patience. After spending this much time, I will be retiring ol’ Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China for a while, and letting Lord Vader do my greetings on twitter. (If you haven’t followed me on twitter, I recommend you do so to catch in all the weird shit I say all day long).

STEP 1: Lasso Vader out of the pic. You have to then use the eraser tool, and set the size to small and zoom in to erase all the extra shit you got. This will take a little time if you want it to be perfect.

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Step 2: You then use the pen tool, and zoom in again, and trace an outline around the helmet and interior of the helmet, and then the neck. The three different depths should be separate so you can put closer parts of the helmet using a different color. This takes a little time to zoom in and ensure you get rounded edges. Then, I added a red background with a slight color gradient because I’m a baller like that. Be careful to recognize light colors on the edge that should be traced in another layer.

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Step 3: This is where the detail work comes in. Using a slightly lighter color, I traced interior shadows on his helmet to give it a little depth. Each area is a new layer to add and name. (By the way, name your layers otherwise it is confusing a shit to find which one you want to tinker with later). Adjust the colors and tones to get the color you want. I kept using a color overlay with an opacity adjustment in the 60% range to get it where I wanted.

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Step 4: Keep adding layers and adjusting the colors. I came to the conclusion that to get it perfect meant doing around 200 layers, which I didn’t have time for. This was merely a beginner practice session.

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Step 5: Boom, this is the easy final step. You add the lightest colors closest to your perspective (you know, the light gleaming off of Lord Vader’s helmet) and you color that in  on the highest layers with the lightest colors you can, all using the pen tool. A key thing to remember was to get the brim correct, and then to remove the basic picture underneath. I used the spray can and a light texture to match the underneath helmet shade in the picture. The final step is text, which is easy as shit. You just type the font and change it to what you want. I simply downloaded the Star Wars font (hopefully I didn’t get a damn virus).

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What I’m Learning about Cover Design (Part 4)

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My photoshop tutorial this week took me to the world of font cut-outs. I’ve seen this many times before in movie posters.

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So how did I do it? This was one of the easier projects. All you do is grab an image and drag it to photoshop,then overlay the text you want to add. After adding, you stretch and skew to the style that you want, then after adding it, you then double click on each, and do a shallow knockout of each one with a fill opacity of zero. After you are done, select all of the font layers, and hit shift-G to group and knock out the text.

I am still learning and welcome whatever challenge you want to bring.

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What I’m Learning about Cover Design (Part 3)

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This was another attempt at a book cover. You might not believe it, or you might think it is utter crap. Who knows. What I do know is that it is better than a lot of stuff I see out there. It took maybe an hour to do, but I did learn a few more tricks, which was well worth the time. There is no better way to do things than to simply teach yourself. For indie publishing, I don’t know why authors are afraid of taking up the mantle themselves and take control of the entire process.

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Step 1: I grabbed a free pic online of a castle to use as the foreground. I had no idea what I was making, but figured it would be cool to use it. What I did know was that I couldn’t use the full image as it would block everything, so I shorted the height using the scale tool and shrunk it to half its height.

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Step 2:I found a cool picture of a castle/monastery of some sort. I thought this would look cool high above a city or fortress. So I copied it (another free pic).

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Step 3: I looked for a random landscape with a rocky formation on the crest of a hill. There was someone paragliding in the sky, which was going to be a problem. I adjusted the colors a few times using the layer options. At this point I was just seeing if I could do dark green.

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Step 5: If I was using a castle, a blue sky would not do. I needed something more epic, so I figured a sun would be cool, maybe I could shine it behind the castle.

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Step 6: So this is where I began incorporating the elements. I added the landscape using the lasso tool, and using the color adjustment to make it more red. This solved the paraglider problem and added a cool sun.

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Step 7: This step was more complicated than most. It is very hard to tell all the details, but I had to lasso that damn castle/monastery and then use the eraser brush to clean up the edges. This took like 10 damn minutes. Then I added it and it looked retarded as shit, so I had to adjust the colors and tone to make it more red to match the light and ground. In a step after this, I used the blur tool to make the castle and ground edges blend in.

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Step 8: Here I added the foreground castle,, to which I think was a shitty job at this point. If I was going to actually making this a book cover, I would spend an hour making sure it was copied correctly and the light was done right. Instead, it is out of place I think. It should be darker and I should have swiped in between the turrets.

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Step 9: I simply added some text (I made up a title) and added my name. I chose a font that I think looked more regal, then I added a slight 3D tint to everything. Overall, it was pretty darn easy considering I only learned photoshop this past week.

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What I’m learning about Cover Design (Part 2)

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On day two of photoshop, it was time to take my self taught skills to the test. My favorite show of all time is LOST (First Five Seasons) and figured I could recreate this in a relevant way.

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Step 1: I needed to find a sky. I scoured the internet for 10 seconds and came up with this one. I imported it into photoshop and boom, I was ready to roll.

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Step 2: I don’t know what I’m doing. I needed to find something rocky with a slight glow, so this would do. I imported this too.

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Step 3: I overlaid these two things and then added a reverse image of the rocks and … um, well, I don’t know, it worked. I guess it was time to lasso some rocks.

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Step 4: Presto, chango, here it is. I added some simple text for Lost and used some brushes to kind of add the texture. The Lost text also has an opacity that is around 70%. A light filter was added to make it a little darker.

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Step 5: Witness creative genius. Yeah, I know, you are all thought how would I get all he actors in the shot. Well, I figured I would test the concept and use some Lost politicians. Don’t worry, in order for art to imitate life, I had them all keep their distance.

If I can easily manipulate stuff, so can you for book covers. There is no need to pay people to make it when you can simply spend a few hours and make something that will please you and resonate with your readers.

Total time to make this: Around an hour. The pain is having to use the eraser tool to zoom in and edit what the lasso tool couldn’t do.

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What I’m Learning about Cover Design

 

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Two months ago, I had nothing but a couple completed manuscripts. I didn’t know much about querying because up until January, I only focused on writing.

Then I found out about “platforms,” which I had none.

Then I found out about social media, which I had none.

Oops.

Then I researched self publishing, which I knew very little about. I set out to teach myself anything I didn’t know about this new world through other blogs, podcasts, youtube videos, and conversations with other indie writers. I’ve learned a ton, which I’ll share in future blogs, but this one is squarely focused on cover design.

Since joining twitter, and filtering through the non-stop marketing spam and fake followers, I have watched the ways indie authors have marketed their books. I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night so I can firmly tell you that 75% of the book covers I see on indie books are total crap. It is almost like they didn’t care it was the first impression. Coming into this, my photoshop skills were zilch. I had never used photoshop before in my life (I was a MS Paint guy). With the Midnight Traveler Crowd Sourcing Project I learned to do four simple functions: filtering out color, cropping, adding text, and adjusting text color.

Last night, off a whim when I checked out Chuck Wendig’s recent post on writing tips for new authors, I saw his book cover and told myself, “Hey, now that is a pretty catchy book cover. The font is bright. The blurbs are there. I clearly can see his name is the biggest thing on the book cover. Can I do something like this?”

It took me honestly 90 minutes to click around photoshop to find everything I needed. It works through a concept of layering where take an image and make edits, then slowly add layers on top like a cake. I have zero art skill, but understand this concept.

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Step 1: I used a lasso tool and cropped out a couple raven images from real pictures and then pasted it to a new background.  I then copied it to make two, then rotated and stretched both to look slightly different. This was about 30 minutes of tinkering the first time. When you learn it it should take you 15 seconds to do.

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Step 2: I simply added text. I think anyone can do that. I scrolled through the fonts to find something close, then moved it around and adjusted it to match ok. It took 20 minutes to figure what the hell I was doing in font selection since photoshop offers a ton. Now it would take me 5 minutes to choose a font because no matter what, you are tinkering it to match an original image.

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Step 3: This was the pain in the ass. You have to add a bunch of new layers to match the original picture. This means a bunch of testing of fonts, colors, and rotating some of the images (like “Chuck”) to match. Since my bird wasn’t exactly a match, I made it as close as I could.

Step 4: If you were extra ambitious, there are tools to do little paint brush strokes to try and match the bird in the original. This was only a couple hours of me attempting photoshop, so I kept the black raven look. The practice sessions of me “painting” were pretty poor and might have undid this whole “you can do it too” blog post.

Overall, you can see at the two comparisons. I think mine looked pretty damn good for a simple effort. It was a couple hours of teaching myself what buttons to press, but now, I can recreate most of this in 15 minutes.

I will continue to press more buttons and learn more skills in photoshop. Given some practice, all of you should be able to successfully make a simple eye catching design that will pull your readers in.

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