In this piece you will learn how to bring a simple text to life and place everything in fantastic, colored and glowing 3D space.  The tutorial is thoroughly explained, it reveals not only the technical aspect, but also how the ideas comes to life and how they morph to fit seamlessly in the same design. Some neat techniques covered here will allow you to bring your art to the next level. The end effect is quite stunning and hopefully you’ll pick up some tips you didn’t know before. There are quite a few tips and tricks you’ll learn along the way, it’s definitely worth reading. Don’t miss it!

TUTORIAL DETAILS

  • Program: Photoshop CS5
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Estimated Completion Time: 6 hours

FINAL IMAGE PREVIEW

Introduction and Preparation

First of all, to create the 3D text, you need to download the demo version of Xara 3D6. You may use Adobe Illustrator as well, but I strongly recommend you get Xara for this piece. Also download the stained metal texture image we’ll be using from cgtextures.com.

Step 1 – How to Begin?

The best way to start a colorful art piece is finding the right colors. In the Super Malleable Lines tutorial, the colors of the background were sunny, so this gave us a warm impression. Here we’ll move more into cold tones.

Let’s start with opening a new document of around 1350 pixels by 1600 pixels with a resolution of 300px/inch. Create a new layer and make a short color matching. Don’t pick the first color you choose, try to play around with some different tones. People often destroy their works with bad looking backgrounds.

So now that we found a good fitting color, grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G) and fill the new layer with #166a91. Name this layer “background.”

Step 2 – Background Depth

Now what we need is to give this background some life. Again, spend some time on searching colors, try to get some proper cool tones. What I’m talking about is finding darker and lighter tones of this blue color. The colors that I used are shown in the images below.

If you already picked some good darker color (or if you have some problems with colors refer to the images below – I showed the specific color used). Grab the Brush Tool (B), set the Flow to 5%, Hardness to 0% and make your diameter very big as you see below. Create a new layer, name it “bg_color” and paint in the corners with this big brush. Make each brushing of new color on it’s own new layer.

Try to paint in different spots, basically make the edges darker and the middle brighter. This way you will receive some irregular gradients and that’s what we want.

Step 3 – Adjusting Color

When you’re done with coloring the background make sure everything works for you fine. The colors seemed a little too bright for me, so I decided to go to the Layers Palette and I added a new adjustment layer of Hue/Saturation above all the layers. Then I slightly decreased Saturation, removing some color.

Step 4 – Preparing Texture for Splatter

Now open some stained metal texture. I don’t know why is this called “metal,” seems to me like some stains. Anyway, stains are the point, you can pick an image of your own choice. It must be suitable to your needs.

Now hit Command + T, use Distort to make a perspective of this picture. Then hit Command + Shift + U to desaturate. Command-click on this layer’s thumbnail to call the selection. Copy it using Command + C.

Step 5 – Creating Splatter, Shape and Shadows

Get back to our main project document. Grab the Pen Tool (P)and draw a splatter shape, then turn it into a selection. Create a new layer above all, name it “texture.” Now go to Edit > Paste Into. Our texture should now dynamically be pasted into the selection, it means you can change its position inside the selection. Now change this layer Blending Mode to Overlay and set the Opacity to 70% and your project should look like the second image below.

Now create a new layer above all and name it “splatter shading.” Grab the Brush Tool (B) and change the color to #125361. Make sure your brush settings are very soft, something like Hardness 0%, Flow 10%. Now make the selection of the texture layer (Command-click on the layer’s thumbnail). Take a look at the third image below and paint in the indicated spots. We need to darken the inner curved parts of this splatter to create a convex look. This splatter needs to pop up a little, to be not so flat. Refer to the 4th and 5th image below.

Step 6 – Creating Splatter: Lights

OK, now as you created some shading, let’s move to lights. Look at the first image below. I made a small preparation (this is not something you need to do). Before you add lighting you need to imagine how it would look like if it was real. So I created several simple lines to show you which places are good to set the lights.

If you’re ready, then create a new layer above all and name it “splatter lighting.” Call the selection of the “texture” layer. Now with the same brush settings and a brighter color #99e9ea, start painting in the indicated spots (keep a small space from the splatter edge).

Note: Remember that you’re able to make changes anytime you feel something is not right, so if you give too much shade or lighting, help yourself with the soft Eraser Tool (E) to erase unwanted parts.

Step 7 – Creating Splatter: Brush Settings

Before we move further, go to the Brush Palette and change the brush settings, as shown below.

What’s this for? Using a small, soft and faded brush you can easily paint with a mouse. If you paint in one spot, you’re allowed to make some failure lines, as they will be barely visible. Refer to the second image below, and look how the light lines are being created. In the third image below there are white arrows that indicate where to paint. Add these light lines on each outer curved edge of the splatter.

Step 8 – Creating Splatter: Adding Lights

Now, don’t change your brush settings, only increase the diameter a little and change the color to white. Then create a new layer above all, name it “lighting overlay.” Set this layer’s Blending Mode to Overlay, and start painting in the same spots that were indicated in Step 6. Create only little spots, not lines.

Step 9 – Creating Splatter: Adding Lights More

Continue adding lighting on selected splatter parts. Remember to work dynamically with your diameter. You can go from bigger to smaller to create nice spot lights.

Also help yourself with the Eraser Tool (E) and a very soft eraser, something like 0% Hardness and 8% Flow. Take your time while working on the details.

Step 10 – Creating Splatter: Touch Ups

Next, create a new layer above all, name it “splatter touch ups” and change it’s Blending Mode to Multiply. Reset your brush settings. Then set the brush to Hardness 0%, Flow 5%, change the color to #125361. Now look at the first image below and darken in the indicated spots just a touch. Then switch to a white color, create a new layer, name it “splatter light,” then use the same brush settings to add some more light to this splatter.

Step 11 – Shading Process Explanation

Before we move to creating splatter shadow, here are a couple things you need to understand:

  1. If you want to put an object in 3D space and place it on the surface, you need to pay attention to where is your light source (or sources).
  2. Remember that objects also drop shadows below themselves (refer to the image below, “the shadow between box and desk”). This is something many designers forget (or don’t know) about it.
  3. This means that sometimes one object may have fewer shadows depending on light sources and where it’s placed.
  4. Also keep in mind that the “darkened area” (refer to image below) of objects always remains darker than other parts.
  5. And it’s the same for the “lightened area,” it’s lighter than other parts of the lightened object.

Step 12 – Creating Splatter: Shading Process

We have not specified the source of light in this work so we will skip the shadow caused by the source light. We will only take care for the shadow below the splatter (refer to pointer 2 in the previous step).

Step 13 – Splatter Shadow

Now there is only a slight difference between splatter with shadow and without it. But it’s OK for now. In Part II of this tutorial, we will make this surface more dirty and this will give a stronger shadow effect.

We’re almost done with it, but before we move further I want you to look at the third image below. Maybe you’re wondering why these spots have no shadow? The splatter looks like a 3D object, so if you had it in 3D program you could rotate it seeing how each side looks. Now, if you could look at the splatter from the right side, the shadow would be there. But from our point of view (front) it’s just not visible, so we don’t add it.

It’s kinda hard to explain, sometimes you just need to imagine how it would look like in reality.

Step 14 – Text Preparation

OK, once we’re done with the splatter, we can move further to creating text. But before you do this, let’s take a look at the first image below. As you see, not the whole splash was covered with lights and shading. The area indicated with the pink color looks unfinished. It’s OK, because I planned this illustration from the beginning to create a text in the middle. So the text should cover some imperfections of the back.

The second, third and fourth image below are a little show of how I basically planned to do the text. I made a small preparation as I didn’t exactly know how this should look. This isn’t something you must do, but sometimes it’s good to experiment. So now when this flat text occurred a lot of ideas came to my head. This pretty much helped me to see what I want to achieve.

Step 15 – Text in 3D Space

To put 3D text on a surface in 3D space you need to set the horizon line. Take a look at first image below. My base was the splatter I created. In our case the horizon line should be a little above the top edge of the splatter. You don’t have to draw these lines like I did in the first image below, just try to imagine where this line should be.

This isn’t necessary in some abstract pieces where for example: letters are flying in the air, as they can rotate.

Before we move on to creating the 3D text, you need to also understand the position of letters: take a look at the second image below. If the letters lay below the horizon line, then remember that you look at them from the top, and this is the way we will create our text.

Step 16 – Preparing Text in Xara

OK, finally some action. Open Xara3D 6. And as I said before keep the top of the letters visible. Xara is very easy to use, if you spend around 5 minutes you will get to know everything.

In the images below I indicated some more important options that were used here to generate this text. I recommend you play around with your own settings. But if you want to achieve something similar to mine, then the colors used here are:

  • Light 1: #FBDBFF
  • Light 2: #EF72D2
  • Light 3: #E35DB0

The rest of the color options stay untouched.

Step 17 – Saving Text

People sometimes forget about a few things in Xara3D 6:

  • Before you save your project, go to Shadow options and turn off Shadow (we don’t want to be bothered with Xara’s original shadow, which looks pretty bad).
  • Then to save the file to a Photoshop readable format, go to File > Export, select PNG format and save the image with the same settings, as shown in the second image below.

Step 18 – Adjusting Text

OK, we saved the text in PNG format so it’s transparent. Now open the text in Photoshop and drag it into our project. Then hit Command + T (Free Transform) and select Warp. Try to make this text less straight and more rounded like it was circling. It gives a better 3D feeling.

Next refer to the third image below: grab the Burn Tool (O), set the Range to Midtones, the Flow to 25% and paint a little on the bottom of each letter (later this will help achieve a better shadow effect).

After this, correct some tones of the text using Layer > Adjustments > Selective Color (forth and fifth images below). This is up to personal taste. Try to adjust mostly Reds, as this option will mostly affect your pink text.

Step 19 – Text Touch-Ups

OK, now take a look at the first image below. I have indicated some places that look pretty bad. This dark color doesn’t exactly fit our illustration. Beside, the red arrow indicates a spot that Xara kinda destroyed, this looks dirty. We’re going to touch up all these spots.

So first grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw a path on the worst looking spot of this text (it’s indicated by a red arrow). Turn this selection on (right-click > Make Selection). Then select the Clone Stamp Tool (S), refer to the third image below. Make your settings the same as mine (also set the Hardness to 0%). Then touch up this bad looking spot. And it’s good to do this on a new layer.

Step 20 – Text Touch-Ups: Brightening

OK, now let’s take care of the rest of the bad looking spots. Create a new layer above the text layer, you can name it “text correction” and change its Blending Mode to Overlay. Grab the Brush Tool (B), change the brush settings to Flow 10%, Hardness 0%, and give it a big diameter. Now pick #ffbdf3 for the color. Next hold Command-click on the text layer thumbnail to call the selection of this text. Then make a soft brushing on the spots that look too dark.

The main task is to pick a bright pink color (that matches the color of your text) and cover some imperfections using overlay blending mode. You can even go through some random spots of text faces, this will give a nice tonal variety to the text.

Step 21 – Creating Gloss

Now let’s take care of the gloss. I wrote everything on the images below, you should be able to easily follow them. The main thing about this is to create a soft gradient from the middle of these letters heading to the top.
You can do this the way you’re comfortable with, although I think the way shown below is pretty cool and fast.

Step 22 – Creating Inner Reflection

Let’s move to creating some depth. These letters look OK for now, but it’s nothing special yet. We need to give them a more unique look. We’re going to create an illusion that the text is reflecting something from the environment. And the thing is no one cares wether the reflection is showing real objects or fake ones, as long as it looks good.

So Command-click on the text layer thumbnail to call the selection of this text. Then hit Command + Shift + C (Copy merged) and Command + V (Paste). Now we made the exact same duplicate of the whole text. Name this layer “Reflection 1,” make a few duplicates of this layer and name them in order “Reflection 1,” “Reflection 2,” and “Reflection 3.”

Now grab one of the reflection layers, hit Command + T (Free Transform), and rotate it as you see in the first image below. Then call the selection from the original text layer (second image below). Go to Select > Inverse and hit delete (remember to select the transformed reflection layer while you’re hitting delete). You should get something that looks similar to the second image below.

Then change the reflection layer Opacity to around 15-20% and set its Blending Mode to Overlay. You should get something similar to the third image below. Make sure the reflection stays only in the text faces, so if it goes somewhere to far use a soft eraser to make the touch ups (forth image below).

Repeat the reflection process around 2-3 times until you cover the whole text (carefully, don’t get to messy). Refer to the fifth image below, you should get something like this.

Step 23 – Gloss and Reflection Correction

Now we’ll make the gloss and reflection effect even stronger. Grab the Eraser Tool (E), set its Flow to 5% and Hardness to 0%, then make a small erasing around the gloss of each letter (where the white arrows indicate). Then switch to the Burn Tool (O), set the Range to Midtones and Exposure to around 20%, and add some depth to each letter (where the red arrows indicate).

Step 24 – Text Touch-Ups

Now let’s solve some lighting problems. Obviously the text is mostly lightened from the top-left (first image below). You can see that the top-left side of these letters is brighter than the right side. Of course there area few light sources on this text because the front is also bright, but let’s focus on the strongest light source.

Look at the second image below, it looks like we’re missing something. The rest of these letters have a nice light and shade, but the top of the letters “L” and “R” almost completely lack shading. It’s probably caused by the light from Xara. I guess it was too low to reach the top of these letters. But it’s no problem, we’re going to fix it, as it will look much better afterwards.

So call the selection of the text layer (third image below). Grab the Brush Tool with the same settings as previously (Hardness 0%, Flow around 5%), change the color to the some darker pink (#79185d). Create a new layer above all, name it “additional shade” and start painting by the right side of the top of these letters, refer to the third image below.

Next create new layer above, name it “additional light” and repeat the same process but this time from the left side of these letters (refer to 4th image below).

Note: Always remember to help yourself with a soft eraser if something doesn’t go right.

Step 25 – Text Touch-Ups

Go to the Layers Palette and create a new adjustment layer Gradient Map above all the layers. Select the gradient from Black to White, and you should have something similar to the first image below. Then change the Blending Mode of this layer to Soft Light, and lower the Opacity to 70% (second image below).

Finally call the selection of the text layer, go to Select > Inverse. Then go to the Layers Palette and select the Mask of the Gradient Map layer. Once you do this, grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G), change the color to black and fill the Mask (third image below).

And what did it do? Now we’re sure that this gradient map affects only this text, nothing outside it.

Step 26 – Text Touch-Ups

Now it’s a small detail, but I like to add this. Change you brush settings to Hardness 100%, Flow 100%, then grab the Pen Tool (P). Create a new layer above all, and make a curve or straight line on the top of each letter like you see below.

When you’re done, right-click and select Stroke Path. Make sure option Simulate Pressure is checked.

Step 27 – Creating Text Shadow

I guess the hardest part of all is always adding shadows. OK, first of all let’s make a standard shadow between the splash and letters.

Before you begin, remember that it’s good to treat shadows with the same color that the surface has but in different tone. So our splatter surface is a light blue color, then for the shadow choose a dark blue color (something like #092330). Now grab the Brush Tool (B), remember to have Hardness set to 0%, and the rest of the options you have got below.

Create a new layer below the text layer and name it “text shadow.” Start with a small diameter and add tiny shadow lines exactly below the letters. Make your diameter bigger to fill the empty spaces between the letters.

Note: Always help yourself with a soft eraser!

Step 28 – Final Adjustments

We’re heading to the end of Part I of this tutorial. I usually play around with some overall adjustments when I’m about to finish. So go to the Layers Palette, create a new Gradient Map adjustment layer, select the “Violet, Orange” preset and click OK. Then change this layer’s Blending Mode to Soft light and lower its Opacity to around 20% (this will give a little more warmness to this piece).

Next repeat this process but this time create a Gradient Map from dark blue (greeny black) #202930 to a lighter color (even turning into grey) #31505b. Set this layer’s Blending Mode to Soft Light and Opacity to around 80%. This will increase some color and contrast.

This text still looked too cold for me so I decided to create another Gradient Map using the same process. This time I used colors from #2e2111 to #e2be84 (third image below). These are some browny, yellowish colors to add some more warmness. And again change this layer’s Blending Mode to Soft Light and its Opacity to around 30%.

And finally you may add Curves adjustment layer if you like. This is not necessary, but I think the dark and contrasted tone gives a nice feeling. You can also play with the Red Channel in Curves to give the text color a more desired look.

Step 29 – Final Touch-Ups

After adding a few gradient maps I decided to move some light parts (indicated by white arrows). I also made a small shadow correction as it seemed too dark and dense.

Also as you can see in the second image below, I lowered the opacity of shadow between the text and splatter. It’s just because curves made it a little bit too dark.

Be ready for any corrections, after adjusting colors and contrast sometimes you may wanna change something. And it’s good to take a fresh look at your piece and work on some details if they don’t fit correctly.

So now you know how to create a cool splatter from scratch, add glossy colorful 3D text. Fill the whole image with great colors and place everything in 3D space. I think there are many useful effects and techniques you can use in your own projects.

And this way we have reached the end of Tutorial Part I. Although this piece needs some more detailed work all over it, as it is too empty. So in Tutorial Part II you will learn about some nice techniques for achieving glowing effects and creating a creative messy look.

The Second Part of the Tutorial

Introduction and Preparation

 In Part Two of this tutorial, we will focus on great glowing effects, some messy brushing and gloss effects.

We will begin with creating text reflection in our splatter, so you need to download the demo version of Xara3D 6. You may use Adobe Illustrator as well, but I strongly recommend to get Xara for this piece.

Images to use:

Step 30 – Let’s Continue: Adding Text Reflection to Splatter

Just to remind you what we did in the previous image looks like when we ended, the first image below is the final one from Add Fantastic Color to 3D Text – Part I.

And as I said we will now move forward by creating text reflection. To do this you need to open Xara3D 6 and again create the same text with the Agenda font. Same size but a different view (second image below). Why are we doing this? Well, this is the time when you need to close your eyes and try to imagine how would the reflection look. Look again at the second image below. If you imagine this text flipped vertically, you will get a mirror reflection of our original text.

The colors of this text reflection aren’t that important as in Part I. This text will be barely visible so we will darken it anyway and erase half of it. But the main thing to remember, is that the text needs to be pink (as our original text).

If you already got this text generated, save it (Export) as shown in the third image below.

Step 31 – Creating Reflection: Adjusting

Bring the reflection text to our main project, name it “reflection” and put it somewhere below the main text (and below the shadow of this text) in the Layers Palette. Then hit Command + T (Free Transform) flip it vertically and then use Warp to adjust the reflection to the main text (second image below).

OK, now if your text is as bright as mine, grab the Burn Tool (O) set the Range to Midtones and darken it a little (third image below). It looks good but it’s still a little too colorful. I decided to decrease the saturation a little (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, and add a value of -22 to the Saturation).

Step 32 – Correcting Reflection and Adding Splatter Shine

This reflection still needs some touch-ups. So go to Layers Palette and select the “reflection” layer, then add a Layer Mask to it. Now grab the Gradient Tool (G), change its color to black and (while having the Layer Mask selected) drag a gradient from the bottom to the top of the reflection text (first image below).

Next Command-click on the “reflection” layer’s thumbnail to call the selection of this layer. Create a new layer above it, name it “reflection touch up” and change the layer’s Blending Mode to Multiply. Pick a dark pink color (#853b6d) from the colors palette, then grab the Brush Tool (B). Make the brush very soft and start painting inside the selection (second image below).

Now, make sure you still have your Brush Tool (B) selected, and also make sure it’s set to 0% Hardness and around 5-10% Flow. Pick a white color, go to the Layers Palette, move somewhere above our splatter layers and create a new layer there. Name it “splatter shine” and change it’s Blending Mode to Overlay. Now use a brush and start painting on splatter to create a nice shine (3rd, 4th, and 5th images below).

Step 33 – Adding Messy Splash Brushes

First important note before you start doing anything is to create a new layer group below the shadow splatter. Then open one of the downloaded brush packs and select a big messy brush (brush in first image below). Create a new layer, name it “Brush.” Use #cceeff color and set it throughout the whole splatter. Then go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask, set the Amount to around 80-90% (first image below).

Once you do this, recall the selection of the splatter, and hit Delete on the keyboard while still having selected the “Brush” layer (second image below). Now press Command + D to deselect the selection, next turn the Opacity of the “Brush” layer to 30% and set its Blending Mode to Overlay (you should get something similar to the third image below).

Step 34 – More Splashy Brushing

Basically there are two ways of adding these brushes. The first one is shown in the previous step, and the second in the pictures below. You need to recall the selection of splatter, then go to Select > Inverse. Create a new layer, set its Blending Mode to Overlay. Grab the Brush Tool (B), pick a nice splash/splatter brush and add them on the left and right side beyond the splatter (like you see in the first image below). Play around with layer opacity, the higher opacity the harder the color.

Keep adding brushes the way you’re comfortable with. Work dynamically with the brush size and help yourself with Eraser Tool (E). Sometimes, you just need to get rid of unwanted splatter brush part.

Step 35 – Enhancing Splatter Shadow

Now let’s get back to the splatter shadow. As we made the shadow tiny before, now with the new surface we need to enhance it. Refer to adding shadow in tutorial Part I. So grab the Brush Tool (B). Set the color to dark blue (something like #125361), make your brush soft as before and add a little bit more shadow. Do it pretty much the same way as in tutorial Part I, just add a little bit more shadow and this time without having any selection.

Step 36 – Creating Brush Splatter

OK, now find some free space on your background. To do this pick only splatters that spread their parts widely. Create each brush on a new layer. I prepared a small guide below, what to do, and how to set these brushes and layers:

  1. #a5efff, Brush Opacity 60%, Flow 60%
  2. #a5efff, Brush Opacity 80%, Flow 90%
  3. #c4f2ff, same opacity/flow
  4. #e1f7ff, same opacity/flow
  5. #e1f7ff, same opacity/flow
  6. #e1f7ff, Layer Blending Mode: Overlay, Layer Opacity: 73%
  7. white color (here use a regular rounded, soft brush and enhance the center of this splatter)
  8. #d5f4ff, Layer Blending Mode: Overlay (here use a regular rounded, soft brush, in the center of splatter to create glow)
  9. #97f2ff, Layer Blending Mode: Overlay (here use a regular rounded, soft brush, around the splatter to create more glow)

When you’re done, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask, and set the Amount to around 60%. Apply this to each brush layer.

Note: If somewhere lacks information about Opacity or anything, it means it should be set by default to 100%.

Step 37 – Adding Lights

Select all the light layers and group them. Next, grab this group and drag it into the New Layer icon around 7-8 times to create many lights (fist image below). Place them where the natural light hits letters (but behind the text).

Now change your brush to a regular rounded shape (big diameter). Set the Hardness to 0%, Opacity to 100%, and Flow to 15%. Pick a dark blue color like #1c364d. In the Layers Palette create two new layers, one above the lights, and one below them.

Now refer to the third and forth images below, and start adding a darker color to the background between the lights. This will enhance the lights, making them more readable (you may even change the Blending Mode of this layer to Hard Light to make this effect even more visible).

Then copy the group with lights two times and add more lights. One to the shine inside the splatter and another one behind the text.

Step 38 – Texture effects

Open a cool ice crack image. Go to the Channels Palette and drag the Red Channel into the New Layer icon. You should get now something similar to the second image below. Now select the “Red copy” channel, select the black dropper (I believe it’s correctly called Black Point Dropper). Then click on a gray spot, and you should get something similar to the third image below.

When you’re done, Command-click on the “Red copy” channel’s thumbnail to load the selection of the white texture that remains. Now select the RGB channel and switch to the Layers Palette (fourth image below). Select the layer and use Command + C (copy). Then go to our main project document and hit Command + V (paste) – fifth image below.

Step 39 – Creating Texture

Now go to the Layers Palette into the texture blending layer options. Select Color Overlay and set the color to #94e3ed (first image below). Then create a new empty layer and merge the texture with this empty layer using Command + E (second image below). Now set this layer Blending Option to Overlay. Make several copies of this layer and use Command + T to rotate this layer.

Step 40 – Manipulating Textures

Now grab the Lasso Tool (L) and draw a path around any interesting you part (I selected here a really messy and detailed spot). Hit Command + I to inverse the selection and press Delete on your keyboard to remove unwanted parts (second image below).

Next select a spatter brush 39px, add a Layer Mask to this ice crack layer, select a black color and remove some texture (third image below).

Step 41 – Messy Texturing

Once you get this done, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and increase the Radius a little. Repeat the whole process and create a few effects like this. The best solution is to put each one on light spots.

Step 42 – Color Spheres

Now, create a new layer group and make new a layer inside it. Name it “orange ball.” Pick #ffc000 for the color. Select the Ellipse Tool (U) (make sure you have the option Shape Layers selected) and create a circle. All needed settings you have are shown here in the second and third images below.

Next you need to create a new shape layer (on new layer) and set the color to white. Then create a new Layer Mask over there and paint with black on this mask to get rid of the middle and bottom parts (7th image below). Now this looks like a gloss or a light, so move this on our sphere and match it.

Step 43 – Creating Spheres, Continuation

For each sphere pick another color. Each process looks the same, only colors change. Work a lot with proper colors, they must fit your illustration. Try to find a good tone in between too bright or too dark.

Step 44 – Touching-Up Sphere Shadows

I don’t want to bore you showing the settings of each sphere that I created. I showed you how it works, so you should be able to pick some colors by yourself. Anyway create many spheres in different sizes and each one in a different color.

Now take a look at the first two spheres from the bottom – the green and red one. I like to see some realism in my work so I always try to put some stuff on the ground. I mean, we will just add some shadows to these front spheres (it’s not like you must do this, as this looks OK for now, but I think it gives a great overall touch).

So Command-click on the red sphere’s layer thumbnail to call the selection. Hit Command + Shift + C (Copy Merged) and paste (Command + V) this sphere. Now select this copy, drag it below the original red sphere, hit Command + T (Free Transform), and select Flip Vertical. Grab the Eraser Tool (E) with soft settings, then erase the bottom of this flipped sphere (third image below) to create the reflection.

Now refer to the fourth image below, select the Brush Tool (B), and pick #1a525f color. Make your brush very soft (by me soft always means like 0% Hardness and 10-20% Flow). Set your diameter to 2-3px and create a new layer below the original red sphere, but above the red sphere reflection. Then first paint exactly below the original sphere, along its bottom line to create a tiny hard shadow.

Step 45 – Flying Sphere Shadow

Now, let’s take care of the green sphere shadow. It looks to me like it was more in the air than on the ground so I decided to create an illusion with shadow that this sphere is really flying.

So take a look at first image below. I drew some arrows to show you how you should add this shadow. Because we are in 3D space, and there is some perspective, we need to make some depth with this shadow. As previously grab the Brush Tool (B) with the same settings, but change your diameter to a bigger one and create a soft shadow. Try to get a soft ellipse with a little harder center.

Step 46 – Malleable Lines

You probably should remember the Super Malleable Lines tutorial where I showed you a great technique of simulating shape layers. Well it’s the same thing now. If you like you can refer to the Malleable Lines tutorial as well. But in this one, I made it more custom.

Grab the Line Tool (U), drag three lines in one column (first image below). Then apply some layer styles (second image below) to give this piece a color variety. Then use Command + T and select Warp. Bend this shape layer as many times as you need, and try to achieve a nice, thin, curvy lines.

Step 47 – Selecting Proper Parts

These shape layers are never perfectly shaped after bending. So in the first picture below I selected the parts that we’re interested in. In the second image below I selected the parts that you need to get rid of. And in the last picture below they are simply erased using Layer Masks with a hard black brush.

Note: It’s a great thing that you actually can use layer masks on shape layers, you simply loose nothing, you can recreate the layer when you want.

Step 48 – Constructing Lines

Something like this is very hard to achieve using only the Pen Tool with path stroke, so I construct lines with small pieces (and it’s great because they are still shape layers).

As you have prepared a few shape layers (curvy lines), use them, copy them and rotate them to create one curly line going around the orange sphere. You just need to set lines properly and they will do everything for you.

Note: Remember to blend the connections between lines nicely. Use layer mask to do the blending part.

Once you achieve a cool curly line, select all these shape layers and merge them into one (Command + E) (but always save some extra copies of your shape layers that you don’t need to recreate them). Next, you probably should get something similar to the third image below, and you need to decide which line to erase from the sphere because now it’s not looking right.

Refer to the forth image below. Add a Layer Mask to our merged layer, call the selection of orange sphere, grab the Brush Tool (B), pick a black color and erase one of these two lines that cover the sphere.

Step 49 – Enhancing Malleable Lines

Before we do anything further, you need to change your brush settings. Go to the Brush Palette and apply the settings shown below. Change the brush Opacity to around 15% and the Flow to something like 50%. Pick a bright blue color (like #baf3ff).

Create a new layer, change its Blending Mode to Overlay and start painting on the malleable line. This will make the line thicker, and this brush the way we made should easily allow you to paint with the mouse. You need to set many small marks to get this line more visible, and this covers some imperfections.

Step 50 – Creating Glow

Now this is my favorite part. I believe the photo of abstract lights was taken on slow shutter, looks like a painted glowing light, and it’s great. Open it in Photoshop, pick the Lasso Tool (L) and select a piece of this glow. Drag this to our main project.

Use Command + Shift + U to desaturate this it. Then grab the Eraser Tool (E), make the settings very soft and erase the hard edges of this piece. Then hit Command + T (Free Transform) to match it to our malleable line. Select Warp (Command +T to get the option bar) and adjust it to the line shape. Help yourself with a soft eraser if something doesn’t fit.

Step 51 – Creating Glow, Continued

Select a very light blue color (like #8cfbff). Reset your brush settings, and set the Hardness to 0% and Flow to 5%. Then create new layers above the previous ones (and above the malleable line). Set this layer’s Blending Mode to Hard Light and add some more glow to shining parts of the sphere and the line. Don’t overdo this, we’re looking only for a touch of glow.

Step 52 – Malleable Line, and Glow Process Repeat

As the title says, yes this will go the same way again and again. Apply these effects to each sphere that you have created. And remember that everything needs to be set up as in this tutorial. You simply cannot create these glowing effects in blue color if your illustration has pink or orange background, this also needs to be blue. And most important information: glow effects work the best when they are applied to the dark background. Below is a small case study for blue sphere treatment.

Step 53 – Adding Bubbles

OK, after applying more of these glow effects you will reach something similar to the first image below. Now, let’s take care of some more details. I found a nice picture of bubbles and thought it may be used well. The only rule is that this picture needs to have a black background.

So drag this image to our main project document. Press Command + Shift + U (Desaturate) – second image below. Change its Blending Mode to Screen (third image below). Now use Command + T to rotate it in different ways to create a messy look. Help yourself with a hard eraser if some bubbles are disturbing.

Finally create a new layer above all the bubbles, set its Blending Mode to Overlay and select the Brush Tool (B). Use very soft settings, pick #8cfbff color and slightly paint on these bubbles. This will give a nice glowing touch.

Step 54 – Background Textures

Now open some dirty image (I picked the one below, as it has mass details). Hit Command + Shift + U to Desaturate (second image below). Next hit Command + L (Levels) and adjust it to get a visible difference between black and whites. Next go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and sharpen this texture a little.

Step 55 – Applying Textures

When the texture is ready, drag it to our main project document. Set its layer Blending Mode to Screen. Grab the Eraser Tool (E), set it to Hardness 0%, Flow 10% and blend the texture with the background. Repeat this process to fill some empty space in the background.

This may be hard to see, but the texture is there. This gives a little noise to the background and makes it irregular. I like it this way.

Step 56 – Paper Texture Effect

Open the paper texture image. Unlock this layer by left-clicking two times on it. Then use Command + J (duplicate). Once you get the duplicate, set its Blending mode to Overlay and go to Filter > Other > Highpass, and set the Radius to around 40% to get some depth in the darker spots. Then drag both these layers to our main project. Grab the Eraser Tool (E), set it to Hardness 0%, Flow 10% and blend both textures with the background. Use this technique to sightly fill the whole canvas.

Step 57 – Final Adjustments

The final adjustments are very important as they give a unique look to your work. Go to the top of the Layers Palette and add several adjustment layers as you see in below. Add them one by one and work with their opacities and on the layer masks.

Example: When I added Levels (first image below) the shadow below letters seemed too dark, but the adjustment layer fit the whole illustration well. So I selected the Layer Mask of the Levels layer and erased the black shadow from below the letters using a soft, black brush. And so on with more adjustment layers, if something doesn’t look right at some spots, help yourself using layer mask and a black brush.

The gradient maps in the third and fourth images below are from Black color to Gray and from Black to White (I guess there was no need to write this down, but if you need to know here it is).

Final Image

Conclusion

In the end you can sharpen this image a little using highpass or unsharp mask. This will give it some more quality. But anyway, it’s the end, I’m glad you could reach it to this point, as this was a tough piece. Have fun with your own works. May the color be with you!





About the Author: Alex Roman

I’m a 23-year old independent graphic artist based in Romania, Bucharest. I design beautiful, engaging user experiences and intuitive user interfaces for the web. I really love what I do. Want to hire me? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter.