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Tutorial - Image Prep

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Tutorial - Image Prep

Postby JoshJiggler on Tue Jun 10, 2008 12:12 am

This tutorial is meant for beginner to intermediate users of Photoshop.

For our first official tutorial, we'll start off simple. We're going to talk about preparing that wicked image you found for your wallpaper, and how to make it look the best you can. After all, if your main image doesn't look great, it'll most likely bring down the rest of the hard work you put into the wallpaper.

Often times it can be hard to find that perfect image at the perfect size and resolution on the internet. Usually, you have a few options. (1) Keep searching, and hope you find a better version of the image, or an image that will work instead. (2) Use the magic of Photoshop to make the picture look as good as new. For the purposes of this tutorial, we'll be using this awesome shot of Batman by Andy Kubert that I purposefully distressed.


A great image for a wallpaper, it's just not in the best shape...

You'll notice when you look at it that it was saved at a very low resolution in order to make the image appear faster on webpages. The details are all still there for the most part, but there's still a lot of pixelation and distortion. We'll get to that in a minute, though. First let's start with the basics. If you already know how to remove parts of an image for use in a wallpaper, you can skip ahead (Step 8). You never know, though. We might show you some tricks you don't know.

(1) First, open your file in Photoshop. If you look at your layers, you'll see your image on a locked layer called Background. Since the layer is locked, we have to copy it to be able to make use of it. Go to ->Layer->Duplicate Layer... A new layer should appear called Background Copy.

You can also right click on the layer and choose Duplicate Layer...

(2) Delete the original Background layer. We're done with it now.

(3) To make the process easier, we're going to create a new layer and place it underneath our Background Copy layer. Go to ->Layer ->New->Layer (Shift+Ctrl+N), and you should have a new layer called Layer 1 which appears above Background Copy in your layers window. Click on Layer 1 and drag it down below Background Layer.

You can also click on the Create New Layer button at the bottom of your layer window...

(4) Time to start cutting out everything we don't want. Use the Magic Lasso tool, which can be found in the tool bar. Draw a very loose line around Batman, making sure not to get too close to him. Once you've finished with the magic lasso, we're going to invert our selection so we can delete everything around our character. Go to ->Select ->Inverse. Then simply hit your delete button to remove the excess of the image.

For a shortcut, to invert your selection, press Shift+Ctrl+I...
The gray and white checker pattern where you deleted the piece of the image. This is Photoshop's representation of transparency...

(5) Now's where the real work begins. There's several ways to do this, and to each their own. I'm going to share with you my own personal method. It may be more time consuming, but it ends in a much nicer product. On Layer 1 use the Fill or paint bucket tool on the tool bar to put a color behind your character. The color can be just about anything. Personally, I use a lime green often, and you'll see why in a moment. Others fill in Layer 1 with the primary color they intend to use for their background. It's up to you really, both methods have their merits.

(6) Now chose your eraser. A smaller brush size is usually the best, as it can be difficult to get in those tight corners of the original art with a larger brush. Next, begin erasing any and all of the original background away from the character. Use short, smooth strokes to erase. Don't worry too much about making mistakes, that's what the Undo (Ctrl+Z) command is for. You also want to be mindfull of the outer lines of the artwork, as they are one of the defining aspects of comic art.

Watch out for artifacts, small pieces of the image you may have missed. They can bite you in the ass later on down the line...

(7) Take your time, and be patient and you'll have a great looking character ready for your new wallpaper in no time!

(8) With our image cut out, it's time to turn our attention to making it look it's best.

While not as apparent in this smaller image, we still have serious pixelization issues...

(9) This is often an easy fix. First, we're going to fix our Levels. Levels are well...the levels of your blacks, mid-ranges, and whites. Go to ->Image ->Adjustments ->Levels (Ctrl+L). A graph will open up in a new window. Directly under the graph you'll see three triangles, one black to left, one white to the right, and a gray in the middle. The color of the triangles tells you which aspect the control. For the purpose of this wallpaper, we'll move the black slightly to the left, and the gray slightly to the right. Leave the white exactly where it is. The difference may not be overly apparent at first, but trust me, it's there.

An art more than a science, levels are an important part to making that image look the best it can...

(10) With our levels set, it's time to knock out that pixelization. Again, there are many different methods out there for this. Some of them work better than others, and the quality of a method can vary wildly from one image to another. The method I will be showing you today, while it can lead to the loss of some more minute detail, is the easiest and often does the job excellently. Go to ->Filters ->Blur ->Smart Blur. This part is another art more than science. In this case, we'll be setting our Radius to 30 and Threshold to 60. Be sure to set the Quality to High via the drop down menu at the bottom of the window.

Take some time and play around with the different settings of Smart Blur to see what effect it has on the image...

(11) Voila! You have yourself a clean. and pixelation free image of Batman to use in that wallpaper you've been wanting to make. Due to smart blur, you have lost some of the detail of the finer crosshatching and whatnot, but overall not a bad looking image at all. Ideally, you'll be able to find images to use without having to go through most of these steps, but it's better to know how to deal with them when it's all you have to work with.

Seeing as how this is my first official tutorial for the site, please feel free to leave comments and suggestions. Hope this helps some of the newbies to Photoshop and wallpapers.
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