How to Create Retro Art in Photoshop

By / Sep 15, 2009 / Tutorials
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This was actually a brief given to me by up and coming UK band Rapids! For some poster art they wanted. They wanted a couple dancing with the heads replaced by an embellishment of the famous yellow ‘Acid face’ and done in a retro, cut & paste style.

Here’s a look at the final result. Click on the image for a larger version.

Retro Art

Step 1

Set up a new document. Make it an A4 canvas at 300 dpi in RGB mode. Go to Deviant Art and get this image from fahrmboy-stock. Select the Pen Tool and set it to Paths in the Options bar (Window > Options). Zoom into the image 200% and begin drawing a path around the figures. Imagine you’re cutting them out using scissors and adjust your technique accordingly. Use single clicks to add anchor points rather than dragging to give them curves. You can be pretty loose here. We don’t want the heads either so level them off.

Retro Art

Retro Art

Once you’ve finished your path, go to the Paths palette (Window > Paths) and CTRL+Click the path thumbnail to turn it into a selection. Copy and paste it onto your blank canvas.

Retro Art

Step 2

Go to Edit > Free Transform and use the bounding box to resize the image to 70%. Hold the SHIFT key whilst you drag the corner points to maintain the aspect ratio. Select the Pen Tool and switch it to Shape Layers in the Options bar. Select a light yellow colour as your foreground colour and draw in a circle with a flat bottom edge. Don’t be too precise here but click and drag the points to add handles. Then use the Direct Selection Tool to tweak any of your points or their handles if needs be.

Retro Art

Retro Art

Step 3

With your new HEAD layer selected, go to Layer > Duplicate layer and rename it HEAD_LADY. Use the Free Transform tool to rotate and resize accordingly. Your HEAD_LADY should be below your HEAD on the Layers palette.

Retro Art

I forgot to add a curve in the flat edge of the circle, my bad. Select the Path Thumbnail of either HEAD layer and use the Pen Tool to add an anchor point in the centre of the straight edge. Then nudge the new point up a few taps of the Arrow key. Repeat for the other HEAD layer.

Retro Art

Step 4

Select a darker yellow and use the Pen Tool to draw in the inside of the head where it meets the neck. This layer should be below the PEOPLE layer in the Layers palette.

Retro Art

You’ll need to split the point’s handles for this. Draw in a point with handles as normal and then hold the ALT key and click the point, dragging a new handle out upwards.

Retro Art

Step 5

Move your layers to match the screen grab. You’ll notice the neck sticks out over the head so CTRL+Click the HEAD_LADY path thumbnail to make a selection from it. Then use the Eraser Tool to delete the excess.

Retro Art

Step 6

Use the Ellipse Tool set to Shape layers and draw in a white ellipse for the LEFT_EYE.

Retro Art

Go to Layer > Layer Styles > Stroke and add a black, 12 pixel stroke. Use the same tool to draw in a black PUPIL.

Retro Art

Then, working on the PUPIL layer still, set the Pen Tool to Subtract from path area in the Options bar and draw a triangle in the top right of the PUPIL. Select PUPIL and EYE_LEFT in the Layers palette and go to Layer > Group Layers. Call the layer group EYE_LEFT. Duplicate this and rename the duplicate EYE_RIGHT.

Retro Art

Use the Free Transform to rotate them slightly away from each other.

Retro Art

Step 7

Create a new layer and call it MOUTH. Select the Paint Brush Tool and change the options so it’s a 12 pixel, 100% hardness brush. Then select the Pen Tool and set it Paths, and draw in a mouth like in the screen grab.

Retro Art

Select the path from the Paths palette and then select the little arrow in the top right of the palette to bring down the menu. Select Stoke Path.

Retro Art

Repeat this process to draw in two cheeks. Group EYE_LEFT, EYE_RIGHT, PUPIL and MOUTH and call the group MAN_FACE. Duplicate this group and call it WOMAN_FACE. Use the Free Transform to resize, rotate and position both FACE groups.

Retro Art

Retro Art

Step 8

To create a dirty texture, I scanned in my scanner with nothing on the bed. I then tweaked the levels to boost the contrast and finally, desaturated it. You can download it with the other source files at the end of this tutorial.

Retro Art

Cut and paste it onto your canvas and change the Layer Blend mode to Multiply.

Retro Art

Then use the Free Transform Tool to resize and reposition it.

Retro Art

Step 9

Select the Background layer and fill it with a light blue colour (#cadbd4). It’s worth mentioning that I wasn’t happy with the shape of the heads at this stage so I used the Direct Selection Tool to shift the points around until I was happy.

Retro Art

Select the PEOPLE layer and go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and tweak as shown in the grab.

Retro Art

Finally, select the Burn Tool and set it to Highlights at 45% exposure. Use a big soft-edged brush to burn shadows onto the necks of the PEOPLE.

Retro Art

Step 10

This next bit is tricky so stay awake. Duplicate the PEOPLE layer. Create a new layer beneath it and fill it with white. Select the PEOPLE copy layer and the white layer and merge them (Layer > Merge Layers). Add a Noise Filter (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) as in the screen grab.

Retro Art

Then add a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) as in the grab.

Retro Art

Add a Smart Sharpen filter (Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen) as in the grab.

Retro Art

CTRL+Click on the PEOPLE layer thumbnail to create a selection, then go to Select > Inverse, select the PEOPLE copy layer and hit delete. Set the Layer Blend mode to Multiply and delete the original PEOPLE layer.

Retro Art

Step 11

Create a new layer at the top of the Layers palette and call it Shadows. Use the Eyedropper Tool to select the darker yellow colour used for the bottom of the head. Select the Paintbrush Tool and set up as in the screen grab.

Retro Art

CTRL+Click on the HEAD_MAN’s path thumbnail to create a selection from it and then paint a shadow onto SHADOWS layer. Then CTRL+Click on HEAD_LADY’s path thumbnail, CTRL+ALT+Click on PEOPLE COPY’s layer thumbnail and CTLR+ALT+Click on HEAD_MAN’s path thumbnail. Paint in some more shadows. Deselect everything, make your Paintbrush smaller and paint in some cheeks.

Retro Art

Step 12

Select the SHADOWS layer and hide all other layers. Go to Image > Mode > Greyscale and then select Merge in the pop-up window. Then go to Image > Mode > Bitmap and opt to Flatten Layers. When the Bitmap window appears, select a 300 dpi output and use the Halftone Screen method, OK this. The Halftone Screen window will appear, Set it as in the screen grab.

Retro Art

Once it’s OK’d go to Select > All and then copy onto the clipboard (CTRL+c). Open the History palette (Window > History) and select the last instance you used the Paintbrush.

Retro Art

Press CTRL+v to paste the contents of your clipboard and rename the layer BITMAP_SHADOWS. Select the Magic Wand Tool and set-up as in the screen grab.

Retro Art

Select any patch of white on the BITMAP_SHADOWS layer and press delete. Go to Layer > Layer Styles > Color Overlay and sample the darker yellow used on the head. Finally delete the SHADOWS layer.

Retro Art

Step 13

Make all the layers bar layer groups MAN_FACE and WOMAN_FACE. Select each group in turn and go to Layer > Merge Group. CTRL+Click HEAD_MAN’s path thumbnail to create a selection, select WOMAN_FACE and press delete. Use your favourite grunge brushes to erase parts of MAN_FACE and WOMAN_FACE. Finally bitmap in the same way as you did before, using the History palette to return as you did before. Use the MAN_FACE and WOMAN_FACE layers to create selections from to remove the excess white on your newly pasted bitmap layer (call it BITMAP_FACE). Finally, delete MAN_FACE and WOMAN_FACE.

Retro Art

Step 14

Rasterize the HEAD and NECK layers (Layer > Rasterize > Layer) and run them through the same Noise, Gaussian Blur and Smart Sharpen filters as in step 10.

Retro Art

Select the Pen Tool and set it Shape Layers. Draw in some simple Lightning Bolts emanating from the womans hand. Select all the LIGHTNING layers and merge them, apply a 7 pixel Gaussian blur followed by a 64 pixel Smart Sharpen at 500%. Use your favourite grunge brushes to erase parts of the lightning, then tweak the Levels as in the screen grab.

Retro Art

Finally bitmap, halftone and remove all the white using the Magic Wand as before. Remember to switch all other layers visibility off, return to your images state prior to bitmapping using the History palette and then turn all the visibility back on. I also added a Color Overlay, sampling the NECK colour.

Retro Art

Conclusion

Add some other elements using the techniques you’ve learnt here. At this stage I added some dashed lines (imported from Illustrator), played around with the colours (Layer Styles are easily editable, access them from the Layer drop down menu) and adjusted the Hue/Saturation of the SCANNER layer (click colorize in the Hue/Saturation window and play with the sliders). As I’m not running through all the text that was created for the poster, I’ve cropped the image to better suit the composition.

Download the Photoshop Source File

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About the Author

James Davies writes tutorials for various magazines and websites when he’s not designing gig posters, t-shirts, catalogs, magazines, etc.

11 Comments

  1. Sneh Roy
    September 15, 2009

    This is an awesome awesome tut! Kudos!! Thanks for this fun resource :)

    Reply
  2. Gordejev
    September 15, 2009

    Very Interesting. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. squareart
    September 15, 2009

    Cute tutorial, I like it!:)

    Reply
  4. Jeff Deibel
    September 15, 2009

    Great tutorial and a cool outcome, thanks for sharing. For kicks I’d add a wooden pirate leg to the fine gentleman’s right leg.

    Reply
  5. Web Design Singapore
    September 15, 2009

    Hahaha this is cute and cool. Retro. :)

    Reply
  6. Tutorial Lounge
    September 16, 2009

    that’s really amazing tips you sharing with some really good techniques. thanks

    Reply
  7. Ashely Adams : Sticker Printing
    September 18, 2009

    Seeing retro arts is like a nice walk down memory lane. I used to adore them when I was a child. Thanks for the tutorial.

    Reply
  8. sonnydesign
    September 20, 2009

    i haven’t tried this kind of tutorial thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  9. Jehzeel Laurente
    October 14, 2009

    whoaw… incredible.. i must try this. maybe I’ll try scanning something dirty. :D yay!

    Reply
  10. ankido
    March 17, 2010

    i’ll try this too..

    Reply
  11. Marvs
    September 30, 2011

    I was looking for Photoshop tutorials about retro art and your articles here are what I’ve been looking for. Vintage is timeless!

    Reply

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