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[requested by [livejournal.com profile] library_of_sex]

[Done in PS CS5 | This tutorial includes: me rambling a lot, cutting things out with a layer mask, Filters, Layer Effects, Levels, Curves, Gradient Maps, Colour Balance, Vibrance, Texture Use]

A quick note at the beginning: This tutorial has like a gazillion amount of layers. When I initially created this icon I basically moved back and forth in my layers palette to change stuff, so the intermediate steps can look a bit funky. I've added a download for the .psd at the end, but if anyone has any questions regarding the tutorial, I'd be happy to answer them :)
Anyway, I hope this is coherent and comprehensible. The last tutorial I did was in 2008 so bear with me ;)


(click for a bigger sizes)

I started with this cap of Steve Rogers. This screencap is perfect to make a negative space icon because the outlines of his figure and hair are very easy to make out. So I decided I would start with removing the background. I mainly use three tools for cutting things out/removing backgrounds: painting over the background with a brush, using the magnetic lasso tool or using layer masks. I had the idea to blend this cap with another picture, so I decided to use the last technique:
  • After duplicating the base, I added a layer mask and selected a normal round brush. When I remove backgrounds, I always set my brush to an opacity of 33% - that way I can control the sharpness of the edges a lot better than if I set it to 100%:
  • After painting over the background areas in the layer mask my layer palette looks like this:
  • I thought the picture was perfect to be blended with a larger one, so I saved the file as a .psd and then opened a new 100x100 canvas.

I chose this picture of Captain America, added it to my icon canvas and resized it (Ctrl + T) until I was satisfied. When preparing the base of an icon, I almost always follow these same steps. I duplicated the background layer 3 times and edited those layers like this:
  • copy 1: I set this layer to Screen. Then I used Image → Auto Tone and Image → Auto Contrast and sharpened the layer (Filter → Sharpen → Sharpen).
  • copy 2: I also set this layer to Screen. First I used Gaussian Blur (Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur) with a radius of 10 and then Motion Blur (Filter → Blur → Motion Blur) with the following settings:
  • copy 3: This layer I set to Soft Light. I use the Surface Blur Filter (Filter → Blur → Surface Blur) with a radius of 10 and a threshold of 20. After that I sharpened the layer like I did in copy 1.
  • I didn't like the dark background of the picture so in a new layer I painted over these areas.
  • I clipped all these layers to the background layer (Alt + Ctrl + G).


While my Captain America base had a more blueish/greenish tint, the screencap of Steve had a more pinkish/reddish coloring. So my next step was to colour the Captain America base to match it to the Steve cap.
  • Curves (Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Curves):
RGB Point 1 → Output: 26 | Input: 46
RGB Point 2 → Output: 192 | Input: 184
Red Output: 204 | Input: 186
Blue Point 1 → Output: 59 | Input: 81
Blue Point 2 → Output: 186 | Input: 197
  • Colour Balance (Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Colour Balance): Midtones → +100 | 0 | -100
  • I duplicated the Colour Balance Layer once.
  • I duplicated the texture and set it to Multiply at 50% Opacity.


I opened my .psd of the Steve picture, selected the layer with the layer mask and then dragged & dropped it onto my icon canvas. Then I resized it until it fitted with the background picture. The next step was to match the coloring to the Captain America base.
  • To make it look a bit more ~realistic I added a Drop Shadow Effect (Layer → Layer Style → Drop Shadow) with these settings: Blend Mode Multiply | Colour #000 | Opacity 70% | Angle 120 | Distance 5 | Spread 5 | Size 15
  • To prepare the base I duplicated the Steve layer four times:
  • copy 1: set to Screen and sharpened once.
  • copy 2: set to Screen, edited with Motion Blur and Gaussian Blur (same settings as in Step 2).
  • copy 3: set to Screen. I erased some areas of the darker part of his face in the layer mask.
  • copy 4: set to Soft Light, edited with Surface Blur (same settings as in Step 2).
  • Curves:
RGB Point 1 → Output: 36 | Input: 43
RGB Point 2 → Output: 197 | Input: 188
Red Point 1 → Output: 58 | Input: 39
Red Point 2 → Output: 202 | Input: 184
Blue Point 1 → Output: 39 | Input: 54
Blue Point 1 → Output: 183 | Input: 201
  • Colour Balance: Midtones → +24 | 0 | -12
  • all these layers I clipped to the cut-out-Steve layer.


My icon looked pretty dark and depressing, so the next thing I tried to do was lighting it up with some textures.
  • First I added the "Copper" Gradient Map (Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Gradient Map) and set it to Soft Light at 65% opacity. With a layer mask I erased part of the gradient over Steve's face.
  • I duplicated this layer with the desaturated texture and set it to Soft Light at 100%.
  • I didn't like the lack of contrast so I made all layers I had made after the Copper Gradient Map invisible and merged everything visible onto a new layer (Control + Shift + Alt + E). I dragged this layer on top of my layer palette and set it to Soft Light at 60% opacity. I added a layer mask and erased part of the area around Steve.
  • I thought the right and left part of the icon could stay a bit lighter, so I duplicated my last desaturated texture layer, dragged it to the top and set it to Soft Light at 100%.
  • I wanted to get rid of a bit of the pink coloring so I made a Colour Balance layer: Midtones → 0 | 0 | -16


The icon was very bright and lacked contrast at this stage, so I tried to adjust the coloring.
  • Levels (Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Levels): RBG → 54 | 1,42 | 255.
  • I merged everything visible onto a new layer (Control + Shift + Alt + E) and set this merged layer to Soft Light at 50%. I again added a layer mask and erased part of the area around Steve.
  • His face had a yellow tint I wanted to get rid of. So I added a Colour Balance layer: Midtones → -45 | 0 | +43. I didn't like how this changed the coloring of the Captain America background so I erased these areas in the layer mask to make it only affect the areas around Steve.
  • I added two Vibrance layers, both set to +100 Vibrance at Normal at 100% opacity.


The last step of almost every icon I make is to add black and white brushes to give the icon a better lighting. Sometimes I use the normal brushes that come with Photoshop but most of the time I choose to work with paint brushes [examples: 1 | 2 | 3] because they can make the icon look a bit more interesting and add a nice painty-effect without actually using paint textures. When I do this I also set the opacity of my brush to 30% (like in Step 1), because the effect can be a bit too much at 100%.
  • I create a new empty layer, select a paint brush and change the color to black. Then I paint over the right bottom and top corner (the side where part of Steve's face is darker and the area where the drop shadow is) and a bit over the top left corner (the area where the face of Capain America is darker). I then change the color to white and paint a bit over the bottom left corner and the center of the icon.
  • I like the effect it had so I duplicated this layer twice. I used the Gaussian Blur filter on the most top one, set it to 50% and then dragged it under the other two lighting layers. The other duplicate I set to 40%.


  • I saw the use of the Copper Gradient map in this tutorial by [livejournal.com profile] fuuurs (it's the 3rd tutorial).
  • tutorials for using lighting blobs: tut by neversleeps | tut by letsey_x.
  • for anything else I compiled a huge list of tutorials covering pretty much every aspect of iconing:

Please let me know if there are any mistakes or if anything is unclear :)
I hope this is helpful ♥

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