How to Create a Surreal Poster Design in Adobe Photoshop | How To

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you will learn how to use key techniques to a striking design in .

What You Will Need

You’ll need access to Adobe Photoshop—if you don’t have the software, you can download a trial from the Adobe website. You’ll also need the following resources:

  • Cordillera Blanca mountain, Huaraz in Peru
  • European bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
  • Catesque

Download the images and install the font, and you are ready to start! 

1. Setting Up a New Photoshop File

Step 1

In Photoshop, go to File > New. Name the document  PosterSet the Width to 1270 px and Height to 1600 px. Set the Resolution to 72 Pixels/Inch. Click OK.

Create a new photoshop file

Step 2

Press Command-R to bring up the rulers around the document. Head over to View > New Guide. On the New Guide window option, select Horizontal and set the guide to 70 px. Click OK.

Do the same for the other sides of the document by subtracting 70 px from the final size. To activate and deactivate the guides, press Command-;.

Set margins by using guides

Step 3

For this poster, we will create a 2:4 grid (width x height). This means we will divide the poster horizontally into two sections and vertically into four sections. This grid will help us align the elements and create a clean layout.

Head over to View > New Guide. In the New Guide option window, select Vertical and set the guide to 635 px. Click OK.

Let’s set the horizontal guides to 400 px, 800px, and 1200 px. Click OK.

Create a 24 grid on the document

2. How to Create the Light Streaks Effect

Step 1

On the Layers panel, click on Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer > Gradient.

Add a new gradient fill layer

Step 2

In the Gradient Fill option window, click on the Gradient option. In the Gradient Editor window, make sure that the opacity stoppers are on each side of the color bar. Set the left color picker to #070629. Under the Stops option, set the Location to 20%. Set the right color picker to #008470. Click OK.

On the gradient editor option window set the color pickers to blue and green on the left and right hand side

Step 3

Back on the Gradient Fill option window, set the Style to Linear and the Angle to -50. Click OK.

Set the style to linear and the angle to -50 Click OK

Step 4

Create a New Layer by pressing Shift-Command-N. Name the layer Streak 1. Click OK.

Create a new layer

Step 5

On the toolbar, select the Brush Tool (B). Right click on the board to set the Hardness to 100%.

Click on the Fill color and set the color to #cf21db. Create brush stamps of different sizes by clicking on the document. To quickly change the brush size, hit [ to increase or to decrease. 

Using the brush tool create stamps over the document

Step 6

Head over to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. In the Motion Blur option window, check the Preview box. Set the Angle to 45 and the Distance to 2000 pixels. Click OK.

Apply the motion blue filter

Step 7

We’ll repeat this technique and add a second color light streak. 

Create a New Layer by pressing Shift-Command-N. Name the layer Streak 2. Click OK.

Click on the Fill color and set the color to #ffa2a2. Create brush stamps of different sizes by clicking on the document. Hit [ to increase or ] to decrease the size of the brush. 

Press Command-F—this shortcut will repeat the last filter and settings we used. 

Create a new layer and use a different color to create the same effect

Step 8

On the Layers panel, select both Streak layers by holding down Shift and clicking. Lower the Opacity to 45%.

Lower the opacity to 45

Step 9

Press Shift-Command-N to Create a New Layer and Name it Contained Streak 1. Click OK.

Select the Paint Bucket Tool (G), and set the Fill color to #33ffff. Click on the document to use the color.

On the toolbar, select the Brush Tool (B). Click on the Fill color and set the color to #f9365c. Create brush stamps of different sizes by clicking on the document. Try to concentrate on the center of the document. Hit [ to increase or to decrease the size of the brush.

Head over to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. On the Motion Blur option window, check the Preview box. Set the Angle to 45 and the Distance to 1000 pixels. Click OK.

Create a new layer Using the bucket tool color the layer Using the brush tool and a different color brush over the document Apply the motion blur filter

Step 10

Activate the guides by pressing Command-;. On the toolbar, select the Rectangle (U). Click on the document to open the Create Rectangle option window. Set the Width to 400 px and the Height to 800 px. Click OK.

Create a rectangle of 400px by 800px

Step 11

On the Layers panel, select the rectangle layer and the Contained Streak 1 layer. Press V to select the Move Tool. Head over to the control bar and select the Align Horizontal Center button. If you don’t have these options, head over to Layers > Align > Horizontal Center.

While it doesn’t look as if this step did much, it will align the shape to the layer.

Center the rectangle shape and the last new layer we created

Step 12

Hold down Command, and click on the thumbnail of the rectangle on the Layers panel. This will create a marquee around the shape. 

Select the Contained Streak 1 layer and click on the Create Layer Mask button. Delete the rectangle layer by dragging it onto the Delete button.

Create a layer mask by using the rectangle on the last layer

Step 13

If the colors on the layer mask look too washed out, we can bump up the contrast. Head over to Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast.

Right click on the new fill layer and select Clipping Mask. This is for the adjustments to be applied only on the layer underneath.

Adjust the settings as you desire on the Properties panel.

Add a brightnesscontrast adjustment layer

Step 14

Let’s create one more Contained Streak to break up the stillness. 

Create a New Layer by pressing Shift-Command-N. Name the layer Contained Streak 2. Click OK.

Using the Brush Tool (B), brush over the document. Use these color codes: #b1422d, #cac631, #41bc22. Try to concentrate on the right side of the document.

Press Command-F to repeat the last Motion Blur action.

On the toolbar, select the Rectangle (U). Click on the document to open the Create Rectangle option window. Set the Width and Height to 430 px. Click OK.

On the Layers panel, hold down Command and click on the thumbnail of the square shape. This will create a marquee around the shape. 

Click on the Contained Streak 1 layer and click on the Create Layer Mask button. Delete the shape.

Repeat the steps to create another element with a light streak

Step 15

To make the square shape fade, select the Contained Streak 2 layer mask. Select the Brush Tool (B) and set the Fill color to black. 

Right click on the document, set the brush Size to 180 px and the Hardness to 0%. Brush over the top left corner of the square. 

Move both Contained Streak layers to the same position as below. 

Using the brush tool fade a corner of the square

3. How to Edit Images

Step 1

Drag the mountains image into the Surreal Poster document.

Press Command-T to Transform. Head to the control bar, and activate the Maintain Aspect Ratio button. Set the Height and Width to 120%. Press Enter to proceed.

Align the tip of the first mountain to the second last guide. Align the lowest point of the mountain to the center guide. I’ve circled both points in red in the image below.

Drag the mountain image into the PS document

Step 2

While selecting the mountains layer, click on the Add Layer Mask button. Select the Brush Tool (B) and set the Fill color to black. You can use any size you prefer, but make sure that the Hardness is set to 100. Start brushing the sky off the layer.

Make sure you are working on the Layer Mask and not on the main layer.

Using a layer mask brush off the sky on the mountain image

Step 3

When using multiple images, it is very likely that the color correction or the hue over the photos won’t match. Converting images to black and white is a great way to tone down images.

On the Layers panel, click on Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer > Black & White. Add another Adjustment Layer, but this time add a Brightness/Contrast layer. 

Select both of these layers, and Right click > Create Clipping Mask. Adjust these two layers on the Properties panel as you desire. I chose to bump up the contrast to create an impactful scene.

Add a brightnesscontrast and a black white adjustment layer Create a clipping mask to affect only the mountains image

Step 4

Drag the bird image into the Surreal Poster document.

Press Command-T to Transform. Head to the control bar, and activate the Maintain Aspect Ratio button. Set the Height and Width to 375%.

Try to place the bird in the center of the poster and over the Contained Streak layers.

Drag the bird image into the Ps document

Step 5

While selecting the bird layer, click on the Add Layer Mask button. Select the Brush Tool (B), and set the Fill color to black. You can use any brush size you prefer, but make sure that the Hardness is set to 100. Start brushing the sky off the bird image.

Using layer masks brush off the sky on the bird image

Step 6

Let’s change the color of the bird to work better with the colors we have on our poster. On the Layers panel, click on Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.

Change the settings on the Property panel: Hue to -25 and Saturation to +45.

Add a huesaturation adjustment layer

4. How to Add Text

On the Tools panel, select the Text Tool (T). I used white text to contrast with the colorful background. 

The typeface I used is Catesque, from Envato Elements. Bring up the Tools panel by going to Type > Panels > Character Panel. Below are the details I added. I’ve also listed the type size and specific font weights. 

Use the guides we created at the beginning of the tutorial to align the text. The reason I’ve aligned these two text blurbs differently is to highlight the center of attention—in this case, the forms in the center of the poster.

Feel free to use your own text! 

le
spectacle
des
oiseaux

museum-national.com

(Catesque Black Italic, Size: 65 pt and 25 pt, Leading: 70 pt, Tracking: 100 pt, aligned to the left)

LYON
1 AU 25 MARS
2018

BORDEAUX
5 AU 28 AVRIL
2018

(Catesque Black Italic and Italic, Size: 30 pt, Leading: 35 pt, Tracking: 100 pt, aligned to the right)

Add text to the poster

5. How to Visually Enhance Elements

Often, we will finish designing a poster and sense something is missing. Small tweaks can really go a long way. In this case, we can add some dimension to the elements by adding a shadow. This can be achieved by creating new layers in between the layers. 

Select the Brush Tool (B), and set it to a size you are comfortable working with. This will also depend on what you’ll be adding a shadow to. I will be adding shadows to the three center elements. I’ll set the Size to 500 px and the Hardness to 0%. Set the Fill color to black. On the control bar, set the Opacity to 20%. 

Create a new layer under each of the elements mentioned above. Start by lightly brushing the layer and adding dimension. You can add as much or as little as you want.

I’ve added the pre-shadow image on the left and the shadowed image on the right. Much better!

If desired add shadow to the center elements On the left side is the pre-shadow image on the right side is the shadowed image

6. How to Save the File for Web

Head over to File > Save and save the file as you would normally. 

To save a JPEG for web file, head over to File > Save for Web or Shift-Option-Command-S. Select the file type you want to save the document in—I am choosing JPEG—and set 100 for Quality. Under Image size, you can change the pixel size of the image if you have any size constraints. 

On the bottom left-hand side, you can see a preview of the size of the file. This is useful when there are size constraints on a website and you need to lower the quality or the size of the image. 

Click on Save… to choose the location in the new window, and click on Save again.

Save the file

Congratulations! You’ve Finished This Tutorial!

In this tutorial, we’ve created a colorful and visually interesting poster. Be sure to post yours in the comments below! Today, you’ve learned to:

  • Create a well-balanced and neat poster by using grids.
  • Use Layer Masks to isolate images and combine them with other elements.
  • Successfully use Adjustment Layers to tweak colors and edit elements without compromising their integrity. 
  • Visually enhance elements when these need a boost to create a striking poster.
Final result

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