Program: Photoshop Elements 2
→ from this picture (which I got from rawr_caps)
Choose a picture! I chose a lovely outdoorsy cap. I didn't crop until step #10, but in this tutorial I'm pretending I cropped right at the start. You probably shouldn't do that, though, you tend to get better coloring & composition results if you work on a large size image for as long as you can.
STEP ONE: SATURATION ON COLOR
I added a hue/sat layer and increased the (master) saturation so much it hurts. Which was saturation +58, in this case. Blend mode is color, you get a less pixelated result that way.
STEP TWO: SCREEN
Here I copied the base image and dragged it to the top (above the saturation layer), on blend mode screen (and 100% opacity).
STEP THREE: MULTIPLY
I copied the base image again, but this time I left the copy right above the base layer (below the saturation and screen layers). Blend mode multiply, to darken the image (it looked too bright). I used 60% opacity on this layer, since 100% made the image too dark.
STEP FOUR: SOLID FILL LAYER ON SOFT LIGHT
Here I had a solid fill layer in a light yellow-green color (#BDB66B) on soft light, at 95% opacity.
Originally I had it on 100% opacity, I went back towards the end of the process and adjusted it down because the end result looked slightly too green.
The skin tone was too red for my taste and the purpose of this layer was to fix that. This layer changes the coloring by adding a lot of yellow and green to it. Green cancels out red in the coloring, since it's on the opposite side of the color wheel. It also enhances the already green colors in the icon, so the grass and trees looked greener from this layer. The yellow color cancels out blue and enhances the yellow colors. The reason I used a yellow-green color instead of a purely green was because some additional yellow gives a nice skin tone.
I think I was rambling a bit too much here, but basically just identify which colors you want to get rid of and which you want to enhance. Add fill layers with the color opposite on the color wheel from the colors you want to cancel out, and add fill layers in the same colors as the ones you want to enhance. If these colors are different for different parts of the icon, just mask away the areas you don't want affected by those layers.
STEP FIVE: SOLID FILL LAYER ON EXCLUSION
I added a solid fill layer of dark blue (#000014) on exclusion (opacity 100%). This adds dark blue to the shadows and a peach:y color to the highlights.
Exclusion layers are a great coloring tool, which adds the color of the layer to the lowlights and the opposite color to the highlights. As long as you use a dark (nearly black!) color for your exclusion layer, you're sure to get a nice and interesting coloring as a result. It's usually best to use exclusion layers beneath soft light layers, since exclusion layers decrease the contrast of the image (whereas soft light layers add contrast, so they counteract each other nicely).
The reason I used dark blue is because the yellow of the previous layer had made the lowlights too yellow for my taste, and I wanted to add additional blue to them, without adding blue to the highlights.
STEP SIX: BASE SOFT LIGHT
Here I copied my base image again, dragged it to the top and changed the blend mode to soft light. This added contrast to the icon, as well as bringing back some of the original coloring (which is good, it gives a more natural result that way).
STEP SEVEN: EXTEND BACKGROUND
Here I extended the background. I copied different parts of the trees from the original screencap and moved them to the empty space in my icon, and then I used the smudge tool to even out the edges.
STEP EIGHT: LEVELS ON COLOR
→ (the settings I used)
I added a levels layer on blend mode color, and changed the settings until I liked the result. Levels layers on color are very powerful, so it's important to not make too drastic changes at once, but rather make small stepwise changes in each color channel (red, green, blue) until you're happy with the combined result.
Don't change the values in the RGB channel when you have the blend mode color, unless you want to go super creative with your coloring (I personally have never ever changed the RBG values on color mode and been happy with the result).
STEP NINE: LIGHT/SHADOW: MULTIPLY
I created an empty new layer, painted a black border that I blurred, and then changed the blend mode to multiply. This made the border area darker, which makes the rest of the icon seem brighter in comparison. The purpose of this layer was to help make sure the focus on the icon were on the subject rather than the background.
In the original icon, I think I had a black border like this, just on the opposite side. :)
STEP TEN: LIGHT/SHADOW: SCREEN
Here I added some light blobs, which I almost always do. I created an empty layer, painted some white dots with a soft brush, and then I used the smudge tool (on 50%) to smudge the dots around. Blurring the dots using gaussian blur also works!
Light blobs add light and can help decide where the focus in the icon is. When placing the blobs on the icon, it helps to look where the light source is coming from and then use the blobs to enhance the already bright spots in the icon.
STEP ELEVEN: LIGHT/SHADOW: OVERLAY
Here I painted a black border on the top, blurred it, and changed the blend mode to overlay. This makes the top of the icon darker and helps bring the focus to the middle of the icon.
STEP TWELVE: COPY-MERGE ON SOFT LIGHT
Here I created a new empty layer (shift+ctrl+n), and hit alt + ctrl + shift + e to create a merged copy of what the icon looks like (with all the layer adjustments and everything). I changed the blend mode to soft light (60% opacity), to add contrast to the icon. Adding a soft light layer above light blobs usually makes them look better and more like a part of the icon, which is why I had the light blob layers before this soft light layer.
STEP THIRTEEN: COLOR ON OVERLAY
I decided that I wanted some additional blue in the coloring on the side. I created a new empty layer, painted a blue border, blurred it, changed the blend mode to overlay and lowered the opacity to 50%. This adds blue to the coloring on that side of the icon.
STEP FOURTEEN: DESATURATION ON COLOR
I added another hue/sat layer, but this time I desaturated it to -10. I changed the blend mode to "color". This calmed the colors and made them less saturated.
STEP FIFTEEN: SOLID FILL LAYER ON COLOR BURN
I created a solid fill layer in green (#F0FFF0) on color burn (at 80% opacity), to make the icon less bright and to add some additional green to the coloring.
STEP SIXTEEN: SHARPENING
Here I sharpened the icon by first flattening all the layers, and then copying my icon and using the highpass filter (Filter -> Other -> Highpass) at 0.3 radius and changing the blend mode to soft light (80% opacity). This sharpens the image nicely, as you can see above. Though I used 0.3 radius for this particular icon, sometimes 0.4 or 0.5 will look better. I recommend that you try different settings and see which one works best for your icon. :)
And we're finished! :)
Previously posted here. See the rest of my tutorials here.
Don't hesitate to ask if something is confusing!
Questions? Comments? ♥