This should translate to pretty much any graphics programme that has a channel mixer function. I used Photoshop Elements 14, which does not have a channel mixer, but I have a plugin that adds one. This tutorial assumes you know how to use: blend modes, adjustment layers, and masks.
The first thing to do is have a picture you want to use. I’m using a screen cap from Agent Carter (provided by screencapped.net)
Crop it however you like, but for this style of icon, some negative space around the focus of your icon is good (basically, don’t fill the whole icon with what you want the subject of the icon to be, make sure there is room around the edge of them/it).
Here’s my starting off point:
The first thing we want to do is brighten it up so we can see it properly, so to do that I will be using curves. You can use screen layers or whatever method you’d like to brighten it, but this is how I did it.
The curves tool in Photoshop Elements is a very basic version, which looks like this:
As you can see, I just moved every slider but the ‘midtone contrast’ one all the way to the right, and the midtone contrast one a little to the left, until the line was a smooth curve. You should be able to mimic this in a more complex version of curves just by clicking points on the grid and moving them to look like my curve.
The end result looks like this:
But I want it brighter, so I’m going to set the curves layer to ‘Screen’ on the blending mode.
Note: My curves function can only work on an image layer, not an adjustment one, so I duplicated my base layer and applied the effect on the copy, and set that layer to screen. I don’t know if a curves adjustment layer will have the same effect. You might have to ‘copy merged’ and paste it as a new layer, and set that one to screen.
This still wasn’t bright enough, so I duplicated the layer again, still set on Screen, and then I duplicated it once more, and set that layer to Soft Light, to give it some contrast (darks darker, lights lighter).
Any of these layers can have their opacity played with until it looks right to you, right up until the very end of the icon making process, so feel free to adjust as needed. I ended up with both Screen layers on 100%, and my Soft Light layer on 30%:
Next, onto the colouring!
The first thing I’m going to do is put an exclusion layer on. Exclusion layers, when used in dark red/brown colours, cast an attractive cyan (neon blue) hue over the light parts of an image. I made a new layer, filled with the colour #4f150b, and put it on Exclusion blending mode. It looks like this:
Yuck, but we’ll fix it.
The next layer is a Color Burn layer (or just Burn if you work in PSP). I’m using an orange yellow colour (#f09800), which makes the darker part of the icons a red/orange hue. Set your opacity down to 20% to start off with, and adjust until you like it. In this particular image, I put it on 18%, but in other icons, I’ve used 8%, 3% or turned it off entirely, depending one how it looks. Result:
The next step is a channel mixer layer. Channel mixers are great for getting really vibrant cyan and red colours out of an image, but I don’t understand how they work, so I just play with colours until I like them. My settings for this are:
RED: 125, -30, 0
GREEN: -15, 115, 0
BLUE: -58, 130, 40
And it looks like this:
I’ve lost the green of Ana’s dress, though, so I’ve put a layer mask on the channel mixer layer, and painted over her dress with a paintbrush set on black, to restore the green colour:
I also lowered the opacity of the channel mixer layer to 67%, you can leave it as is, or move it to where you like it.
My next layer is a Levels layer, to add more contrast. Black arrow makes the darks darker, white arrow makes the lights lighter, and the grey arrow makes the midtones darker or lighter. My settings are: 8, .87, 220. Opacity level at 100%.
Now, we want our colours bright on this one, so I’ve added a hue/saturation layer. This makes it all more vibrant. I bumped the Master setting up by +20, and the Red setting up +9, but this, out of everything, is the most image dependent layer in the colouring section. Adjust to match the colours of your image, and keep adjusting as you go on, until it looks ‘right’.
(This looks gross and neon, but the texture steps will help sort that out)
Because we have a bunch of space around the woman in our icon, we can fill that up with a nice ‘background’ of texture and colour. In these icons, I’ve used a texture from a set by midnight_road, who makes the most beautiful textures. If you use this texture, please credit to them. You can get the set here.
This is the texture I am using:
Place this on a new layer atop the others. You have a few options for blend mode here. In this icon, I’ve used ‘Lighten’, but you can also use Hard Light or Soft Light, or basically anything else you think looks good. Don’t worry right now if the texture blocks your subject, we’ll fix that later. This blends texture and colour over the negative space and makes it more visually interesting.
Usually I paste it on, and then flip it horizontally or vertically or both until I like how it sits.
Duplicate your texture layer, and set it to Soft Light. This just adds a bit more colour and texture.
At this point, I go back and put a Mask on both the texture layers, and gently paint with black or grey over where the subject is, removing the parts of the texture that are blocking it too much. This is all to personal taste, so mess around and see what you like.
One more texture layer, this one from satine_violet. You can find the pack here, and once again, please give credit if you use it. I’m using this texture:
Paste it top the others, and set it to Soft Light. This darkens the outside edges, and puts a glowy yellow haze over the middle parts. I usually use a radial blur on this layer, to enhance this effect even more, but that’s optional.
Last step! Merge visible, duplicate the layer, set it on soft light and put a radial blur on it. This deepens and adds more contrast, and gives everything more of a glow. I put mine on 30%, but once again, this is to your taste.
A final, optional step: I took a sharpen brush, and gently brushed her face, to make it a bit clearer.
And we’re done!
Prepare your base.
(Burn 20% [or lower])
RED: 125, -30, 0
GREEN: -15, 115, 0
BLUE: -58, 130, 40
8, .87, 220.
Above texture again (Soft Light)
(Soft Light, Radial Blur)
Soft Light w/ Radial Blur
Thanks very much for reading. If you have any questions, please let me know. Please remember to credit midnight_road and/or satine_violet if you use their textures.