Start with opening a picture you want to icon, or use this one that I'm working on: Aeryn from Farscape. The picture is from the episode--oh, uh, Look at the Princess, I think? Names escape me, plots stay. Anyway, it's Aeryn and it's from Farscape.
1. Instead of cropping, I usually just Edit/Copy and then close it down. (Select All/Copy in Photoshop.) Create a new layer 200x200 in size, Transparent, 72 Resolution. Paste as New Layer.
2. In PSP, I resize it with the Deformation Tool. Right click a corner and drag it inwards. Right clicking keeps the photo in proportion, eliminating squished images. In PS you need to go to Edit/Transform/Scale. Hold the Shift button and resize it and move it to where you want it. Off-center is always good.
(This is a good time to save. I save my icons often because I've lost an hour's worth of work before due to power outages and crashing programs, so save often, I cannot stress this enough. Save it as a psp file in PSP, a psd file in PS, so that you can keep all the layers.)
3. In PSP I enriched the colors by doing my Enhance trick. Make 3 copies of your Aeryn layer and turn off visibility to the top 2. On the bottom one go to Effects/Enhance Photo/Auto Color Balance
4. This part, if you're not me, could be a little confusing. I know what I'm doing because I do it a lot, but when I describe it, it gets confusing. Set the Strength to 20 for this picture, (usually I keep it at 30, but this picture is rather dark and it's making the colors a little too strong) Remove Color Cast should not be checked, and slide the slider all the way to the left. It gives the picture an orange-ish look to it, but it's all a part of the process, so don't worry. Click Okay.
8. Go back up to Effects/Enhance Photo, but this time choose Automatic Saturation Enhancement. Bias should be set to More Colorful, Strength to Stong, Skintones Present should be checked. Hit Okay.
9. Up at Effects/Enhance Photo again we choose Automatic Contrast Enhancement. Bias should be set to Darker, Strenth to Mild, and Appearance set to Bold. Click on Okay.
10. Do this with the middle layer as well, changing only the first setting on Color Balance. The slider on mine is set to 6580, which can be achieved by clicking three times in the middle of the slider area. The rest should be the same.
11. On the top Aeryn layer repeat the process, changing the Auto Color Balance to 9300, all the way to the right. And do the other two steps.
12. Turn down the Opacity of the top two Aeryn layers and, starting with the middle one, slide the Opacity up until it sets a good balance/look for you. Then do the top layer until you like it. Mine are set, from top to bottom: 50, 35, 100.
13. For PS, it's a bit different. I think Variations is about the same. Duplicate your layers and mark the top two invisible. Highlighting the bottom one, go to Image/Adjust/Variations. Choose Midtones and set the Coarse/Fine in the middle. I clicked twice on Yellow, and twice on Red, then went to the next layer. Clicking on the Original in Variations sets it back to the original look. I clicked on Blue, Green, Cyan, Blue, and hit Okay. Third layer I clicked the Original again, and hit Green and Blue once. Now slide the Opacity down on the top two layers and, like above in the PSP instructions, turn the opacities up until you like it. Mine are set, from top to bottom: 25, 35, 100.
14. In both programs, resize them to 100x100. In PSP it's Image/Resize, in PS, it's Image/Image Size. Merge the three Aeryn layers and duplicate it.
15. Top layer Aeryn should be selected. Set the Blend Mode to Screen and go up to Effects/Blur/Gaussian Blur and set it to 1.8 in PSP. In PS, go to Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur and set it to 1.8 as well. Ooo, glowy. Merge those two layers and duplicate it again. Set the blend mode to Screen, blur it again, this time at 5, and lower the Opacity to 50%.
16. Add a new layer and move it between the two Aeryn layers. I have some old papery-looking brushes that I got from here. Touchstone's Art. They're both PSP and PS. Photocopy is what I'm using, I believe. I chose a light green color--135-149-135--and an off-white color--220-202-181--and randomly clicked on the new layer, covering it. In PSP you can resize the brush, I've never been able to figure out how to resize in PS6 though. I resized my PSP brush to 115 and Opacity was set at 100%. I set the layer on Saturation.
17. Add a new layer aboe the Saturation layer and choose another brush, this one slightly different, but in the same vein. Using a dark brown color--116-67-48--and a slightl caramel-ish color--172-138-87--I chose a slightly different-shaped, darker brush in the Photocopy brushes. Again, I clicked randomly, covering the layer with mostly brown, with hints of the lighter color. The blend mode is then set to Overlay.
18. Add another layer. This is the word layer. I was big into this brush for a while, and still love it a ton. I got it from here, which is no longer there now. Hmm. I can post the one I'm using and hope that you'll give credit when asked, I guess. Grab it here.
Okay, so now we have the new layer and we're going to use the same brown and the off-white color I mentioned in step 16. No reszing is necessary. Click twice with the brown, once on the top and once on the bottom, moving it to the left or right a little on the bottom click for variation. Then, using the white-ish color, move back to the top and click again, off to the left or right and then below. Well, you can do it how you want, but I usually use a stagger pattern of: brown top right, bottom lefte, then white-ish color: top left and bottom right or middle. Use the Undo if you don't like it and fix it to how you do. (Save. I've been saving throughout this whole process.)
Set the layer to Hard Light. It's very rich and filled with color. Looks great even without being finished. Hopwever, we need to erase that layer from Aeryn's face and body. So, get your Eraser tool and set it to Round, 100% Opacity, Hardness 25, Density 100, Step 25, and size... whatever works best for you, small enough not to go outside the lines Zoom in, lower the opacity to see underneath and carefully erase the word layer from Aeryn.
19. Another new layer and the Caramel color. Flood fill the layer. In PSP, go up to Effects/Texture Effects/Blinds and use these settings. Width 2, Opacity 30, Horizontal, White. You can use Vertical if you prefer, or another color, whatever works for you. Opacity is changeable too. Set the blend mode to Burn and turn the opacity down to 30 or so. Other blend modes may work, but this is what I'm using. I also decided I needed it brighter, so I upped the Opacity on the top layer, the duplicate of Aeryn.
19a. In PS, flood fill with the Caramel color, then use a blinds brush if you have it, using white. If you don't, it's simple to make one. Open a new image, 100x2, White background. Use the Marquee tool to select one horizontal line and flood fill it with the Caramel color. Unselect, then go to Edit/Define Pattern and there you go. When you want to use it, click the flood fill tool, or Bucket fill and select Pattern. Do that, and then set the Blend Mode to Color Burn, around 30% Opacity. As with the PSP one, I upped the Screened layer of Aeryn. On PS, I set it at 80, on PSP, I did 75.
It's pretty much done now, all it needs is a border. I've been sort of obsessed with the chunky, almost transparent frames, and that's what I'll be doing here. So, in PSP, add a new layer above all the other layers, including the screen Aeryn layer, and choose the Selection Tool, Square, Antialias unchecked, no feathering.
20. Drag the selection tool around one side, just a couple of pixels in. Hold the Shift button down and add to all four sides, keeping uneven widths. Flood will with the caramel color, then create a new layer and flood fill with the brown. Add another layer and deselect. Reselect in different widths, and fill with the light green color, then create a fourth layer and flood fill it with the off-white color. Deselect.
On the bottom frame layer, turn off visibility for the upper three frame layers. Now, select Multiply and lower the opacity to 50. Click the next layer and go up to Image/Mirror. Change the blend mode to Screen and lower the opacity to 60 or so. Click the next frame layer and change the mode to Screen, opacity about 35. Click the uppermost layer and go to Image/Flip. Change the blend mode to Screen or Multiply, and lower the opacity to 20 or so, whatever looks right for you. These are just guides, not rules, so feel free to change them to what suits you best.
20a. In PS, do the same thing, using the Marquee tool set to Rectangle. Do the same as above, with the colors and such, then when you have all four layers, turn off visibility and start on the bottom layer. Same settings, but instead of Image/Flip, or Image/Mirror, you go to Edit/Tranform/Flip Horizontal, and Edit/Transform/Flip Vertical. And on the top layer I set it to Multiply at 70%.
Now would be the time to add text if you want to. If not, save it as a jpg, optimizing at the highest possible quality, which on PSP is 1. Use Save As and choose jpg, then hit the Options button. Click the Run Optimizer to see it at different qualities. 1 really is best. The higher the number, the lower the quality and you get those jaggies around text and bleeds, and it gets icky.
In PS, click Save As, choose jpg and hit Save. It'll pop up the optimizer dialogue box. Choose 12, Maximum, Large File. As with PSP, this is the highest quality and is needed. Matte none... ya know, I have no idea what that even is. And that's all there is to it. I do this technique a lot, and it's always slightly different with different colors and different brushes, different brush placement, and blend modes and opacities. So, the fun is endless. :)
My finished icons look like this:
Hmm, the two programs get different results, don't they?