Using Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Learn to use basic layers and Levels.
Level of Difficulty: Beginner (Intended for New Users)
Preparing screencaps into icons is not rocket science. You do not need Selective Coloring, Color Balance, or even have to use Filled Layers. This extremely basic tutorial will just remind how simple it is to prepare your icon using a quick and easy method before you go on to use textures, text, or whatever you prefer. It's meant soley for those who are new users to their graphic programs. There should be no translation issues.
1 - For the first step, you need your screencap. Since it's October, I went with an image from Hocus Pocus. I usually go ahead and shrink down the image into a blank icon before I work on it. I found that doing so otherwise could result in the loss of eventual quality.
As so often with a lot of screencaps, the image is washed, dull, and usually blurry. To start, you need to fix your Normal layer. I would suggest duplicating first, just in case you later find you do not like it. Use your sharpening tool to fix up the image for a better visual. Those with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 have a neat little tool in their QuickFix that gives them more of a say over just how sharp you want to make it. But, anyone with the layer option or the sharpening tool can get just as good a look.
Be careful. People tend to sharpen images too much. Here's an example of what you do not want:
It's too sharp.Less is more, just like when working with the blur tool. Be careful.
2 - When we have all of these fun tools to use in Photoshop or PaintShop Pro, we tend to rely on them so much that we hate to go back to basics. Yes, you could use Color Balance and Curves to make a fix to these images. But it's not needed when you have your Layer Settings (Multiply, Screen, Soft Light, etc.) for an easier route. You need to know what your image requires. If your image is ultra bright, make a Mutiplied layer. If it is dark, as mine is, use a Screened layer.
Mutliply and Screen create a flat effect over the entire image, and you will need to change your opacity to work with that. For mine, I knew some area around half-opacity would work fine. After this, a Soft Light, Hard Light, or Overlay layer usually follows. All three puts an intense on the colors and lighting of the image (which is why you first might need a multiply or screen).
Try and figure out how saturated your image is. It determines which you should use. Soft Light is basically a low-powered Overlay. In a case like we're using, there's not much of a difference between the Overlay and Hard Light. When in doubt, go with Overlay (like I will be doing). A higher opacity will result in a richer, darker look.
3 - Now we're going into a different tool - Levels (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels). Levels are an underestimated source of good color-enhancement and tones. Everyone using Photoshop should learn how to appreciate it's easiness. We'll keep it as a Normal Level at full opacity, just for easiness.
Newbies, don't be afraid of it. RGB is the master layer, and you'll want to get a focus on the Input Levels.
Left (Black Arrow) - This controls your shadows. Moving it to the right will darken your image.
Middle (Gray Arrow) - This controls your midtones. Moving to the right will darken, and to the left will lighten.
Right Arrow (White Arrow) - This controls your highlights. Moving to the left with lighten your image.
In the RGB layer, I focused on the Shadows. I set it on 30.
You have three colors: Reds, Greens, and Blues.
Reds: Moving the Shadows over will give a green hue, and moving the Highlights over give you your reds.
Greens: Moving the Shadows heighten your purples, and moving the Highlights your greens.
Blues: Moving the Shadows controls your yellows, and moving the Highlights moves your (you guessed it) blues.
My image required me to tweak my yellows, purples, and reds (warms). Not too much, because set on Normal layering, working with the colors can become too rich and saturated. If you need to, you can set the Levels Layer on some other setting.
4 - By working with the shadows, it helped create contrast. But, separating your subject from the background is important. So, to finish up, we'll work with Brightness/Contrast (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Brightness/Contrast). Keep it as a Normal Layer.
Brightness - Move the arrow to the right to brighten the image, and to the left to darken it.
Contrast - Left is less and right is more.
Be careful with it set as a Normal layer. Chances are, you won't need to drastically move either one of these. I only had to brush both towards the right a bit, with a focus more on Contrast.
Work on from there. However, the effect also works fine on its own.