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3D Pixel Stretch Effects in Photoshop
Stretching a single line of pixels is an easy way to create special digital effects in graphic design. By taking this technique a step further, we can create wonderful, vibrant 3D effects right in Photoshop!
What We’re Making
In this tutorial, we’re going to stretch a single line of pixels to create beautiful 3D designs. You can get a glimpse of the design we’re going to make in the preview below:
Step 1 – Getting Started
Go ahead and create a new document (you may want to aim for something above 500x500px just so you have some breathing room for your work). Fill your background layer with a nice blue (#152935), or another color of your choice.
Now, go grab 3 photos that are filled with vibrant colors. I’ve included some pictures you’re welcome to use from here. The actual contents in the picture do not matter, we’re just interested in the color!
You can go ahead and open the photos in Photoshop, we’ll be using them soon.
Step 2 – Fade to Black
Create a new layer.
Using a large (500px), soft (0%), black brush with the Brush Tool, create a large black circle towards the center of your canvas. This will be used to help add depth to our design later on.
Step 3 – Selecting the Pixels
We need to copy a single row of pixels from one of our images. To do this, we’ll use the Single Row Marquee Tool (located underneath the Rectangular Marquee Tool).
In one of your photos, use this tool to select a row of pixels, and then copy (Edit > Copy or Ctrl + C) that row. Paste the copied row into your design in a new layer.
Step 4 – Transform a Row into a Rectangle
Using Transform, vertically stretch this row of pixels into a rectangle that is a bit more manageable in the canvas area. You should also horizontally shrink your pixels so that you have a rectangle of stretched pixels.
Stretching your row of pixels horizontally may be difficult without zooming in since you’ll only have a 1px bounding box to work with. An easier way to adjust this is to simply type in the values (something like 75%) for the transform in the options bar.
Step 5 – Duplicate, then Stretch Again
Duplicate this layer of stretched pixels. and then transform your new layer so that it’s quite longer than the original. It should remain the same width.
Step 6 – Creating the 3D Effect
We’re going to apply another transformation to our new layer. This time, it’s a bit more complicated, but I’ll try to make it very simple to follow.
First, align the bottom pixels of your new layer with the top pixels of your first pixel stretch layer.
Go into Free Transform Mode (Ctrl + T).
Grab the top middle handle, and drag it downwards to shrink the layer vertically. The two layers should still meet one another.
Hold Ctrl and click and drag the top middle handle again so that the top of the layer being transformed is offset from the bottom of said layer. The bottom of the layer should still touch the top of the first pixel stretch layer.
Finally, Hold CTRL + Alt + Shift and click and drag one of the top outer handles inwards so they meet in the center. This will give the illusion of a 3D box moving back into space.
Step 7 – Shading
We need to add shading to our new subject. I’d like to have it appear as if it is coming forth out of the dark center of our design. To accomplish this, we’ll be using Photoshop’s Brush Tool some more.
First, we’ll shade the front of our box using a soft, medium size (100-200) brush. Create a selection around the layer contents of your first pixel stretch layer (Ctrl + Click Layer Thumbnail).
Using a Black brush, paint around the edges of the box to give the illusion of lighting in your design.I especially focused my lighting towards the bottom edges of my box to make the light appear as if it came from slightly above.
Try to paint using just the edges of your soft brush so that the shading lightly darkens the box rather painting it completely black.
Now move this layer ABOVE your diagonal pixel stretch layer.
Select the layer contents of your diagonally stretched layer (which is now below your rectangle layer). Expand this selection by one pixel (Select > Modify > Expand).
Using a large, white brush, paint along the bottom of this layer to differentiate between the rectangle layer. Then, using a large, black brush, fade out the back of this layer so it blends into the background.
Step 8 – Repeat
Using different images (or at different parts of the same image even), create several more 3D blocks to create more interesting designs. Here is a combination I put together with the images provided at the beginning of this tutorial:
Vary the angles at which things extrude to give your design greater 3D perspective. You could also try making your blocks extrude from the bottom rather than the top!
Step 9 – Making Colors more Vibrant
After finishing the design shown above, I was not satisfied with the vibrance in the color. To make things brighter, I merged all of my block layers (Select them all in the Layers Pallete, then Layer > Merge Layers), applied a light Gaussian Blur (Filter > Gaussian Blur), and set the layers blending mode to Color Dodge.
Step 10 – Adding Texture
With texture, this design may look much nicer. Check out our Tutorial for adding Texture in Photoshop in just 3 simple steps. After finding a suitable paper texture, I achieved the following results: