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Design a Coldplay/Apple Inspired Portrait in Photoshop

You don’t have to be an obsessive Coldplay fan like me to admire the beautiful effects shown in the latest Coldplay / Apple ad. This tutorial will show how to design portraits based on that style.

Coldplay / Apple Style Portrait

This tutorial will show you how to create a portrait based on the style of the latest Coldplay / Apple Ad featuring “Viva la Vida” from Coldplay. In case you’re not familiar with the commericial I’m referring too, findthatsong has uploaded a copy of it onto YouTube.

Here’s a quick look at what we’re going to create:

Coldplay / Apple Style Preview

Before going any further, I’d like to give a quick shout out to Fabio who wrote an awesome tutorial for a similar effect based on the same ad. Maybe I’m not the only Coldplay fan out there!

Time to begin!

Step 1 – Create the Document

Begin with a document sized to your liking. I’m working at around 750x450px myself, but the exact size really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is the background color though. Using the Paint Bucket Tool, fill your background layer with a dark (nearly black) green or blue (#010500).

Step 2 – Adding Light

Create a new Layer.

Using a large, white, soft brush (500-1000px, 0% Hardness), paint the lower part of your image. The brush should basically extend from the very bottom of your canvas in all direction to the other edges of the canvas.

Lower the Opacity of your new layer to around 70%.

Background with a Soft Glow added

Step 3 – Coloring the Light

For this step, we’re going to be playing with a similar effect that I discussed in my Unique Abstract Website Header Photoshop Tutorial. Create a new Layer, and select a large (400-600px), soft, orange (#f38c11) brush. Paint a large dab to fill the bottom right of the canvas.

Now select a light blue (#2afaf0) and paint in the bottom left of the canvas.

Finally, fill in the top center of the canvas with a shade of purple (#c94ce1).

Set this layer to Overlay.

Color the Light in the Background

Step 4 – Adding some Highlights

Create a new Layer.

Using the Brush Tool, and a small (30-60px) soft, white brush, paint a few lines curving around the center of your canvas. Apply a Radial Blur (Filter > Blur Radial Blur), using the Spin blur method with an amount between 50-70. Set this layer to Overlay.

Add highlights with paint and a radial blur filter

Step 5 – Insert Photo

Desaturate the Subject

Time to add a photograph of our subject into the portrait. Going over the process of cutting out a subject is out of the scope of this tutorial, but I will suggest using the Pen Tool to prepare such a cutout.

When you have a cutout prepared, Paste it into a new layer in your document. Line it up so that the highlights seem to be coming from behind it.

Destaturate (Images > Adjustments > Desaturate) the cutout so that the subject is black and white on top of the colored light we created earlier.

Step 6 – Dodge and Burn

In the Coldplay / Apple commercial, the subjects are nearly silhouetted with the light bursting out from behind them. However, the photo I chose is pretty clear, as if there is a light source in front of the subject.

If you have the similar problem on your image, you can fix it using the Dodge and Burn Tools.

Grab the Burn Tool (Located underneath the Paint Bucket Tool) from the toolbox, and in the Options Bar, set the Range to Shadows. Using a large, soft brush, paint over most of your subject to darken it. I’m going to leave a bit of the right side of my subject lit up to show that there is some light reflecting off of him.

You can go back with the Dodge Tool to bring out some brighter highlights if you find it helps light up part of your subject.

Dodge and Burn Tools in Photoshop

Finished with Dodge and Burn

Step 7 – Adding the Smoke Effect

There are a few ways we could go about creating smoke in our design (We actually featured an interesting smoke effect in our May Tutorial Roundup), but in this tutorial we’re actually going to use a stock image.

Download the “smoke” stock image from stock.xchng (Requires a free account).

Paste and Transform the smoke stock image so that it’s positioned and sized somewhere over your subject. Set the blending mode for this new layer to Screen.

Smoke Screened on top of subject

Screen Blending Mode

Confused about what just happened? The Screen Blending Mode can be very handy sometimes, as any pixels that are black will essentially become transparent in the blended layer.

Step 8 – Adjusting Smoke Color

Using any of the Selection Tools (Magic Wand Works Great), select the smoke from the stock image. Apply a feather to the selection (Select > Feather) of a 1-3px to soften things up.

Create a new layer, and using the Paint Bucket Tool, fill your selection with a light blue/cyan (#28dff5). Set this layer to Color.

Finished Colored Smoke

Step 9 – Enhancing the Background

Duplicate the Smoke layer (not the color, but the smoke layerLayer > Duplicate Layer while selected), and move the new layer underneath your subject layer.

Transform the new smoke layer so that it takes up a lot of the background behind your subject. Set this new layer to Color Dodge. You may wish to also apply a slight Guassian Blur to this layer.

Creating a Mystic Background

Step 10 – Add Dark Lines

Steps for creating the Black Lines

Create a new layer underneath your subject. Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool, make a long selection spanning about the width of your canvas.

Fill the Selection using the Paint Bucket Tool with a dark color (black will work fine).

Deselect your selection by going to Select > Deselect (Or Ctrl + D).

Now, Transform your black rectangle (using Free Transform, Scale, Rotate, Perspective, or any mix of those you are comfortable with). We want the side of the bar that is going to be underneath our image to be more narrow than the end coming out of our subject (similar to a sunburst effect).

Use the Move Tool to reposition your bar. Set the blending Mode to Overlay. You may consider fading your bar out like I did with a large, soft eraser.

Add a few more of these bars using the same technique.

Black Bars added to the Design

Time for Polish

At this point, you’ve finished the effect we were aiming for! You don’t have to stop here of course. If you’re going to continue playing with the design, and adding your own finishing touches, here are a few suggestions that may get you started:

  • Add a Vignette – Fade out your borders to a dark black color. Since we’re designing a portrait in this tutorial, it’s a really nice way to frame your subject!
  • Add some abstract dust – We’ve got a brilliant Photoshop tutorial for adding Abstract Dust and Spray Effects to designs like this which you may be interested in!
  • Play with Text – Some clever text placement can really add a lot to a design! White text seems to look really great on top of this effect, especially if you’re using a blocky Type.

As usual, you can grab the PSD Sample to play with and see how we went about doing certain things!

And here is another example of the style put to good use!

Ocean is Theory Sample

An additional sample featuring the lead singer from the band Ocean is Theory. Thanks for letting me use the photograph Josh!


  1. Add point Subtract point
    Saravanan (4 Points) April 12, 2011 at 2:49 am

    Very nice teaching of this lighting streaks….Keep up your work buddy. Thanks

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  2. Add point Subtract point

    Nice… Thanks for teaching me how to make a background I’ve been dying to make! :D Awesome!!

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    animated gif (1 Point) January 10, 2011 at 2:26 am

    very nice and professional tuts.

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    danny (-4 Points) December 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

    all ya’ll niggas bad at this, get a life

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    mnaazmy (0 Points) November 30, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Good design for my new album “Soul Of Her”

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    pc kurse (0 Points) November 29, 2010 at 3:59 am

    nice tut. that´s what i search for

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    Yamel Rodriguez (0 Points) November 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Omg! I Did a proyect with this tutorial!!!! I Love it! Thanks you sooo mouchh ;D Im growing up with you guys love you And thanks :)

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    Montrell (0 Points) November 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Wow totaly off the charts. Wonderful advice shown.

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Chezko (0 Points) November 1, 2010 at 9:22 am

    dude! may i know what font did you use so that I can use the same thing to what I had done? thanks! :))

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    hafiz mohammed (0 Points) October 4, 2010 at 11:32 am

    this is very creative and I like it

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Hannah (0 Points) July 10, 2010 at 2:01 am

    This was really helpful, and really easy to understand (:, most of these are kind of hard to understand, but this was pretty easy, thank you (Y).

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  12. Add point Subtract point

    This is definitely one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen, So pro haha thanks!

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (0 Points) June 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Nice Thank for shar.

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    Calgary Graphic Design (0 Points) June 3, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Time to make my own – thanks for sharing!!

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    miyakajay (0 Points) May 17, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    nice one..
    i love this site
    more power and god speed to all the staff of this site as well as with their fellow contributors!.
    Sharing is Caring!

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (0 Points) April 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Great, Thank you for you share.

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    CSSReX (0 Points) April 21, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for this wonderful tutorial! I make my pic like this and I am loving it :)

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    kavyasudah34 (0 Points) April 5, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Very beautiful tutorial! post to webmaster “legitimate work at home jobs”

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลง (0 Points) March 29, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Wonderful tutorial , Thank you for your share!

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    anaskattoor (0 Points) March 14, 2010 at 6:38 am

    its so nice yaaar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    anaskattoor (0 Points) March 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Tks u so much. The article is so helpful.

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    koma5 pandawa (0 Points) February 5, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    good idea for simple image

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (0 Points) February 3, 2010 at 2:30 am

    wow Great article, thanks!166

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (0 Points) February 1, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    wow Great article, thanks!153

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    ฟังเพลงใหม่ (0 Points) February 1, 2010 at 1:46 am

    wow Great article, thanks!148

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    for the first step
    when i lower the the opacity of the white
    i just get gray
    not a gradient effect
    help :S?

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    โค้ดเพลงhi5 (0 Points) January 30, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Great reading! Thanks for sharing

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    SmsVar, Sms Gönder, Toplu Sms (0 Points) December 6, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    this is thank you..

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  29. Add point Subtract point

    WTF!@!! try being a little bit more detailed ayyye???
    Jeez, it’s like you think were all rocket scientist on here.

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    thanx banget…..

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    broSKL (0 Points) November 2, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    fantastic tutorial bro, thank a lot

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    mobile marketing software (0 Points) October 30, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Very beautiful tutorial!

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  33. Add point Subtract point

    Thank you thank you thank you!

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  34. Add point Subtract point
    astigkamee (0 Points) September 11, 2009 at 6:22 am

    this tutorial is so very amazing

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  35. Add point Subtract point
    öğrenme nesneleri (0 Points) August 30, 2009 at 5:58 am

    useful techniques, thanks…

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  36. Add point Subtract point
    Personlig styling (0 Points) August 27, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Good post, very informative, I already bookmark it ;)

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    Melissa=) (0 Points) August 17, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    i need help with the smoke effect??,, i have ps7 and i cant seem to figure it out…??? help plz??? email (yes those r zeros)

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  38. Add point Subtract point

    Tks u so much. The article is so helpful.

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    haha (0 Points) July 8, 2009 at 2:13 am

    what is the font you used for “Ocean is Theory”?

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    Arrrgh (0 Points) July 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    this is epic awesome.

    also, this helped me find out the awesomeness that is Ocean Is Theory. lol

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    harry (0 Points) June 29, 2009 at 9:00 am

    wow i would have never known how to do tht COOL


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  42. Add point Subtract point
    Photo (0 Points) June 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Absolutely fantastic tutorial, thank you for sharing !

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  43. Add point Subtract point
    retoucher77 (0 Points) June 4, 2009 at 7:41 am

    nice tutorial, thank you :)

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  44. Add point Subtract point
    bebopdesigner (0 Points) May 18, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Excellent tut! I think it’s brilliant and very well explained. The outcome looks beautiful. Cheers!

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  45. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (0 Points) May 3, 2009 at 3:55 am

    The smoke effect is cool, but i want to make one myself, i wanna learn how to make smoke…

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  46. Add point Subtract point

    How come when I lower the opacity of the new layer to 70% in step 2, the background color goes away and leaves a checkerboard? Am I initially opening a new document wrong? I’ve tried it many different ways and it’s always the same result. If anyone can assist me ASAP, it would be very much appreciated!

    By the way, I love Coldplay and I love the Apple ads. I’ve always wanted to design what Apple designs, so this is a great tutorial to practice what they do yet make my own. Coldplay is just an added bonus. Thanks a bunch!

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  47. Add point Subtract point
    BriAnn (1 Point) March 10, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I have just found your site today, and will come back often! Great tuts, awesome work! You have shown some awesome effects and how to put to good use! Thanks so much :)

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  48. Add point Subtract point

    What version of photoshop are we using in this tutorial?

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  49. Add point Subtract point

    Cool tutorial. . I’ve made my own and for some of my friends… It’s pretty awesome that we could also do this ad. :) Thanks!

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  50. Add point Subtract point

    thanks for tutor….you have done greet job to ‘how to’X100 bla..bla..bla’.. made some art skill….thanks again David Leggett…

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  51. Add point Subtract point
    x brown (2 Points) February 11, 2009 at 8:22 am

    plz tell how to select smoke.any one………………

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  52. Add point Subtract point
    JohnLSinn (1 Point) February 9, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Great tutorial! Not too wordy that I wasnt interested (sometimes I don’t like to read that much), and at the same time, gave enough information to really do it. Thanks

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  53. Add point Subtract point

    Cool man… Very good tutorial, and an impressive one. Keep up the good work

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  54. Add point Subtract point

    Where is the Overlay thing? i cant find it:S

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  55. Add point Subtract point

    Gorgeous effects! Really, really cool.

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  56. Add point Subtract point
    underdos (1 Point) November 24, 2008 at 6:43 am

    wow greats thanks. its very wonderfull

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  57. Add point Subtract point

    it very usefull to me


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  58. Add point Subtract point

    thats realy cool!!! hi to all… I´m Asuncion, Paraguay byee!!!

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  59. Add point Subtract point

    hey dude,, this is really cool ,,,excellentoooo..

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  60. Add point Subtract point

    Hey, awesome tutorial!
    I just downloaded your PSD and was wondering what font you used for “coldplay”
    Could you please let us know as soon as you can!
    Thanks alot for the great tut,

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  61. Add point Subtract point

    Que buen Trabajooooo !!!
    esta increible ! me gustaria que me ayuden con una foto mia !
    Podrian ayudarme !
    Gracias !

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  62. Add point Subtract point
    Art Ross (1 Point) October 8, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Anyone know what font COLDPLAY is using?

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  63. Add point Subtract point

    @KingofLeon: I’ll disagree with you, and also point out that we are trying to capture elements like swirling smoke, bursts of light, and other ideas that insinuate motion all in a single frame. For implied motion, I think this tutorial does a good job imitating the ad.

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    KingofLeon (1 Point) October 1, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Dude, this sucks. Doesn’t even look like the Coldplay Ad. I keep seeing lame attempts to re-create the cloud swirls and energy bursts and its just not happening.

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  65. Add point Subtract point



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  66. Add point Subtract point

    Here are my two tries, featuring Chris Martin! I know the pen cutout isn’t perfect, but I’m too lazy to correct it. The difference between the two pictures are minuscule but I’m OCD like that, the first one has a little bit of the glow surrounding Chris Martin kind of flowing and overlapping him, displeased with this, I corrected it in the second one.

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  67. Add point Subtract point

    hi… thanx for da tut.. its help me a lot… Your Awesome…. ^^
    this what i get:..

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  68. Add point Subtract point

    awesome tut….this is wath i get…
    i use this one as wallpaper…
    and this is the work with my face…
    i d0nt like it….

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  69. Add point Subtract point
    Gabby (1 Point) July 30, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    NICE But
    i dont get the setup of the image do you use CMYK RGB what is the setup ther i do not get the color right and the mask of the smoke not remove compleat the black
    what i do rong
    thank you

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    NuclearWiz (1 Point) July 28, 2008 at 5:05 pm


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  71. Add point Subtract point
    NuclearWiz (1 Point) July 28, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you very much for this great tutorial! Keeep em coming :)
    My really nice(ithink) result :


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  72. Add point Subtract point

    this is a really easy guide even for noobs thnx

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  73. Add point Subtract point

    i am a photo shop noob here
    i couldn’t get photo shop brush to paint the colors i followed exactly what you wrote there

    btw nice website

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  74. Add point Subtract point
    fredy (0 Points) July 19, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    never mind i got it finally . =)

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  75. Add point Subtract point
    fredy (0 Points) July 19, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    hey im trying to get the color distribution right but im not getting the same effect you got can u help me out


    a video would help me out a on how you made this .

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  76. Add point Subtract point
    KellySEO (0 Points) July 17, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Great TUT as design is my second string. The rollovers make your explanations really clear and easy to follow.

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  77. Add point Subtract point
    arsheffield (0 Points) July 16, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Tried some variations; I liked generating clouds and using that as an overlay instead of the smoke.

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  78. Add point Subtract point
    John Dwight (0 Points) July 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    If anyone is interested in photoshop magazines and ebooks go check

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  79. Add point Subtract point
    John Dwight (0 Points) July 15, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    If anyone is interested in photoshop magazines and ebooks go check

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  80. Add point Subtract point
    Harold Cuadra (0 Points) July 14, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    This is exactly what i was looking for …thanks man

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    Nick M (0 Points) July 13, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Holy crap!!
    Ocean Is Theory are the freaking shit!
    I have seen them at shows like four times.
    So weird to see them here.

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    Jordan (0 Points) July 13, 2008 at 4:06 am

    Really nice effects. For desaturating the portrait image you should probably use channel mixer and check the monochrome option rather than using default desaturation. Normal desaturation sort of deadens the image while channel mixer allows you to make it black and white with nice contrasts.

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  83. Add point Subtract point
    Anil (0 Points) July 13, 2008 at 1:32 am

    I found this Tutorial great for creating a header image for my blog.

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  84. Add point Subtract point
    Ren (0 Points) July 8, 2008 at 9:22 am

    I lurrve coldplay to death. that ad such an ace, and i’m gonna try this. :D

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  85. Add point Subtract point
    Christine (0 Points) July 8, 2008 at 6:49 am

    I had a go at this tutorial and this is what I came up with.
    I thought that it was really straightforward and was really impressed with the result.

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    dzineblog (0 Points) July 8, 2008 at 6:28 am

    This Is A killer Tutorial! You Rock !!

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  87. Add point Subtract point

    Ahahaha, Viva la Fifi. I love it :)

    A job well done Allan!

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  88. Add point Subtract point
    Allan (0 Points) July 1, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Thought I would give this a shot tonight when I got home. I took a picture of my dog and spruced it up. Would love to hear what you guys think. The cutout of the dog was a little rough because I didn’t feel like taking tons of time to do it. Here’s my result!

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  89. Add point Subtract point
    SuadeConnects (1 Point) June 25, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Used this effect with some masks on a client business card. Turned out SWEEET! Thanks for the tut man.

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  90. Add point Subtract point
    NKHAT (1 Point) June 25, 2008 at 2:28 pm


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  91. Add point Subtract point
    Website Design (0 Points) June 25, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Awesome tutorial! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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  92. Add point Subtract point
    cruddpuppet (0 Points) June 23, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Ah, I did not know that. Thanks.

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  93. Add point Subtract point

    The topic Coldplay is used because this is the effect used in the new Coldplay Apple commercial.

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  94. Add point Subtract point
    cruddpuppet (0 Points) June 23, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I love the outcome, but I’m wondering why the topic (Coldplay) is so specific. o.O

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  95. Add point Subtract point

    Seriously….. awesome tut.

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  96. Add point Subtract point
    Roger Alarcon (0 Points) June 19, 2008 at 11:34 am


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  97. Add point Subtract point
    ANGST (0 Points) June 19, 2008 at 11:04 am

    @ David Leggett …Wow! Thanks man!!!

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  98. Add point Subtract point

    @ ANGST – That would be Caligari designed by Jérôme Berthemet. Hope that’s what you were looking for mate!

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    ANGST (0 Points) June 19, 2008 at 10:36 am

    One question: what source is the one that appears in the final example? , where says “theory ocean is”…

    Thanks! :D

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  100. Add point Subtract point
    Paulgeo (0 Points) June 16, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I also found you through PSDTuts, and I like what I see. I Will definitely be coming around more often. Thanks for the great work.

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  101. Add point Subtract point

    hahahah… nice one!
    Coldplay rocks!!
    But I’m gonna do something similar for my fav band, which is Muse!!

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  102. Add point Subtract point
    Tyler Bramer (0 Points) June 16, 2008 at 3:11 am

    It is a very good tutorial indeed. I’ve seen a number of comments spread (not here) regarding how the finished images don’t seem to match the quality of the commercial. This tutorial is well done, but I believe that there should be a few more steps involved into creating the effect. The current background is somewhat only half-finished. It needs more depth and a better sense of realism. I’m going to be working on my own concept of Coldplay and I hope that I can find a way to add a few steps onto the end of this tutorial.

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    godisanartist (1 Point) June 14, 2008 at 3:44 am

    Hello David, this my first time visit your great site. I knew it from I think tutorial9 will be one of my favourite sites. Great Works and helpful tutorial!!! God bless!

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  104. Add point Subtract point
    Lorenzo (1 Point) June 14, 2008 at 12:13 am

    awesome!! i’m a coldplay fan too! hehe.. thanks so much.. i just finished this project :D

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  105. Add point Subtract point

    serendipity! was just browsing some blogs while listening to that track and voila! (cant get that song outta my head!). Tried out the tutorial, just having difficulty with the black lines – and maybe i need a “cooler” photo… thanks!

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    Thanks al! It thrills me that we were featured there this morning, and we’re seeing so many new faces today. They’ve got a wonderful site going over there. Hope you’ll subscribe and join in the discussion whenever you can mate!

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  107. Add point Subtract point

    Very cool tut man – great work. I really like the rollovers and the Note on the overlay effect.

    BTW – found your site through PSDTUTS but I have to say I prefer your style… Thanks!

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  108. Add point Subtract point

    Appreciate all the feedback folks =) I’m glad you all found it so useful!

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  109. Add point Subtract point

    great job I love the tutorial and i love the way u made it. thats exactly what this site needs to get it going at full steam.

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  110. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent tutorial! I love it, great job =]

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  111. Add point Subtract point
    liam (0 Points) June 12, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Cool, very nice end effect. Capture the feel of the video well :)

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  112. Add point Subtract point
    Eric (0 Points) June 12, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Thats cool thanks I will give it a try

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  113. Add point Subtract point

    Thank You, David!

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  114. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Anthony and blakdev1l! I’m looking forward to seeing your finished version on the forum Anthony ;)

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  115. Add point Subtract point
    bl4kdev1l (0 Points) June 12, 2008 at 9:58 am


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  116. Add point Subtract point

    wow :O just wow :O im going to try this after i wake up later and be sure to post my result on the forums! Give it a crack readers and post your results on the forum :)

    Once again, top notch tutorial david!

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