Mixer Brush Tutorial: Converting an image into a digital painting

•March 4, 2011 • 1 Comment

This tutorial will be covering how to use Photoshop’s Mixer Brush to turn any photograph or image into a painting.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Settings
2a. Bristle Brush Tip Settings
2b. Mixer Brush Settings

3. Process

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1. Introduction

The Mixer Brush is a new tool released in Photoshop CS5, which allows us to mix around colors and create a painted effect. This becomes a powerful tool when combined with the new bristle brushes released in CS5 as well. In this tutorial, I tend to interchange words like color and paint frequently. When dealing with the Mixer Brush, keep in mind we’re treating it as if it were an actual paintbrush and we had an actual canvas. The colored pixels on our screen therefore get treated as if they were actual paint.

Now there are hundreds of ways and variations on achieving this effect with the Mixer Brush. The process of this tutorial is actually fairly simple and easy. Despite the process being pretty basic, there are a ton of different brush settings which affects what our end product will end up looking like. Because of this, I’ve broken this down into learning what the different brush settings do and how it affects our image, and the actual process.

I’ll be providing the settings that I use in the process. If you’re one of those people who’s just doing this tutorial for fun, or know that you’ll probably never touch the Mixer Brush after this, you’re more than welcome to skip ahead to the actual process. I’m just providing information to save time from bouncing all over the internet looking up definitions.

You’ll find a lot of the settings seem like common sense (The Wet setting affecting how wet our brush is, the Length setting affecting how long our bristles are, etc.), but if we can visually see the differences, we can understand these settings more efficiently. If you’re proficient with brushes already, you’ll notice that I won’t be going into brush settings, only brush tip and mixer brush settings. I’m leaving it out just because it would take me forever finding the words to explain it all, and I don’t use most of the settings in this tutorial either.


Beginner’s Guide to the Mesh Tool for creating photo-realistic illustrations (Part 1 of 2)

•February 23, 2011 • 3 Comments

Long title, but it doesn’t get any more clearer than that. This is a tutorial to learn the basics on how to create photo-realistic illustrations using Adobe Illustrator’s Mesh Tool.

About this tutorial:
This tutorial is not designed for slackers. Patience is a virtue, and you need a lot of it when dealing with the Mesh Tool. I’m also dividing this into two posts. The first post introduces you to the mesh tool and everything else associated with it. The second is the actual process/tutorial. Both are important, so you serve yourself no justice if you skip to the second part.

Use the find function on your web browser (Usually Command or Ctrl + F) to return to a specific part.

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Table of Contents

1. Overview
1a. What is the (Gradient) Mesh Tool?
1b. Uses

2. Tools/Functions
2a. -Mesh Tool
2b. -Rectangle/Circle Tool vs. Pen Tool
2c. -Eye Dropper
2d. -Transparency
2e. -Layers

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1. Overview
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1a. What is the (Gradient) Mesh Tool?

The mesh tool is essential a tool used to create multiple gradients within an object. With the mesh tool, you convert objects into a mesh.
A mesh is formed by multiple grid points, or mesh points. A gradient is formed from one mesh point to another.

The Mac Lab has a video tutorial which nicely introduces the mesh tool here. (Click)

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1b. Uses

Aside from being able to make unique gradients that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, the mesh tool is able to add a great sense of depth to just about anything. There are various examples on the web which shows how far you can push the envelope with this tool, such as those done by Yukio Miyamoto

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2. Tools/Functions:
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Before we even begin working, I’ll go over some key elements that are essential/helpful for our illustration.

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2a. Mesh Tool

Obviously the mesh tool is key in creating a gradient mesh. When active, you can easily turn an object into a mesh simply by clicking on an object.

Alternatively, you can create a mesh by selecting an object and going to Object > Create Gradient Mesh. For the purposes of this tutorial however, we’ll be avoiding this alternative.

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2b. Rectangle/Ellipse Tool vs. Pen Tool

For the intent of this tutorial, I can’t stress enough how important the Rectangle Tool is when making a gradient mesh. Although there are very few and rare cases where using the Ellipse Tool is the better option, in all my experiences the Rectangle Tool triumphs all.

It is advantageous to form an obscure shape using a rectangle converted to a mesh, as opposed to making an obscure shape with the pen tool and converting it to a mesh. Sounds confusing? Look below.

I created two objects fairly similar to one another. The figure above was created using the rectangle tool, and altering it’s shape using the mesh tool. The figure below it was created directly with the pen tool, and turning it into a mesh afterwards.

The difference between the two lies in how the grid is formed. If you compare the two, you’ll notice that towards the bottom of the curve on the pen tool object, you get a funky kink in the grid that’s formed. To my knowledge, there is absolutely no way you can straighten this kink out. No matter which way you turn the handlebars on the mesh points, that kink will stick there.

It may seem small and insignificant, but imagine if you had a more complex object. How many unfixable kinks do you think there would be if you outlined something such as your hand or the contour of your body? Those grid lines determine the pathing of the gradient, and having awkward and unnecessary bends will mess up the picture.

The joy of the rectangle tool is the mesh formed is simple and easy to work with, thus giving us more flexibility and control. And no kinks!

2c. Eye Dropper

When doing a photo-reproduction, we’ll most likely need to sample colors from the original picture.

Double click on the eye dropper to view it’s settings. We want to be using 3×3 or 5×5 for our sample size. Either one will do, so choose as you see fit. The picture you’re using and the mesh you have will determine whether or not a larger or smaller sample size is needed. Just avoid using point sample on the off chance you sample a bad color.

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2d. Transparency

Like any other object, we can change the blending mode and transparency of a mesh object.

In addition, we can change the opacity of individual mesh points.

Lastly, when we have an object selected, we see how it looks like in this window. This becomes helpful when we’re coloring in our objects so we don’t need to constantly zoom in and out.

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2e. Layers

While we’re working, it’s absolutely vital that  we make optimal use of our layers. Even though you should be doing this anyways, the mesh tool is unforgiving if you aren’t organized. At the least, you’ll want each section to have it’s own individual layer to make it easier in case we have to move objects forward or backwards.




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Click here to move on to part 2

Beginner’s Guide to the Mesh Tool for creating photo-realistic illustrations (Part 2 of 2)

•February 23, 2011 • 1 Comment

Click here to go to part 1

Use the find function on your web browser (Usually Command or Ctrl + F) to return to a specific part.

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Table of Contents

3. Process
3b. -Breaking things down
3c. -Creating the shape
3d. -Adding more points
3e. -Adding colors
3f. -Expanding
3g. -Blending
3h. -Holes

4. Tips & Reminders
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3. Process
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I’ll be using this picture for this tutorial (It’s a part of my laptop charger if you’re wondering what it is). To follow along, click the thumbnail, save the image onto your computer, and open it in Illustrator.

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3a. Breaking things down

Here I’ve already fit the art board to the picture. Before we even begin however, we want to visually break down the image into parts. I want to look for rectilinear shapes within the image. Even if you don’t fully commit to what you’ve mentally noted, at least you have starting points to branch off from.

Remember to keep the layers clean and organized. The earlier you start, the less room there is for error. Name our picture layer something smart, like “Base Picture” or “Plug Picture” or whatever works for you.

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3b. Creating the shape

First area we’ll start off at is the left, cylindrical portion.

Create a new layer above our base picture and name it something appropriate that is helpful to you. I’ll start off creating a rectangle that covers a decent amount of that area. Fill color can be any color, however omit the stroke color.

Select the Mesh Tool from your toolbar (Default keyboard shortcut being ‘U’), and click the corner of our rectangle to convert it into a mesh. Because we’re only focusing on the shape, we don’t need to worry about creating mesh points within our object. You’ll find when you convert the object, a set of handlebars emerge from each mesh point.

Now we need to adjust the rectangle into the proper shape. The most effective way to do this is to toggle our current layer’s visibility into outline mode. Go to your layers panel and Ctrl-click (PC) or Command-click (Mac) the eyeball. You’ll see the eye turn hollow such as in the picture. This is not to be mistaken for Alt-clicking (PC) or Option-Clicking (Mac) the eyeball, which will either disable the visibility of all layers aside from the one you clicked.

Now that we have our shape in outline mode, with either the mesh tool or direct selection tool active, select the mesh points of our shape and drag it into the appropriate spots as I’ve done in my example.

We’re going to want to modify the curves to maintain the integrity of our shape. Select a handlebar from any point and drag it so it follows the shape of what we’re outlining. You can grab a handlebar with the Mesh tool, Direct Selection tool, or the Convert Anchor Point tool (Found as an alternate option for the Pen tool in the toolbar). Move around your mesh points if it isn’t fitting appropriately. As seen below, I’ve managed to create an accurate shape similar to our picture.

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3c. Adding more points

We’ve successfully created the base shape of our mesh object! Now we want to add more mesh points to more accurately color the mesh in.

With the mesh tool active, click again on the sides of our shape to further develop the grid. As you’ll see from my example, I’m creating points similar to how the picture is colored. You want to place mesh points whenever you hit a change of color in the picture. In this case, I place a point along the line of a shadow. Note how I don’t click in the middle, and instead click a side. Clicking in the middle adds more points that we may not need.

Below, I’ve added a bunch of new points.  Remember to keep the integrity of our shape. The points I’ve added on the right side have been moved to fit more snug with the actual picture. Use the handlebars to smooth out the rough edges and make it look more realistic.

Right now I’m skipping on creating the reflections of the object (Not to be mistaken for blatant reflections of light) because we’re just starting off. You should also notice I don’t go too crazy making hundreds of points. We’re going to be coloring in each mesh point, so having too many can be unnecessarily time consuming, as well as give us complications if we need to modify anything. Too few points mean you may not get enough rich depth in our picture.

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3d. Adding colors

Now that we have the shape and more points, we need to start filling in the picture with color. If you haven’t done so already, go ahead and change your eye dropper’s sample size, and make it your active tool.

We need to select each individual point and sample a color from our original picture. The most effective flow I’ve found is to go to the tool bar, choose the Direct Selection tool, and then select the Eye Dropper tool again. What this has done is while we’re in the Eye Dropper tool, if we hold Control (PC) or Command (Mac), we can alternate between the two different tools. This saves us the trip of going back and forth from the tool bar.

So go ahead and select a mesh point and use the eye dropper to sample a color within the area of that point. Yes, every mesh point needs to be colored, so rinse and repeat. If you have your transparency window active (If not, Window > Transparency), you can see how your object looks as you color in each point. You should see the object becoming more fleshed out.

After coloring things in, you should have something roughly similar, or even better than the example below.

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3f. Expanding

Now we’ve only just started so it’s alright if it seems that our current picture doesn’t look anything like the original just yet. We’ve only done a little stub of the picture, so there’s plenty more to do.

Right now, we have a few options. We can repeat the same process I’ve illustrated to fill in more of the picture and blend areas together, or we can use our existing shape to expand it out to cover more of the picture. We’ll end up doing both regardless, but for now I’ll be doing the latter option.

I’m going to create a set of points close to the edge of our current mesh.

Next, I select all the points on the very right side and essentially drag it over to cover more of the object. The mesh looks very odd, but similar to our first step of forming the shape, we’re going to move these points around.

After smoothing things out, I end up with something like this:

I added a few points, not too many, to flesh out the grid just a bit more. You’ll notice that I completely cove the hole. I’ll address this part further down in the tutorial, but for now, we’re covering it up to make it completely solid. Go ahead and color in any new mesh points you’ve added, as well as recoloring the mesh points you’ve moved (It’s not in the same spot, so in this case it’s not the same color!)

Viola, something a little more identifiable.

Go ahead and try doing the same thing to the other side. I worked on the long, rectilinear side and expanded towards the face side, similar to how we made the first mesh. There’s no wrong answer here, so just try it out. If your mesh ends up looking too complicated, there’s no harm in deleting and starting over. What’s important is getting a better feel for the mesh tool. Here’s a few screenshots showing how I got my mesh for the right side:

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3g. Blending

Unfortunately,  there’s no cookie cutter formula for how to blend parts in, and this part can be visually hard to follow. I’m going to step away from our picture for just a moment to explain how we blend parts in.

Above, we have two completely separate objects that we want to blend in together.

Ideally when we want to blend, we make all mesh points in that area the same color.

We need to go in and add mesh points in the appropriate areas that make sense with our image. Dividing the columns of colors is ideal here.

Even when we do this, we may still run into a problem like above.

Reduce the opacity of the mesh points where this problem is occurring. By reducing the opacity to zero, we’re picking up the areas of colors in the mesh in the back.

Ta-daa! It’s blended. Sure we can go in and find tune it, but this is the basically how we can blend different mesh’s together. Now, let’s take these concepts and bring it to our illustration.

Here we have a section of the rounded shape that was made separately. We want to blend this section with the other shape to form a whole.

Looking at both objects together, we see areas that overlap. We want these areas to be relatively the same color.

I modify the blue piece so any area that’s not shaded is the same color as the object we’re connecting it to. In addition, I make reduce the opacity of the edges to we don’t have noticeable lines and it transitions smoothly.

So when put together, we get this-

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3h. Holes

Although this may seem pretty straightforward, there are two kinds of gaps we deal with.

1. Gaps with color

2. Gaps that we can see through

In our illustration, the two round objects have what I call gaps with color.

In this, these gaps are black/grey. We can create these gaps by either incorporating it directly in with our mesh, or creating an entirely new mesh and blending it over. I advise to avoid the former, as you’ll end up screwing around with the grid which can cause a lot of problems in the colors.

Here, I did the same steps of creating a rectangle and forming the mesh of the hole. When this layer is placed above, I reduced the opacity of all the sides and edges to it blends in.

Something to note when doing this, holes don’t just blend in and out gracefully. They have abrupt changes in color. Having two to three mesh points contrast abruptly next to each other help give this effect.

For gaps with holes we can see through, such as the metal plugs, we need to make space.

In these series of steps, I’m altering a rectangle to wrap around the hole. Do the same for the other side.

For the right side, I went ahead and constructed the prong as a whole, and added mesh points to make an area where the hole is. I reduced to opacity of the points around the circle to zero to make it empty.

For the left side, I made two separate parts around the hole and blended it in.

Figure out your alternatives. There’s more than one solution around a problem, find the easiest and most effective one for you.

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If you keep working, you’ll end up with something looking like this in the end:

There’s still a lot of fine tuning that can be done, but this is the basic gist of how to create a photorealistic object using the mesh tool.

Click here to download the .ai file of the above image (File is a .zip)

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4. Tips and Reminders
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Here’s a few tips and reminders to help you work more efficient.

  • If you just want to move one handlebar without affecting the other, use the Convert Anchor Point tool. Occasionally when you move handlebars with the mesh or direct selection tool, both handlebars will move.
  • If you can’t find your handlebars on a mesh point, use the Convert Anchor Point tool to click and drag on a mesh point. The handlebars will ‘reset’ itself.
  • If I have two or more mesh points in extremely close proximity, I’ll treat the group of points as one and change all their colors to be the same when I’m coloring in my mesh.
  • You don’t need to sample colors where the mesh point is. If the lighting or shadows is making the picture look weird, go ahead and sample what the color should look like in a different spot. Otherwise you may end up with shades of maroon or green instead of grey.
  • Keep your layers organized and named well.
  • Know your keyboard shortcuts. Save yourself some time instead of going back and forth to the toolbar. Modify your keyboard shortcuts if you need to in Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts.
  • The bigger the picture, the easier the meshing will be. It’s easier to work with larger pictures instead of small 400×600 pixel images.
  • Expect to be investing a few hours into your project. If you’re expecting to have a full blown illustration in half an hour, you’re sadly mistaken. You’re going to need to be patient, so don’t make it a race for yourself.
  • Keep the integrity of your object. If your object is rounded, let the handlebars round itself out.

Feel free to leave any questions or comments.

Zipbuds (Gradient Mesh) & Movie Poster (kind of)

•December 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I finished up my quarter last Friday, and while the work I did was enough to give me high grades in the end, it’s by far no where near the standards I would like as far as online publishing. So while I rework some of the projects I did, here are 2 pieces that I have absolutely no problem showing, which happened to be my final artwork for my Fundamental of Design and Color Theory class respectively.

Zipbuds Gradient Mesh

The final assignment was to choose an artist that I’ve been influenced by, and create an art piece in their style. Because this was (unfortunately) the only assignment where an electronic medium was allowed, I naturally turned to Yukio Miyamoto as my artist of choice. He’s a fantastic Illustrator and shows amazing use of the gradient mesh tool.

So I choose to vectorize one of the Zipbuds picture that I had. I was extremely time crunched with this project, but surprisingly finished up in about 5-6 hours.

Movie Poster

This one may not seem like much, but I did a lot of research comparison for this project. The assignment was to recreate a movie poster as seen outside of the United States, Canada, and Britain. Obviously being color theory, we were to use appropriate colors as it fit with the different country.

I chose to base my poster idea on Korea. Breaking the poster down, a trend I noticed in a lot of Korean (horror) movie posters that I wanted to follow:

-Use of body/face

-Use of blood on the face

-Clothing tends to be formal (School uniform or dress shirt/dress)

-A ‘tear’ effect, as if a portion of the poster was torn

-Majority of colors was very dull or sepia toned. Either monotone with red accent (blood), monochromatic yellows/blues, or analogous in favor of green/yellows for sepia.

-Use of blood on the text

Marker Comps

•November 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Just two of my practice drawings using markers. This is the first time I’m using markers as a medium, and I’ve discovered I’m actually not half bad with it for being new to it.

The exercise was basically finding (large) pictures of models in magazines, and redraw it using markers.

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I’ve got more to upload, but my scanner is too small to fit my other projects. So those will have to wait for now.

Zipbuds, My new bestest friend

•November 9, 2010 • 2 Comments

Proof that my Summer wasn’t a complete dud- Zipbuds! This summer, I had the opportunity to join along Steven Moyer and his many photo shoots (and a video shoot) regarding DGA‘s newest product, Zipbuds. I’ve tagged along with Steven a few times already on his Livespeakr and China Wokery photo shoots/Photoshop sessions. So I can proudly add Zipbuds to that list (and my portfolio, hoo-hah!)

Those unfamiliar with what Zipbuds are, they’re a new product by DGA which addresses one of the key problems with other headphones, which is tangled and messy cords. I know I’ve always had a problem sticking my headphones in my pocket, just to go through untangling and unwinding when I need it. Not anymore!

Anyways, as said before I had the opportunity to join along with the series of projects Steven got hired to do. There were quite a few photo shoots, all of them enjoyable. Even the commercial shoot (Which takes a lot more planning than I ever thought) was fun. Overall, a great experience! The entire skeleton of this project is broken down on Steven’s blog. In the meantime, check out the Zipbuds website and pretty much all the pictures we’ve worked on (including the commercial) is up.

The Right Mindset (1.0)

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Freshman orientation for the Art Institute happened just a few days ago, and some things really stuck to me. If anything, what I gained from orientation was a mindset to keep throughout college.

That Academic Director spoke to those in Graphic Design, and of the few things he said, there was definitely two major concepts that I’ll continue to keep glued to the back of my head.

One being, at the start there will be people who start off amazing. All their work will be showered with praise because they’re way ahead of the game and you may feel like you’re behind everyone else. But the director compared this mindset to horse racing. Stating that typically the horse in the lead at the beginning rarely ends up winning the race in the end. All the time it’s the horse from behind that wins. Overall, the point he said was that it’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish.

In addition to this, a very familiar concept was brought up as well. In the work that we do, we were told that because we’re going to be graphic designers, we need to have a purpose for everything we do. We can’t chose a typeface, color, line, etc. because it’s something we like, but it needs to have a purpose. Over time the art will justify itself, but for the time being, it’s important to be able to justify everything you do.

Now both of these pieces of advice are far from new, I’ve heard it already before plenty of times. But regardless, I look forward to starting college.