Turn a simple sketch into a 3D-looking painted portrait with the help of layer styles in Photoshop
Source a side profile photo and use it as a base for your sketch. We used this image by Reine-Haru, which is free to download. Give the photo layer a low opacity and begin drawing some fluid splashes on a new layer. Follow the contour of the face and make it more free flowing towards the back.
With the basic sketch finished, it helps to separate each segment into smaller sections using curves and swirls. Use a different brush colour so you can see which are the main segments and which are the details.
With the completed sketch, begin pathing the splashes using the Pen tool. Don’t worry about the colours at this stage; just fill each splash with a different colour for clear indication.
To make the splashes fluid, adjust the curves properly to make it look more natural. We can still edit our paths by Cmd/Ctrl-clicking on the splash with the Pen tool. Alt/Option-drag on the handles to adjust the curves accordingly.
Create a new path layer beneath these splashes to fill up the negative spaces. Double-click on the layer thumbnail to bring out the Color Picker dialog box. Select black for the colour. Adjust the splashes accordingly to fill up any unnecessary gaps.
With the basic splashes completed, we can now begin colouring them. Create a colour palette on the side of the canvas. Sites like Adobe Color CC are great for colour inspiration. Replace the existing colours with those from the palette by double-clicking the splashes and colour-picking the palette.
Once you are happy with the colour arrangements, proceed to apply colour gradients to the splashes. Right-click on the layer and select Blending Options. Check Gradient Overlay. Select the gradient to edit. Pick the existing colour as the first colour (in this case orange), and set the second colour as pink.
Apply gradients to all of the splashes. If the existing colour is dark, pick a lighter colour for the second colour, and vice versa. Experiment with different colours to find the right combination to create interesting transitions.
We’re going to build up each of the splashes to make them pop out using an Inner Shadow layer style. Set Blend Mode: Multiply, Color: #000066, Angle: 90, Distance and Choke: 0, and Size: 35.
Continue applying Inner Shadow to all splashes. Adjust the Choke and Size according to each of the splashes. For larger splashes, we have set the Inner Shadow Size to 70.
Next, apply Inner Glow to the splashes. This glow, together with the shadows applied earlier, creates a 3D-looking effect. Check Inner Glow, set Blend Mode to Color Dodge, Opacity to 60%, Source to Center, Choke to 10, and Size to 60.
Apply Inner Glow to all the splashes. The Color Dodge mode may be too harsh on certain colours, so for these layers use Overlay instead, with Opacity at 50%, Choke at 20 and Size at 16. Adjust the Blend Mode, Choke and Size accordingly for smoother transitions of the gradients.
After applying Color Dodge and Overlay layer styles, some of the layers may end up too bright. Darken them so that there is enough contrast when we put on the white highlights at a later stage. Check Color Overlay, set Blend Mode to Overlay, Color to Black and Opacity to 50%.
Create more depth by adding shadows to each of the splashes. Check Drop Shadow, set Blend Mode to Overlay, Color to dark purple #523366, Angle to 45, Distance to 5, Spread to 0 and Size to 20. This will create some separation between the splashes.
Another way of adding more depth is by applying a glow around overlapping splashes. Check the Outer Glow layer style, with Opacity at 35%, Spread at 0 and Size at 25. Use this on the swirl at the side of the nose to make it look debossed.
Cmd/Ctrl-click on a layer thumbnail to make a selection of a splash. Use a white soft brush to slowly brush just outside of this selection. This soft brush will be masked within the selection. Deselect the splash and move the layer down a little to create a glossy highlight.
With the same technique, create some white glow on the rounded edges of the splash. Erase or mask out unwanted areas. Play with the opacity of these white highlights to create more depth. Our white highlights are more opaque at the edges than at the centre.
Continue adding more highlights to each splash. Duplicate the white highlights from one of the rounded corners and shrink it down using the Free Transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl+T) to create a white reflection. Just using the curves of each splash can help to build up interesting reflections.
With a splash selected, click on a spot between the selection using a soft round brush. This creates a glow that is masked around the curve. Go to Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 2px. Move this layer so that it sits on top of the white highlights you created earlier.
With the highlights completed, it’s time to add some shadows. Make a selection of a splash to keep the brush contained. Using a soft round black brush with Overlay as blend mode, brush around the splash softly to darken and add contrast.
With brighter colours, the Overlay blend mode may not work for the shadows as it won’t create a dark enough effect. Set the blend mode to Multiply instead, Opacity: 50%. Alternate between these two blend modes accordingly.
Use a black soft round brush to brush in some complex shadows. Set the blend mode to Multiply, Opacity to 25%. On a new layer above, brush in more shadows, this time spreading them a bit wider than previously. Set this layer to Overlay, Opacity to 75%. We have created a stacked shadow.
Add some white swirls in the negative zones within the face. On a new layer, draw a sketch of the swirls. Use the Pen tool to path the splashes out. These little line details help to break the monotony of the splashes.
On a new layer, use a white soft round brush and click on the canvas once to create a circular spot. Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform, right-click and select the Warp tool. Drag the mesh around to warp the spot around the curved edges of the splash. Press Enter to commit.
Create more drastic contrast by further darkening certain overlapped areas. Set blend mode to Multiply, Opacity to 10%. Brush along the corners to make it look like the splash in front is casting its shadow onto the splash behind.
On a new white layer, go Filter> Noise>Add Noise, Amount: 100, Distribution: Uniform. Check Monochromatic. Go Filter> Blur>Blur. Add a layer mask to the noise, repeat adding noise and blurring to the mask. Set this layer to Color Dodge, Opacity: 50%. Right-click the layer to open Blending Options. Under Blend-If, Alt/Option-click the Black slider of This Layer, drag the slider to the right. Repeat for Black slider of Underlying Layer. Cmd/Ctrl+G to group this layer. Add a group mask and brush over areas you don’t want to affect.