How to create a concept from an idea to final design in Photoshop

Today we will create a cool wallpaper with Photoshop, a few stock photos and tons of fun. Plus, there are quite a few tips and tricks you’ll learn along the way, it’s definitely worth reading. The tutorial is thoroughly explained, it reveals not only the technical aspect, but also how the ideas comes to life and how they morph to fit seamlessly in the same design.

Difficulty: Intermediate
Completion time: 1-2 hours
Tools: Photoshop CS3

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Concrete Texture by Design TNT
Skull by
Flowers by SimplyBackgrounds
Barbed wire by GreenFroggy489
Leaves by Chop-stock

Final Image Preview

My original idea was to start from an animal skull and build everything else around it, but at the moment, I did not know what I needed, what colors to choose, what tones to set, lighting point, color palette nor composition. So what is there to do when we have absolutely no lead?
We improvise and use logic, inspiration and an axe – you’ll break your knuckles if you use your bare hands to smash your keyboard if you get angry.

Now we’re all set, let’s begin!


Go to File > New.. and create a new document  of 2600 x 3500 px in RGB color mode with “White” background setting.

I originally thought it would be a poster, so I made it a “portrait format”. Yes, there is alot of pointless space, but I want to point out the fact that a design changes its shape the longer you work on it.


Open the “skull” picture. I see what you did there, you went for the Magic Wand, didn’t you? No. Don’t. Grab the Path Tool (P), set it on Paths and trace the contour of the skull. Its selecting precision is terrible and the only result is a jagged contour. The Path Tool will take longer to cut out, but I don’t want to miss those small details.


Once you’ve completely traced it, right-click > Make Selection. Copy it (CTRL+C), go back to our document (CTRL+tab) and paste it (CTRL+V). Hit CTRL+T, resize it and place it like below.
Hit Enter and CTRL+G. Rename the group to “skull”.


Open the flowers and do the same thing: trace, copy and paste. Do this for each. When you’re done, SHIFT+click the layer thumbs to select the layers and hit CTRL+G to place them in a layer group. Rename this group to “flowers base”.
Why flowers? We want something to contrast with the skull, a symbol of death and decay and the flowers are exactly the opposite: life, rebirth and beauty.


Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White. Hit CTRL+SHIFT+] to make it the top-most layer and click the “Lock” icon in the Layers palette (F7).
There are alot of pictures inserted, each with its own color, tones and contrasts. This adjustment layer turns everything to grayscale, we can now focus only on the tones and contrast.


Turn of the visibility of the “flowers base”, duplicate flowers (CTRL+J), turn on the copy’s visibility and place them on the skull. Start with large flowers, we will complete the design with smaller ones.


Add more flowers and place them below the “skull” layer group. Make them smaller, rotate and reflect them.


Now it’s starting to look better, but the flowers don’t stand out (yet!) as individuals, they look like a large light gray spot. Grab the Move Tool (V), CTRL+click a flower and go to Image > Adjustments > Levels (CTRL+L). Use the settings below or similar, we need to increase their contrast a bit.


Where you add flowers, you must add in some petals and leaves, right? Open the “leaves” image and make cutouts, just like you did with the flowers and paste one in our document. Duplicate it and place the original in the “flowers base” layer group.


Select the copy, hit CTRL+T to enter Free Transform mode, resize it, place it like below and hit Enter. Hit CTRL+L to open the Levels window and use the settings below. Hit OK.


Hold the ALT key and click-drag a copy of the leaves, then place it like below. Repeat this step until the flowers’ contours are defined. It’s a mini-game of tones, just play around until each flower stands out.


It’s starting to look good, but it lacks stability. So let’s fix that. Open the “barbed” wire .psd file, select it (CTRL+A), copy it (CTRL+C) and paste it into our document (CTRL+V). Place it like below.


Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All, grab the Brush Tool (B) and paint over the area shown below. Duplicate this layer (Layer > Duplicate layer or CTRL+J) and place it below the “skull” layer group.


Select the layer mask and hit CTRL+Backspace to fill it with white. CTRL+Backspace fills your current layer with the Foreground color and the ALT+Backspace command fills the current layer with the Background color. Grab the Brush Tool (B) and mask the area shown below.


Create a new layer (CTRL+SHIFT+N or Layer > New > Layer) and set its Blending mode to “Multiply”. Now grab the Brush Tool (B), set its Hardness to 0%, uncheck any extra settings and paint the shadows on the skull. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, just go “by feel”.


Repeat STEP 15 for the flowers above the leaves or other flowers. Select the Move Tool (V), CTRL+click the flower, create a new layer and hit CTRL+[ to send it below one.

Now the skull has too little contrast, let’s fix that. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness / Contrast and Levels. Use the settings below.


Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid color. Select a dark gray color, then hit CTRL+SHIFT+[ to make it the lowest layer. I used #424242. This will be our background base tone.


Create a new layer above it and set its blending mode to Linear Dodge(Add). Now grab the Brush Tool (B), hit D, then X, set the brush tip to an oblique oval and paint a large spotlight, like below. Feel free to adjust the layer’s Opacity if the spot is too intense.


Create a new layer and set its Blending mode to “Multiply”. Grab the Brush Tool (B), set the Foreground color to a dark gray and paint the shadow of the skull, flowers and leaves. Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and use a 1% setting. Select the layer with the spotlight and hit CTRL+F (duplicate command).


Open the “concrete” texture, copy it and paste it into our document. Hit CTRL+SHIFT+[ , then hit CTRL+] to bring it above the background base. Set its Blending mode to “Soft Light”. Make sure you place this layer below the spotlight layer, it will inherit a more natural lighting from it.


Let’s take care of some finishing touches! The barbed wire in the right has the light totally wrong – lets fix that. Hit CTRL+L and switch the lights and shadows sliders positions. Use levels for the wire below the skull, to make it darker.


Duplicate the barbed wire layer, nudge it like below (use “Down” arrow),  hit CTRL+U and set Lightness to -100. Hit OK. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, use a 3 px setting and hit OK. Set its Blending mode to “Multiply”.


The barbed wire’s shadow in the left is too intense for such a light background. Grab the Eraser Tool (E), hit “1” to set its Opacity to 10% and gently paint over the shadow.


Select the top-most layer (the Black & White adjustment layer) and go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Set the gradient as shown below and hit OK.


Select the entire artwork (CTRL+A or Select > All), go to Edit > Copy Merged (CTRL+SHIFT+C) and paste it (CTRL+V). Go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Set it to 1.5 px, hit OK and set Blending mode to “Overlay”.


Create a new layer (CTRL+SHIFT+N), grab the Gradient Tool (G), set the gradient like below and apply it from the top left to the bottom right corners. Set its Blending mode to Soft Light and Opacity to 74%.


Grab the Crop Tool (C), make a selection like below and hit Enter.


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13 Comments How to create a concept from an idea to final design in Photoshop

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  2. Johnny Sep 22, 2011 at 11:20

    this is one whole lot of process,i like it anyway. good work.

  3. bespoke web design Sep 27, 2011 at 03:50

    Wow! Very very impressive. How do you even begin to imagine stuff like this let alone see it through. Was this for a client, also how long did the whole process take from start to finish?

    1. Doink Oct 3, 2011 at 10:22

      The idea starts from a single object, then you build everything else around it. Find shapes and tones to complement the shape, concept and texture of your main element, then make finishing touches with colors and tints. Go through a series of final images, see how it looks.

  4. BorntoDesign Oct 15, 2011 at 10:56

    I like both the idea and the final effect. Very impressive!

  5. leather ipad case Jan 10, 2012 at 08:41

    I am curious about the color. If I am going to try to imitate this design for tutorial purposes, do I get the same beautiful finish product if I choose to stick with the colored images and not black, white gray thing? Honestly they look very good for Desktop Wallpaper.

    1. Doink Jan 12, 2012 at 10:02

      You’ll obtain different colors if you stick with the original colored images: Instead of adding a monochromatic effect, you’ll obtain some warm tones for each layer. The gradient map sets the purples without inheriting any color from the layers below it (thus, the gray tones).

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  7. Tomason Feb 23, 2012 at 00:57

    sorry man but i didn’t find the “Flowers by SimplyBackgrounds” files in the deviantart website !!
    if you could provide them to us in a uploaded files that will be great ..
    and the Tutorial is (….) oustanding
    i love it so muuuuch

    1. Doink Feb 23, 2012 at 10:48 here’s the full gallery of flowers. Feel free to take your pick and drop her a thanks :)

      1. Tomason Feb 23, 2012 at 11:06

        Thanks man , i appreciate it !!

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