Backgrounds are an important—if sometimes underappreciated—element for many designers. Whether you’re creating a game, visual novel, or website, the backgrounds you choose play a huge part in setting the mood and scene for your work.
How to Create Artistic Backgrounds From Photos With These 3 Photoshop Actions
Part of the reasons backgrounds don’t always get the love they deserve is that, despite their importance, backgrounds are sometimes slow and tedious work. Luckily, there’s always a faster way to get the job done.
In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to create three dramatically different backgrounds from photos using resources from ThemeKeeper Elements. These resources are a combination of Photoshop Actions and Photoshop Brushes that, when combined, save you countless hours you would otherwise use to create these backgrounds from scratch. So let’s get started!
What You’ll Need
Here are the following assets you’ll need for this tutorial:
- Charcoal Action
- Artist Action
- Paint Splatter Action
- Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes
- Eiffel Tower
- Woman Portrait
- Tiger Stock
1. How to Create a Charcoal-Inspired Background
First up is the charcoal background. I’ll be using this amazing Charcoal Photoshop Action to help achieve the final result. Start by opening this Eiffel Tower reference into Photoshop, making sure that you select the 1920×999 pixels size.
Now let’s set up the action. Go to Window > Actions and load your charcoal action into the Actions palette.
Because there’s a brush set included with this action, you’ll need to load it as well. So hit B on your keyboard to bring up the Brush Tool. Select Replace Brushes from the drop down menu then select the .abr file to replace your current brushes with the new charcoal ones.
Here is a look at the charcoal brushes you should now have in the Preset Manager.
Many Photoshop actions come with a set of instructions you’ll need to follow exactly in order to avoid any program errors. So make sure you pay attention to the attached “Readme” file before you begin.
Now create a New Layer and name it “brush.” With the Brush Tool (B) selected, paint black all over the Eiffel Tower since it’s where I would like to apply the charcoal effect. It’s important to keep the brush part as clean as possible, otherwise it will affect how this action plays out.
When you’re ready, select Style 1 under the Charcoal Action, then hit the Play button on the Actions palette.
Here is the initial result after you play the action.
Since it looks quite messy, let’s tweak some of the Adjustment Layers found within the new Group created by the action.
First Hide the Visibility of the Sketch Lines 2 Group. Then select all three photo layers and set their Layer Blend Modes to Pin Light and their Opacity to 100%. Follow up by select the Contrast layer and changing the Opacity to 100%. This will allow your subject to show through the smudges more.
To add more texture to the background, create a New Layer above the second photo layer. Select the Brush Tool (B) and use one of the charcoal brushes from the set to paint a large smudge of gray on the layer. Right-click to go to Blending Options and apply a Gradient Overlay with the following settings:
For a tint of color, add a New Adjustment Layer for Color Lookup at the top of your layers. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup. Then set the 3DLUT File to FoggyNight.
Here is the final charcoal background below. See how simple that was?
2. How to Create a Watercolor-Inspired Background
Next up, we’ll create a lovely watercolor background from a photo. This time, I’ll be using this Artist Photoshop Action and this set of Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes to make the process much easier.
Open your photo into Photoshop. Here I’ll be using this Woman Portrait at 1920×1079 pixels.
Now go to Window > Action and load the artist action into the Actions palette.
Just like before, we’ll need to also load all of the brushes attached to this action. So select the Brush Tool (B), Right-click to bring up your brushes, then select Replace Brushes from the drop down options. Choose the artist brush file located from the same folder as the action.
Here is the new set you should have.
To run the action, create a New Layer and name it “brush.” Select the Brush Tool (B) at 100% Hardness, and use the brush to Fill in the areas with black where you’d like the effect to take place. Here I painted the woman and the bars behind her.
With the brush layer still selected, hit the Play button on the Actions palette to run your artist action. Here is the initial result.
Even though we’re going for a watercolor effect, let’s clean up the result a bit. First, Hide the Visibility of the Watercolor Edge Splatter Group. Then go into the Watercolor and Watercolor Texture Groups and Hide some of the layers to allow the portrait to breathe. Feel free to experiment with this for the result you prefer.
To create a better color palette, add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Create a gradient that transitions from a deep red color
#491802 to white.
Finish this background with a little more texture. Load the Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes we mentioned earlier into the Brush Tool (B).
Create a New Layer and use the Brush Tool (B) to paint white watercolor splashes all around the canvas. I used brushes 1,15, and 17 for the right side, and brushes 15, 26, and 72 for the left side.
Here is the final watercolor background when you’re done.
3. How to Create a Paint Splatter-Inspired Background
For this last background, we’ll be creating another traditional art effect using this Paint Splatter Action.
Here I’ll be using this Tiger Stock, downloaded at 1920×1280 pixels. Open this photo into Photoshop.
Load your paint splatter action. Go to Window > Actions, and load the action from the drop down menu.
Just like the previous actions, you’ll need to load the brush set that comes along with it. So select the Brush Tool (B), then Right-click to bring up your brushes. Select Replace Brushes from the options and replace them with the paint splatter brushes found within the same folder.
Now create a New Layer and name it “mask.” Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Soft Round Brush with 0% Hardness to fill your subject with black.
When you’re ready, select the mask layer then hit the Play button on the Actions palette. Here is the initial result after you play the action.
To adjust this background even further, Hide the Group for CC Option 1, and Unhide the Group for CC Option 2 instead.
Now we have a color scheme that suits this photo better. Scroll down to the bottom of the action list to find the layers for the background elements. Unhide the Visibility of the background splash layers as well as the contour fill layers in order to achieve a more dynamic result.
Finish with a New Photo Filter Adjustment Layer. Set the filter to Cooling Filter (80) and raise the Density to 91%. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light and you’re done!
Here is the final paint splatter background.
Let Photoshop actions do all the heavy lifting for your designs. You’ll be impressed with the incredible diversity in the effects you can achieve, all while saving countless work hours.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, feel free to leave any questions in the comments below. And for more tutorials on photo effects, check out the following links: