Create a Cosmic Sci-fi Poster Design in Photoshop

Create a Cosmic Sci-fi Poster Design in Photoshop

I’m a great fan of sci-fi art. Have you ever seen a Metallica cd cover? Simply amazing. This kind of design inspired me to create a cosmic sci-fi scene. Today I want to show you how to create this image in Photoshop. This tutorial is for intermediate users who know how mask and selection tools work. We will use also a bit of Illustrator and Cinema4D. Have a try!


Click on the image for a larger preview

sci-fi tutorial preview


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Support material

Step 1

Since I want to print this poster, I choose a very large document size: A3 (11,693×16,535 inches) with a resolution of 300 pixels/inch. The color mode is RGB. An important step for a beginner graphic designer is to start working with large size images. It’s fundamental to achieve a full control of all your pixels, zoom often to see if the real size of your image gives the same result of a low resoultion one. Furthermore while dealing with large images you need good resources. Here you’ll understand that a vector, because of its scalability, is often better than a brush. Having said that, let’s create our document:

create a new document in Photoshop

Step 2

Starting from the background, add a radial gradient going from dark grey (#3e3e3e) to black (#000000).

create a radial gradient

Step 3

We want to create some clouds. So create a new layer ad fill it with black. Make sure to have white and black as foreground and background color and go to Filter>Render>Clouds.

make some clouds

Step 4

These clouds aren’t so nice! At first press ctrl+T to activate the transform tool and enlarge clouds layer. This will make clouds softer. Switch the layer blending mode to screen in order to eliminate black clouds. Then press ctrl+L to open level window and reduce grey level to 0,70.

modify levels

Finally reduce layer opacity and use a large soft brush to erase some clouds.

reduce clouds opacity

Using the same technique, create other clouds layers:

add some clouds layers

Step 5

Since we are going to create a space scene, we need stars. A simple way to create nice stars is to use brushes properties. Create a new layer and select a 4px radius rounded brush. Reduce hardness to 0%. Now go to Window>Brushes and let’s modify settings as shown below:

Note: brush size depends by your document size. Try with different size until you are satisfied with the result

creating custom brush for stars 1

creating custom brush for stars 2

creating custom brush for stars 3

creating custom brush for stars 4

At this point you can paint over your canvas to create stars and galaxies. Once finished, select all layers, group them and title this group “background”.

create stars

Step 6

Now I’ll explain a simple way to create a planet. Start with a black circle

create a black circle

We want to create a strong light effect behind the planet. Add an outer glow to the circle. Right-click on its layer and select blending options. Here select outer glow. Switch the color to white and the blend mode to color dodge. In this way outer glow will interact with clouds giving us a nice result.

add outer glow to the planet

To create planet material, paste in a grunge/concrete texture. WeGraphics members will find the texture into the source file at the end of the tutorial.With the texture layer select, ctrl+click on the circle layer (into the layer window) to select its pixels and add a layer mask.

paste in the concrete texture

Switch texture layer to overlay. The texture should disappear. Create a new layer below and use a soft white brush to paint on the left side of the planet/circle. Reduce the opacity untill you find a balance between texture, light and planet.

add light effect below texture

Add some clouds above the planet (always on the left side). The planet is OK. Group all its layers and title the group “PLANET”.

add some clouds above the planet

Step 7

The image needs some color improvements. So create a map adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map) and choose the default gradient going from purple to orange. Set this layer to overlay and reduce opacity to around 50%.

Important: from now on this layer will be at the top of all the others. So create all next layers below this one.

add a gradient map

Step 8

At this point we want to play with light effect around the planet. Create a group below the planet one and switch group blend mode to color dodge. Create a new layer inside the group. Select a soft white brush and click once on the left side of the planet. Create some layers and apply the soft brush on each one of them. In this way you can control light intensity (reducing layers opacity, adding more layers or eliminating an existing one)

create light effect below planet

Step 9

Create a new group but place it above the planet one. Then use the same technique to create light effects above the planet. Switch the group blend mode to color dodge and paint with soft white brushes.

create light effects above the planet

Step 10

It’s time to put in the text. We need a nice sci-fi styled font for this. After searched for a while a free font, I came accross Edistys. As I showed in other tutorials, I’ll use Illustrator to create text path and Cinema4D to create 3d effect. So write something in Illustrator and expand it (Object>Expand). Save this file as an Illustrator 8 .ai file.

Premium member will find 3d text in the source file, in case they haven’t Cinema4D or another 3d software. Anyway this text effect could be easily achieved using Illustrator 3d effects.

Import this file in Cinema4D (File>Merge and select the .ai file). In the object window, select all the paths inside the text object and connect them (right-click>Connect)

In this way you have created a new path. You can delete all the others since we will work only with this one.

Apply the extrude nurbs object by dragging the text object inside the extrude one.

apply the extrude nurbs object

Choose a nice angle and add a light object. Save the file and import it in Photoshop

Don’t you know how to import 3d renders from Cinema4D to Photoshop? Take a look a this tutorial I wrote a few days ago.

Step 11

Paste in the text. At first apply a linear gradient going from cyan (#46daff) to white. Make sure to set blend mode to overlay.

Create a new layer and switch the foreground color to brown (#673220). Grab the rectangle marquee tool and select the bottom-half part of the text. Now select the gradient tool (G) and add a linear gradient going from brown (top) to transparent (bottom). Press ctrl+D to deselect.

With the last created layer selected, ctrl+click on the text layer and add a layer mask. With the layer mask still active use a black brush to remove some parts of the gradient effect. The screenshot below will help you to understand better this step:

Finally paste in a grunge texture that you like. Desaturate it (shift+ctrl+U) and apply again a mask to perfectly cover the text effect. Switch the layer style to overlay and reduce the opacity. To complete the text, use a soft white brush to add some light effects over the letters.

Step 12

Create a new group below the text one. Create a layer inside the group and paint using cloud brushes. Use one layer for every cloud. This will help you in case you’ll need to move clouds later.

add clouds

Step 13

Extract the dancer (You can use the pen tool for this purpose) and paste him into the canvas.

paste in the dancer

Step 14

Duplicate the dancer layer(select the layer and press ctrl+J) and apply the high pass filter (Filter>Other>High pass) to the duplicated one. Set the layer to overlay. This will enhance  dude details and will add more contrast to the image.

Step 15

If you zoom on the right arm of the dancer, you will certainly notice 3 bracelets. I definitely don’t like them! So we can replace them with a bandage, like the one of a fighter.

Start creating a light grey shape using the pen tool. Then apply a mask and remove unwanted pixels (ctrl+click on the dude layer and press the “add layer mask button”).

Step 16

Grab the erase tool to retouch the bandage form, then select the burn tool and gently paint over the bandage to create shadows.

You can use grunge brushes to make the bandage more realistic. Then I use my tablet to draw several lines to simulate bandage borders and again the burn tool for last refinements:

Step 17

We can add nice details to our composition. For example, the dude gives me a sensation to be exulting for something. Maybe gained freedom. This inspire me to create a chain tied to the dude’s wrists as if he is sort of runaway.

The chain is created in Cinema4D simply creating a torus object that is duplicated, moved and rotated several times. Our members will find the chain image (.png) in the source file.

adding the chain

Paste the chain into the canvas and place it around the dude’s wrists. Use a mask to remove unwanted pixels so that the dude hands seems to be inside the first ring of the chain.

Step 18

The dude is almost finished because his posture indicates the presence of a floor. We have to create a sci-fi stylished floor. Create a new document (A4) in Illustrator. Create a line on the top using the line segment tool. Then duplicate the line and move the duplicated to the bottom.

Select both the lines and go to Object>Blend>Make. Now double click on the blend tool icon in the tool bar, in the new window switch spacing to “specified distance” and enter a value of 30pt.

Repeat the same process to create vertical lines. We have so created a net:

Step 19

Copy and paste in Photoshop as a smart object. Place it below the dancer group of layers

Step 20

Rasterize the net (right-click on the layer>Rasterize) and go to Edit>Transform>Perspective and stretch the net as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 21

Again press ctrl+T to activate the transform tool and drag the top-center anchor point to the bottom thus reducing the height of the net.

Add a gradient overlay to the net going from purple (#290a59) to orange (#9f6024)

Then with a soft brush erase the end of the net to give the illusion it’s infinite:

Step 22

Before start with last color refinements, we can add other details. I paste in some lightnings from our Dazzling Lightnings Vector set and I apply to them the outer glow style. Also I use smoke brushes to create a subtle light effect into the center.

Step 23

Create a new layer above all the others except the gradient map layer and fill it with black. Then go to Filter>Render>Lens Flare and choose the 50-300mm zoom lens.

Set the layer to screen and place on the top-left of the text.

Step 24

I want to give a canvas printed look to the image. So I download a black paper texture from our Old Paper Textures Vol1 and paste it into the the canvas. Then I simply switch the layer blend mode to screen

Step 25

To complete the work we need only a few adjustment layers. At first let’s increase contrast using a curve layer (Layer>New adjustments layers>Curves)

I want to increase again a bit contrast. This time let’s use “brightness/contrast”. Increase contrast to +27 and brightness to +9. Finally Let’s modify Color Balance as shown below:

We’ve finished! Here is our result:

sci-fi tutorial preview


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(+add yours)
  1. Cool…Awesome effect,
    Another Well explained tut.

  2. nice tutorial.
    Very nice techniques here!

  3. @Lena @Sérgio

    Thanks guys!

  4. Great tutorial! Thanks :)

  5. kisstheson

    nicw well done and thanks.

  6. Very detailed tutorial. There are so many things one can learn from this. I especially liked the planet with the glare. Looks so professional and brilliant.

    Great work once again, Sebastiano
    .-= Richie´s last blog ..30 Inspirational TED Talks on Design and Creativity =-.

  7. I’m really glad you appreciate this tutorial! More coming soon…

  8. great tut Sebastiano , really love this style – very professional – ill include it in any showcases at my site : )

  9. just amazing, well done
    .-= altinkum´s last blog ..PSD to XHTML CSS =-.

  10. Pepekun

    seem Goku with the Energy Universal.

  11. This is really my very first time right here, truly great looking blog. I discovered lots of fascinating stuff within your weblog especially it’s discussion. From all the comments on your content articles, it seems like this is really a extremely well-liked web site. Maintain up the good work.

  12. Topan


  13. One word, beautiful.

  14. Oh and yeah, I’m joining up!

  15. william

    I love it nice tut.

  16. Mandy

    Loved the “eclipse-like” planet. Since I love cosmic compositions, I was like… wow.
    Very good and useful tutorial!

  17. Pankaj Shakya

    hey grt work man…… can i plz get this picture in psd format???

  18. matt

    can’t seem to get the layer mask to work on step 11, i’ve done everything up to control+select text layer, but then it won’t let me add a layer mask. any suggestions?

  19. Muito Bom Adorei Parabens …. Vai Ajudar-me MuITO

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