advanced photoshop

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

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Tips & Tutorials, by Adam Smith

How to paint with Photoshop brushes and blend modes

Photoshop  helps bring real-world visions to life using the most basic of tools. Brushes are used to sketch ideas, create forms and build contours.

Here, we reveal easy to follow ways to brush and blend believable skin.

Photoshop brushes and blend modes play their part in lighting, shadows and contour. Several colour-lay techniques breathe life into your image.

Before you attempt this tutorial, though, we must warn you that you’ll need either an aptitude for digital painting or a passion to learn more about it.

Sketch it

The most important part of a solid, finished piece is a good starter sketch. This will set the tone of the entire image and ensure that it’s both well thought out and compelling.

Here, we have sketched our character with good detail, making sure we indicate all of the major elements of the armour.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Colour layer

Here we add our first drops of colour using a Color Range adjustment layer, adding blue to our image.

We try to keep tones subtle at this stage and get an overall feel of the general colour of the costume. Doing so early on can save us further trouble in the future, ensuring that the image colours will be unified.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Very simple highlights

So that we know where our light is coming from, we’ve added a layer set to Color Dodge and begun laying in a very simple light source over our image.

This is a good time to establish which textures might exist in the armour. Shiny surfaces will have tighter highlights, while other surfaces will have a very uniform gradient.

Also keep in mind that much of this will be painted over, as it’s too early to commit to such a bright value. It’s strictly for our understanding and future reference.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Start the face

One of the most complicated parts of creating a design is the face, and how we begin building colour here. Quite honestly, there is no easy way.

You may notice on the video that accompanies this tutorial, our face went through many changes and sort of evolved with the character.

We applied the simple method of adding a coloured layer and lightly painting in a base colour to the face. Keep it simple here and take care to not add too many highlights or shadows.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Refine the face

The pursuit of the perfect face continues and we begin adding more colours on top of what we already have.

Since we started with a flat colour layer, we can now start to introduce more detailed tonality. We do this by creating a layer set to Overlay and then laying down colour ‘under’ the skin.

Remember that the skin, though solid, is slightly transparent and shows what’s beneath it. Try using some greens, blues and reds here – don’t be too afraid to experiment here.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Add skin detail

Now that we’ve added the base and middle layers, we can start to add some thick paint on top of the face.

On a new layer, begin painting opaquely with colours that closely resemble actual skin tones.

Do this using a soft brush, so the colours we added in the beginning show through and give the skin a smooth look. Be sure to keep values close and don’t make any part too bright or too dark.

Feel free to lightly introduce other colours and watch for any happy accidents.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Bonus Tip: Designing a HUD

It’s far easier to add sci-fi effects to a concept painting by creating a cool HUD design, like those you’ve seen in popular sci-fi movies such as Iron Man.

Simply create circular and square selections using the Pen tool and then add a coloured stroke. Set these against a black background, which is then copied and pasted into your image.

Set the layer’s blend mode to Linear Dodge (Add), duplicate and apply Gaussian Blur.

Now merge these layers by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+E. If it still isn’t glowing enough, repeat these steps and then watch as it begins to glow brighter and brighter.

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop

Paint realistic skin in Photoshop