Create a Winter-Themed Holiday Card in Photoshop

  • Author: Stephen Petrany
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  • In this tutorial we will demonstrate how to use various techniques to create a winter-themed holiday card in Photoshop. This tutorial will creatively utilize Photoshop filters and transformations to create a fantastic winter illustration. Let's get started!

    Tutorial Details

    Download Source Files

    Final Image Preview

    You can find the Photoshop PSD file in a directory labeled "source" that came in the ZIP file that you downloaded. You may wish to look through it briefly before we begin. A preview of the final image is below.

    Step 1

    Create a new document 1500 px by 1500 by and add a subtle blue gradient

    Step 2

    Create a second document 2500 px by 2500 px and add the Clouds Filter (Filter > Render > Clouds). The large document will give us a lot of cloud variation to work with.

    Step 3

    Next, Copy (Command/Ctrl + C ) and Paste (Command/Ctrl + V) the cloud pattern in to our original document. Scale the clouds downs so they fit the 1500 px by 1500 px canvas. Name this layer "Base Texture."

    Step 4

    Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) this layer in perspective as shown. This will become our ground plane.

    Step 5

    Add a Layer Mask to fade the "Base Texture" layer into the background.

    Step 6

    Set this layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 29%

    Step 7

    Add the following Layer Style. This will give the ground some more definition:

    Step 8

    Our next step is to start adding the texture of snow to our ground plane. On a new layer named "Texture," fill with white and apply the Add Noise Filter with a setting of 120%.

    Step 9

    Give this layer a subtle blur by going to Filter > Blur > Blur More, then adjust the Levels (Command/Ctrl + L) so the image resembles the following:

    Step 10

    Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) this layer in to perspective like we did with the ground plane.

    Step 11

    We want to give this layer a Lens Blur, but before we do this, we will need to set up an alpha channel that will help us apply the Lens Blur. Go into the Channels Panel and create a new layer (this will become an Alpha Channel). Use a large feathered brush to make a stroke at the bottom of the scene. This stroke will represent our focal point in the scene.

    Step 12

    Go back in to the scene and select the "Texture" layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur and add the settings as shown. Make sure to select the Alpha Channel as the Source under the Depth Map settings.

    Step 13

    Copy this layer and change the Blending Mode to Screen. This will increase the contrast of the snow. Go ahead and merge the two layers together by selecting them both and pressing Command/Ctrl + E. It may also help to go to Filter > Blur > Blur More to soften the snowflakes some more.

    Step 14

    The next step is to extract the white snowflakes from the black background. To do this, hide all layers except the "Texture" layer and go in to the Channels Panel and Command/Ctrl-click one of the thumbnails to select just the white snowflakes.

    Step 15

    Go back to the Layers Panel and create a new layer named "Snow" and fill the selection with white. Delete the original "Texture" layer. We don't need that anymore.

    Step 16

    You may have noticed that the top part of our image was filled with white as well. Go ahead and delete that.

    Step 17

    Make a copy of the "Snow" layer and place it below the original. Next, press Command/Ctrl + I to invert the colors. Use the arrow keys to nudge this layer down a few pixels and change the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 40%.

    Step 18

    Add the following Layer Style to this layer:

    Step 19

    Add a Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur)

    Step 20

    Next, I want to add some snowflakes that are reflecting light back at us. To do this, select a square brush from the Brushes Panel and adjust the settings as shown.

    Step 21

    On a new layer called "Snowflakes," paint some scattered snowflakes across the ground in white.

    Step 22

    To add a hint of color to these snowflakes, take a screenshot of your color palette and paste it on a new layer.

    Step 23

    Warp (Edit > Transform > Warp) this layer to 'flow' across the scene, making sure to cover all of the white snowflakes.

    Step 24

    Make this layer a clipping layer. Set the Opacity to 18%

    Step 25

    Select the "Snowflakes" layer and add the following Layer Style. Feel free to add as many snowflakes as you see fit using the previous methods.

    Step 26

    I think the ground plane still appears too uniform. To fix this, create a new layer called "Drifts." Fill with white and Add Noise with an Amount of 500%.

    Step 27

    Add a Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) with an Angle of 0 degrees and a Distance of 6 px. Next add Filter > Stylize > Emboss with an Angle of 125 degrees, a Height of 2 px and an Amount of 500%. Lastly, repeat the last filter five times (to make this quicker, press Command/Ctrl + F to reapply that last filter).

    Step 28

    Scale (Command/Ctrl + T) the texture approximately 2,000%. Don't worry; we will blur this texture significantly in the next step to hide all the pixilation.

    Step 29

    Add a Gaussian Blue of 33 px.

    Step 30

    Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) this layer in perspective so that it appears as shown. Apply a Layer Mask to fade the top edge in to the background.

    Step 31

    Set this layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 40%.

    Step 32

    Optional: use a medium-sized brush with a 75% Hardness and a low Opacity setting to add bokeh dots toward the top and bottom of the ground plane. Just randomly place dots with varying size and opacity.

    Step 33

    Before we create the bulb we need to merge all layers to a new layer. Select the top most layer and press Command/Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E.

    Step 34

    With the merged layer still selected, use the Elliptical Marquee Tool while holding down Shift to make a circular selection. Copy and Paste this selection to a new layer at the top of your layer stack. Name this layer "Bulb." Note that this selection will be on the clipboard, as we will paste another copy at a later time.

    Step 35

    With this selection still active, go to Filter > Distort > Spherize and set the Amount to 100%. Repeat this filter by pressing Command/Ctrl + F.

    Step 36

    As mentioned in step 34, go ahead and press Command/Ctrl + V to paste the image from our clipboard on to a new layer named "Reflections."

    Step 37

    Rotate this layer so the snow appears toward the top of the bulb.

    Step 38

    Position this layer over the "Bulb" layer and go to Edit > Transform > Warp to manipulate the shape around the "Bulb" layer.

    Step 39

    Set this layer's Blending Mode to Luminosity and the Opacity to 35%. Also, make this layer a clipping layer to the "Bulb" layer.

    Step 40

    Repeat the previous steps to add more reflections.

    Step 41

    Our next step is to add some subtle detail to make the glass pop more. Start by Command/Ctrl-clicking the thumbnail of the "Bulb" layer (this will load that layer as a selection). Go ahead and create a new layer called "Glass Detail" and fill the selection with white.

    Step 42

    In this step, I've gone through the Layer Styles adding the effects that I felt worked. Feel free to use your own combination of Layer Styles—or use the ones listed below:

    Set this layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light and the Fill to 17%

    Step 43

    As an extra step, I've used a copy of the previous layer without any Layer Styles to add a bit of glossiness to the bulb.

    Step 44

    As you can see, I've combined all the files used to create the bulb into a folder called "Glass Bulb." Our next step is to make the bulb appear to be resting in the snow. To do this, make a copy of the merged scene (that we created in Step 33) and place it at the top of the layer stack. This will temporarily hide our glass bulb.

    Step 45

    Create a new Layer Mask and use the paintbrush set to Dissolve to mask out the areas of snow that are covering the glass bulb.

    Step 46

    With the Mask still selected, use the Blur Tool to soften the edges of the layer mask

    Step 47

    At this point you can add shadows to the snow. I just used a soft, dark blue brush and painted some shadows on a new layer. I changed the layer's Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to around 35%.

    Step 48

    In the next few steps, we will add the cap to the bulb. Also, you'll noticed that I grouped the layers from the last few steps into a group called "Snow Overlap." This will make it easier to keep track of the next steps. To add the top of the bulb, start by using the Pen Tool to draw the contours of the neck of the bulb.

    Step 49

    Just like we did in Step 42, add whatever Layer Styles you want to give this a glass appearance.

    Step 50

    We will come back to the glass neck later, but for now, let's create the cap on the bulb. After researching what these caps look like, I've determined that the tops consist of decorated aluminum tabs that fold over the neck of the bulb. To recreate this effect, we will create one tab and copy and paste them into position. Use the Pen Tool to draw the shape of a tab on a new layer.

    Step 51

    Make copies of this layer and Transform (Command/Ctrl +T) each tab into position around the neck of the bulb.

    Step 52

    Next, add a drop shadow to one of the "Tab" layers as shown. This will give the tab some depth.

    Continue adding the same drop shadow to all tabs, but change the Angle to match the perspective.

    Step 53

    On a new layer called "Tab Decorations," use a small brush to add dots to each tab.

    Step 54

    Add the following Layer Styles to give depth to these dots.

    Step 55

    Merge all the "Tab" layers and rename to "Tabs"

    Step 56

    To give these tabs a more metallic appearance, add the following layer styles.

    Your image should look like this

    Step 57

    To create the reflective appearance, I painted white blobs of color on a new layer using a brush with a setting of 46% Opacity. I then adjusted the layer's Blend If sliders. I also did the same with a black color.

    Step 58

    Lastly, use a small white brush to add highlights to the bumps on each tab.

    Step 59

    To create the wire loop, start by using the Elliptical Marquee Tool to make a round circle selection. With the selection still active, hold down Alt and make another, smaller selection inside the first. The result should be a ring shape. Fill this with gray.

    Step 60

    Add the following Layer Style to make this shape appear round.

    Step 61

    To finish the wire loop, I have painted black and white lines along the outside and inside of the ring as shown.

    Step 62

    The bulb's neck still appears flat. To fix this, make a copy of the "Tabs" group and Merge Group. Place this file below the original "Tabs" group and Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) this layer so that if appears as a warped reflection on the neck of the bulb.

    Step 63

    Repeat Step 62, only position the new layer above the "Glass Bulb" group as if it is a reflection on the bulb.

    Step 64

    The last thing we need to do is finish off where the underside of the neck meets the bulb. To do this, create a new layer called "Gap" above the "Glass Bulb" layer. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool with a feathered edge to create a soft oval shape. Fill this will a dark blue.

    Add the following Layer Style:

    The result should be as follows:

    Step 65

    Convert this to a Smart Object, then Edit > Transform > Warp this layer as shown. Set the Blending Mode to Screen and you're done with the bulb.

    Step 66

    Open Illustrator and create a new document at any size and use the Pen Tool to draw your text.

    Step 67

    Give the path a black stroke and use the Width Tool to manipulate text as shown

    Your text should now appear more embellished

    Step 68

    Go to Object > Expand Appearance and click Ok.

    Step 69

    Import this layer into Photoshop as a Pixels (this can be done quickly by copying and pasting from program to program). Make sure to resize it so it fits the size of your scene.

    Step 70

    Next, right click this layer and Create a Smart Object. Position this new layer as you see fit.

    Step 71

    Add the following Layer Styles:

    Your image should look like this:

    Step 72

    Create a copy of this Smart Object and go to Edit > Transform > Warp. Warp this copy around the glass bulb.

    Step 73

    Create a Layer Mask for this object that is the same shape of the glass bulb. Use the Layer Mask to hide parts of the lettering as it gets closer to the center of the bulb.

    Step 74

    Next, we want to add some flare to our text. Go to the Brushes Panel and create a quick custom brush with scattered dots.

    Step 75

    Use this brush to add some white dots around your lettering.

    Step 76

    Add the following Layer Style to this layer

    Step 77

    Use the same scattered brush to add smaller dots inside the lettering on a separate layer.

    Final Image