On one of my latest book covers, I have a man sporting a lot of tattoos. I have a confession to make. I put them there. I simply couldn't find the right guy with the right look and the right number of tattoos to fit the character.
I added tattoos before on my story, PAINTED BRIDE. Those were meant to be a bit less realistic than an actual tattoo. That said, I knew how to go about it this second time, but because of the extent of the work, was days and days doing it.
First, we'll look at the final image.
Here we have Holden Lang, rock superstar of the band, SuperX. Now, as I said, he was tattoo free originally. Here's how I did it:
1.The tat itself
In order to apply the tattoos, I had to choose what they were. On a number of these, I used tattoo Photoshop brushes. However, most of what is out there is tribal art, and I particularly wanted to avoid those. So I discovered, I could use line art. (All line art used was copyright free for commercial use.)
I'll focus on the dragon for this particular lesson. The image I used was a white background with a black ink drawing. I started by removing all the white. I used Background Eraser set on Discontiguous, Tolerance 18%.
Here's an excellent tutorial on the proper use of Background Eraser.
2. Create a new layer.
With the white erased, I then did Select All (Ctrl+A) and Copy (Ctrl+C) and Pasted it (Ctrl+V) in a new layer atop the image of the man's arm. I used the Move tool to put it in the general location I wanted it to apply.
3. Erase edges.
But there was an immediate problem, the edges of the dragon hung over the edges of his arm onto the background. Because my original image had a solid white background, correcting this was easy, but first, I used Free Transform to turn the tattoo the direction I wanted. I also stretched it some in certain areas so it would appear to be part of his skin.
Then, I did a general Magic Wand of the background on either side of his arm (Tolerance 15%, Add to selection) and Cut the contents (Ctrl+X). This removed anything overhanging his arm.
I did a more thorough erasing, using the Eraser Tool and a hard-edged brush (100%) , zooming way in so I could properly see the edges.
Here is the result:
It really was that easy. Although, since I wanted his entire skin covered, this meant I had to repeat the process over and over again.
I colored in certain images in using the Airbrush Tool, keeping in mind a black & white end result. I also did a fair about of Gradient Overlay using the Blending Options, to achieve the correct lighting, matching the original image.
Each tattoo had to fit into the other as it would if someone went to a tattoo shop, so I had to adjust and transform them individually, each on their own layer and each color on its own layer. In the end, I had some 40+ layers. Yes, I said 40.
When I was satisfied, I merged them all into one layer. Now, I did NOT save overtop my file with the 40 layers. I saved the merged file as a new image. Here's what the tattoos look like all together, converted to grayscale.
Notice I erased for his shirt as well. The wings on his neckline is a great example of that. The tips of the wings needed to emerge from beneath the tank top straps to look more natural. But in essence, where the tat would be hidden based on his position, I erased it.
And so we went from a blank canvas to this:
I hope you found this interesting and helpful. There were, of course, many other steps and I have simplified them. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comment section.
Suzanne D. Williams
Suzanne Williams Photography
Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.
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