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An effective way of giving a graphical interpretation to an image and if add interest to what might otherwise be a boring photograph is to dramatically reduce the number of colors so that you end out with a silkscreen print effect. You may even want to carry through in silkscreen the results. For cost-effectiveness and convenience, I like to output such images on my home inkjet printer. Print it on fine art paper; the results are virtually indistinguishable from those that you'd get from a hand pulled silkscreen.
So here, I have an image of London's Telecom Tower. This is the finished version and we're going to see how starting with the photograph we can reduce the number of colors and really focus in on what's important about this image, and I'm going to use it deliberately analogous color palettes, so we get a very cool and rather austere look to the whole thing, which I think suits the mood of this building. So, this is our starting point. I just pointed my camera at this guy and this is what I got.
Unfortunately, there is some scaffolding on the building, we can't really do much about that, but I've made a layer mask, which is right here. It's currently disabled. I'm going to hold down my Shift key and click on it to enable that layer mask. Step number one is to using our Selection tools to isolate the building itself and mask out any distracting details. I'm now going to add a layer beneath that. I'm going to hold down Command or Ctrl and create a New layer and then using my eyedropper tool I'm now going to sample a color suggested from the building itself, and then I'm going to fill my background layer with that color, Option or Alt and Backspace/Delete key.
Now that we have that background color in place, I'm temporarily going to turn it off and I'm going to return to what's currently called Layer 0, and then apply a Threshold adjustment layer to that. Now, the Threshold adjustment layer is going to convert your image to all black or all white pixels with the Threshold by default being set at 128 half of 256. I'm going to need to do this at least twice.
If I move my slider to the left I'm going to introduce more white pixels, moving into the right, I'm going to introduce more black pixels. I will then isolate the results of one threshold adjustments and fill them with a specific color, and then I'll do the same for the other threshold adjustments. So, for this first one I'm going to swing things over to the left, so that we introduce more white pixels. And now what I want to do is copy all of my layers to a new layer and to do that I'm going to use the keyboard shortcut, Command+Option+Shift+E or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E, and it will actually put those black-and-white pixels on a new layer.
Now what I'm going to do here is isolate the black from the white. I want to be left with just the black, and it's the black pixels that I would be filling with a color. So, I'm going to choose my Magic Wand tool, press W. And I can't think of any other time when you might want to do this, but you do want to do this now. Turn off Anti-alias, because we don't want to introduce any furriness to our pixels here, we want them to be sharp and choppy and jaggy.
Most of the time that's not the case, but it is the case here. I also want to turn off Contiguous, and I'm going to reduce the Tolerance all the way down to 2. So, I'm now going to click on a white pixel and all the white pixels on this layer will be selected, and them I'm going to press my Delete key. And when I press my Delete key, what I expect to see is transparency and I'm not seeing it, and that's because I have these two layers beneath still visible. So, I need to turn those off, and we now see -- and I'm going to deselect my selection Command+D or Ctrl+D. That all I have left are those black pixels.
I'm now going to build myself a color palette and I'm going to build myself a color palette suggested by this one color. I'm going to come to my Window menu and my extensions and to Kuler, and I'm going to make my foreground color, my base color and then I want a color palette that is Analogous, or let's try Monochromatic, maybe. I think Monochromatic is in going to work better. So I'm going to add this color theme to my Swatches and then open my Swatches, and I'm now going to use one of those colors to apply it to the black pixels that are left on this layer.
And I'm going to try that first color in the color theme, and because I want to fill all the pixels of the layer with the color, I'm holding down the Option or the Alt key. I'm pressing my Backspace/Delete key. If I do that though, it's going to fill the whole layer, so I also need to add in the Shift key. Option+Shift and Backspace/ Delete or Alt+Shift+Backspace/Delete. So let's see how we're doing. I've got now my one layer and that sits on top of my background.
I need to repeat this, but this time when I extract the threshold, I'm going to move not to the left, but to the right. So, I'm going to turn that layer off, and I'm going to turn my original image layer back on, turn off my background layer. I can turn on my Threshold adjustments, and I'll need to go to my Adjustments panel and this time I'm going to swing it over to about there.
Back to the Layers panel, and I'm going to do as I did before, I'm going to merge my layers into one, but merge them into a new layer. So, Command+Option+Shift+E, Ctrl+Alt+ Shift+E. Turn these two layers off. And now I'll need to delete the white pixels, so I'm going to click on any white pixel there. Since I have Contiguous unchecked, it will select all the white pixels.
I will delete those, so we now see transparency where they once were. I'm now going to choose another color from my color theme. I'm going to go with that one I think. There is a lot of trail-and-error involved here, so I may not get that right first time. And then, same keyboard shortcut to fill my layer with my new foreground color, Option+Shift or Alt+Shift and the Backspace/Delete key. So let's see what we have now. We've got that, and that, and that sits on top of the background layer, and I think we're getting closer to our effect.
I might want to do this one more time, just so that we can fill in these areas here that are currently showing through in the background color, or maybe not, perhaps I want to challenge myself and only work with three inks, in which case I'm going to stop right here. Applying this technique successfully requires a good deal of flexibility and a lot of subjectivity. Just how reductive you can be and still have the image be readable and how easy it is to do this is going to depend upon the original image that you start with.
Well defined, easily isolated subjects are a lot easier to work with, so be sure you choose your battles wisely.
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