Comic Effect

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How about doing a really fun retro comic book effect for your favorite photographs? 

It's fun to do and it will amaze your friends and family.

The technique is not particularly difficult using a few different Photoshop techniques and the result is surprisingly effective!

The look of a page is quite a bit different from what you would normally do in Photoshop.  The images of a retro comic page can be grainy with visible half tone values.

The paper is generally off white and the text is contained in text boxes, speech balloons and thought balloons.

The first thing to do is find a suitable photograph to work with - this one should do nicely ....

comic original

This one came from Stock Exchange.

The Technique

comic levelsThe first thing to do is increase the overall contrast of the picture with a Levels adjustment.  

Create a new Levels Adjustment layer and pull the Shadow and Highlight sliders in toward the centre slider.

A Input setting of 60 for the Shadows (left slider) and 220 for the Highlights (right slider) should do nicely.  Leave the middle slider alone unless you feel an urgent need to move it somewhere.

After completing the adjustment, flatten the image (Layer > Flatten Image).

This is how the photograph looks after this adjustment ....

comic after levels adjustment

Do you remember comic book paper?  Lower quality, it was, and the next step is to simulate the appearance of that paper.

Select Filters > Artistic > Film Grain and mess about with the settings.  On this picture I used these settings ...

  • Grain  - 6
  • Highlight - 5
  • Intensity - 10
To get this result ...

comic film grain

It's coming along nicely, isn't it?

OK - the next step is to add a Halftone effect - you know - those little dots that are seen in comic books.

comic halftone filterFirst duplicate the Background layer and on the top layer select Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone.  

 Leave the Screen Angles at their default settings and set the Max. Radius to 4.

Now change the Blend Mode of the top layer to Darken and here's how our picture is looking now ...

comic halftone filter

If you're working on a face then you may find that the skin tone is far too red and needs some adjustment.

This is where Hue/Saturation comes in kinda handy ...

Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer and drop down menu at the top (it says Master) and select Reds.

Now lower the Saturation slider (move it to the left) until that nasty red cast is removed.

Not bad and we could stop right here and be satisfied with the result - but why the heck would we do that?

Building The Comic Page

A comic page generally has interesting text and speech bubbles and cool text boxes.  

What we have so far is good but it needs some comic book embellishments to spruce up the page.

The first thing that this one needed was a bit of cropping before the next step.


This will be done with a Layer Style.  Make sure the top layer is selected (Halftone Color layer) and then double click on the right side of the layer to open the Layer Style Palette.

At the bottom is the Stroke - check that then highlight the word "Stroke".

The settings will vary depending on the size of your image.  These are the settings for my comic page ...

  • Size - 35 pixels
  • Position - Inside
  • Fill Type - color
  • Color - #E3D3C0

comic stroke

Headline Text Box

So now we have the photo turned into a comic picture and a background paper has been added. Now its time to add some text.  The first one is a Headline Text Box that will set the scene for the page.

This is how to do it ...

Add a new layer and create a rectangular selection like this ...

comic rectangular selection

Now - either paint the selection an orange color or create an orange foreground to background gradient and draw it in the selection - I chose the gradient.

comic gradient

comic dialogue

The next step is to add a stroke to the gradient.

Go to Edit > Stroke to bring up this dialogue box.

My image is large so I chose a stroke of 10 pixels but yours may be different.

Set the color to black and set the location to Inside.

comic text box

Description Text Box

This text box is at the bottom of the page and provides a description of the action.

comic text boxesAdd a new layer and then drag out a selection that is slightly larger than the original one you added at the top of the page.

Fill this one with white and add a stroke in the same way you did earlier.

Now you've got two text frames that will be filled later.

Until then - create another layer and drag out a selection around the image on the inside of the paper - you can see the selection on the picture here.

Go to Edit > Stroke and choose a size for the outline.  Set the color to black and the Location to Inside and hit OK and the deselect the selection.

This will give you a nice black frame around the picture.

To make the frame somewhat distressed we're going to add some filters ...

  1. Filter > Blur > Blur More
  2. Filter > Distort > Ripple (amount around 20%,  size Medium)
  3. Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen More

Here's where we are at this point ...

comic frame

Adding Text

The text is the easy part to add - all you need are some comic fonts and they are readily available with a quick search.

The hardest part about adding text is deciding what to say!

You're going to create a layer for each text box, resize the text and drag it over the text frames you created earlier - it's that simple.

This is the end result ...

comic end result

The big drop capital was created on it's own layer, colored red and then resized a lot.   Because it was on it's own layer it was easy to move around with the Move tool.

I also added a Drop Shadow to each of the text layers which sets off the text quite nicely.

Speech And Thought Balloons

Perhaps you would like to add a text balloon or maybe even a thought balloon - nah - this picture begs for a text balloon.

You can also find text balloons and thought balloons for downloading (sometimes they're called speech balloons).  

However, if you want total control over your comic page then perhaps you would like to make your own from scratch - and here's how to do it ...

Speech Balloons

  1. Create a new layer on top of the stack.
  2. Grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool and draw an ellipse where you want the speech balloon to be located.
  3. Now grab the Polygonal Selection Tool, press the Shift key (this adds to the selection) and drag out a little arrow.
  4. Go to Edit > Stroke and when the dialogue comes up choose a size, select Center and click OK.
  5. Now deselect (Ctrl-D/Cmd-D) and there you have it.

comic speech balloon

If you want you can add some Layer Styles like Drop Shadow.

Thought Balloons

Comic oval selectionStart by creating an oval selection like this.

Now for the fun part ...

keep the oval selection tool active, press the Shift key and start adding to the selection by drawing small selections at the edges - this gives the oval selection a slightly scalloped appearance.

This is how the thought balloon will look.

The next step is to make smaller thought balloons from one of the eges working toward the character.  Each of the smaller thought balloons should be scalloped as well.

It is easier to make each small thought balloon if you do it on a separate layer and then Merge Down when you are done.

Here is a finished thought balloon ...

comic thought balloon

Here's our picture with a speech balloon ...

comic final page

Page Links

The Technique

Building The Page

Speech/Thought Balloons

  1. Speech Balloon
  2. Thought Balloon

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