Creating Reflections

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You've seen those funky product reflections everywhere in advertising. They must be very effective because they're used a lot!

Here is how to make your own reflections with Photoshop ...  and this is the end result of this tutorial.

The technique works best on a single image like a bottle or a baseball or anything by itself with no distracting background. Once you get the hang of the technique then you can try more complicated images.

If you don't have a practise image sitting on your desktop waiting to be reflected then download a copy of the horse cut out ... this is the image of the front badge of a rare old Mustang that I cut out using the pen tool  (another page on my site).

These are two reflected images done by Lucy from Romania

reflections lucy reflections lucy

By itself this image doesn't look like much (unless you're admiring the amazing cut out job with the pen tool) but it looks much better with a nice reflection!reflection mustang

This is a 6 step process

  1. Remove the background from the image you want to reflect. This will test your selection skills.

  2. Moving the image to a new, larger file.

  3. Creating a background gradient.

  4. Making the reflective surface.

  5. Making a copy of the image, flipping it over and dragging it to a new location.

  6. Toning down the reflection.

 - so let's get started!

Step 1 - Preparing Your Image

In truth, preparing your image is probably the most difficult part of the technique!

This image was cut out of the front of the Mustang using the pen tool.  What you want is to have an image that has no background whatsoever, not even white, and that can be a bit of a challenge unless you are a master selector.

The selection options are:

  • Magic Wand - not very good.

  • Magnetic Lasso - better but still difficult.

  • Lasso - the same as the magnetic lasso.

  • Pen Tool - excellent method but it takes some time to master (There is an excellent tutorial about the Pen Tool on another page).

  • Channel Selections - another excellent method and there just happens to be a tutorial on this technique on my site as well.

  • Extract - somewhat of a challenge.

  • Quick Mask - another great selection technique and - there is a tutorial on it as well!

Once you have your image selected you are ready to begin - finally!

The first thing you want to know is the size of your image so you can create your background.  Go to Image > Image Size and make note of the numbers (choose pixel size).

Now create a new file with a white background and make it larger than the image you will be reflecting.  My original horse size was:

405 pixels by 151 pixels 

so I made the blank file: 

425 pixels by 375 pixels.

Step 2 - Combining The Files

So far you have an image that is all alone with no background, not even white, and you have a file that is larger than the image you are going to reflect.

Here's what to do ...

Take the Magic Wand (yes the Magic Wand) and click on the transparent part of your image file. This will put the marching ants all around your image.  Go to Select > Inverse to move the selection to the image.  Make sure that your feathering is low - Select > Feather ... > 0.5.

Grab the Move Tool and drag the image onto the new file you created.  Position the image near the top third of the file.  If you look at the layers palette you should have a Background layer that is white and the image layer you just dragged there.

Step 3 - Creating A Background Gradient

If you refer back to the image above you can see there is a gradient that gives the original image some life - some pizazz.

Normally I would suggest your take a couple of color from your image to make your gradient but th eimage I am working on has no real color so I had to be somewhat creative - so I chose purple as my primary color.

  1. Select the background layer and add a new layer between the background and the image layer.

  2. Choose your colors for the gradient.  You can use the eyedropper to select a couple of colors or use your imagination to decide on them.

  3. Open the Gradient Tool (it lives with the Paint Bucket) - keyboard shortcut G.  On the bar at the top of the screen select the Circular Gradient (the second from the left), drop down the selector to the left of it and select the foreground to background gradient.

  4. reflection options reflection select
    Select the circular gradient Select the foreground to
    background gradient

    (the top left)

  5. Activate the middle layer and draw a gradient from the middle of your image to one of the corners.  You may have to do it a few times to get it right.  

reflection gradient applied reflection gradient layers
Circular gradient applied The layers palette

The gradient certainly helps the horse image stand out, doesn't it?

Now for the next step ...

Step 4 - Making The Reflective Surface

The reflective surface is on a layer directly above the gradient layer and below the image layer.

  1. Make sure the Gradient Layer is active and create a new layer.

  2. With the Marquee Selection tool create a selection from part way up your image to the bottom of the layer.  This makes it appear as if your image is on the reflective surface.

  3. Make Black your foreground color, choose the Paint Bucket and pour black into your selection.

  4. You can add Feathering if you wish.  Some feathering on the reflective surface gives a soft edge and if you choose not to add feathering then your reflective surface will have a very hard edge.

reflective surface
reflective surface layers
Reflective Surface Reflective Surface Layers

That was easy, right?

Step 5 - Copy, Flip and Move the Image

Now we need an upside down copy of the image - the horse in my example.  This is accomplished by doing a Transform.

  1. Select the image layer and hit Ctrl-J or Cmd-J to make a new layer copy of the image layer.reflection transform

  2. Select the original image layer and press Ctrl-T or Cmd-T to create a Free Transform bounding box.

  3. Now go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical and click on the little checkmark at the top of the screen.  Your original image will now be upside down.

    reflection upside down

  4. Select the Move Tool at the top of the tool bar, press and hold the Shift key and drag the flipped image down into the reflective surface area.  Position it so that it looks like a reflection.

reflection moved reflection layers
The image flipped The layers palette

Almost there - just one more thing to do before you can sit back and admire your work!

Step 6 - Fine Tune The Reflection

The image looks kind of neat to this point, don't you think?

The last step is to tone down the reflection so that it looks realistic.  Here's how to do that ...

  1. Select the flipped image layer (the Horse layer in this example) and add a layer mask by either clicking the add layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette or Layers > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All.

  2. Set the default colors by pressing the D key and set black as the foreground color.

  3. Select the Gradient tool again and this time make it a linear gradient.

  4. Open the Gradient editor and select the Foreground to Background gradient.

    reflection linear gradient

  5. Now drag the gradient on the flipped image layer (the Horse layer in this example).  Start abut one-quarter of the way up from the bottom and go up into the image.  Press and hold the Shift key while you are dragging to force the gradient to go straight up at 90 degrees.

    reflection layers

  6. Sit back and check out the results - if you are not happy the Ctrl-Z or Cmd-Z and do it again from a different starting point.

  7. When you like the results you are done!  Flatten the image and save your fabulous reflection!
reflection with Photoshop


At this point you can either keep the nice crisp, sharp reflection or further modify it to simulate a real world surface - like water for instance.

If you decide to add some distortion to the reflection simply select it and then try out the various filters.  You will find something you like.


Reflection Video

Page Links

Step 1 - Preparation

Step 2 - Combining Files

Step 3 - Background Gradient

Step 4 - The Reflective Surface

Step 5 - Copy, Flip and Move

Step 6 - Fine Tuning



Sample Reflections

reflection banana
Reflected Banana

reflection badge
Porsche Badge

Lucy small
Lucy Reflection

reflection pumpkin
For Halloween

reflection camera
Camera Reflection

reflection Libby
My puppy Libby
This reflection is on
a white background

reflections lucy self
Lucy Again

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