Retro Comic Effect

How about doing a really fun retro comic book effect on your favorite photographs of your favorite people with Photoshop Elements (all versions)? 

It's fun to do and you'll totally amaze your friends and family.

This is a somewhat long tutorial so be sure to save your work often as a Photoshop Format file (.psd).  This will save all of your layers so you can work on it over a couple of days if necessary.

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

The look of a page is quite a bit different from what you would normally do in Elements.  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 ....

retro comic original

The Technique

This is a straight forward three step technique ...

Step One

retro comic levels adjustment

The 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 around 60 for the Shadows (left slider) and around 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).

Here's the image after this initial adjustment ....

retro comic levles adjustment

Step Two

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 ...

retro comic film grain

This is coming along quite nicely, isn't it?

Step Three
retro comic halftone filter
The third step is to duplicate the Background layer, add a color half tone effect to the image and change the Blend Mode to Darken.

The recommended settings from the original tutorial I saw are ...

  • Max Radius - 4
  • Channel 1 - 108
  • Channel 2 - 162
  • Channel 3 - 90
  • Channel 4 - 45
Leave the 4 channels alone but you can mess about with the Max Radius.  The picture I am using is large and with the Max Radius set to 4 the halftone was too small.

With the Max Radius set to the default of 8 - the halftone was too large.

The best setting was a Max Radius of 6.  Play with this setting until satisfied.

This is how we're looking now ...

retro comic halftone

The addition of the Color Halftone has the potential to make a face too red.  If this is the case then a Hue and Saturation Layer will take care of the unwanted color.

Add a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer and move the Saturation Slider to the left until you're happy with the look.

I guess we could stop right here but there is more to do to build a retro comic book page.

Building The Page

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

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

The first thing that this one needed was a bit of cropping before the next step.  A full face is a good thing to aim for - or not - do whatever you wish.

retro comic cropped

Paper Border

The border will be added by increasing the Canvas size.

Go to Image > Size > Canvas Size ... which will bring up this panel.

retro comic canvas size

Put a check mark in the Relative box and then change the units to Pixels.  With the size of my image (500 pixels X 325 pixels) a 25 pixel border seems to work quite well.

The color should be kind of a an off color comic book page color - and this one a good choice - #E3D3C0.

At the bottom of the palette is the Canvas extension color selection.  Copy E3D3C0, click the little color swatch and paste the color into here ... retro comic canvas color

The color for the paper can be modified to your taste.

Now you've got a retro comic image and a canvas.  Here it is ...

retro comic with canvas

Not looking too bad, is it?

Adding Captions

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 ...

retro comic selection

retro comic stroke selection

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

The next step is to add a black stroke around the gradient - go to Edit > Stroke (Outline) Selection ...

My settings are a 2 pixel black line on the inside of the selection.

This is the top Headline box ...

retro comic gradient with stroke

Bottom Text Box

The bottom text box will be a bit larger than the top one. 

Create another new layer and drag out a selection (in my case on the bottom right corner).  Fill it with white and apply a stroke as in the Headline box.

Here's the retro comic page to this point ...

retro comic text boxes


Now we're going to add a border on the outside of the picture which is the inside of the paper layer.

Create a new layer and drag a rectangular selection on the outside of the picture (the inside of the paper layer).

Go to Edit > Stroke (Outline) Selection ... 

Select Black as the stroke color and set the width according to the size of your image - this may take a few tries until it meets with your approval.

The frame will need to be modified a bit because it's too sharp.

While still on the frame layer select ...

  1. Filters > Blur > Blur More ...
  2. Filter > Distort > Ripple (amount around 20%,  size Medium)
  3. Enhance > Adjust Sharpness (keep an eye on the Frame in the Preview)
(the last step is optional - try it to see if the you like the result).

retro comic modified frame

You can see the frame no longer has sharp edges - it's kind of distressed and in keeping with the rest of the page.

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.

The big letter "S" is on it's own layer, resized and a nice color added.  It was then dragged into position.  Of course - the first letter of "say cheese" was deleted.

The next thing is that each text layer had a drop shadow added.

This is the end result ...

retro comic end

Speech Bubbles

retro comic speech bubblesEvery retro comic page has both speech and thought bubbles - this ones no different.

Elements has some built in speech and thought bubbles and they are easy to use (no drawing of bubbles required).

Go to Window > Content and drop down the selector on the right and then select Graphics.

The Speech and Thought bubbles are close to the bottom. 

When you find one you like either double click on it or select it and click Apply.  The bubble will appear as a new layer over your retro comic.

It can be dragged around and re-shaped by clicking on the edges and giving it a good drag.  Click the little green arrow when you are done.  Now add a new text layer above the bubble and type in whatever strikes your fancy.

The bubble layer can also have some styles added.

Go to Layer > Layer Style > Style Settings ... and mess about with the different options (Drop shadows, Glows, Bevels and Strokes). 

I added a drop shadow, an inner glow an outer glow and a bevel to my thought bubble.

And - ta da - here is my final retro comic page ...

retro comic final

This is a long tutorial with lots of steps but the end result is worth it, don't you think.  And - it is just a lot of fun.

Imagine how your friends and family will react when you feature them in a retro comic!

Page Links

The Technique
Building The Page
Adding Captions

Enjoy This Site?
Then why not use the button below, to add us to your favorite bookmarking service?

Return to top

Site build It!

Use the Contact Form to ask questions, provide feedback or comments.

Questions are good - so are comments - or requests!

Return to Photoshop Elements from Retro Comic
Copyright© 2009-2011.