Tuesday Tutorial: Marty & Minnie Postcard

This is a demonstration of the vintage-postcard effect I make using photographs, using Photoshop.

This is the photograph, of our fine pups Marty & Minnie, taken near our home. As you can see, they’re back lit, and rather dark — especially Minnie, who’s black to begin with.

The first thing I did was copy the photo as a new layer, so I could save the untouched photo should I need to refer to it. To the new copy of the photo I removed all the color, then played with the brightness and contrast in Curves to bring out what detail I could. I also used the Dodge tool quite a bit in the dogs’ black fur to bring up some texture. This is what I managed to get:

Some of the image seems pretty washed out. That’s good — since my next step is to add color back in, I want the image to have fewer gray tones to muddy the color up, especially in the sky, which I want to be pure color. But I do want some grayness, because we still want to see the photograph mixed in with the color. And the grays provide a lot of color subtlety you don’t want to add in yourself.

This is what I finally got for the color field. Notice that the colors are simple, especially in the backgrounds. We don’t want to faithfully reproduce all the color — we wouldn’t have taken it out if we did. We want to make a wash of simple colors that would have been easy to print back in the day. Whenever possible, keep the CYMK palette to as few colors as possible — a sky blue can be a simple percentage of cyan alone, or maybe some magenta or yellow added in, but don’t use more colors than you have to. This sky was a cyan-yellow mixture than blended down into just yellow near the horizon. Postcard makers were always doing blends for the skies, often into sunset colors like yellow or magenta, so go with that when you can — it’s one of the trademarks of a vintage postcard.

Keep in mind that I made the colors looking at the black-and-white photo layer shown above. It was set to Multiply on a layer above these color layers, so what I was seeing wasn’t this isolated color, but the color working with the photo. Oh, and the tree branches in the background were quickly selected by using Select Color Range on the original photo, then pasting the desired branch colors inside. I did them and the dogs on different backgrounds from the sky, so I could easily modify them separately.

Here’s the image with the altered photo married to the new simpler colors, and the type added in as well. After you’ve used the altered photo to create your colors, it’s a good idea to try turning down the opacity of it a little, and see if that makes the image a little brighter without losing the image quality. You can get away with more than you think you can. The photo opacity in the above shot is set at 80%.

For some projects, this might be the end of the job. However, if you really want to sell that vintage look, you now have to “antique” your image with some “distressing.”

Way back in June of 2007 I posted about adding this distressed look to old pulp-style cover art. In it I showed an old inside book cover that I scanned for its weathered, stained look. I’ve been using that scan ever since, for dozens of different projects, flipping it, distorting it, changing its brightness, tint and contrast, to make it work. Here’s that scan again, reshaped to fit the postcard. Once I have it in position, I’m going to select Multiply on the layer, then play with Opacity until I get the amount of weathering I want. I’ll also use Select Color Range on the white in the layer, and create another layer of just the white scratches and tears. (I might make those scratches a yellowy off-white.) That layer will remain Normal with a high opacity, nearly 100%, so it looks like the printing was scratched off.

And here’s the final product, with everything put together. There are other things you can do to push the vintage look even further if the piece is going to be in print, such as creating your own halftone patterns for the different color channels and even offsetting on color a little to look like old, imperfect, printing presses.

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