Creating Metal & Lighting Theory by dperceful (

By:Adam Thur
Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Creating Metal and Lighting Theory

Application: Photoshop CS

Should work with any version that has the dodge and burn tools

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

In this tutorial I will discuss and show you my process for creating metal. My process is by no means the best one....just the one I prefer and provides me with a unique look. If you look on the Net for how to create metal you will run into hundreds of tutorials about how to create brushed metal, a look that I don't really doesn't really look like metal to me. That is how my process came about, a real lack of true metal tutorials. In this tutorial you will be getting a bonus feature, lighting theory. Basically, I'm going to show you how to fake a 3D look within Photoshop using nothing but lighting. Lighting is what will give your pieces depth, remember....Photoshop is a 2D create a 3D look it has to be faked.....or as I tell my just have to experiment.

Let's start.

My model is Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman herself. I'm going to create a tiara for Lynda and further stereotype her as the Amazon Goddess (I'm sure her agent will be pleased).

First off I create a new layer above the base image. In the new layer (I'll refer to it as tiara from now on) I create a template for the tiara and fill it with some grey. I used the pen tool, you create your template the way that is best for you. If you unfamiliar with the pen tool do a search on Google for pen tool tutorials for Photoshop (I recommend Good Tutorials). Notice I left a little bit extra on the sides of the tiara, this is important in creating a 3D effect down the road.

Click for larger image

I will now select the Dodge tool with a 2 pixel soft edge brush. I set the range to Highlights and the Exposure to 50ish. I then commence to stroke an up and down slightly curved pattern chaotically on the tiara. Much like kindergarten....I go outside the lines....this is important you want the highlights to not stop suddenly. The only part I took some slow time (and by that I mean a few extra seconds) was the peak. Notice that I have been very deliberate to make sure the piece has a ridge to it. Being the centerpiece of the tiara I imagine that the front part has been hammered with at peak....hence the careful dodging. This concentrated dodge line makes an obvious high point to the piece.

Now I do the exact same thing with the Burn tool. However, I do change a few things within it's tool properties. I pick a slightly larger soft brush (4 pixels) and I change the Range to Midtones with a 60 to 70ish setting. Why do I change this? If I left the Range setting on Highlights I would basically just darken the highlights I just made with the Dodge tool, I don't want to do that.

Click for larger image

With that done I just go back with the Dodge and Burn tools and just do some touch up in spots. I might give the peak a little bright spot at the top, slightly pop a few more highlights, darken a shadow just a get the idea.

Click for larger image

Notice my tiara is starting to get some color. I don't want that yet. By pressing Shift+Ctrl+U I can desaturate the tiara to a flat grey color. I want to do this because the coloring process we will be using works better off of a grey base. I also want to lock the transparent pixels of the tiara layer. I will be using Gaussian Blur on the layer....if I do that without the transparent pixels being locked the blur will cause the tiara to lose it's solid structure. Once the transparent pixels are locked and I run the Gaussian Blur filter the only thing that gets blurred is any non-transparent pixels...non-transparent pixels are my tiara....because I can see them. Make sense? Anyway with your tiara layer active you lock the transparent pixels by clicking on the checkerbox, a lock will appear on your layer indicating that the lock has been turned on. With that done I just run the tiara thru the Gaussian Blur filter....using a very low setting like 1 percent...I just want to soften the highlights and shadows, not blend them.

Click for larger image Click for larger image

Now to get the color I want. Time to use Color Balance. Color Balance? Why not use the Hue/Saturation sliders? Hue/Saturation is not a good coloring method for what we are going to be doing to the tiara. Color Balance allows you to change the colors of the Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows......Hue/Saturation does not. By pressing Ctrl+B (Image>Adjustments>Color Balance) you can get to the Color Balance sliders. By checking the radio button of the shades you wish to effect you can change the colors of them individually. Here is an example of the Highlights portion of my tiara. Please note, I messed around to get the eventual result. You don't want to just slam the sliders to Yellow on each are mixing colors to get a more realistic gold. There is some magenta, some cyan, some's all about experimenting.

Here are my results after the Color Balance.

Click for larger image

Now we are going to give the tiara some raised edges. Fairly simple process, it is also the same process I use to create wrinkles on a costume. Select the Dodge Tool, 1 pixel hard edge brush, Highlights, 100%. Zoom in tight and stroke the top of the tiara, making a bright solid line on top of the tiara.

Click for larger image

Now do the same thing with the Burn Tool, with some minor exceptions, burn just below the dodged line. You are going to use the Burn Tool, 1 pixel hard brush, Highlights, 50 to 60ish percentage.

Click for larger image

Next do another dodge line at the bottom of the tiara, but do not do the burn line...for me it doesn't look right on this piece. That is not to say that you won't add a burn line, it really depends on what looks the best in your eyes. You will also notice I have added a subtle shadow below the tiara. Not too hard to create, just create a layer beneath the tiara layer. Next use a soft edge brush and with some black just stroke a matching shadow. If you find your shadow to be too solid just drop the opacity and maybe give it a little more blur.

Click for larger image

Now for the lighting theory portion of the tutorial. I make a copy of my original tiara layer and set it to Multiply. The Multiply part is optional, I just find that it creates a richer metal. I need to give the appearance that the tiara wraps around Lynda head, and the best way to do that is to use the Burn tool to create some shadows. I stated earlier that Photoshop is a 2D application, so I can't just create a 3D tiara and bring it into Photoshop, once brought in the 3D tiara become 2D. I could create a virtual Lynda Carter and tiara in Maya or 3DMAX, but that's a whole separate tutorial....and not one I'm capable of writing. So we have to give the 2d tiara the effect of wrapping around her head....and the Burn Tool will allow us to do that by creating shadows on the metal. With the Burn Tool selected, grab a larger sized soft edge brush, Range to Highlights, and set the Exposure to 40 or 50ish percent. The reason you want to set it lower is to gradually work the shading into the tiara. With the proper shading you now have created a wrapping effect to the tiara.

Click for larger image

Well that covers it for the tiara. But Wonder Woman needs a bracelet, and we are going to use an entirely different, but similar method to create the bracelet.

Create a new layer. Using your selection tool of choice create a bracelet shape and fill it with grey. Using the Dodge Tool, a large soft edge brush, Range: Highlights, Exposure: 40 to 50ish. Following the original lighting on the arm I stroke a highlight on the bracelet. I then do the same thing with the Burn Tool, a large soft edge brush, Range: Midtones, Exposure: 40 to 50ish. I just burn some shadows on the edges of the bracelet and create a subtle rounding effect to the bracelet.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image

I create some raised edges using the same method as I did with the tiara, using the ever popular Dodge and Burn tools.

Click for larger image

I color the bracelet the same way I did the tiara, with Color Balance.

Click for larger image

And now here are the final results. Notice the star...same tools, dodge and burn....really valuable to a manipper.

Click for larger image

This metal tutorial can be applied to any model to create any metallic effect. You will also notice on this Colossus model that the effect gives a nice musculature effect. Using other coloring schemes and the burn tool you could create exposed muscle fibers. will learn so much more by just experimenting and having fun.

Click for larger image

That's it. If you have questions, comments, or need help with a manip feel free to email me at

Thanks for taking time out of your day to go through this tutorial. Please take time to look or try out all of the lessons in the Art School to increase your artistic horizons.