Tutorial: Achieve vintage-look collage techniques with Photoshop

Handy tricks to give your images a vintage look.

Here, illustrator Ciara Phelan shows you how to hone your cut-out skills to prepare images for collaging. You’ll also learn some handy tricks to give your images a vintage look.

You will learn how to adjust the contrast and colour levels as well as shifting the channels to create a litho printed effect – a very useful technique to learn as it can be applied to imagery you have sourced yourself, making it appear to be from a 1950s journal.

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This gives you flexibility with the images you can use, saving you hours of trawling through old magazines and encyclopedias. This tutorial focuses on transforming the photograph of the stag in the above example, but these techniques have been used on all elements in this artwork.

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Step 1

Open the image of the stag in Photoshop. As the stag will be used in a collage you need to isolate it from its surroundings – select the Pen tool, and on the toolbar along the top select Paths. Zoom into the image and use the Pen tool to draw a path around the stag.

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Step 2

Once you have created a cutout path select Window > Paths. In the dropdown menu of the path dialog box, click Make Selection. In the box that appears, change the feather radius to 0 and tick New Selection; click OK to create a marquee selection around the image.

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Step 3

Now that just the stag is selected, copy and paste it into a new A4 CMYK document, with the resolution set to 300dpi. (Edit > Copy, then File > New, then Edit > Paste, or Cmd/Ctrl + C, Cmd/Ctrl + N, Cmd/Ctrl + V).

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Step 4

Vintage imagery tends to have a higher contrast than digital. To create this effect click Image > Adjustments > Curves. Change the curve line from straight to a slight S. This brings out the white and makes the shadows darker. To add more contrast you can also adjust the levels to bring out the black and whites. Select Image > Adjustments > Levels. Slide the arrows inwards to add more contrast.

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Step 5

Adding this amount of contrast has increased the cyan levels, which makes the image appear unnaturally blue. To adjust this, select to Image > Adjustments > Curves. Select Cyan in the Channel dropdown menu and decrease the cyan levels.

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Step 6

The image still has a strong cyan tint. To adjust this further go to Image > Adjustments > Selective Color. Select Neutral in the Colors dropdown menu and decrease the cyan percentage. In general, vintage imagery has a yellow tint due to age so use the Selective Color tool to add some yellow to the neutrals and take some cyan and magenta out of the whites.

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Step 7

The litho printing process layers up CMYK ink using plates. In vintage photographs it is common for these to misalign. To create this effect select Window > Channels then select a channel to misalign. Now go to Select > Select All, Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Using the arrow keys nudge the magenta layer so it’s slightly misaligned. Deselect the channel, Select > Deselect, and in the channels dialogue box click CMYK to view the full image.

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Step 8

The colours in the image are now quite bright but in vintage imagery everything is slightly faded and less vivid. To correct this you need to desaturate the image. Click Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and decrease the saturation levels.