A Beautiful Abstract in Two Clicks

By John McWade
Before & After Magazine

Dateline: February 12, 2004
Volume 1, Number 5

In the old days, posters were made by hand and generally silkscreened onto paper or board. To do this efficiently meant that an image could have only a few flat colors, not the unlimited gradients of a photograph. This limitation resulted in a lot of innovative artwork—bold images that were often stylized or abstract, and visually arresting. Photoshop’s Posterize feature is designed to mimic the flat colors of the silkscreened poster. It does this by reducing a photograph’s many gradients to just a few. The key to an excellent result, however, is to first apply a Gaussian Blur, then Posterize the blurred image. Like this:

Make Modern Art
Any image blurred sufficiently and then posterized makes a totally abstract background instantly. The blurrier, the more abstract.

Erase Imperfections
Good photos sometimes have bad spots. Here, high-contrast stripes are ideal for posterizing, but the cables are unsightly. Posterized, they simply disappear.

Whip Up a Refreshing Invitation
You may have seen this this photo in issue 32 of Before & After at work on a business card. But one image can live many lives; look how easily it can be disguised as a handsome invitation for your next backyard barbeque.

Add Color
Eyedropper directly from the poster for perfectly coordinated colors. Here, analogous colors (side by side on the color wheel) make very little contrast with the glass, so feel soft and mellow, and leave the high-contrast cherry as the accent point.

Set a Mood
Photoshop can see things we can’t, which makes every outcome a surprise. Reduced to three steps (above), the barely-there gradient of the original sky acquired a single sharp edge that feels deliberately artistic. Deep indigos and violets set a compelling night mood.

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This article is excerpted from Before & After, How to design cool stuff, Issue 33. Copyright ©2004, Before & After magazine, all rights reserved. Design more cool stuff! Visit Before & After magazine online at http://www.bamagazine.com/ to buy the current issue, subscribe, or order back issues, including the one containing this article. Get a free bonus issue when you subscribe in the Graphics.com Member Area.