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Warhol-Style Pop-Art Effect with Photoshop Elements

PopArt B&A

In this tutorial we’ll use Photoshop Elements to create an effect similar to Andy Warhol’s iconic pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor et al. We’ll use layers and blend modes to build up the effect, making it easy to correct mistakes or change the look at a later stage.


1. The first thing we need to do is cut our subject away from the background. Select the Lasso tool from the toolbox. Choose a starting point with the mouse and click to start the selection. Keeping the button held, draw around the subject. The outline doesn’t need to be too precise, as long as it follows the face and hair; in the originals, Warhol used a scalpel to cut out the photo. Once you reach the starting point again, release the mouse to create the selection.


2. Now we’ll create a copy of the selected area onto a new layer. To do this go to the Layer menu and select New > Layer via copy. You’ll see a new thumbnail appear in the Layers panel containing the area you selected. Layers are like pieces of celluloid film, you can build up an image by stacking layers on top of one-another; they can be edited and moved around independently without permanently affecting the rest of the picture.


3. Before we start on the effect, we’ll turn the original background layer off, as it can be distracting. Click the Eyeball icon next to its thumbnail; we’re now left with just the cutout layer showing. Make sure the cutout layer is still selected by clicking its thumbnail in the layers panel – it will be highlighted.


4. We need to remove the detail of the face for the effect to work properly. Go to the Filter menu and Select Adjustments > Threshold. This filter looks at the tones of an image; anything lighter than mid-gray is made white, anything darker than mid-grey is made black. The initial effect is too strong and has too much black; we need to balance it out. Click the slider and start to drag it to the left. You’ll see the black areas begin to disappear to be replaced by white. A value of around 80 works well here.


5. Now we can start to add some colour to the image. First we’ll bring back the selection area of the cutout. Press and hold the Ctrl key on the keyboard, now click the mouse on the cutout layer’s thumbnail. The ‘marching ants’ outline will appear around the edge of the image.


6. Go to Layer > New > Layer. A dialog box will appear. It’s always useful to name the layers: this one will be for our skin colour so we’ll call it Skin. We won’t worry about the other settings for now. Click OK to create the layer. It’s appeared in the Layers panel but we won’t see any change as yet.


7. Go to The Edit menu and select Fill Selection. The default contents will be the foreground colour but we need a custom colour. Click on the Use menu and select Color. The colour palette will appear. Skin tones are found somewhere between red and orange so drag the arrows down on the Hue bar, then pick a suitable shade from the main window. Click OK to set the colour, and then click OK in the Fill dialog to fill the selection.


8. We’ve filled the layer with our colour but there’s a bit of a problem, we can’t see anything else! This is because the colour layer is on top of the original. We can fix this by changing the layer’s Blend Mode. These change the way the contents of a layer interact with the layer below. To change the mode, click the Blend Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel (it will be Normal to begin with) In this case we’ll use Multiply. This mode only affects areas that are lighter than the current layer and as the layer below is black and white, the black areas are ignored so the colour only applies to the white areas.


9. The next step is to add the detail colours. We could do this on the skin layer but it would be difficult to correct any mistakes so we’ll do this on a new layer above. Create a new layer as before, this time name it Details. Again, we want the colours to show through to the original so we can set the blend mode in the dialog box before we create it. Set the Mode to Multiply and click OK.


10. Grab the Brush tool from the Toolbox. Right-click the mouse anywhere on the image to open the brush picker. We want the detail to have a hard edge so select the Hard Round 19 pixels preset.


11. We’ll be starting with the hair, so we need to choose a suitable colour. Click the forground colour chip in the Toolbox. The colour palette will appear. Choose a vibrant yellow and click OK.


12. Start to paint over the area of the hair. Because we set the blend mode to Multiply, the new colour is only covering the skin tone, leaving the black detail intact. You’ll notice the yellow appears slightly different to the actual colour you chose, this is because it’s mixing with the skin tone as well. Don’t worry about going over the edges; the selection prevents anything spilling out. Continue painting; again, don’t worry about being too accurate around the hairline, Warhol’s original is in block colour and has a very hard edge. If you need to make the brush tip larger you can press the right square bracket on the keyboard (next to the P key).


13. Once the hair is finished we can add the other details. Go back and click the foreground colour chip, this time select a deep red, this will be for the lips. Reduce the size of the brush using the left square bracket key. Now paint over the top of the lips. You can go over the outline slightly to define them more. Switch to a light blue and paint in the eye-shadow. You can also dab the blue on her eyes.


14. In the Warhol original, the white areas (teeth and eyeballs) were left in skin tone. If we want to add the white in on the image, we’ll need to do it a little differently. Painting with white will have no effect on this layer, as it’s set to Multiply. Instead, click on the skin layer’s thumbnail to make it the active layer. Now select the Eraser tool. Using a small brush tip, erase the areas that you want to be white. Basically, what we are doing is letting the original black and white layer show through.


15. We’re almost done. All that remains is to create a new backdrop for the image. We’ll need to remove the selection first, so go to the Select menu and choose Deselect. Click the mouse on the background layer’s thumbnail. Now create a new layer, either from the Layer menu as before, or by clicking the New Layer icon in the Layers panel. A new layer thumbnail will appear beneath the rest.


16. Go to Edit > Fill Layer. The Contents will still show Color but we have to click it again to open the colour palette. We’ll choose a colour for the background, a blue/green will work well. Click OK to set the colour and then click OK again to fill the layer. And that’s the effect completed.

About David Asch (32 Articles)
David Asch is an accomplished author, artist and designer based in Brighton, UK. To date he has written two books on Adobe Photoshop Elements for Focal Press: Focus on Photoshop Elements and How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements, now in its 7th edition. He also co-wrote Digital Photo Doctor for Ilex Press and have had work featured in many UK magazines. As well as books on digital imaging, he is also the author of Creative Web Design with Adobe Muse, again for Focal Press. David also designs websites and the occasional logo. When he's not doing this, he likes to roam with a camera, capturing the sights. Some of these are posted to his photography gallery, others may make a guest appearance in his photomontage gallery.

12 Comments on Warhol-Style Pop-Art Effect with Photoshop Elements

  1. I love this tutorial, but unable to create the color backdrop in the last 2 frames. I went over the steps several times very carefully, but still unable to achieve the solid color background. I deselect and create a new layer. But when I create a new background color, it does not make the change when I enter OK. Nothing happens. Can you tell me what is the problem? Should I be in the multiply or normal menu with 100% opacity? I tried yesterday and again today, but no luck.

  2. Hi Linda.

    When you fill the layer, does it show as filled in the layer’s thumbnail or does that remain as the checkerboard as well?

    The blend mode should be Normal with 100% opacity. The only reason I can think for the background not being filled is that the Preserve Transparency box is checked; technically, a new layer is completely transparent, so nothing would happen if that box was checked.

    You can try a workaround: Create a Color Fill adjustment layer just above the background layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color). Choose the colour you want to use from the palette. This will have the same effect as using a layer and filling it.

  3. chazchaz69 // 03/12/2012 at 12:05 pm //

    Searched and Searched and this is the best tutorial on the pop art effect. Great job.

  4. Thanks! This is great and a lot of fun. I notice I need good strong nose shadows since my noses seem to disappear.

  5. At last an article that works ! so many are fiddlier leave out certain steps or arent elements orientated a great find David !!

  6. princess dina // 02/03/2013 at 9:46 am //

    okay cool picture

  7. Bobby // 20/05/2015 at 1:33 am //

    I agree with the earlier posted comment — this is the best site I have found to
    learn the techniques of “pop art”

  8. There needs to be a tutorial for an updated version of photoshop..

  9. Awesome tutorials,Thanks:)

  10. Nivya // 18/01/2018 at 8:02 pm //

    This tip is a 5 star

  11. roger james conneff // 25/04/2020 at 6:58 pm //


    Just wanted to say thank you, this is brilliant!

    Many thanks

  12. That is such a good tutorial!! Thank you so so much wow!

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