Design, Illustration

Combine 3D Shapes and Vectors for a Dynamic Composition

The ability for a designer to be multidisciplinary is one of the most important abilities that a designer can develop as a part of his or her skill repertoire.  Whether it’s today, or a few months down the road, most designers will encounter a situation where they must be able to work with 3D, vector graphics and raster graphics seamlessly, in order to achieve a desired result.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn an essential workflow for dealing with multiple styles of graphics, and you’ll also learn how to combine them to create a visually polished and dynamic composition.  Using custom shapes, brushes, stock images and Photoshop tools, this tutorial will supercharge your skill set.

Let us know what you think in the comments, feel free to link to your results, or if there’s a tutorial you’d like to see, let us know!

Tools used:

  • Photoshop
  • Photo Stocks
  • Illustrator/Photoshop pen tool (not required)

Final Image Preview:

Step 1: Stock selection

Okay to start off we need a stock image to build on. I choose a dancer stock off of shutter stock, they are in abundance all over the net and should be pretty easy to find. However you can use any stock that you like for this, I have seen many pieces done in this style that just used a posed stock or some random action shot like someone running or jumping; in the end, it just really depends on if you like what you find and if it’s of a somewhat decent size.

My stock image looks like the below screen shot, I sized it down to 2500*3600.

Stock selection tips:

  • Choose a stock you actually like, don’t settle because you haven’t found a large one yet.
  • Choose a stock that is of decent size, you don’t want to use a stock that’s only 800*600.
  • If you get a stock that you need to isolate take your time! Don’t rush through this it will define how your final product looks.
  • Experiment; don’t assume that since I used a dance stock you have to as well.

Step 2: Glowing Lines

Now we will start adding some nice lighting effects. Now there is a few ways to start go about doing this, for example you can use the pen tool, the shear tool or the brush tool. I will be using the brush tool to just draw the lines in. However if you’re having difficulties drawing your lines you can look at one of my tutorials on making brushes using the shear filter located at :

So to start off create a new layer (“CTRL SHIFT N”) and then grab your brush tool (“B”); I would suggesting using a small and hard brush. Once you have your brush tool enabled select the 3px hard brush, if you are struggling you can change the size back up to something around 5, however you’re going to want your lines as thin as possible.

Next just start sketching! Your color choices really don’t matter at this point since we will change it with our layer styles later on in the tutorial.  To help out visually I will be using blue so you can see where I have sketched easily but white, yellow, green, blue, pink etc… will work fine for this.

Once you have your brush and started sketching it important to follow the contours of what you’re sketching around, for example I started with the torso and just sketched in the folds of her jacket as well as outlining the jacket.

Now I just continued sketching, this time focusing on her shoe. I sketched over the stitching at the toe of her shoe to add a little bit more details to them.

Once you feel like you have a good bit accomplished you can set up your layer styles. To open your layer style dialog box you need to click the ‘F’ icon located on the layer toolbar. Once this comes up just set your layer style up similar to mine in the following screenshots, however if you want you can replace blue for whatever color you want to use.

So now that my layer styles have been applied my image looks like the below screenshots now and yours should look similar in comparison.

Now just keep adding in more lines! I created a new layer and sketched on some more to her torso to start off. I kept the layer styles exactly the same I just changed the color from blue to pink. I then added in some more random lines to kind of spice up the rest of the image, specifically her hood and again on her torso. You can add the lines in wherever you see fit, just be careful not to clump them all together in one location.

Step 3: Glow Effects Continued

You could stop adding in lighting effects here if you wanted to but I want to add something more, specifically a glowing floor; a glowing floor tile to be more specific. So create yet again another new layer and set your brush up as mine is in the below screenshot.

Now just draw a square! You could use the polygon lasso tool, shape tool or pen tool, I just feel more comfortable with my tablet. Once you have drawn your square go ahead and give it a slight Gaussian blur, I went with one with a pixel radius of about 5, but anything from 4-11 should do fine for this. Next you will want to set the layer up as a soft light at 100% and then duplicate it and set it as an overlay layer.

Next duplicate the layer once again and set it to screen, keep the opacity around 50-75% for this. Then once you have duplicated it go ahead and apply another Gaussian blur, something around a 15 pixel radius should work well.

Once that’s done create a new layer and grab your 3px hard brush again. Now just sketch along the outside of your colored square to create a frame around it. I used white for this but you can substitute it for any color you would rather use.

Step 4: Vector Shapes, Part 1

In this section we will be using two kinds of vector shapes, 3D and 2D; in part one we will discuss the 3D vectors.  If you don’t have illustrator don’t worry. You can find vector packs and resources all over the net, specifically Deviant art and  Both offer tons of free vector packs and no registration is required to download them. If you don’t like the idea of using the vector packs you have a few more options you can choose from:

  1. Use your pen tool in Photoshop! While it will not produce true vector formats the look and shapes will be identical
  2. Paint them! If you have a wacom or are good with a mouse you can easily just draw these up!
  3. Use 3DS or C4D! With the right material you can turn a basic shape into something that looks vector made really fairly easily.

Now we won’t be getting into the creation of these shapes (that will be another tutorial!) I will show you mine before we start.

All of mine are fairly simple shapes, X or +, O’s and a few cubes. Once you have yours ready or you have found some you would like to use we can start placing them into our piece!

Since I did not isolate my stock image I will be dropping the vectors in and erasing out the pieces I didn’t want in the final image. If you have isolated your stock you won’t have to do this erasing process which will make your placement much easier.

I erased specifically the pieces that went atop the figure in places.  To do this I used a semi hard large eraser.

Next we can start to place our shapes down. I started off by placing a large circle shape over her leg. Then I just erased the part that covers her leg and ta da! So just do the same with your shapes and start varying the colors. The next few screenshots will show my process as far as placing and erasing went.

I placed a few cubes and spheres on the outside of the figure and sized them down.

I then dropped in a plus shape and changed the color. I went with a purple color since it looks good with the blue. Then I just erased it!

I placed another O shape, kept it blue and then erased it. I also placed a small 2D vector behind it.

Then I placed a few more shapes around her body and ta da, we are done with the placement of the 3D shapes. As of now my image looks like the below screenshots. However you don’t have to stop here, you can place in as many 3D shapes as you like!

Step 4: 2D Vector Shapes

This section is extremely quick and easy. In my piece I used only free resources from Deviant art. I did draw a few shapes but primarily just Deviant art vector packs. And if you are I have placed the links below for the packs I used, don’t worry if you don’t have illustrator you can open illustrator files with Photoshop!

The packs I used:

Once you have your packs just grab and drop them into your piece. I placed my pieces behind my 3D shapes primarily. To start off with though I placed a rainbow colored 2D shape atop my shoe.

Next I just dropped a ton of vectors behind the plus sign and finished it off with a bit of drawn on shapes with my 3px brush.

Step 5: More Glow Lines and Extras

In this section we will be just adding in a few more bits, specifically more glow lines on our 3D shapes and then a few splats. To start off we will add more glow lines since we have already created these layers and there layer styles.

So to start off we will go back to our previous layers with the layer styles and just draw/pen tool more glow lines that wrap around our 3D vectors. I started off by drawing two new lines on my blue layer style over my pink pluses.

I then went to my pink layer style and drew more lines over and around my two blue O shapes.

Next we can apply two splats. If you don’t have any splats you can head over to my tutorial on creative fan located at:

What you’re going to want to do is use your eye drop tool (I) and grab the color closest to your figure and then just drop a splat. I did two splats that overlapped my figure and some of my shapes and it looks like the below screenshot.

Step 6: Sketching and Closing

To finish the piece off we will do some sketching. This section is not required but I did it to add a bit of extra personality to the final piece. So to start off we will make a new layer on top of all of the other layers and select your brush tool.  There are a few things to keep in mind if you are going to do this section, such as:

  • Use the smallest brush you can when doing this step, it’s important to capture the detail but you want it to look more like a sketch then a speed paint.
  • Try different effects with your sketching. For example try doing some crosshatching or stippling.
  • Don’t just add details also enhance the natural shadows/highlights of your subject.
  • Follow the contours of your subject!
  • Take your time, even though we are going for a sketch look we still want it to look like we tried! You don’t want some strange box shapes on the subject!

Then just start sketching! I used blue and pink to sketch and started off by sketching on the small O shaped 3D vector.

I then went ahead and drew over the zipper of her hoodie and added in some more highlights and shadow lines onto her pants.

Next we can add in some drips shapes. We can do these the same as we did the other sketch marks with our small 3px brush. I started off by adding some paint drips on the giant pink plus and then moved on to the hands, shoe and O.

Now we can break off from the drips and go to the eyes. To start off we can draw some desgins under the eyes or you can use a brush stroke brush under the eye. I used pink and used a brush stroke brush under her eye. I then sketched on that with blue, it came out looking like the below screenshot.

Next we can start on the eyes; I used a single color per eye. To start off just sketch the first color and then go over it with your burn tool and dodge tool to add in the highlights. Once you do that than just drop in a tiny white orb over the pupil of each eye to finish them off.

Now to add the last bits switch your color to black and just add some dark lines for the shadows, folds and outlines. Mine came out looking like the below screenshot.

Now just size it down and sharpen it! I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and learned a few things or followed along and made something you liked. My final image came out looking like the below screenshot, but keep in mind that the piece doesn’t have to stop here, you could add in a lot more it’s just up to what your trying to make! I ended up painting some designs on my stocks hoodie just to add a bit of flare, but it’s up to you!


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  2. Very nice Tutorial, Eric! If you add the shadow of all effect on the bottom, It’d be nicer. Also, It’d be nicer if you blur them with low opacity smudge tool.

  3. “if i found the time then please comment”
    well sure! why not!
    i think its a good tutorial, wich could help me in a way.. i like it :)
    you got the comment here as on deviantart that since the stock has it’s own mirror efect it would be best to copy your added effects in the mirror, i agree on that!
    i also like the detail of the immage, when you get a closer look, there is always more to see!
    as commentet on DA i love the stickyness, you call drippings, on hand and foot. I’d love to expiriment on them sometime :)

  4. Wow, great tut! Very nicely done and quite informative. However for the sticky shoe and dripping effect, I didn’t really understand how you made it look so well. It’d be cool to see a tut on that or a vid on how you did that. Anyways nice job!

  5. wow nice effects there mate.
    where i can get the riginal stock?
    wow nice effects there mate.
    where i can get the riginal stock?

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