I've never written a signature tutorial, so here it goes.
I will be going over the process of making a dynamic web graphic from start to finish. This tutorial is for Photoshop CS3. I know, it's kind of old, but the steps should work the same for newer versions. I will encourage keyboard shortcuts and will refer to them throughout the tutorial. Speeding up your work is part of getting good so here it goes. Maybe you'll even learn some advanced techniques.
This is what the final product will look like.
Step 1: Setting up the Image
For this example, I'm using the rather common Chaos Proto Soul render from Megaman Battle Network 5. Looking at the image, there is some good focal point. The viewer's eye would follow the sword to the face and down to the arm. Remember that so it can be preserved and enhanced later. I got the image from The Megaman Network. Luckily the image is large meaning it has more detail. If I didn't have a large enough image to work with, I would have uploaded the image to TinEye to find larger versions of the same image. The reason a larger image is better is to get more accurate results in the next part.
In this part, we are going to remove the background of the image on its own separate document. Don't try to cut it out on the actual signature size; that's stupid. Make sure you have copied the large image to your clipboard. In an open Photoshop, make a New Document (Ctrl + N) and hit Enter.
Hit Enter and now there should be a completely black layer. Change it's Opacity to 50% and bring it down one layer. It should be between the two images. Click the eye on the lowest layer to hide it. That one is just in case you mess up or want to try another method to compare results. What results? Removing the white background.
There are several ways to do this and some of them aren't very good. If you look closely at the sword, it's glowing. I want to keep that glow so that means the Quick Selection Tool and Magic Wand Tool won't work here. The easiest way, and probably not the absolute best way, is to select Color Range. Click on the topmost layer and go to Select > Color Range. Because the background is just white, this is fairly decent at picking out the white background and the colors that blend with it. Click on the white background and adjust the Fuzziness to adjust the selection quality. Lower fuzzy means less blends of white are selected. Higher fuzzy means more blends are selected. This will be important to getting the sword out properly.
Here are my settings for this step.
Hit Enter to see the selection. It might look correct but it's not done yet. If you delete the background, this is what it looks like.
Step 2: Placing the Image and Making a Background
This is acceptable now and we can move on to the next step. Make a New Document and set its dimensions to 480x200. In the new document, pick the Rectangle Tool and draw a box similar to the one in the preview.
Make sure there is a little bit of room below the rectangle and slightly more above it and about the same space as below on the left. The color doesn't matter.
Now go back to the first document and select the layer with the finished render. Right-click on the layer's name and select Duplicate Layer to bring up a dialog box. All you really have to do is set the destination to the second document and hit Enter. Now back on the other document, the render is there. Now we have to resize it and if you prefer, you can convert the layer to a Smart Object so you can resize it later without any additional quality loss. Try to size the image to fit as seen in the preview.
See, the composition becomes more interesting when the image isn't always cropped off. However, it can get more interesting if the legs didn't pop out of the frame. It's kind of tricky to do that but it's certainly possible. Duplicate (Ctrl +J) the rectangle layer and make sure it's below the image. Change the color to black. Alt-click between the image and rectangle layer to create a Clipping Mask. An icon should appear when you can do this. Clipping cropped it though and now we need to make it pop out again. Get to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on the rectangle's line. Switch to the Pen Tool (P) and hover over the lines of the rectangle. A + pen icon should appear meaning you can add points. Add 2 points where you are planning to expand the shape. Use the Direct Selection Tool to pull the points. It should look like the preview.
I think corners are easy to work with and I hate how Photoshop forces curved paths whenever you add points. When you have the Pen Tool, hold Alt to temporarily switch to the Convert Point Tool and click on the points. It will turn it into a corner and vice-verca. Now the parts of the image I want can be seen, but not the background. Right-click on the black shape layer and go to Blending Options. In the dialog box, lower the Fill Opacity to 0%. That makes the render disappear, right? In the boxes below, check off Blend Clipped Layers as Group option and the render becomes visible again, and only the parts seen before.
Now the image is right where it needs to be. Now we'll be working on the background. I like making backgrounds to use in future projects. I can set an old background as a base. This is the background I'm using.
Paste the background in a new layer in between the rectangle layers. Alt-click between the layers again and now the background only shows through the shape. We will be doing this for all the background layers because the rectangle will be the shape of the background. Size the background to the point where the white center is near the left side. Now, I'm sure I can use the same background to make a new background for this signature. Challenge accepted! Duplicate the green background and rotate it counterclockwise. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic and pick a high number like 32. Set the layer blending to Lighten and make sure it is clipped to the layer below. Duplicate the layer again and Desaturate it (Ctrl + Shift + U), then go to Filter > Stylize > Find Edges. Invert (Ctrl + I) the layer and switch the blending mode to Color Dodge. Duplicate that layer again and push Transform it (Ctrl + T). Right click on the layer and select perspective. Place it similar to the preview.
Duplicate the transformed layer and flip it horizontally. Move it to the left so an intersection can be seen near the white center. Duplicate the original background layer again and this time go to Filter > Distort > Wave. In the dialog box, set it to Square and hit Enter. Set the blending mode to Linear Burn and lower the opacity 75%. Now let's make a new layer. Fill the layer with black and add tiles by going to Filter > Stylize > Tiles, and change the offset value to 1. Perspective distort the grid similar to the preview.
Set the layer mode Color Dodge. Add a Vector Mask to the layer by clicking the icon with the square and circle. Select the Gradient Tool and use a black and white gradient. Draw the gradient on the Vector Mask with the black side on the right. This fades out the grid. Make a New Layer. On the new layer, select the Gradient Tool and choose the second default gradient. Pick the radial gradient and change the foreground color a purple from the render. Draw a radial small gradient somewhere near the corners. Keep doing this with different colors from the render. Change the layer mode to Overlay and lower its opacity to 75%. This is how mine looks like right now.
It's looking good now, but it still needs more motion. Select the render layer and duplicate it. If it was a Smart Object, rasterize it since it won't need to be a Smart Object now. Make sure the duplicate layer is below the original layer. With the duplicate layer selected, go to Filter > Stylize > Wind. In the dialog box, set the method to Blast and the direction to Left and hit Enter. Now apply a Motion Blur by going to Filter > Blur. Set it to a horizontal blur at about 50 pixels. The lines look great on the right, but not so much on the left. Fade out the effect towards the left similar to how the grid was faded out earlier using a Vector Mask.
Duplicate the render layer again and make the entire render white. Use the same Wind filter on it only this time select Wind instead of Blast under method and apply the effect. Set the layer's blending mode to Overlay and put it on top of the previous blur layer. Now, one more time, duplicate the original layer and apply the Wind filter and select Stagger this time. Put this layer on top of the original layer and set it to Overlay. Lower it's Opacity to 50% and apply a Motion Blur. Transform the layer (Ctrl + T) slightly to the left to make it seem like the sword is longer.
After several motion blur layers, the signature looks like this now.
Enough blurs. Now we can enhance the focal point. I mentioned it near the beginning of this tutorial and it's important to enhance the intended focal point when possible. To do this I am simply going to brush the corners of the rectangle. Get the Brush Tool (B) and pick a default circle brush. This makes sure it resets the settings. Get the size to about 60 pixels and the hardness to 0%. Also make sure the Brush Opacity is at 50%. Carefully brush around the rectangle focusing more on darkening the bottom-right corner and some of the left corners slightly. The goal is to make the center contrast more with the background. Make a new layer above the colors layer and start brushing. Some brushing gave me this result.
Step 3: Adding a swirl
This step is optional but a neat addition to the piece. Start by making a new layer above everything. We are going to add a swirl that will wrap around the sword. Grab the Pen Tool (P) and get ready to draw curves. The Pen Tool must be set to draw Paths (second button on the control panel) Start at the tip of the sword and try drawing loops around the sword. It's kind of difficult to do especially since Photoshop's Pen Tool feels clunky and inefficient. You can always switch to the Direct Selection Tool with A and modify the path to feel more natural. Look at the preview for the path I got. It's kind of tricky.
When you're satisfied with your path, switch to the Brush Tool. Click on a default brush and set it to 4 pixels at 100% hardness. Now switch to the Direct Selection Tool and right-click on the layer. Select Stroke Path from the drop-down menu. In the dialog box that pops up, select the Brush Tool from the list and enable Simulate Pressure. Hit Enter and the stroked path should appear. The ends should be thinner and not uniform. If you got a stroke without any thinning, go to the Brush Panel under Window and find the section about shape dynamics. Control should be set to Pen Pressure.
If you like the path, right-click with the Direct Selection Tool again and select Delete Path. You should have one swirl around the sword now!
You could add another swirl and if you do, make a new layer for it. The same process can be used to draw a swirl around Megaman if you wanted to. I made the lines white since it contrasts with the background. However, it's still missing something and it's still floating on top of the image. First, let's enhance the visibility of the swirls. Add an Outer Glow to the first swirl layer. See the preview for a sample
I made the glow color one of the yellows from the image and changed the contour. The lines look nicer now but they can contrast better if you manipulate the Drop Shadow effect to act as another glow - preferably to darken the inside.
The swirls look better now, but it's still floating. To fix this, start by Ctrl-clicking the thumbnail of the original render. Make sure the layer you want to fix is selected and click the Vector Mask button. This is using the shape of the render to decide what part of the swirl will be visible. Right now it's not showing anything outside the shape.
With the Vector Mask still selected, Invert (Ctrl + I) the layer to show the opposite. This is easier to fix depending on the amount of swirl left out. Ctrl-click the swirl layer and select the Brush Tool. Make sure the Vector Mask is still selected and that the foreground color is white. Carefully brush over the parts you want to appear over the sword. This is up to you and there is no right or wrong way to do this. The goal is to create the illusion that the swirl goes in front and behind the render. This part gets easy.
Now the finishing touch to the swirls is adding some glowing dots. This will make it seem like it's being emitted by the light. Make a new layer and select the Brush Tool. A brush about 10 pixels will be okay. Open the Brushes Panel and start enabling the following options to create a Scatter Brush.
In Shape Dynamics, set the size jitter to about 75%.
In Scattering, enable Both Axes and set the Scatter to about 700%.
In Other Dynamics, set the Opacity jitter to about 75%.
In Brush Tip Shape, set the Spacing to about 100%.
This makes a Scatter Brush which will be used near the swirls. It must have the same flow as the swirls. Dots for each swirl is recommended because then you can copy the Layer Style of the previous swirls and Paste it on the dots layer. Then they have matching colors. This is what mine looks like now.
The final modifications you can make now is clip off the swirls if you won't want them to float outside of the background rectangle. You can clip them the same way as the render was clipped but that concludes this step.
Step 4: Text
I don't want to spend too much time on text because it's mostly up to personal preference. In a composition like this, the text doesn't have to be effect-heavy. I think simple white text will work well here. Choose a font that is thick enough to be read on black. If you're doing two lines, don't leave awkward line spacing. Expand the letter spacing if necessary. NEVER cover faces with text. And legibility is important.
That about concludes this tutorial. Here is the final product again.