Retro Photoshop Fun -  From Dull Digital Photo To Sweet Old School Album Cover

by Nate Croft

I love having a digital camera, but it is definitely lacking in the vibe department. Old school film camera’s like the Holga and the Diana have a great feel to them, especially when they are cross processed. So I’m going to show you some ways to fake the funk and give your digital images a healthy dose of awesome sauce. (I’ve been listening to Fundamental Elements and I blame them for making me say things like “Fake the funk” and “awesome sauce.”)

Let’s start with a picture I took of Mr. James.


James had a pipe that day and I couldn’t resist a photo op like that. But in that particular building, the lighting is of the soul bleaching fluorescent variety. So let’s break out a Curves adjustment layer to fix that. We are going to mess with each channel separately here and that’s the magic of this pseudo cross processed method.

On the both the red and the green channels we’re going to raise the highlights, while dropping the blue highlights. Now to work on the lows. Make a point for both red and green channels and drop it pretty low, then raise the blues around that same point.


That gives us this:


That’s a little better, but I’m looking for that really over the top look so let’s add another Curves adjustment layer. Only the red channel gets attention here. I’m dropping a point on both the mids and the lows.


Now we’re getting somewhere. The color’s all wonky in this really interesting way.


We’ve got this old school looking photo now, so let’s do something with it. I’ve made some lines in Illustrator and imported them into Photoshop.


Not exactly what I was going for, so I changed the blending mode to “Difference” and dropped the opacity to 13%.


Much better. The lines are running over his face, but we’ll take care of that with a mask. I’m going to call my fictitious album “This is what we like to call Old School Smooth & Proper Jams.” We are going to need to set this title in an appropriate typographical treatment to really set off this cover. Shapes always help me work in type in ways that I normally wouldn’t so I’ve create a circle and chopped off the top. From there I selected it, contracted the selection by 20 pixels and filled it with a rust sort of color. Next, I set the blending modes to “Soft Light” for the outer white shape and “Color Burn” for the inner shape. I also added a nice decorative leaf-like element.


Our typography now has a place to live. I’m using ITC Bookman Italics for all the type in this design since the italics in this family have a really warm and inviting feeling to them. I am going to break up the title into a few chunks so I can style them differently. “This is what we like to call Old School” gets to site on top of our circle with a flattop, while “Smooth & Proper Jams” takes up residence inside the flattop circle with different color treatments. And no old school record cover is complete without some mention of it being in stereo to along with the record label’s name.


At this point, no one would believe that this isn’t a for real album of Smooth & Proper Jams. Look at that pipe, those crazy colors, and sweet, sweet typography. Now that’s proper!

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July 16, 2008

Design, Tutorials


  1. wow!  That is awesome!  Mr. James, you look smooth and proper!
    i need to buy some of that awesome sauce!

  2. This is by far the most amazing site I have ever seen. I would not have ever been able to imagine a site that encapsulates your personalities so well! I am glad I lost focus tonight and found myself wondering in for a quick visit!

  3. Hey Justin! Glad you found us. It is nice to have a website that really does feel like it represents us.

  4. Very usefull tutorial, i think that oldschool pictures have something special. Maybe because of the reason, that today everyone can shoot a digital foto, even with there mobile phones wink

    Thank you for this tutorial

  5. I’m gonna use this too. Not for an album cover or anything, but just for fun when I have a bit of free time. Thanks.

  6. This is great! Thanks for the tutorial. I’m going to use this also.

  7. I love what you did with the photo. It inspires me to keep learning how to manipulate my own photos, which I must admit do not turn out that great most of the time. Oh well, practice might make passable for me someday!

  8. Dude.. I am not much into reading, but somehow I got to read lots of articles on your blog. Its amazing how interesting it is for me to visit you very often smile

  9. wow!  That is awesome! Great tutorial. I’m going to use this also.

  10. Retro really seems to be the style of the moment to me. I’ve been seeing a lot of marketing reverting back to older feeling designs as of late.

  11. Nice! Not just the photo but also the font used and the diagonal strokes! Nice design. smile

  12. That’s awesome!  I’m bookmarking this, and i’m going to apply this to some of my wedding photos from 5 years ago and make them look like my parents and grandparents old photos.

  13. Very interesting and grea tutorial, and not that hard to follow. I’ll surely will use it in some of my future projects.  Kudus to the makers!

  14. Very impressive. the old picture really turned out to be something new. Thanks for the tutorial. It’ really helps a lot.

  15. I still wonder if it is possible to learn working with photoshop on my own. I am actually one of such enthusiasts, have read several ebooks already but still lag behind… Perhaps,  I miss something important… Need your help!

  16. Where can i get a similar font for free?

  17. This is going to learn us some ways to the funk and give your digital images a healthy dose of awesome sauce….Nice blog…

  18. You really are great designer.. I’m learning a lot from you..

  19. Man I need to get to sleep, but I just found your site and 1. its stunning and 2.  its jam-packed w/ useful info.  your little corner of the web truly is “kick awesome.’  thanks for sharing.

  20. I love the visual display of the never-ending improvement loop concept. It is a great plan to work towards total integration.

  21. It’s one thing to be a brilliant designer, it takes a completely different skill set to effectively teach it and you have a solid grasp on both. Bravo.

  22. Good stilization.
    But frankly I think that every stilization smells like something old. We’d better invent new images, new styles, develop fresh imagination. It’s hard. Very hard, but it’s worth our efforts.

  23. This is great! Thanks for the tutorial. I’m going to use this also.

  24. well this is intereting .. looks good, too .. tho i think i’ll go for different colors ..
    what other colors would look good ?

  25. Wonderful use of Photoshop. You make this look so simple, because you have a creative mind.
    I am trying to improve my website graphics etc, but to be honest I wish I had your skill and creativity - I find it much more difficult that you do!

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