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“Offering ancient wisdom on how to use skill, cunning, tactics and discipline to outwit your opponent.”
Have you ever read The Art of War by Sun-Tzu? Well, in case you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick overview.
Step 1: Setting Up the Canvas
Create a new Photoshop document by going to File > New (Ctrl/Cmd + N). We will use a 275×275-pixel canvas that has a white background.
Step 2: Create the Front of the Box
Create a new shape above the Background layer for the front of the box.
Double-click on the layer in the Layers Panel to access the Layer Style dialog window. We want to give the layer an Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Stroke, and Gradient Overlay.
The color of the Inner Shadow is white (#FFFFFF).
The color of the Inner Glow is also white (#FFFFFF).
The color of the stroke is a brown color (#734E24).
The gradient is a dark cardboard box color on the left (#A17128) and a lighter one (#CC923D) on the right.
The above styles will make the front of our cardboard box appear like this:
Step 3: Create the Back of the Box
The process for drawing the back part of the box will be similar to the one above. Create a new layer above the default Background layer, but below the "front" layer. Create the black shape shown below; it represents the back face of our box.
Give this shape a Gradient Overlay layer effect, with the color gradient set to #A56225 on the left and #C08938 on the right.
Step 4: Create the Left and Right Sides of the Box
Draw the left side of the box on a new layer.
Give the layer a Gradient Overlay with #744B21 as the color on the left and #AD6D2A as the color on the right. This should produce a darker color gradient, which is what we want so that our design is as accurate as possible.
Use the same procedure to draw the right side of the box.
Step 5: Creating the Front Flap of the Box
Let us now draw the flaps of the cardboard box, starting with the front flap.
We will give this layer an Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Gradient Overlay, and Stroke.
The color of the Inner Shadow is white (#FFFFFF).
The color of the Inner Glow is also white (#FFFFFF).
The color gradient is #CB913C on the left and #DDAC55 on the right.
The stroke’s Fill Type should be set to Gradient. The stroke’s color gradient should be #93632A on the left and #D08937 on the right.
Step 6: Draw the Right and Left Flaps of the Box
Draw the right flap on a new layer.
Give this layer an Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Gradient Overlay, and Stroke.
The Inner Shadow’s color is white (#FFFFFF).
The Inner Glow’s color is also white (#FFFFFF).
The color gradient is #CCC923C on the left and #E7BC6F on the right.
The Fill Type of the stroke should be set to Gradient. The color gradient should be #94632A on the left and #D08937 on the right.
In the same way as the right flap, create the shape for the left flap. You might be able to get away with duplicating the right flap and flipping it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).
We need to give the left flap’s layer a similar layer style, with a few tweaks to keep the lighting of our piece accurate.
The color of the Inner Shadow color should be white (#FFFFFF).
The Inner Glow color should also be white (#FFFFFF).
The color gradient is #CC923C on the left and #E7BC6F on the right.
The Fill Type should be set to Gradient. The color gradient is #94632A on the left and #D08937 on the right.
Step 7: Create the Back Flap
Time to create the last flap — it will follow similar procedures as the other flaps, just tweaks in its layer style. On a new layer, draw the back flap as shown below.
For its layer style, we will need an Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Gradient Overlay, and Stroke.
The Inner Shadow color should be white (#FFFFFF).
The Inner Glow color should also be white (#FFFFFF).
The color gradient should be #CB9546 on the left and #F0C16C on the right.
The Fill Type should be set to Gradient. The color on the left of the gradient is #AA7639, while the color on the right is #E1A45D.
Now you will have it looking like this:
Step 8: Give the Flaps Some Highlights
We will use a simple technique for giving our flap surface some added visual interest with the use of highlights. On a new layer, draw a white elliptical shape using the Ellipse Tool on top of the front flap.
Now go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
If you apply the filter on the shape layer, you will get a warning that looks like this:
Just click OK to rasterize the layer.
Set the Radius of the Gaussian Blur filter to 13.9 pixels.
Choose the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and make a selection at the top of the white glow, then hit Delete to remove the selected area.
Set the Blend Mode of the layer to Overlay as well as reduce its Opacity to 38%.
Following the same procedure as above, give the back flap a highlight as well.
Step 9: Adding Details to the Box
Find a logo or icon that you’d like to place on the front flap. I used an infinity symbol for mine. Try looking at the Custom Shapes that are included in Photoshop to see if you find something of interest.
For the layer style of the logo/icon, we need a Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, and Gradient Overlay.
The Drop Shadow’s color is white (#FFFFFF).
The Inner Shadow’s color is a dark brown (#432C11).
The color gradient is #925814 on the left and #7E4C02 on the right.
The above layer effects will make our logo/icon look like this:
You can add some horizontal lines on the right of the logo/icon to simulate text that’s usually found on packages that are shipped by mail. Use the same layer style as the logo/icon.
Set the Opacity of the layer to 50%.
Step 10: Adding a Texture to the Box
Now that we are done creating the basic box, we need to add some texture to its surface to make it look like cardboard.
Create some thin black lines on the front flap (as shown below).
Switch the layer’s Blend Mode to Overlay and set the Opacity at about 12%.
Using the same process, create lines on the right flap, set the Blend Mode of its layer to Overlay, and reduce the Opacity to 12%.
Use the exact same process for adding lines on the remaining flaps and the sides of the box.
Step 11: Adding Shadows on the Floor
Let us make our design cast a shadow on the floor. Create a new layer right above the Background layer. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to make a rectangular selection at the base of our box.
Set up the Gradient Tool so that it goes from black (#000000) to transparent; also set the method to Reflected Gradient. Then draw the gradient from left to right.
Soften the shadow by using a Gaussian Blur filter; use a Radius of 0.6 pixels.
Tweak the perspective of the shadow to match our box. Do so by choosing Edit > Transform > Skew. A rectangular boundary will appear around the shadow. Drag the top-right and top-left transform controls inwards. Press Enter to accept the transformation. Set the Opacity of the shadow layer to 50%.
Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) from the Tools Panel to make a selection in front of the box.
Again, use the Gradient Tool (G) set at Linear Gradient to make a black-to-transparent gradient within the selection, starting from the top of the selection to the bottom.
Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to the layer with Radius at 0.6 pixels.
Set the Opacity of the layer to 15%.
Step 12: Add Minor Shading
Create a layer between the front flap and the front of the box. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection (shown below). Use the Gradient Tool to make a black-to-transparent gradient from the top to the bottom of the selection. Set the Blend Mode of the layer to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to 24%.
Duplicate this layer twice (Ctrl/Cmd + J) to intensify and layer the shading.
On a new layer above all the other layers, create a white circular shape in the middle of the icon.
Apply a Gaussian Blur filter on the layer with Radius at 26 pixels.
Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection of the front face of the box.
Choose Select > Inverse (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + I) to invert your selection. After inverting the selection, just hit Delete to remove the excess white glow.
Set the Blend Mode to Overlay and Opacity to 23%.
Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection as shown below. On a new layer, use the Gradient Tool (G) to create a linear black-to-transparent gradient starting from the bottom and going to the top. Reduce the Opacity of the layer to 25%.
Step 13: Filling Up the Box with Some Goodies
This step is optional. What we will do is place some objects inside the box. I will use the Qure Dock Icons by my friend and fellow "iconist", Prax08.
Open up the object you would like to place inside the box in Photoshop. Press Ctrl/Cmd + A to select the entire canvas of the image. Switch back to our main document and just press Ctrl/Cmd + V to paste the object.
Add more objects as desired.
Arrange the images to your heart’s content; use the Move Tool to move the objects around.
Place these objects into a layer group by selecting all of them in the Layers Panel and then pressing Ctrl/Cmd + G.
Create a layer mask on the layer group by pressing the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to make a selection that covers parts of the objects that are spilling out of the box.
Go to Edit > Fill ( Shift + F5) and fill the selection with Black to mask out the selected area.
I hope that you learned a few techniques in this tutorial that you will find useful in your own icon design and drawing projects. We used various techniques to compose a box icon using fundamental tools in Photoshop. I would like to leave you now by showing you some possible variations of our final product (for inspiration).
Download Source Files
- cardboard_box_icon (ZIP, 0.16 MB)
Click on the image to see the image in full scale.
Step 1: Generating a Color Scheme Using kuler
To start things off, I am going to pick out a nice color scheme to use for the design. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Adobe kuler, I highly recommend this tool for any project where you need to put together a color scheme, as they have tons of great color schemes to choose from, submitted by users of the site.
Let’s go to kuler and browse around the site. You can browse themes by several categories or you can type in a keyword of your own to find a specific theme.
After searching for a few minutes, I have decided to use a color theme called Peppers from Mexico that consists mainly of warm colors.
The hexadecimal color codes (from left to right) are as follows:
Step 2: Peppers!
Next, we want fire up Adobe Illustrator. Grab the peppers.ai vectors I’ve listed in the Tutorial Resources section above. The package will contain an Illustrator file (AI) with about ten different vectors of various peppers from different angles. We want to open this file and take a look at the line art that we will be using to create our pattern. The idea here is that we want variation — we don’t want two or three shapes repeated over and over.
Step 3: Saving Your Swatches
Create a new document in Illustrator and set the dimensions of the artboard to 1680×1050 pixels. In this document, create a small square with the Rectangle Tool (M) and fill it with the first color (#F3C44A) in our selected color theme from kuler. Select the filled square and press Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy it followed by Cmd/Ctrl + F to Paste in Front. Move this square down so it’s underneath the first box and fill with the second color (#671809). Repeat this process for the remaining three colors (#CC371E, #63AD35, and #B7CF48).
If you don’t have the Swatches Panel displayed, go to Window > Swatches. From here, what we want to do is select, one by one, the boxes we drew using the Selection Tool (V). Selecting a square with the Selection Tool will automatically switch the Foreground Color displayed in the Tools Panel (towards the bottom) to the selected object’s current color. Click and drag the Foreground Color from the Tools Panel to the Swatches Panel to save it as a swatch.
Click on each of the remaining squares and drag their color into the Swatches Panel until you have all five of the colors in the panel.
It is now safe to delete the five squares from the artboard since we have them saved in our Swatches Panel now. Select all five of the colors in the panel by holding down Shift, clicking on the first color, and then clicking on the last color. Once you have done that, click on the New Color Group button (it looks like a folder icon) in Swatches Panel to create a new color group. Name this group "Pattern Colors" and then click OK.
By the way, you could also download the color theme file (.ase) from kuler and import it in Adobe Illustrator, however, I wanted to cover my personal process of putting together a color scheme and saving it as a color group. If you’d like to learn how to import a kuler theme into applications like Illustrator and Photoshop, see this FAQ on using kuler colors.
Step 4: Pepperation
Thus far, we have picked out a color scheme and saved each of these colors in Illustrator as a color group. We also have ten vector illustrations that we are going to be using to create our pattern. These preliminary steps are absolutely necessary and will help our pattern look more cohesive. From here, we are going to begin to bring our vector peppers into the artboard and start arranging them in a couple of different ways before actually introducing any of the colors.
Before moving on, I would recommend saving this file (you can name it whatever you would like); the important thing is that we are saving frequently as we work through the design so that we don’t lose our work accidentally.
Go to (or open) the peppers.ai document. Select all of its contents by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + A (shortcut for Select > All) followed by Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy. Go back to our main document and paste all of the peppers into it. Now we can close the peppers.ai document since we have everything we need from it.
In the Layers Panel, select the layer that contains all of the peppers. Drag the layer down to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Panel to duplicate it. Turn off and lock the original layer so that we can work from this duplicate; it’s always good to have a back up!
Step 5: Putting the Pieces Together
Next, we are going to begin to put together a few different mini-patterns using various combinations of the pepper vectors. For this step, you should experiment with resizing, flipping, and arranging the peppers in different ways to create a few separate groups.
Continue to do this in order to create more variation using the vector objects. We want some of the peppers to be larger, while others smaller. Just keep in mind that our goal is to mix it up as much as possible.
Having played with this for a bit, you should now have at least five or six smaller, mini-patterns that can be used to create a larger, cohesive pattern.
Step 6: Overlapping Patterns
Now that we have several smaller patterns, we want to bring them together and overlap them so that we have almost a row or a complete section. Select each group and send some to the back (Object > Arrange > Send to Back), while bringing others forward (Object > Arrange > Send to Front). It’s alright — in fact, desired — if some parts of the pattern goes off the edges of the artboard because we don’t want to have them stopping abruptly with gaps around the edges when we repeat the pattern.
Select the entire row, copy it (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and paste it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + F). Next, choose Object > Transform > Reflect. We want to reflect this group of objects horizontally as well as vertically before sending it to the back (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + [) and moving it up above our first row of our pepper pattern.
Next, we can select and copy this whole section before pasting it in front once again. Move the selection down to begin filling in some of the spaces below our original sections. If some of the shapes look a bit off, then what we can do is select them, rotate them, or send them to the front (Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + ]).
After tweaking and arranging our objects, you will see that we now have a pattern that covers our entire artboard and extends past the artboard’s edges.
Step 7: Let The Coloring Begin!
We have set up a nice-looking pattern, and we already have our swatches set up with a nice palette of warm colors. The next step is where we will begin to merge these two design elements together.
Begin by selecting some of the peppers individually and filling them with the colors in our color group. As we begin this process, try to set the colors so that no two shapes that are next to each other have the same fill color.
Continue this process, gradually filling in the shapes as you go along, trying to ensure that the same two colors aren’t adjacent to one another.
Step 8: Complete the Coloring
After spending some time filling in the shapes with color, you may notice that when filling certain areas, there may be a few gaps. To fill them in, select any of the pepper shapes and send them to the back by choosing Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + [).
Step 9: Jump to Photoshop
We’re done with our Illustrator work. What we want to do now is select all the objects (Cmd/Ctrl + A) and then group them together (Cmd/Ctrl + G). Next, copy this group (Cmd/Ctrl + C), open up Photoshop, create a new document that is the same size as our Illustrator artboard (1680x1050px) and then paste the group (Ctrl/Cmd + V) as a smart object into Photoshop.
We can now save our work and close out of Illustrator as we will be doing the remainder of our work in Photoshop.
Step 10: Covering the Canvas
Use Free Transform (Ctrl/Cmd + T) while holding both the Opt/Alt + Shift keys, grab a transform control at a corner and then drag it outwards to enlarge our pattern until it covers the canvas. Accept the transformation by pressing the Enter key.
Step 11: Fresh Produce
Create a new layer above our smart object and set the Foreground and Background colors to default by pressing D.
Next, go to the Filter > Render > Clouds. Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Overlay and lower its Opacity to 50%.
After that, add a Levels adjustment layer by clicking on the Create new fill or adjustment layer button at the bottom of the Layers Panel (it looks like a half-black, half-white circle icon) then choosing Levels from the menu that appears.
Once the histogram panel appears (where we adjust our levels), move the middle slider to the right until it is set to 0.84.
We have now added some additional texture and darkened up the image a bit to bring more contrast into the pattern. This creates more visual interest and adds some depth to our work.
Step 12: Absolutely Hot
It’s time to import the centerpiece of the design: the Absolut Peppar bottle. About time, right? I’ve provided a stock image for you contained in a PSD file (for convenience) that is listed in the Tutorial Resources section called vodka_bottle.psd. Download the file and open it in Photoshop.
Copy the bottle from the vodka_bottle.psd file and paste it in our main canvas. Use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) while holding down the Shift key (to scale the image proportionally) to enlarge the bottle. Scale it up so that it’s about the same size as shown in the image below:
We also need to center the bottle on our canvas. First, make sure that the active layer is the bottle’s layer. Then place a selection around the canvas by choosing Select > All (Cmd/Ctrl + A). Next, go to Layers > Align Layers To Selection > Horizontal Centers. To center it vertically, go to Layers > Align Layers To Selection > Vertical Centers.
Step 13: Make the Bottle Transparent
Because the vodka bottle is transparent, it looks odd that the bottle has a white background when our backdrop is a colorful pepper. We need to fix that issue. Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and click on the bottle layer to place a selection around the bottle; you should see the "marching ants" (as I like to call them) around the bottle.
While this selection is still active, click on the pattern layer and press Cmd/Ctrl + J; this will duplicate the pattern layer, but only the area within the selection. Drag this new layer to the top of the Layers Panel. Change the Blend Mode of the layer to Multiply.
Step 14: Apply a Gaussian Blur
We now need to apply the Gaussian Blur filter to the layer we just created; do that now by choosing Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
Once the Gaussian Blur dialog window appears, set the Radius to 25px and simply click OK to apply the filter.
Step 15: Glow Me Away!
Double-click the original bottle layer to bring up the Layer Style dialog window. Give the layer an Inner Glow with the following settings:
Step 16: Rays of Light
Create a new layer on top of all the current layers. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to draw a tall rectangle that spans from the top to the bottom of the canvas. With the selection still active, press G to switch to the Gradient Tool. Change the tool’s options so that you’ll have a Linear Gradient fading from solid white to completely transparent. Create the gradient inside the selection by clicking on its left and dragging towards its right.
Use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) while pressing Option/Alt, grab the center-top or center-bottom transform control and drag upward/downward so that the gradient extends outside of the canvas (shown below).
Still using Free Transform, rotate the gradient while holding down Shift so that it matches the angle of the image below.
Duplicate this layer by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + J. Move the duplicated gradient to the left of the original gradient. Do this three or four more times to create a few diagonals.
In the Layers Panel, select all the diagonal gradient layers. Merge them into one layer by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + E. Change the Blend Mode of the merged layer to Overlay.
Step 17: Blended and Blurred
On the merged layer with the diagonal gradients, apply a Gaussian Blur filter with Radius at 25px. Then reduce the Opacity of this layer to 75%. This process will blur the lines to create a more subtle light streak effect that will make the colors really jump out from the piece.
Step 18: Light in a Bottle
Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and click on the original bottle layer again to place a selection around it. Keep the selection active, but switch to the top layer containing the diagonal gradients. Click on the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel to mask out the light streaks so that they are only within the shape of the bottle.
This gives the bottle an extra bit of brightness and is, in my opinion, a nice finishing touch for our piece.
In this graphic design tutorial, we used Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to compose a vibrant and lively scene with an Absolut Vodka bottle as the centerpiece. We created a color group using a premade color theme from Adobe kuler (a handy site), designed a background with peppers, used an adjustment layer to punch up the color, and made the vodka bottle look as if it was transparent using a simple technique that involved the Gradient Tool. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and I’d love to hear your thoughts and read your questions in the comments.
Download Source Files
- vibrant_spicy_bottle (ZIP, 9.38 MB)
It’s one thing to want to do really good work, but to succumb to the allure of perfection is a whole different scenario. The desire to do good work is built into the souls of any self-respecting creative professional (or at least, it should be).
On the other hand, wanting perfection is just downright absurd and, to an extent, irresponsible. Not only does seeking perfection in your work prevent you from seeing the things you do well, it also endangers your ability to manage your time and deliver on deadlines, which directly affects your relationships with your clients.
Since this is a problem I struggle with on a daily basis, I thought I’d figure out where the problem might be coming from so that I can work better. Here’s what I came up with.
You Have to Start with a Clear Idea
Take your time with this phase of the project. However, don’t overanalyze. Don’t preempt problems that your think "might" come later. Just give yourself a direction, a vision of where you want to take your design. It has been my experience that having a clear idea at the beginning of a project will pay off in the end, not only with time that you save, but also with an overall sense of satisfaction.
Just like on a road trip, when you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to get there. And even though you may be tempted to veer off course to explore various ridiculous sights along the way (like the world’s biggest fiddle) getting back on track is much easier when you know exactly where you’re going. Think of your "clear idea" as your GPS navigation system. Even if you make a wrong turn, there’s always that soothing voice telling you how to get back on track, thus allowing you to proceed with your journey.
Simple is Better
More often than not, a factor in having that itch for perfection is that we get too ambitious with what we want to achieve. I believe it’s an old Martian proverb that states that the simplest solution is often the correct one (it’s actually a simplification of Occam’s Razor). It’s true.
The more you obsess about what you could do with a design, the less focus you have on what you should do. If you’ve laid out a solid idea from the start, the solution to your design problem should be simple and as clear as day. If you’re tackling a design problem and are having trouble with it, it probably means you’re not thinking clearly — and that vagueness translates into your work.
We have to remember that design is a profession built on purpose. And the less clear about what that purpose is, the harder it will be to satisfy.
Take It One Step at a Time
I don’t know about you, but personally, when I’m making progress on a design, I get excited and I start thinking I can ride the momentum until I’m done. When this happens, I start feeling invincible and incapable of making mistakes, which is ironic because this is really when I make most of my mistakes. Complacency sets in and I’m not as discerning of the design choices I make. Needless to say, this ends in agony.
I’ve found that the best way to stave off that "itch" at the end of your project is to be deliberate about the choices you make in your design. There’s no point in riding the momentum if it will only take you in the wrong direction.
Have Someone Else Look at Your Work
Often, as designers, we work alone, having to consult others only when we absolutely must. However, being in such a closed-off environment also closes you off to the much-needed critiques of your work that are necessary for your growth as a designer. That’s why it’s only when you’re done with a design and you’re able to see it as a whole, and from a bird’s eye view, that you find the things wrong with it.
Have someone else look at your work as you’re working on it and ask them to point out where the design is lacking. Ask them to be honest. Welcome their ideas. They might see something that you haven’t yet.
At its core, design is about communication. I remember when I was in the third grade; we were asked to draw a monster or a creature from our imagination. After we were done, we were asked to partner up with one of our classmates and describe our creature to them. Your partner would then have to draw your creature on another piece of paper without looking at your drawing, and whichever team was successful in drawing the other person’s creature won a prize.
Although this was an innocent enough exercise (conducted in the elementary school) I reflect upon what our teacher was trying to teach us: She was trying to demonstrate the importance of clarity of communication.
Being able to communicate your designs is extremely important. Not only does it force you to see your design choices through the purpose that you meant them for, but also, it forces you to see your designs as your audience might see them. As I said earlier, design is deliberate, and if you can’t even talk about why your design choices make sense to you, how will these design choices make sense to someone else?
So, if you’re looking at a design and are tempted to scratch the perfectionist’s itch, explain to yourself what value it gives the design project. How does it move the purpose forward? If you can’t verbalize the significance of the change you want to do, don’t do it.
Don’t Aim for a Perfect Design
You shouldn’t aim for the perfect design. It doesn’t exist. It can’t. However, you could aim to work perfectly and efficiently.
The best designs are the products of years of learning from mistakes and getting better. You can’t achieve truly great designs if you expect perfection every time. You’ll never get it done.
At the end of the day, the "perfectionist’s itch" is really just telling you that you want to be better as a designer. It is telling you that your design isn’t good enough. Really, it’s the most honest impulse you can have as a designer. It may not be the most helpful in terms of getting stuff done, but having that kind of honesty with yourself is paramount to being a sucessful designer.