Flowing Blue Waves and Curves

Blue Flowing Waves by Cassius AdamsOver the past weekend I decided that it was time to replace the header images on this website, so I came up with this image.  It was inspired by a combination of Microsoft Window’s splash screen and a lot of the icons and buttons that have been dominating in the web 2.0 world.

Feel free to click on the image and download the larger (4000 x 2754) image if you need to use it for something.  Please give me credit if doing so somehow fits in with whatever you use it for, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

I have decided to turn this post into a tutorial for those that may be starting in graphic design and interested in doing something like it.  The colour combination is really easy to change, making it a very customizable image.  Similar results can be accomplished using vectors but I won’t be doing that this time.

This tutorial assumes you have Photoshop or a similar graphic design application, such as Gimp.  Let’s get started.

Waves 1Step 1 – Making the Waves

To start, open up Photoshop or whatever graphics software you’re using and decide on the size of your image.  I went fairly large (about 4500 x 3500) so that I could easily use portions of the finished image but not have to worry about them being too small if I only decided to use a small section.  You may be restricted by the amount of memory on your computer.  The more memory the better.

On a new empty layer, draw a black wave pattern.  It’s important to make sure that it is fairly random and smooth or your results may not turn out very well.

In the image above, I have compiled 4 example wave patterns.  In your photoshop file, all of the waves patterns will be placed on top or below of each other in the layer set, with filter effects eventually applied.

Waves 2So for example, check out the image to the left.  Each of the 4 waves is a different layer.  You can see that I have set them to have an opacity.  In this case of 25%.  You don’t need to do this yet, but I thought it was important to show an image so that you can more easily follow along.

Now go ahead and make a series of random wave patterns.  If I recall correctly, I made about 20-30 patterns.  When you get tired of making them, simply stretch a few or flip them horizontally and the number of waves you have will quickly increase.  There’s no point in spending countless hours making them all completely unique if you can give the impression of random sizes and heights by doing a few stretches, skews or horizontal flips.

Step 2 – Applying a Fade Effect

You will now probably want to decide on a colour scheme.  In my case I chose a light blue colour.  Use 2 slightly different shades of the same colour for your foreground colour and your background colour.

Colour SampleIn this image, you can see my colour selection with the light blue for foreground and dark blue for background.  Now make all of your wave layers except 1 fully invisible so that they don’t get in your way.  With the remaining wave layer, double-click it so that you can update the Layer Style and enable the Gradient Overlay option.  Choose to use the Foreground to Background option which will be towards the top left.  You’ll want to play with the angle and Scale.  I went with between 20% and 40% for scale, and my angles range from between 125 degrees and 60 degrees depending on the pattern of the wave.  Play around with this until you find something that looks right to you.

Now that you have a fade effect on the layer, you’ll want to define the top edge a bit more.  We can do this by giving it a slight fade effect along the edge going from dark at the top to lighter towards the bottom.  This will trick the eyes into thinking you’re looking at a more rounded surface.  To do this, go back into the Layer Style and click on Bevel and Emboss.  I chose the settings in the following image.

Bevel and EmbossMy values are as follows:

Style: Inner Bevel, Technique: Smooth, Depth: 31%, Direction: Up, Size: 250px, Soften: 16px, Angle: 90 degrees with Use Global Light enabled, Altitude: 1 degree, Anti-aliasing enabled.

Highlight Mode was set to normal with black as the colour and an opacity of 100%.

Shadow Mode was set to Screen (any option will do since it’s invisible) with a black (I know, in the picture to the left it’s white.  It’s invisible and doesn’t matter) and set it to 0% opacity so that it’s invisible.

By adjusting these values ever-so-slightly, you should get a bit of a darkening effect around the edge of the wave.

FadeYou can see the minor difference that it makes in this animated gif.  Look closely because it’s very subtle, but in my opionion very necessary to sell the overall effect of the waves.  You want to have the darker edge.

Your layer should be looking somewhat like this one at this time.

Now do the same procedure that you did with this layer to the remaining wave layers.  Be sure that you only have 1 layer visible at a time or things will get confusing very quickly and you may be tempted to make other types of changes based on the overall image at this point.  It’s best to leave that to the end during touchups.

BackgroundStep 3 – Adding the background

The background is a simply a gradient using similar colours to your waves.  I chose to have it go from darker (well, darker than white) at the top to lighter at the bottom.  Since the bottom half of your waves will be covering up the bottom part of your background in the end anyways, you really don’t have to worry about what the bottom of the background looks like at this point.  So a white background should work  just fine.

Now it’s just a matter of applying filters to the layers and some touchups.

Before & After LayersStep 4 – Adding the Layers and Touchups

First convert the wave layers into flat layers so that the layer effects are applied directly to the layer.  In other words, you’re flattening each layer, but be sure to keep everything above the wave complete opaque.  In the image to the left you can see what I mean.  The “Before” layer is how yours is set up now.  The “After” layer is what you need to convert it into.

Now make the 2 bottom-most wave layers visible.  To the upper wave layer, set the opacity to about 20% and apply a filter.  I mostly stuck with Hard Light, Linear Burn, Color Burn, Pin Light and Multiply.  Then do similar to the bottom wave layer too. This should lighten-up the bottom of the wave so it’s not so dark.

Make the next layer up visible and again apply a filter and set it to about 20% in opacity.  Repeat this until all the layers are visible and you should have something similar to my final product.

I hope this tutorial is enough to help get you started.

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