Presidential Pattern in Photoshop – McCain vs Obama

In this Photoshop tutorial, we’ll dive into a pattern inspired by the artwork in the Stephen Colbert bookI Am America (And So Can You)” (the book has some very good illustrations). The tutorial will cover creating vector artwork from a photograph, taking the vector artwork and making a repeatable pattern and then creating a groovy wallpaper that utilizes the pattern. For the pattern, we’ll pit Barack Obama versus John McCain. As one reader pointed out in the last tutorial which featured only Barack Obama, we’ll feature both canidates in the upcoming Presidential election.
Download PSD Files

Step 1: Gather resources

First we need to acquire two profile photos of Barack Obama and John McCain. These two photos will help create vector illustrations of the candidates. For creating a wallpaper texture, we need a good paper texture.

Step 2: Setting up the photos to vectorize

We need to create simple two tone vectors for Obama and McCain and to help us in creating the vector we’ll use the Stamp filter (Filters >> Sketch >> Stamp). I removed the background quickly using the magic wand tool, and then applied the stamp filter. The purpose of using the stamp tool is to provide a rough estimate of where the paths need to follow along.

Stamp Filter

Step 3: Create vector paths

Democratic Debates

To actually create the paths, I used Adobe Illustrator instead of Photoshop. (I find Illustrator better for hardcore use of the pen tool, but if you are more comfortable with Photoshop, it’ll do the job too.) I took both photos as well as both photos with the stamp filter applied, brought it over to Illustrator, and created pen paths using the photos as a guide. I provided some detail for the jacket and tie, but for the most part, you want make the area below the neck a long rectangle. Since the Obama’s photo had him wearing a suit and tie and I want some conformity, I copied the vector and added McCain’s head to the suit and tie. I used the dark colors from the palette below I found on Colour Lovers and made the Obama vectore blue: #2140A2 & McCain red: #BB1A1A.

Using Illustrator: If you are going to use Illustrator for creating the vectors, copy and paste the four images (photos and stamped photos) from Photoshop into an Illustrator document. I made sure that each photo was on it’s own layer, and locked each of these layers. I created the Obama and McCain vector paths on their own separate layers as well. It’s a good idea to place the photos on their own locked layers because you won’t be able to edit the images in Illustrator, and you will be able to quickly turn off a photo layer at will. I created the silhouettes of the characters using a 2 pt stroke path, then create shapes filled with the correct color to show details for the candidates hair, eyes, mouth and chin.

Vector Obama McCain
Vector McCain Obama

Step 4: Creating the Pattern

Now we want to bring the vector paths back into Photoshop to create the pattern. I created a large document (3500 square pixel to be exact) so that there was space to create the pattern and also have high resolution vectors. Copy and paste Obama and McCain to their own separate layers as “pixels” (making sure they were of equal size proportions). I applied an outside stroke using Layer Styles to each candidate so that the pattern could smoothly transition from one vector to the other. Started to create the pattern by duplicating the layers and placing each vector layer above the next. Once you have a few repeats in the column pattern, duplicate the column, and make another row so that they are next to each other, but offset the pattern so that Obama and McCain are directly looking at each other.

Stroke Layer Style

If you’ve ever made a complicated and precise pattern, you’ll know that to make the pattern repeat correctly, you’ll need to pick a spot in the pattern, and then find that exact same spot in the pattern again. What helped me was to use the guides to dissect Obama & McCain at their noses. (To make a guide by clicking on the document ruler and drag out onto the document) To start the pattern on the left, I aligned a guide snug against the beginning of McCain’s nose. I could easily place the right end guide by finding the beginning of McCain’s nose horizontally to where it touched the other guide. For the top and bottom guides, I again used their noses to find the area of repeat.

Using the guides helped properly align the pattern as well. When I created the pattern initially, some of the face offs (when the two where looking directly at each other) where slightly off because I began manually repeating the pattern. Using the guides help reveal and solve the problem. Once you properly align the pattern and created guides, take the rectangular marquee selection tool, and create a selection along the guides. To make the pattern, go to Edit >> Define Pattern…

To apply the pattern to a layer, take the paint bucket tool, and set the fill to ‘Pattern’ and pick the pattern just made.

Define PatternPaint Bucket Pattern

Step Five: Creating the Wallpaper

I created a new document at 2560 px by 1600 px dimensions. Since I wanted to tilt and reduce the pattern size, I created another 12000 x 12000 px document (yes those dimensions are correct) and filled the document with the pattern. Once Photoshop filled the document with the pattern (it took a while on my machine) I brought the layer over to the wallpaper sized document and rotated and reduce the layer.

Wallpaper 1

I took a photo of aged paper and put it on top of the pattern layer. I duplicated the paper layer and set one layer to Blending mode Lighten at 9% opacity and Multiply at 46% opacity.

Wallpaper with texture

I then created a white layer above the pattern set to Soft Light blending mode at 28% opacity. What this does is make the colors in the pattern look more faded and worn. Then I created a new layer to darken the outer edges of the wallpaper. To give the effect of light shining in the middle, I added a radial gradient set to Overlay at 10%.

Wallpaper and Layers

Final Result

Wallpaper Final

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