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Turn your Favorite Vector Pattern into a Cool Wallpaper Background

posted by Matt Ward on Oct 8, 2009.

In this tutorial, we will look at a technique for taking your favorite vector pattern, importing it into Photoshop and designing a really cool and dramatic looking wallpaper. I’ve also made the final product available for download!

In today’s post, we’re going to walk through a really simple process for turning your favorite vector pattern into a really cool wallpaper… wallpaper.  Basically we are going to create a desktop background out of a pattern, and make it look like it’s actually a textured wallpaper. We’ll also add some dramatic lighting effects to make it look really cool. Here is a preview of what the final design will look like:

The Finished Wallpaper

The Finished Wallpaper

This is pretty easy to do, but there are a number of steps so, let’s get started.

Step 1

First, create a new document. You can make yours whatever size you want, but I’m going to make mine 1280 x 800 so that I can use this as the desktop wallpaper on my MacBook. Also, be sure to set your document to RGB colour mode, as some of the filters and effects we will be using are not available in CMYK mode.

Create a New Document

Create a New Document

Select white as your foreground colour and fill the canvas. Now press X to invert your background and foreground colours and set your foreground to a light grey. Hex code #BBBBBB should work nicely. Select Filter » Texture » Texturizer from the menu.

Set the texture type to Canvas, your scaling to 100% and your relief to 6. Also, change your light option to Left, which will emphasize the vertical ribbing in our new canvas texture. Once all the options are set, go ahead and apply the filter.


Create a New Canvas Texture

This will give us a nice canvas texture for our wallpaper, which we will lay over the rest of our design. To prepare for this, set the layer to multiply.

Our Created Canvas Layer

Our Created Canvas Layer

Step 2

Okay, the next step is also preparatory. First, we’re going to save our file twice. Go ahead and save the file, calling it distort.psd. Now, use the Save As option to save the same file again. This time call it something like wallpaper.psd.

Yes, I know that this gives us two identical copies of the same file, but stick with me here.

Now, open up distort.psd again. We should only have a single layer here, so simply select Filters » Blur » Gaussian Blur from the menu. In the dialogue box, set the radius to about 1.

Apply a Slight Blur to Prepare this File for Later

Apply a Slight Blur to Prepare this File for Later

Save the file and close it. We’ll come back to it in a bit.

Step 3

Select a colour palette. You can do this in a number of different ways. You can go out to your favorite colour website, such as COLOURlovers or Adobe Kuler and find or create your own colour palette. I chose to simply sample a few of they key colours from my website, to help keep in tune with my branding

Once you have selected your colours, create a new fill layer. Select Layer » New Fill Layer » Solid Color. Select the colour you want for your background and create the layer. Now, drag the new fill layer beneath the canvas texture.

Select a Background Colour

Select a Background Colour

If you choose a colour as dark as mine, you will hardly be able to see the texture, but that’s okay. We are going to add some lighter colour soon!

Step 4

Open your vector pattern. In this case, we will be using the new Abstract Blobs pattern that I uploaded a few days ago. We will be using the plain version (as opposed to the fully coloured versions, which have a background and a foreground). I’ve chosen this option because it has no background, which will let our fill layer show through properly.

Open the Abstract Blobs Pattern

Open the Abstract Blobs Pattern

With the pattern open select Edit » Define Pattern from the menu. This will bring up the pattern dialogue box, where we can give our new pattern a name. In this case, I will simply call it Abstract Blobs.

Create a New Pattern Preset

Create a New Pattern Preset

Press OK to create the pattern and automatically add it to the currently library.

Step 5

Next, create another fill layer. This time, instead of using a Solid Color fill, use a Pattern fill. In the new layer dialogue, name the layer “Pattern” and press OK.

Now you can select the pattern. Open the pattern flyout and select the Abstract Blobs pattern. Set the Scale to 75% and then create the layer.

Create a new Pattern Fill Layer

Create a new Pattern Fill Layer

Step 6

Of course, our colour scheme doesn’t call for a black pattern (in this case, it’s plain black, which is rendering lighter than our background), so we’re going to use some Layer Styles to fix this – specifically the Color Overlay style. However, we have to do something else first. If you try adding a Color Overlay to the pattern layer, you will find that the overlay covers the entire layer, including all the transparent areas.

Obviously, this isn’t what we want.

So, let’s fix it by transforming the pattern layer into a Smart Object. To do this, simply right click the pattern layer in the Layers Palette and select Convert to Smart Object from the contextual menu.

Convert the Pattern Fill Layer to a Smart Object

Convert the Pattern Fill Layer to a Smart Object

Because the Smart Object is rendered more like a normal pixel layer, we can now apply our Color Overlay. Click the layer styles button at the bottom of the Layers Palette and select Color Overlay. Select the colour you want for your pattern, set the blending mode to normal, the opacity to 100% and press OK.

Add a Colour Overlay to the Pattern Fill Layer

Add a Colour Overlay to the Pattern Fill Layer

This will effectively change the colour of our pattern. Now, simply drag the pattern layer beneath the canvas layer and above the background layer.

NOTE: If you are using a pattern that doesn’t have a transparent background, the previous 3 steps may not apply to you. From this point forward, we will be working with the pattern layer and background layer as one, so you can substitute your own pattern for this combination in the steps that follow.

Step 7

Did you know that it’s possible to embed Smart Layers within Smart Layers? This is exactly what we are going to do next. In the Layers Palette, select the pattern and background layers (the former being a Smart Object itself). Right click and select Convert to Smart Objects again. This will create a new Smart Object out of these two layers.

Now, let’s get back to the distort.psd file that we created earlier. Select, Filter » Distort » Displace from the menu. Set your Horizontal and Vertical scales to 2, the Displacement Map to Stretch to Fit and the Undefined Areas to Repeat Edge Pixels. Press OK.

Apply a Displace Smart Filter

Apply a Displace Smart Filter

Unlike some other filters, this will actually bring up an open dialogue box, from which you will select the previously created distort.psd. This Photoshop file will now be used to apply a slight displacement to the pixels in the Smart Object, which you can see more easily by temporarily hiding the canvas layer.

Essentially, what we’re doing here is contouring the pattern to the shape suggested by our canvas layer. The effect is really subtle, but it works well for this sort of warping and I wanted to include it here.

Step 8

Now let’s add some drama to our composition with a Smart Filter. Actually, we’ve already used a Smart Filter when we applied our Displace distortion, but let’s take a brief look at what Smart Filters are and how we can use them.

It’s really simple. A Smart Filter is just a regular filter applied to a Smart Object. Because Smart Objects are actually embedded files (Photoshop, Illustrator, RAW), they retain all of their original properties. This means that you can resize and distort them in all kinds of ways, and then be able to go back and change your settings whenever you want.

The same is true of Filters. When you run a filter on a Smart Object, it becomes a Smart Filter, which essentially means that it is an editable filter that you can change and modify at will.

We’re going to use this concept by applying a lighting effect.

Select our canvas layer and our pattern Smart Object and convert them to a new Smart Object, just as we did before. Now, all of our work is packed into several different Smart Objects, all nested inside each other. With this main object selected, let’s apply a lighting effect. Select Filter » Render » Lighting Effects from the menu.

In the dialogue box, select an Omni light, with the following settings.

Add a Lighting Effect with These Settings

Add a Lighting Effect with These Settings

Notice how I directed the light closer to the bottom of the canvas. This is a personal preference toward offseting the balance a little and increase the drama of the effect. You can do it however you’d like. Click OK to apply the effect.

Our Wallpaper with the Lighting Effect

Our Wallpaper with the Lighting Effect

Step 9

It’s looking pretty good now, but we want the final wallpaper to have a really dramatic feel. So, create a new layer and, with a large, soft brush we’re going to start painting some extra colour. I would recommend using two bright colours that complement your palette. In this case, I chose a bright cyan and a somewhat muted yellow.

Start painting in a circle, just off the center of the canvas. Paint so that the colour is the most opaque in the middle and the most transparent around the edges, sort of like spotlight. I usually also apply a Gaussian Blur to diffuse the colour even more.

Paint a Yellow Lightsource with a Large, Soft Brush

Paint a Yellow Lightsource with a Large, Soft Brush

Once you are satisfied with the layer, set the blending mode to Overlay. Depending on the colours you choose, you may also have to play with the layer transparency. I found the yellow came on a bit too strong, so I reduced my transparency to 50%.

Convert the Blending Mode to Overlay

Convert the Blending Mode to Overlay

Repeat this process with your second colour, in a slightly different spot. Keep adding Overlay layers in slightly different locations, all overlapping in the center. This will build up a very dramatic effect, something like this

Repeat the Process Several Times

Repeat the Process Several Times

Step 10

One more lighting effect to go. In the same way that we created our Overlay layers, paint a new light on a new layer, at the heart of where all of your Overlay lights converge. Use white as your colour and set the blending mode to Pin Light. Try not to paint the light on too thick, as you want this to be a fairly subtle effect. If it does get a bit heavy, try adjusting your transparency settings to compensate.

Complete the Lighting Effect with a bit of White

Complete the Lighting Effect with a bit of White

Step 11

We’re going to apply one final effect here, a vignette technique that I use in a lot of my designs.

Create a new layer and select the gradient tool. Make sure that the gradient mode is set to radial and that you have the standard black and white swatch selected. Also, you are going to want to set the blending mode of the gradient tool to Multiply. Now, set your cursor in the center of the canvas. Click and draw a line to one of your edges. This should create your radial gradient, with black in the center and white at the edges.

Repeat this process several times, always moving from the center to the edges. With each repetition the amount of black will grow larger. You may also find that you are getting a bit of banding. I usually fix this by simply applying a strong Gaussian Blur, which blends the colours very nicely.

Create a Black-Heavy Radial Gradient

Create a Black-Heavy Radial Gradient

I also usually just eyeball it, but if you want to be really precise, just set up one vertical guide at 640px and one horizontal guide at 400px. The point where they cross will be the exact center of the canvas. Of course, if you’re using different dimensions, your center point will be different, so you’ll have to do the math to figure that out yourself (sorry!).

Next, just invert the layer by pressing Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I) and set the blending mode to multiply. Now you should have a nice vignette effect around the edges of your design.

Invert and Set to Multiply

Invert and Set to Multiply

Step 12

This last step I leave this entirely up to you. We’ve come this far with our wallpaper design, what you do beyond is entirely up to you. For my part, I simply added a nice coloured bar with my logo and blog address. This works just fine for me, but you can add whatever you’d like.

The Finished Wallpaper

The Finished Wallpaper

Also, if you’ve read through all of this and really just want the wallpaper, you can download it by clicking on the preview of the finalized design, above.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and learned a thing or two. Let me know what you think! Was this article useful for you? Is there anything else that you might like to know? Just leave a comment!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Oct 9, 2009

uzma says:

great tutorial thanks, will definitely try it out!

Oct 9, 2009

Ibrahim says:

It’s cool. Thanks for tutorial :)

Oct 27, 2009

sriganesh says:

nice design,so you are allowing others to copy your whole tutorial and publish in their site ???, as a blogger i wont do, i respect others work, what is this you can see it here …i like you to see this http://bit.ly/YOPlG

Oct 27, 2009

Matt Ward says:

@sriganesh. Thanks for the props man! This was really fun tutorial to write, and I’m glad so many people have enjoyed it.

I guess I need to be flattered to, since the site you posted totally ripped off my content. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

But, to answer your question, no I didn’t give permission to have the post republished. Some people had tweeted me about it just before you left your comment, so I’m a bit vexed and extremely unhappy.

Regardless, thanks for letting me know what you found, and thanks for your participation on my blog!

May 13, 2010

Surabhi says:

Great tutorial,
Thank u so much…
Its really helpful!!

Jun 16, 2010

clippingimages says:

Real piece of Pattern and vector work …like the work indeed…thanks for sharing…

Jul 9, 2010

Pat says:

Thx for this tutorial!

Oct 11, 2010

Canvas Art says:

thanks for the tutorial – you make it look so easy! I’m new to this and I just wondered how good would your pc have to be to edit images like this? I only have 500mb of ram, just wondered if it would be possible or should I go invest..? Thanks

Nov 9, 2010

sheri says:

Thanks for tutorial just about to have a go at it let ya know how i get on ?

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