Pixlr (available online and free from www.pixlr.com) is a free online Photoshop alternative which has some cool features right out of the box, but that’s not what makes it really cool. Because it uses layers, you can get some other very cool effects which you can’t get in the box, including this great retro 1960s pop art screen print effect.
Why Not Pop Art?
To make art really pop, you have to go old school. The 1960s is not so much old school as prehistoric school, but if you want to take your art out of the digital box and have it look more analogue, you have to learn to do things the way they did in the old days.
Screen prints, like those done by Andy Warhol, were made from photographs with a layer of colours printed first, then an overprint of black. You can do the same thing with Pixlr or indeed any graphics program that lets you do layers; you just have to separate out the colours from the black.
It seems really simple and easy, and it is very easy to do, but the effect is really special.
Take any photo and load it into Pixlr. Choose the Editor version rather than Express when loading the picture (pick Open Image From Your Computer).
Select All by clicking “Ctrl + A” (or “Command + A” on a Mac) and Copy and paste the image onto itself. You now have two layers both the same. Double click on the name of the top layer and rename it “Black Layer.”
Choose the Background layer. Make a new layer. Rename this one Colour Layer.
The Colour Layer
This is now an empty layer over the background layer. Choose a big brush, say 200.
Paint in bold colours (or select colours from the actual photo),
and trace the shapes of the picture into areas of colour.
Once you’ve finished tracing all the objects in the photo, fill the rest with the Paint Bucket to make sure none of the original photo is showing. It’s okay to be quite messy with your tracing. These retro screen prints often had the colour flowing over the lines.
This is now the finished colour layer. In the original screen prints this would have been printed first. Now we need to simulate the black overprinting.
Setting the Black Layer
Select the Black Layer. Choose “Adjustment -> Desaturate” to make it black and white.
You can choose “Adjustment -> Brightness” and contrast here to fiddle with the tones, but it’s not essential.
Select “Filters -> Noise” and set it high to around 130.
Now to overprint it onto the colour layer below, select the Blend mode and choose Multiply.
Now the black layer is printed over the colour layer, and we’re done. Save your image either as a finished flattened (no layers) JPG or a PXD file with all the layers intact in case you want to work on it again.
If you want to go back in and make the colours more vibrant or just plain weird, click the colour layer and use the paint bucket to change the colours. Be sure to set the Tolerance to 0 to make sure it changes only the colour you click on and not the surrounding colours.
Let us know how you get on making your own retro screen print art in the comments below.