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Warp Anything in Photoshop CS2

Last updated Mar 14, 2003.

Back in the old days of Photoshop 6, Adobe added a feature that allowed you to warp text. Some of the options for warping were pretty handy but you were restricted to using them on only type. Well, Adobe has taken it a step further in Photoshop CS2 with the new Warp tool. Now, you can warp any object, layer, or selection just as you could type. This is a must-have feature if you're a designer because it takes away the need for you to fake this effect using filters or various other techniques.

To demonstrate the new Warp feature we're going to use a filmstrip object that I've created. You can download the filmstrip file that I'm using here to follow along. First, open the filmstrip file in Photoshop. This is a great example of how useful this new feature is because it allows us to create a nice effect that would have been difficult in earlier versions of Photoshop.

  1. Target the filmstrip layer by clicking on it once. Then choose Edit > Transform > Warp. This will bring up Warp mode. The first thing you should notice is that a small grid is placed over your object. This is the warp grid. At this point, you can't paint on the layer or do anything to it but warp or transform the object.
  2. You may also see the word Custom in the top options bar. There is a drop-down list under Custom that allows you to change this to any of the preset options by clicking on the down arrow. These options should look familiar to you if you've ever use the text warp feature in previous versions of Photoshop.
  3. Let's go ahead and leave this setting on Custom for this tutorial. Now, click on the top left corner point and start dragging it up and to the left to begin warping this object.
  4. Now, bring the top right point in toward the center a bit. Then, click on the bottom left point and start moving it out to the left and up. We're trying to give this object some shape. Something that makes it look more fluid and bendable instead of the flat filmstrip object. Honestly, you can experiment with how you move the corner points, as there is no steadfast rule on how this should look.
  5. When you're done, you can press the Enter/Return key to commit the warp transformation. Once you do this, the grid over the object will disappear and the layer will be editable again.

    You could just as easily stop here but we're going to take this an extra step. The warped filmstrip effect looks great. However, we're after a realistic effect here and we'll need to add a drop shadow to complete this technique. We could always use Photoshop's Drop Shadow layer style but that lacks the punch that we're looking for. A better alternative would be to use the same techniques we've used so far and create our own drop shadow under the filmstrip using the same Warp feature.

  6. Click once on the filmstrip layer to make sure it's the active layer. Then press Ctrl/Cmd + J to duplicate the layer so you have two copies.
  7. Now, let's fill the bottom copy of the filmstrip layer with black. However, we're going to do this with a very cool little trick. First, set your foreground color to black (the easy way to do this is by pressing the D key). Next, click once on the bottom filmstrip layer to make it active. Then press Shift + Alt/Option + Backspace. That will fill only the contents of the layer with black and allow the transparent areas to remain transparent.
    Figure 8a

    Figure 8a The Layers Palette palette

    Figure 8b

    Figure 8b The canvas (Note that I've hidden the top copy of the filmstrip so you could see the effect.)

  8. Now, since drop shadows are typically soft and slightly faded, we'll need to blur the bottom drop shadow layer. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a setting of 10 pixels to soften the drop shadow and press OK. Feel free to use more or less here depending on the drop shadow effect you're looking for.
    Figure 9a

    Figure 9a The Gaussian Blur dialog.

    Figure 9b

    Figure 9b The canvas. Again, I've hidden the top copy of the filmstrip layer so you could see the effect.

  9. Okay, we're almost done. Let's warp the drop shadow layer. Choose Edit > Transform > Warp. Adjust the corner points according to how you want the drop shadow to appear. The goal is to make the top filmstrip layer look as if it's lifted off the page in certain areas. When you're done, press the Enter/Return key to commit the warp.
  10. The shadow is a little harsh so reduce the opacity of the drop shadow layer to about 45%.
  11. This effect will probably make a nice impact if you add it to another photo or image. First, target the top filmstrip layer and press Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge it with the drop shadow layer under it. This will leave you with just one filmstrip layer and the white background behind it.
  12. Open another photo or the image on top of which you'd like to put this filmstrip. Then, make sure you have your windows positioned so you can see both of the images in Photoshop. Next, drag the filmstrip layer to the new photo image that you just opened and Photoshop will automatically copy that layer to the new document. To finish things off, you can add some text at the top as well. I've use a script font here but you could just as easily use any font that is fitting for your occasion.
    Figure 13a

    Figure 13a The final image

    Figure 13b

    Figure 13b The Layers palette of the final image

The sky is the limit here. There are really no boundaries as to what can be done with the new Warp feature in CS2. The best part about this feature is that it gives you control. Now we no longer have to fake these effects with distort filters. Not only does it save you time, but it opens up an entirely new world of creative options in Photoshop. Until next time—happy Photoshopping!