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Video Game Cover Design

One of the best places to find inspiration, aside from movie posters and magazines, is video game covers. In this project, we’ll combine a number of different effects from several video game covers that I really like. It really demonstrates well how you can combine images with text elements in a non-destructive way with smart objects.


As usual, we’ll start our video game cover design with the background image. Open the car image shown here. It’s a great shot, but we need to spice it up a little bit. First, let’s get it into the layout by pressing Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to Select All, then Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to Copy it to the clipboard.



Press Command-N (PC: Ctrl-N) to create a new document, and make it 7 inches wide by 10 inches tall at 100 ppi. Then, paste the car image into the new document by pressing Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V). Press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to go into Free Transform mode, press-and-hold the Shift key, and click-and-drag a corner point to resize the image. Then, position it in the composition like you see here. Press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in your transformation.


Here’s another cool trick for boosting the contrast of an image: click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels. Do not make a single change in the Adjustments panel. Just change the Levels adjustment layer’s blend mode to Overlay. This alone will make the colors really pop. I don’t really know why, but hey, it works for me.


To go along with the whole racing theme of the video game cover we’re creating, open the checkered flag image and use the Move tool (V) to drag it or copy-and-paste it (the way we did with the background image) into the working layout. Position it in the top left of the layout (as shown here).



Add a layer mask to the checkered flag layer by clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then, get the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox, click on the down-facing arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar, and choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient (the second gradient from the left in the top row). With your Foreground color set to black, click-and-drag diagonally from the bottom right to the top left to fade the checkered flag into the background, like I’ve done here.


Now, on to the text objects. Create another new document that is 12 inches wide by 3 inches tall at 100 ppi. Grab the Horizontal Type tool (T) from the Toolbox and click in your new document to create a text layer. Here, I set the color to gray in the Options Bar, and typed the word “GEAR” using Serpentine Bold. Then, I went into Free Transform and scaled it to cover almost the entire image area.


Before we add some layer style effects to the text, we need to define a couple images as textures that we’ll apply through layer styles. The first is this seamless carbon fiber pattern. Open the file, and then go under the Edit menu and choose Define Pattern. Give the pattern a name and click OK. We’ll use this as a background element.



Next, open the other car image on the blue background and define it as a pattern, as well. We’ll apply this image to the text through a layer style.



Now we have quite a collection of layer styles we’re going to use to dress up this text graphic. First, in your text document, click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer, and then move it below the text layer in the layer stack. Then, fill that layer with 50% gray by pressing Shift-Delete (PC: Shift-Backspace) and choosing 50% Gray from the Use pop-up menu in the Fill dialog. Click OK.

STEP 10:

Click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Pattern Overlay. Then, click on the Pattern thumbnail, locate the Carbon Fiber pattern at the bottom of the Pattern Picker, and click on it to select it. Also, drop the Scale down to 50%.

STEP 11:

Click on Gradient Overlay on the left side of the dialog to turn it on. Use the default Black, White gradient, but change the Blend Mode to Overlay, turn on the Reverse checkbox, change the Style to Radial, the Angle to 180°, and the Scale to 150%. Remember, you can move the pattern around manually if you want by clicking in the image window and dragging it around. Click OK when you’re done.

STEP 12:

Now, click on the text layer in the Layers panel to make it active, then click on the Add a Layer Style icon, choose Bevel and Emboss, and apply the settings you see here. For Gloss Contour, be sure to choose the Ring preset, which is the second icon in the second row in the Gloss Contour Picker.

STEP 13:

Click on Pattern Overlay on the left to turn it on, then click on the Pattern thumbnail and, this time, locate the Car Pattern we defined earlier. Drop the Opacity down to 85% and increase the Scale to 175%. Then, move the Layer Style dialog aside and click-and-drag the pattern around in your image window, so you can see some of the reflective surface of the car inside the text.

STEP 14:

Next, click on Satin on the left to turn it on, and then click on the color swatch to the right of the Blend Mode pop-up menu and choose white. Set the Blend Mode to Color Dodge and drop the Opacity to 50%. Set the Angle to 14°, the Distance to 15 px, and the Size to 21 px. You can also adjust the satin look manually by clicking in the image window and dragging it around, like we did with the Pattern Overlay layer style.

STEP 15:

Finally, click on Stroke on the left to turn it on. Keep the Color set to black, increase the Size to 10 px, and make sure the Position is set to Outside. Click OK when you’re done.

STEP 16:

Now you can see, after all we’ve done, that we’ve dressed the text up quite nicely with layer styles. Before we bring the text into the working layout, though, Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on the carbon fiber layer (Layer 1), so that both it and the text layer are selected, then Right-click on either layer and choose Convert to Smart Object. Now, click-and-drag or copy-and-paste this smart object into the working layout.

STEP 17:

With the smart object in your working layout, go into Free Transform, press-and-hold the Shift key, and resize the layer, so that the text fits the width of the layout (and you don’t see all the extra carbon fiber texture on either side). Press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in the transformation. Add a layer mask and then select the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) from the Toolbox. Create a selection along the top edge of the word, then press-and-hold the Shift key (to add to the selection) and create a selection right along the bottom edge of the text. With your Foreground color set to black, press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill these selected areas with black. This will hide the excess edge of the carbon fiber texture. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect.

STEP 18:

Go into Free Transform mode again, and then Right-click inside the bounding box and choose Skew. Press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key, then click-and-drag the right-middle control handle upward to skew the text object to match the angle of the car. Right-click inside the bounding box again, choose Scale, then press-and-hold the Shift key and click-and-drag the top-middle control handle up to increase the size of the text. Press Return when you’re done.

STEP 19:

Now we need to add one more text element just above GEAR. Since we’ve already gone through the process of creating the GEAR text, we can just do this by making a duplicate of the Smart Object layer and modifying it. However, creating a regular duplicate will keep the contents of the Smart Object layer linked to the duplicate—meaning, if we change one, it will change the other. So, to make an unlinked copy of the Smart Object layer, Right-click on it and choose New Smart Object via Copy.

STEP 20:

Double-click on the duplicate Smart Object thumbnail to open it up. Using the Horizontal Type tool, highlight the text and type “MAXX.” Then, move the text to fit in the canvas area. Lastly, click on the Eye icon to the left of the background carbon fiber layer to turn it off, press Command-W (PC: Ctrl-W) to close the document window, and save the changes when prompted. The new text will then be updated in the working layout.

STEP 21:

Go into Free Transform again, and scale the MAXX text layer down and position it just above the GEAR text, so it overlaps slightly, like you see here. As an option, you can add a Drop Shadow layer style to both Smart Object layers to help give them a little more depth (as I’ve done with the settings shown here). And, as a final touch, you could use the flare brush from Chapter 1 and add it to the specular highlight on the car, as well as the text.

In the final image, you’ll see I added some finishing elements to polish the effect. At the top, I created a fake version of the Xbox label, with a few tweaks of my own. I simply created a rectangle on a new layer and filled it with white. Then, I added the gradient element along the bottom of it and added the logo and text on top. I also threw in the fake rating graphic at the bottom. These finishing elements would normally be handled by the manufacturer, but as a designer, you must be aware of them and leave space in the design to accommodate them. Otherwise, critical parts of your design can be obstructed.

Final Image

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