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Photoshop: Custom Paint Job using Spot Channels

Check out our Photoshop: Compositing Workflows in Photoshop course!

I recently ended up intruding on the film set of a Halle Berry movie while walking to my training suite in Glasgow. I noticed this American pick-up (Glasgow was substituting for San Francisco) that reminded me of Mater, thats Tow-mater of Disney/Pixar Cars. I took a picture and thought it could do with a bit of pimping in Photoshop. Here is how I did it.


Step 1 - Select the Bodywork

Now I only had my camera phone, so its not the highest of resolutions but I’ll do my best. 

Selectin the bodywork


Using the Quick Selection tool I began to select the painted bodywork of the pick-up. It’s never perfect first time round but its a place to start


Step 2 - Tidy the Selection

The Marching Ants went all over the front grille, tyres etc. However I have always found that selection tools such as the Quick Selection tool do a better job de-selecting areas than selecting (is that just me or is there a scientific reason to this I wonder?).

The marching ants


Pressing and hold Option converts the tool to its de-select mode and I gently removed as much excess as I dare. Don’t forget that using { and } to re-size the brush as you select makes the job a whole lot easier.


Step 3 - Refine Edge

With the marching ants in full flow I used Refine Edge Select > Refine Edge to have a closer look at my selection. 

Refine the edge


With the Refine edge tool I first turned on the edge detection and set it to 9.2 px. Following that I adjusted the Shift Edge to + 9 to increase the radius of the selection slightly. I also pushed the Contrast to 79 to get some more definition around the pickup and finally to smooth some of the rough, low res edges I set Smooth to 21. This still didn't make the selection perfect, but it improved things a lot.


Step 4 - Manually Refining the Selection 

Once the Refine Edge had done all it could for me and I’d clicked OK to close the window I switched to the Quick Mask Mode found at the foot of the Toolbar (or by pressing Q).

Quick Mask


After pressing D to set my colors to the default Black and White and pressing B to select the Brush tool I was ready to begin perfecting the selection of the cars bodywork.

The brush


I always find that its easier to control the brush “on the fly” by pressing the Option key and the Control key simultaneously at the same time as clicking and dragging the mouse horizontally to increase or decrease the brush size or vertically to vary the brush hardness. Try it if you haven't already done so. 

Using Black to paint areas out of the selection, or White (press X to alternate between them) I gradually lick the mask into shape until I’m satisfied its as good as I can get. 


Step 5 - Create a Spot Channel

Once the selection is perfected, I open the Channel Panel and from the Pop-up Menu select New Spot Channel. 

The black spot


From the options that appear I chose Black as the color and I set the Solidity to 0% so as to allow the highlights, reflections etc from the original shine through. The car now looks painted black.


Step 6 - Create a Second Spot Channel

To create a second spot channel, so as to create a pimped truck look I re-selected the truck by holding down Command and clicking on the Black Spot Channel’s thumbnail. Then I made another Spot Channel as I had the first. 

Yellow spot


This time I chose a warm yellow hue for my paintwork, setting the Solidity again to 0%


Step 7 - Pimping Up

At present both Spot Channels occupied the same space, resulting in both colors effectively overprinting. I needed to modify the shape of both spot channels so as to create a blended paint job. 

The channel brushed


I switched off all the color channels except the two spot channels, which made it easier to view. 

Using a Brush set to 600 pt and with a Hardness of 0% I painted over the Front of the truck on the Black channel, removing some of it, but leaving a feathered edge. 

I then painted over the opposing areas of the truck on the Black channel with the same White brush, so that the two channels blended together in the middle. 


Step 8 - The Finished Result

Once this was complete I switched the color channels back on, and this was the result.

The final result


A pimped up custom paint job Mater. See what else you can pimp-up using this technique, have fun. 



Check out our Photoshop: Compositing Workflows in Photoshop course!

David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.

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