Create Reflections in Photoshop with Smart Objects, Part 2

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In part 1 of this tutorial, we saw how to create a placard using multiple layers converted into a Smart Object, and then distorted to match the position and distortion of the original bathroom sign and its reflection. But that, of course, is only half the story.

This time, we’ll see how to make these flat cards look more realistic, by masking them and then adding shading and adjustments to blend in with the original. We’ll also see how to add filters to the reflected card so that it appears to be rippled by the tile surface.

The design so far

Here’s the illustration as we left it at the end of part 1. As a montage, it looks entirely artificial. But because the layers are both Smart Objects, we’re able to apply a range of adjustments to them to make them blend into the bathroom background.

Add a layer mask

Select the placard, and use Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to make a new, empty layer mask. Using a hard-edged brush, paint on the mask in black in order to hide the placard where it goes behind the back of the basin and the faucet.

Make a Hard Light layer

Hold Command (Mac) / Ctrl (Win) and click on the thumbnail of the Smart Object layer in the Layers panel, to load it as a selection. Use Command+Shift+N (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+N (Win) to make a new layer, and choose Hard Light as the mode; check the box marked Fill with Hard Light Neutral Color. Click OK, then inverse the selection (Select > Inverse) and delete the area outside the selection.

Shade the layer

Use the Burn tool (set to Highlights and at a low Exposure setting) to gradually build up shading on the Hard Light layer. Because it’s a separate layer, you don’t need to worry about making mistakes—you can always correct them as you go along. The aim is to produce a more natural shading effect.

Mask the reflection

Switch to the reflected Smart Object layer, and add a layer mask in the same way. Here, though, you’ll need to hide the layer along those grout lines between the tiles. Use a small soft-edged brush and paint in black along the grout, to hide the layer in these areas. You can also use a much larger brush, at very low opacity, to fade the layer out a little in the bottom left corner.

Add a Glass filter

Now to add some texture. Select the reflected sign layer (rather than the layer mask) by clicking on its icon, and choose Filter > Filter Gallery. From the Distort section, choose the Glass filter, and add a very low distortion amount (around 2 works well) to make a small rippling effect in the reflected sign.

Fuzz it up

Now choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and add some blur to the layer (a radius of between two and three pixels should work fine). This softens the whole effect. Note that because you’re working on a Smart Object layer, neither of these filters is burned irrevocably into the image: you can always turn one or both of them off, using the eye icon next to each filter in the Layers panel, or double-click them to open their dialog so you can adjust their settings.

Darken the reflection

We want to be able to see the reflected sign at low opacity, and the usual way of doing this would be to reduce the opacity of the whole layer. In this case, though, that would simply result in our being able to see the original sign beneath. Instead, make a new Curves Adjustment Layer using the pop-up menu at the bottom of the Layers panel, and click the Clipping Mask button (bottom left in the Properties panel) so it only applies to the reflected sign layer. Raise the left marker and lower the right one, to greatly reduce the contrast in the layer.

Make final adjustments

Now that the layer is darkened, you may need to adjust the perimeter so that none of the original sign shows through. You’ll find that if you open Free Transform or Image Warp, you’ll see the handles appear exactly where you left them, making it easy to make further adjustments.

The finished image

Here’s how the image looks with all the adjustment layers, filters and masks in place. The reflection works remarkable well. But that’s not the end of it: because these are Smart Object layers, we can replace the contents with ease.

Vary the sign

Double-click either of the Smart Object layers and it will open in a new window. Here, you can make any changes you like—rewrite the text, change the font, even add new layers if you wish. When you save this new document, the changes will be written back into the Smart Object. In fact, it will be written into both versions of it; the reflected version, complete with distortions, mask and Adjustment Layer, will be changed along with the original.

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