How To Design An Abstract Wallpaper In Photoshop (and Illustrator)

Combining Illustrator and Photoshop can produce some dramatic and intense effects. Illustrator has the powers (and tools) to easily create abstract shapes, whereas in Photoshop, although possible, this can take up a lot more of your time.

In this tutorial we will be creating abstract shapes using the Pen Tool and Shape Tools in Illustrator and then using those shapes to produce an abstract wallpaper in Photoshop using various color blending techniques, textures and transformation tools. Let’s get going!

How To Design An Abstract Wallpaper In Photoshop (and Illustrator)

Step 1

As always with these step-by-step tutorials, we need to start by opening up a new document. We’re going to be using both Photoshop and Illustrator for this tutorial; Illustrator for creating our shapes, and Photoshop to put it all together and add texture and effects to the composition.
Unless you’re planning on sending your final design to press, you can just open up a Web Preset document – I’m going to use a 1920×1200 pixel document, the size of my iMac 24″ monitor, for both the Photoshop and Illustrator document.

Save your files immediately with a suitable name. There’s nothing worse than starting a project, getting half way through and your system crashing or losing power without saving your work. It’s unlikely, but always possible – it’s best to be on the safe side.

Step 2

With Illustrator open, drag some guides from the Ruler (View > Show Rulers) to make a cross as seen below. This is going to be the ‘center’ of our document – you’ll see what I mean in the next step.

Step 3

Use the Pen Tool (if you don’t have much experience with the Pen Tool, I suggest reading some tutorials for that before attempting the following tutorial) to draw your first shape. We’re going to make all our main shapes lead to the ‘center’ of our documents (by ‘center’ I am referring to the guide we just created, not the actual center of the document). We’re obviously going for an abstract look, so make your shapes curvy, pointy and, well, uncommon. For the time being, you can just use a thin black stroke with a white filling. This is my first shape…

Using the same technique, create some more abstract shapes.

As time passes by and you start getting more shapes, you’ll want to start placing some shapes beneath (or above) other shapes. You can do this by going to Object > Arrange and then selecting the suitable option.

Add a few more shapes from the ‘center’ of our document. It’s hard to tell you exactly what to do here, it really is just something where you need to experiment until it’s looking right. Try to add 2-4 for shapes without over-doing it.

Step 4

Things are starting to look a little confusing now with all the white shapes with black strokes, so it’s time to add some color! Choose a color scheme; you can either make this up yourself, or grab a cool palette from I’m going to use a great palette from called ‘I Demand a Pancake’.
Select a shape and click on a color from your swatch – remove the strokes after applying a color.

Repeat the step over until all your shapes are filled with a color.

Already our design is starting to look pretty good! Try selecting a 2-3 of our shapes and adding a subtle gradient. You can add a gradient using the Gradient Window – if you can’t see if, you can enable it by going to Window > Gradient. To apply the gradient, simply drag a color swatch on to the gradient window.

Step 5

It’s time to add a couple more shapes. This time, however, we’re going to be using the Ellipse Tool. Drag out a circle and fill it with a color of your choice. Place it beneath (or above) any other objects if required.

Repeat the step again…twice.

Step 6

Using the Pen Tool to draw some ‘droplets’ coming off our first circle.

Apply a gradient to your ‘droplets’ similar to the style I have used below – this is just to make them stand out a little more.

Step 7

It’s time to transfer out shapes over to Photoshop – this is the tricky part. First of all, make sure the Photoshop document we created the beginning of the tutorial is open. To get the shapes into our document, we’re going to have to place them in one by one. Copy a shape in Illustrator by selecting it and going to Edit > Copy, then in Photoshop go to Edit > Paste. A little window will pop-up, asking you how you want place the object – a smart object, pixels and so on; select Pixels. Insert your first shape – I’m going to insert my circle with the drops, you can insert these at the same time by selecting all the objects and copying them all at once.

Insert the rest of your shapes using the same method.

You probably noticed that after the first couple of shapes the first became easy as you should have just been able to match up the points of our shapes. Organize and rename your layers, and then save your Photoshop document.

Step 7

The next step is to add some different Blending Modes to our layers. A Blending Mode allows you to change what each layer does – for example the mode ‘Overlay’ allows you to see through a shape.
Select the layer which has the small circle on it in the bottom left corner. Duplicate it by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Rename it to ‘Small Bottom Circle Overlay’.

Move the circle somewhere else in the document (preferably over at least two other objects) and set the layers Blending Mode to Overlay.

Repeat the step again. Try it with another shape – you can rotate the shapes by going to Edit > Free Transform and dragging a corner up and down, side to side. Also, try changing the color of your shape to black – if it’s too much, you can lower the Opacity Level, which you will find next the Blending Mode.. This is my result…

Step 8

It’s time to add a background color. You could of course leave the background white – it completely depends on the look you’re going for.
Hide all of your layers by clicking on the little eye next to each layer. Make a new layer beneath all of your others and call it ‘Background Colors’. Select the Brush Tool, and select a large soft brush.

Paint some different areas on the new layer using vivid colors as seen in the screenshot below.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a Radius of 250.0 pixels – click OK.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance.

Up the Vibrance to +30 and decrease the Saturation to -80. On the new Adjustment Layer, go to Layer > Merge Down. You should be left with something like this…

Make another new layer above ‘Background Colors’ – using the same brush, paint a white area on on the new layer.

Change the Blending Mode of the new layer to Overlay, and lower the Opacity to 50%.

The color of our background doesn’t quite fit with the color of our foreground shapes. To fix this, we’re going to change the Hue settings. Click on your white brush layer (the layer above the background) and then go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Drop the Hue amount right down to -180. You should end up with something quite green looking like below – if not, try sliding the bar across until you have something that fits well with your image.

Step 9

Make a new layer somewhere in between your other layers. Using a large soft brush and a bright color, paint a blob over the ‘center’ (the ‘center’ we created using the guides earlier in the tutorial).

Set the ‘Yellow Blob’ layer to Overlay and decrease the Opacity to 45%.

Repeat the step again, this time using a slightly smaller brush, with a light (or even white) color selected.

Keep building upon your background, using different color blobs in different areas – try experimenting with different Blending Modes of the layers.

When you’re happy with your background so far, it’s time to move onto the next step.Step 10
It’s time to make our shapes fit in more with our background – at the moment they seem a little too clean. Make a New Folder in your Layers Window, and call it ‘Shapes’. Drag all of your shapes into it. If you have layers in between your shapes, you’ll need to make more than one folder to keep the layers in the correct order.

With our layers now organized, duplicate one of your shape folders, and with the folder selected go to Edit > Free Transform, and rotate your selection round.

Open up the new duplicated folder in your Layers Window and select all of the layers inside by clicking on the top layer, holding shift, and then clicking on the bottom layer. When all selected, right-click and click on ‘Merge Layers’. Go to Layers > Layer Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and play about with the hue setting; I used +140. With the adjustment layer selected, go to Layer > Merge Down to apply it to only your new shapes.

Using a soft eraser, erase some of the sharp (jagged) corners of your new shape.

Change the layers Blending Mode to Saturation.

Repeat the step several more times, duplicating different shapes and experimenting with different colors and blending modes. We’re looking to add load of very subtle changes to give our design more depth. This is what I have so far…

Step 11

Make a new layer beneath one of your shapes. With a soft, black brush, paint a ‘shadowed’ area.

Use the Eraser Tool to touch some of the areas up, and then set the layers Blending Mode to Overlay with an Opacity Level of 30%.

Repeat the step several more times, creating more and more ‘shadow’ layers for our shapes.

You can quite cleary see from the image above that these shadows have added a lot of depth and interest to the design. Repeat the step again, this time using a smaller, white brush, painting areas on top of the shapes rather than beneath them.

With your white highlight layer selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a radius of 4px. Hit OK, and change your layers Blending Mode to Soft Light, and lower the Opacity to 30%.

Step 12

Head over to Lost and Taken to download one of these grungy bokeh textures to place into our design. Copy (or save) and paste (or place) one of the textures in to our design. Resize and arrange it so it is beneath all of our other layers but above our background.

Change the texture layers Blending Mode to Overlay, and lower the Opacity to about 25%.

Download one of the dirty pulp textures (I used the last one) and insert it into your document. Again, resize and position it below all of your other layers but above your background and the other texture layer. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate to turn the new texture layer black and white.

Change the layers Blending Mode to Soft Light, and the Opacity to about 60%.

Step 13

Now we have some texture, try changing some of the original shape layers blending modes to see how things turn out. Use a combination of blending modes and opacity levels. This is what I ended up with after 5 minutes of playing…

Step 14

Let’s add some text. Select the Type Tool and choose a clean typeface – I’m going to use Helvetica Neue. Type something in white, and make sure the type layer is somewhere underneath your shape layers, but above your background. You shouldn’t have to make any other changes to this because the overlayed objects should interact well with the type.

Duplicate the typography layer and go to Edit > Free Transform. Whilst holding the shift-key, scale the typography up and rotate it.

Right-click on your second abstract type layer and click on Rasterize Type. This means it’s no longer editable type. Go to Edit > Transform > Warp. Drag different points into different areas as seen in the screenshot below.

Go to Edit > Transform > Perspective. Drag the bottom left corner down until you end up with something similar to below.

Rotate and scale the text again in Free Transform mode, and then position the type layer beneath all others but above our background and two texture layers.

Change the type layers Opacity to 20%.

Step 15

Make a new layer above all others, and call it ‘Border’. Hit the Cmd+A combination to make a selection of the whole canvas, and go to Edit > Stroke. The size you input here depends on the size of your document, in my case I’m going to use 10px. Choose a light color, preferably white – hit OK.

Drop the border layers Opacity level to about 35%.

Step 15

Go to File > Save to save your Photoshop document, and File > Save As to save as a Jpeg image. If you’re saving for web, go to File > Save for Web & Devices.


So, there we have it, our very own wallpaper, made up from simple shapes, blending techniques and color.


If you’re not convinced by your works colors, try playing with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment to what you can come up with. Here are a few of my other versions, which took just seconds to produce.

Alternatively, you could try increasing the contrast levels and changing your saturation levels…

You can download the PSD and AI files of this tutorial below ↓
Download the ZIP file here (25.2MB) (downloaded 599 times already!)
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, please take a minute to leave a comment below :)

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