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How to Create a Silk Screen Look in Photoshop CS5 using the Posterize Tool

Updated on October 29, 2011
Finished Image
Finished Image

I learned how to do silk screening while taking a class in graphic arts in 1979. Silk screening is a long process, but usually, if all goes right, you get a piece of artwork.

I have wanted to get the similar silk screen look from Photoshop, so I took the time to do a search on how to do it. There are quite a few tutorials on how to do this effect. I found a way that is perhaps a bit complicated, but I like the results. This uses the posterize feature to change over your image to a graphic look.

Posterization is defined as the conversion of a continuous gradation tone to several regions of fewer tones, with abrupt changes from one tone to another.

Note that there are two other ways to do this effect. The Cutout Filter and Threshold Adjustment are basically the same concept. I will explain those in future tutorials. The posterize effect gives the image more detail, but the end effect is very similar.

Turn to Black and White, Duplicate Layers
Turn to Black and White, Duplicate Layers

Open up your photo and convert it to black and white. Make three copies of it. Make a copy of your original color photo. You can add it back later to further enhance the finished image.

Adjust Contrast and Brightness
Adjust Contrast and Brightness

The first, or dark tone layer should be adjusted to +100 contrast, -150 brightness. The second, or mid-tone layer, should be +100 contrast, -40 brightness. The third, or high tones layer, should be +100 contrast, and about +40 brightness. You can adjust these to where you think they look right. These settings worked for me on this particular image.

Add Posterization to Layers
Add Posterization to Layers

Go to the dark tone layer, and hide the other layers. Select Posterize from the Image/Adjustments menu. This is the effect that will change the image to a high contrast, graphic look. I usually go no higher than 4. Adjust to where you think it looks right to you. Repeat this step for each layer.

Once this is done, you can further adjust each layer by using the Levels and Curves tools. There is no limit here!

Select Duotone, change to Monotone, pick a color
Select Duotone, change to Monotone, pick a color

Select Mode, and choose Duotone. Do not merge your layers. Select Monotone. Choose a color, perhaps a Pantone color or one of your own. The goal here is to get the image to one solid color so you can change it later if you so desire.

On this image, I left it as a Duotone throughout the whole process. On others images I will change it back to to RGB.

Adjust Layers
Adjust Layers

Turn off the high tones layer, and make sure that your dark tones layer is set to normal. This is your base layer. The middle tones layer on this was set to Difference. Other selections such as Luminosity, Dodge, etc work, also. It all depends on what you want. Experiment!

These two settings gave me the best results. You should see the middle layer compliment the image on the bottom layer. Adjust the layer Opacity to control how much you want to see.

Turn on the high tones layer and set that to Overlay. This brings in the detail in the lighter parts of the image. You can adjust the layer Opacity to control how much you see. Again, you can select any of the effects. It all really depends on your picture and what look you are after.

That completes it. You can adjust opacity levels, layer settings, or even change the color of the layers with the Hue control. An overall change in color can be done by flattening the image and adjusting the color. The sky is the limit with these adjustments!

Back to RGB, Original Photo added, layers selections changed.
Back to RGB, Original Photo added, layers selections changed.

Here is the same image turned into RGB and the original photo added to the bottom layer. The layers are from the top: 1st layer - overlay at 29%, 2nd layer - Luminosity at 79%, 3rd layer - Saturation at 23%! I experimented with all the layer selections until I got what I wanted.

Below is another image done with the same techniques, but with the image left as color through the whole process.

Please let me know if these instructions work out for you and thanks for reading.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Have used this feature in Photoshop and love the posterized effect it produces. I also studied screen printing as a graphic arts student in college. Fortunate enough to have an instructor who intro'd us to the many diverse areas of printing techniques. TY for sharing this info.

    • TTC12 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      One might be able to do this in Photoshop Elements. Not sure, though. Thanks for reading!

    • jfay2011 profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting. I have yet to do anything complicated with my digital photos but I am a photo buff. I will bookmark this.


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