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How to Draw Peacock Fractal Patterns with Photoshop

Updated on February 19, 2013
My Photoshop "Fractal Peacock"
My Photoshop "Fractal Peacock"

Can You Use Photoshop for Fractals?

For a long time I have been fascinated with fractal patterns. Fractals are everywhere and they are often used in digital art since they depend on applying the same mathematical transformation to a shape over and over. I had always thought that you needed special programs to design fractals, and never thought that you could draw them in photoshop. Recently I discovered an interesting keyboard command shortcut that easily allows some pretty complicated designs in photoshop.

The picture above is the result of my first attempt at digital 'doodling' in photoshop. I've used it to decorate items in my zazzle store, which is the main reason I've been trying to learn new tricks with my old photo editing software.

Personally I'm pleased with the 3D complexity and texture of the final image, but I wish I had paid more attention to colours as I was adding new elements, I think the different hues are somewhat jarring together, perhaps I will redo it choosing my colours more carefully. One of the problems of this kind of drawing, at least for me, is that I can't really predict what the final pattern will look like.

Of course, if you are serious about getting into fractal art, you should probably get one of the freeware fractal generators available online. Did you know that you can now use them to make 3D fractals?

The Main Photoshop Shortcut for Fractals

If you don't feel like reading through the whole process, but just want they key command here it is: CTRL+SHFT+ALT+T. Pressing those four buttons together is the secret to this way of generating cool recursive art patterns.

Basically you have to make a simple shape. You then duplicate the shape (either go to layer-->duplicate layer from the main menu, or ctrl+J) and do a slight transformation of the duplicate (edit-->free transform, or ctrl+T). You can make the new object slightly smaller, and rotate it by a few degrees. You also need to shift the transform centre. Once you have finished the transformation you can repeat this action as many times as you like by pressing the four buttons, ctrl, shft, alt and T simultaneously. This will just repeat the actions you've performed previously.

To make more complicated designs, duplicate the final object you created three or four times, use them to construct a new object, then overlap this several times, changing the hue each time. You can then use the new graphic you've created as the basis of a new fractal design. That's it....go and play.

Make a complicated graphic by overlaying several fractals, then repeat the whole process
Make a complicated graphic by overlaying several fractals, then repeat the whole process
Hide any layers that you don't want to merge
Hide any layers that you don't want to merge
Choose layer-- merge visible from the photoshop main menu
Choose layer-- merge visible from the photoshop main menu

A Step by Step Guide to the Fractal I Made

If you would like a more detailed explanation to how I created the peacock fractal (as I have decided to call it) read on. I am assuming you are generally familiar with using photoshop, also I am sure it is possible to do this in other programs such as paintshop, I just don't know the detailed commands.

You will definitely need to be familiar with layers in photoshop and how to merge a few chosen layers together into one. Although some people use folders to keep their work tidy, this is well beyond my disorganised doodling.

My method of grouping several objects into one layer, is to un-tick (hide) any layers that I want to be stand alone, for example the background, in the right-hand column. I then go to layers in the main menu and click on "merge visible". All layers that were not hidden will now be merged into one object, they can all be transformed together.

Simple Graphic to Start the Fractal

I started my doodling with a very basic 5 circle "flower" drawn from a circle at the centre and 5 elipses for the 'petals'. I filled the circles with nice patterns, but I think I could have just filled them with a color gradient or some texture.

Then on an impulse I used a "twirl" filter (main menu-->filter-->twirl) just to give the start some interest. I wonder if the pattern would have been very different if I just left the circles as they were.

The starting graphic.
The starting graphic.

Making the first 'fractal'

To make the first pattern, I duplicated the 'flower' layer (ctrl+J) then I transformed it a little bit (ctrl+T), I made it slightly smaller by dragging the corner while holding down the shift key to keep the proportions and rotated it by a small amount. I also moved the transform centre to the left. The hard work was now done, I simply pressed the 4 magic buttons (ctrl, shift, alt and T) simultaneously several times making more patterns, each slightly altered from the one before.

You can see the resulting pattern below

The first Pattern
The first Pattern
Turn the first spiral into a more complex one
Turn the first spiral into a more complex one

Making the Design More Complex

This design is a little bit more complex than the first one, and can be used for more complicated fractals. First of all you now have many layers in your document. Hide the background layer and merge all other layers into one. Then make a couple of duplicates, join them together and repeat the process. I ended up with the design on the right.

This new desing, merged into a single layer can again be the basis for the transformations. I made two copies of the second pattern and formed them into a ring as shown. I merged the three layers, duplicated them, changed the colors a little bit with the 'Hue' slider, (under image-->adjustments-->hue saturation in the main menu), then made this object a bit smaller and rotated it a bit.

The "ring" of swirls will be the basis of the final design.
The "ring" of swirls will be the basis of the final design.

The image below is starting to get an interesting 3D look. To me it has a rather sinister air about it like a pile of coiled snakes. The interesting thing is that if I made the 'ring' on the right with the purple facing inwards and the green "dragon wings" on the outside, the final pattern would have looked completely different.

Now is the time to merge all the layers and so you end up with one "coil of snakes" layer. This will be the starting point for the last chain of transformations. Duplicate this layer, transform its scale and orientation a little bit and then propagate the transformations like above.

A 'coil of snakes' made by overlaying the pattern on the left while changing color
A 'coil of snakes' made by overlaying the pattern on the left while changing color
The final image
The final image

The Final Photoshop Fractal

At the end of this photoshop doodling, I ended up with the image on the left. Immediately it reminded me of half of peacock's tail. I duplicated it, flipped it horizontally and viola! A friend suggested I add a heart, so I found this pretty image of a candle heart in the public domain and slipped it in the middle.

I wasn't very happy with how the colors turned out. I did play around with exposure, brightness settings etc. and I think I managed to make the picture a little bit more lively.


I hope I've convinced you that you can draw fractals in photoshop and that you will experiment with your own images. This is a lot of fun, because the final results are so unpredictable, and small variations during the process can make a big difference in the final image.

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    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando 4 years ago from Andalusia

      Thank you for your clear explanations and examples. I'll certainly have a go at drawing fractals in my new Photoshop projects.

    • aa lite profile image
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      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks, Sue. Fractals are huge fun, so I hope you give it a go. Lately I've been trying out "proper" fractal programs like apophysis and sterling 2, which are also nice.

    • profile image

      pinktbird57 3 years ago

      Love this hub! I enjoy finding new ways to utilize graphics features on my comp. This sounds fascinating and look forward to carving the time to experiment with fractals. TY

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