A trend I've seen in the last 6 months is a levels-crushed, posterized, aesthetic, mixed with strong colors that really pop.

Example image

The original is here (I've just isolated from the background)

What I know

  • There's obviously a papery texture underlying the whole image
  • There's a white fleck texture over the top of the image

What I'm fairly sure about

  • The colors (e.g. the yellow on the sleeves, or blur on the shoulders) are drawn back in, and blended down. The edges are too straight to not be. I'd be interested in more thoughts on this!

What I don't know

  • What's the treatment on the original photographs? Are they just grey-scaled, then massively over exposed, then posterised? Maybe they're messing with curves to reduce the shadows?

I've tried recreations but it's tough to get the original photography so flat with just posterizing adjustment layers in photoshop.

  • It looks like some sort of photocopy effect – Luciano Oct 3 '18 at 11:32
  • The "seahawks" on the right shoulder is still really sharp, which makes me question if it is a super destructive photo filter (like a photocopy or posterize) Also the soft shadow in the corners of the eyes makes me think it's something lighter than a photo filter. – Max Oct 3 '18 at 11:49

Midtones removing

I think the point is how to make a good stencil image. From there, the color areas is a creativity work.

From an image,

  • Channel Panel > Click the channel with the highest contrast
  • Select all > Copy
  • Click the RGB channel
  • Paste
  • Apply a Levels Adjustment Layer and remove the midtones by bringing the black and white to the center and moving the intermediate grays. This allows to have a better control on the type of image to obtain, since not all have the same disposition of shadows, lights and midtones.



Original photo from unsplash.com


I think you have more or less worked it out. I think the posterize filter is a bit too coarse for this, it gives a pretty pixelated result.

This example uses Black and White, Curves, and Contrast (legacy) adjusment layers, all clipped to an image with the background removed. The texture is some paper with flecks that I desaturated, inverted, posterized, then set the layer blending mode to Layer Dodge(Add). The Colouring layer is just set to overlay.

enter image description here

Edit after comments.

This could be taken a little further by crushing the curves a bit more to make everything a bit flatter, then adding another curves adjustment layer on the top of everything, to help make the shadows paler like a worn out print.

enter image description here

You could also paint in black on the Brightness/Contrast mask, to brighten up the highlights in the eyes/lips etc.

enter image description here

  • I like this answer and it creates a nice effect in a consistently reproducible way. My only gripe is that the curves only goes so far. I tried crushing the curves even further, and it's difficult to reduce the detail down to the original. Specifically the top left blue shoulder. The shadows in the original have been crushed down to just a 2 tones. Giving you that gnarly posterized look that eventually becomes the light and dark blue (focusing on the left shoulder) – Max Oct 3 '18 at 13:30
  • @Max I've added another edit to tweak it a bit further. – Billy Kerr Oct 3 '18 at 16:51
  • in addition to "painting in," there is no reason to not have multiple versions of the crushed areas that are masked and collaged together as the artists sees fit. – Yorik Oct 3 '18 at 17:55

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