Creating an opaque background for photoshop paintings

A Photoshop technique I was recently asked about was how to create a semi-transparent background for tracing. This involves creating a layer with a low opacity that you can then draw or paint over, usually with a pen tablet.

As an example, lets say that you’ve taken a photo of a sunset that you’d then like to use for a painting. Here’s how you’d set it up for your painting session:

First off, create a new Photoshop canvas (File –> New). If you plan on doing some painting, be sure to keep the resolution decently high so you have some room to work.

Now that you have your canvas ready, lets load the photo that you want to trace. Hit “File –> Open”


Now you’ll have two separate canvases open. You’ll want to copy / paste the photo into your first canvas. To do this, press:

Select all: Press Ctrl + A
Copy: Press Ctrl + C
Switch over to the original drawing canvas
Paste: Press Ctrl + V

Heres what it looks like after you’ve pasted in the image to your first canvas:

Now that the image is pasted into your canvas, you’ll need to resize the image to fill all the space. Hit “Edit –> Free Transform”

You’ll see small ‘pips’ or corners appear on each of the corners of the image you’ve pasted. You can click and drag them resize it to fill the entire space. Hold down the shift key while you do it and the image will keep the right proportions. You can also click and drag on the body of the image to keep it centered on the page. When you have the image where you want it, press enter to apply your transformation.

Heres what it looks like now that we have it all centered.

Now it’s time to create the layer that you’re going to draw on. On the layer panel (usually in the bottom right) click on the new layer button. Before being able to draw on it, you’ll need to select it by clicking on it.

You’ll also want to lower the opacity of the of the photo layer so you can still see your painting above it. Click on the photo layer then click and drag the opacity slider near the top of the layer panel.

You’re drawing canvas should now look like this:

You’ll notice that its a bit hard to see since there is no background color to your drawing. Lets finish up everything by creating a third layer thats just solid white.

Hit the “new layer” button to create a third layer. Drag it to the bottom of the layer stack. Now it’s time to fill in the background layer with a solid color. Click on the paint tool, then select a solid white color from the palette. You can then click on the canvas to fill it.

Heres how your layers should now look:

And how your final image should now look:

And done! Now enjoy your your painting!

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