Graphic Design: "The Woodblock Problem"
Background: You will be using your Photoshop skills to emulate a Renaissance Era Woodblock print. Then, we will take the woodblock design and manipulate it, so as to create an eye-catching and powerful modern print image. Lastly, the student will take one of their created images and imbed it into a modern photograph.

Preparations: Create a lastname_woodblock folder on your network drive. Save all necessary files to this folder as indicated in the tutorial below.

Part One- Creating the Modern Print-

Base Photograph: We will be creating a series of images (you will save a total of 7 different .jpgs during the course of this project) based upon the black and white patterns of a woodblock print. First, however, we need our woodblock. From the Internet, preferably using our Public Domain Images websites such as, locate a detailed close-up picture of an industrial object, plant or animal. Pictures with lots of texture and pattern will work best for this exercise. Find a picture that is large in size, at least 1000 x 1000 pixels. Your object should take up most of the frame of the picture. I have selected a picture of some tomatoes.

Making the Woodblock: Now, mask out your object. Remove any background elements, leaving only the object and its patterns and textures remaining. This does not have to be a perfect mask, we are simulating a woodblock print, after all. A little rough around the edges is fine.

Now, we want to create the flat black and white woodblock effect:

  1. First, hit the “D” key to make sure that your foreground and background colors are black and white.
  2. Next, go into the Filters Menu and select Sketch>Stamp. This will convert the picture to black and white. To see the overall effect of your Stamp, click the zoom buttons in the lower left of the Filter Window until you see your entire picture. You will need to adjust the Light/Dark Balance and the Smoothness until you have a well-defined black and white image that looks like the woodblock prints that we studied in class. My tomato picture looked best at Light/Dark Balance= 15, Smoothness=2.
  3. To make your “print” look like a print, not a mask, we will now add a new white layer as the background. From the Layer Menu, select New Fill Layer>Solid Color. When the dialogue box comes up, name your layer “White Fill.” Keep the Color, Mode and Opacity as they are and select OK. Now, click and drag your “White Fill” Layer and put it underneath your woodblock so that it looks like the figure to the right.
  4. Save this picture to your lastname_woodblock folder as a .JPG and call it woodblock.jpg.

Creating the Modern Print: We are going to do a couple of crops and transforms to create an interesting modern print.

  1. Now, on your woodblock.jpg picture, crop the picture. Crop it tightly, so that you take out a good deal of the original picture, but not so closely that you cannot tell what the object is anymore. Your picture should now look something like the one to the right:
  2. Save this picture to your lastname_woodblock folder, call it cropped.jpg.
  3. Now, take this cropped.jpg file and use Free Transform (CTRL-T) to rotate the image, the direction and angle do not matter.
  4. Zoom out, so that you can see all of your picture, now laying on its side. Use the crop tool again, this time crop tightly to create a picture that is not recognizable as your original picture at all. The aim is to have an abstract black and white pattern, such as mine to the right.
  5. Save this to your lastname_woodblock folder, call it tight_crop.jpg.
  6. Now, using your any of the first three files that you have created: woodblock.jpg , cropped.jpg or tight_crop.jpg picture, go into your Image menu and select Adjustments>Invert. This will swap all of the black for white and the white for black. You should have a picture that looks something like the one above on the left. I used my “tight crop” picture. You can use any of the three that you wish.
  7. Save this picture to your lastname_woodblock folder, call it inverted.jpg.
  8. Now using your inverted.jpg picture, we are going to add a color.
    • Click on your Brush Tool and select one of the Spatter, Chalk, Watercolor, Oil or Dry Brushes, set your brush size to be 20-50 or so. You want to be able to make neat little “brushstrokes” across your canvas.
    • In the Brush control window at the top of the screen, select one of the Darkening MODES: Dark, Multiply, or Darker Color. Any of these modes will let you paint on the white part of your canvas without painting over the black parts.
    • Set your Opacity of your brush to 75 percent and your Flow to 75 percent or so. This will change how quickly paint “builds up” when you brush.
    • Feel free to experiment with different modes, opacities and flows to get a picture that you like.
    • Using ONLY ONE COLOR, probably one related to your original (I choose red for my tomato picture), color in the white areas of your picture. Try to get some varied textures of the brush in your work, it will add some depth to the piece. (see my sample to the right)
    • Save this picture to your lastname_woodblock folder, call it one_color.jpg
  9. Now, go back to your inverted.jpg picture. This time, we are going to add a number of colors. To make life a little easier, we can try using the Paint Bucket Tool. Click the bucket to fill areas with different colors, develop color patterns and experiment with combinations that look pleasing to the eye. If you would like to continue using the brush because you like the effect, that is perfectly fine. Use AT LEAST three, but no more than five colors.
  10. Put your last name and the year in the lower right corner of this picture, like a real modern art print.
  11. Save this colored picture as modern_print.jpg. Mine is below:

Part Two, Integration of the Print:

Now, we need to integrate your Modern Print into a picture. How you do this is completely up to you, but when you are done, I would like to see your print in a photograph. Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Your print could be hanging on the wall in a museum.
  • Your print could be the pattern for wallpaper in a picture of someone’s living room.
  • Your print could be the background of an advertisement on the side of a bus.
  • Your print could be on a kid’s T-Shirt.
  • Your print could be the pattern on someone’s car paint job.
  • Your print could be the design on a postage stamp on a piece of mail.
  • Your print could be the design on someone’s coffee cup.
  • Your print could be shown in a Fine Art book sitting on a coffee table.

I recommend starting at a website such as or by doing a Google Search for the particular type of effect that you are looking for. Make sure to include the words "Photoshop Tutorial" if you do a Google Search. Just like the Caveman problem, do not settle for the first solution that you find! Makes sure to run through a prospective tutorial before you attempt to apply it to your artwork. If a tutorial is confusing or poorly written, drop it and try another.

When you have successfully created a nice composite photograph showing your Modern Print integrated with the rest of the picture, save it to your lastname_woodblock folder and call it:


When you have completed the assignment, save your finished work as “lastname_manuscript.jpg” and copy it to the class drop box on the M: Drive.

Samples of Woodblock Problem Solutions from Years Gone By:

Part Three: GRADING

This assignment is another in the series of works in which the student will be responsible for coming up with solutions to Graphic Design problems without the hand-over-hand assistance of the instructor. This will enable the student to begin the process of being able to self-learn the use of Technology resources in the classroom and in the future.

For each of the six files created when running through the tutorial, the student will receive a maximum of 10 points, for a total of 60 points.

The integration portion of this assignment (Lastname_modern_print_picture.jpg) will be worth a total of 40 points. This will be graded as follows: An integration score of 30-40 will involve the student completely imbedding their Modern Print into a photograph to create a realistic composite image. A score of 30-35 will show less realistic integration of the Modern Print into a photograph. A submission of an Modern Print with no attempt to integrate the work into a photograph will result in score of 0 out of 40 points for this portion of the assignment.