Get updates by email for exclusive video tutorials, stock resources and more - for free!

Tutorial Index

Would you like to learn the art of photo manipulation, but don't know where to start? Check out our Tutorial Index, which lists all articles in order from Beginner to Advanced:

SurrealPSD Tutorial Index

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial


80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Title PostMany would argue that the 1980s was the golden era of the Horror Movie, with the VHS boom allowing genre directors to bring their low-budget splatter-fests to a hungry international audience. It was a decade where the cheap ‘slasher’ movie flourished, and the success of a feature was often dependent on it’s eye catching cover art. In part two of this years TERROR SEASON, we pay homage to the glory days of VHS Horror Art.


More is MORE

The 1980s Horror Movie VHS often relied on a sense of excess and excitement, with the killer / creature front and centre, and plenty of claret to liven the scene. The grue-spattered covers captured imaginations, and secured that purchase or rental.. This was not a subtle decade!!

Before embarking on your own VHS nightmare, you may want to have a look at some examples to get a feel for the tones, colours and themes prevalent in this era. I put together a mood board, which you can check out below, however I’d advise you to do some of your own research also, to add your own slant to the aesthetic (click for larger):

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Mood BoardLet’s Rock

This walkthrough will focus less on the compositing aspect, and moreso on the processing effects; to turn your existing Photomanipulation artwork into a worn 1980s poster. One thing that you’ll notice from the visual research above, is that cyan and magenta tones are used frequently, so we’ll do some colour work also, to match the vibe. Here’s a look at the before and after for this walkthrough piece:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Before and After


Image Size

For the example piece, I created a new document at a different size that I usually work at. The dimensions are based on the ‘one-sheet’ movie standard, post-1985 (27″ x 40″), with the size reduced. The size you choose isn’t majorly important, but if you’re a sucker for details, then you may want to take this route!!

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Image Size


Once you have your work document setup, duplicate the ‘Background’ layer (Ctrl / Cmd + J), and add a Radial Gradient via the Blending Options (right-click layer, select ‘Blending Options’):

80s Slasher Tutorial Gradient Overlay

Create a Gradient that transitions from a very dark grey, to a mid-tone grey. You can access the editing dialog by clicking on the Gradient displayed on the Layer Style options palette. After some tweaking, you should have a Gradient that looks like this as your backround layer:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Gradient Background

Compositing Your Character(s)

With your background gradient in place, it’s time to bring in your character. For the example piece, I chose a psycho looking female, from Fotolia Premium (Halloween witch © Alena Kovalenko, #37336444). There are plenty of free resources on the DeviantArt Stock Browser, so head on over there to find a suitably gnarly character for your composite.

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Compositing

Everyone has their preferred methods for ‘cutting stuff out‘ – however, I always highly advise that you use the Pen Tool for the sharp edges (clothes, body, face etc.), and use the Refine Edge function for the trickier task of compositing the hair. Ive yet to find a better combo for chopping out figurative elements!!

For those of you unfamiliar with this approach, here are two videos that outline the useage of both these tools:

Pen Tool:

Refine Edge:


Background Details

Bring your freshly composited character into your work document, you should now have your figurative stock element set against your radial gradient background:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Figure and Gradient

At this stage, we’ll bring in some subtle background details to liven up the scene. For this example piece, I felt that a residential / derelict environment would work well, much like the abandoned Elm Street residency!! Here’s the stock image used:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Derelict Stock

Image credit: chulii-stock, DeviantArt

There are tonnes of great stock images out there for urban decay or horror style textures, so choose the right image for your piece, and copy / paste it into your work document; behind your figurative stock layer. Change the layer mode (of this new background layer) to Overlay, this will allow the original gradient to determine the light shaping and tones.

Here you can see the derelict scene pasted in, and then how it looks with the mode set to Overlay:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Derelict Scene

Tweak as Necessary..

For your own piece, you may want to ‘beef up’ the tones, by duplicating the ‘background detail’ layer, that is set to Overlay – this will intensify the darks and lights. For the example, I duplicated the background detail layer, and changed it to Multiply layer mode – this darkened up the scene considerably:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Darken Tones


The cover artists of the 1980s favoured rich magenta / blue tones for the VHS horror style, so we’ll inject a bit of that flavour into our works.

1. Create a new layer, below your stock model layer (Ctrl / Cmd, Shift + N). Select All (Ctrl / Cmd + A), and fill with a blue / purple tone (select a colour, hit Alt + Delete to fill the selection).

2. Change this new layer’s mode to Soft-Light.

3. Tweak the opacity of the layer, until you have a subtle colour-cast as per your tastes.

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Colour Cast

A colour-cast is like a global tint. Soft-Light is a great mode to use as it has a vibrant quality and manages to keep hold of the image details well.


Back Lighting / Extra Colour Tones

You can increase the vibrancy of your background and create an illusion of ‘back-lighting’ with a few simple steps. Add a new layer and set it’s mode to Overlay. Manually paint in the back-light using a very large Soft-Edged Brush (B) with the foreground colour set to white.

You can use this same principle to add new tones and increase the colour vibrancy further. Add a new layer and set it’s mode to Soft-Light. Use a large Soft-Edged Brush, set to a blue tone of your choice, and paint to increase the hues wherever necessary. Here’s a look at the example piece, before and after making these back-lighting / colour vibrancy adjustments:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Back-Lighting

You’ll often have to build up these tones / lights incrementally, and use more than one layer. This type of work relies heavily on experimentation, so take the principles and find the balance that works for you. For illustration, here’s a look at the example piece layer stack.. showing the layer modes used, and the opacity:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Layer Stack

Using this approach, you can make additional layers above your stock model set to Soft-Light, and manually add extra blue / purple tones where necessary:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Extra Tones

Horror Details

You’ll want to add some menace to your stock model, so employ the effects that you would like for the face and details.. I decided to go for a slightly more supernatural / subtle approach for the example character, so I added some definition to the bones, whited out one eye and added a healthy spattering of blood to the scene.

Ive outlined these seperate techniques in our HORROR SECTION, so be sure to find the style you like and add some macabre to your character.

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Horror Details


Choose a suitably horrific typeface, and create the title for your VHS cover. From the visual research, I noticed that the horror covers from this era usually have white, red or yellow titles. I chose a muted yellow for the example piece. The typeface used here, is Massacre – which you can grab from There’s a whole section dedicated to Horror fonts, so if you want something different, feel free to have a browse 8-)

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Title

You’ll notice that there isn’t really any specialised effects on the title. Most type from this era was pretty basic, however a simple drop-shadow has been applied here to seperate the type from the background. To create a similar drop-shadow, use the Blending Options (right-click type layer, select ‘Blending Options’) – and set a drop-shadow that has a spread / size of 0px. This will create a ‘solid’ drop shadow, which is much more ’80s’ in it’s look.

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Drop Shadow

Add a tagline!! For the example, I stole the tagline from Eli Roth’s slasher parody ‘Thanksgiving’, because it’s so damned good. The typeface used here is Birch Std:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Tagline

80s Colour Processing

This is the stage where we knockout those rich tones, and make the overall piece look like it’s degraded in quality over the years. This aesthetic is achieved by using a ‘Selective Color’ Adjustment Layer. The Selective Color Adjustment Layer will allow you to shift the tones of your image, to make everything look aged / colour bleached. As there are so many parameters, there is no definitive path that can be given in regards to achieving a certain ‘look’. Angie Muldowney provides a pretty good breakdown on her ‘Vintage Photo Effects‘ guide, which is well worth a look.

Use your visual research, and reverse-engineer the look you would like to achieve, by using the sliders in the Selective Color dialog. I take a similar approach to Angie, and work the ‘Neutrals’ first, then the ‘Blacks’ and then the ‘Whites’. I don’t often tweak the other colours, but with this one, you may want to experiment with the cyans and magentas.

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial

Above illustrates a look at the Neutral, Black and White dialogs used for the example. The main aim was to take out the intensity of the blacks and add more of a magenta color-cast to the overall scene:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Selective Color

A global look at the overall scene illustrates the radical shift you can achieve with this powerful method of processing:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Overall Colour Shift

Corner Fades

Age-bleaching of old prints tends to hit the corners first, so we’ll replicate that effect with our own piece. This step is nice and simple, simply create a new layer at the top of the layer stack, and use a very large Soft-Edged Brush (B) (around 1700px) set to white, to paint in some ‘fades’ at the corners. You can leave the layer mode set to ‘Normal’, and pull the opacity down to achieve the desired effect:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial

Paper Grunge

No aged poster is complete, without a few creases and tears!! Locate some stock of torn / folded paper, bring it into your work document and scale as necessary (Ctrl / Cmd + T). For the creases I used Folded Paper Texture by SPikEtheSWeDe (DeviantArt):

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Folded Paper

Desaturate the paper layer (Ctrl / Cmd, Shift + U):

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Desaturate

..and Invert the colours using the shortcut Ctrl / Cmd + I:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Invert

Set the layer mode of this layer to Screen, this will eliminate the blacks and allow only the white creases to show through:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Screen

As you can see, the effect at present is waaay too strong, so at this stage you can use the Levels command (Image > Adjustments > Levels) to pull back the white levels, as necessary. You can also add a Layer Mask, and selectively erase areas for a much more subtle look:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial

Seek out more interesting Paper Textures and follow the steps above to add more creases, tears and details to your poster. Pay particular attention to the edges, as these areas will undergo more ‘wear and tear’ throughout a poster’s life:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Creases Tears

Halftone Finisher

We’re nearly there!! This last effect just adds that tiny bit extra for the overall look. We’re going to add a ‘Halftone’ effect to the overall piece, to make it look like printed material.

Create a ‘merged copy’ of everything, using the very elaborate shortcut Ctrl / Cmd, Alt, Shift + E. This action makes a copy of everything, then pastes wherever you are in the layer stack – so ensure you drag this new ‘flatttened’ layer right to the top of the stack. With the flattened layer active, use the Color Halftone filter to apply the effect (Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone).

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Color Halftone

The only value you have to worry about here, is the ‘Max Radius’. Set that to 4px, then hit OK. Bring the opacity of this Halftone layer down to around 15%, so the effect is barely visible. This step makes everything just a little more tactile and groady, which is what we’re after:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Halftone


The Finished Piece

Here’s a look at the example piece, all finished – creases n’ all:

80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial Finished Piece



Now you know the wicked art of 80s-ifying anything, use these skills to astound and amaze your friends and colleagues. Watch this space for parts III and IV of 2013’s TERROR SEASON, here at  SurrealPSD. Enjoyed the tutorial? Why not take the FULL COURSE..

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter: @Conzpiracy


Enjoyed the article? Give us a shoutout!

15 Responses to “80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial”

  1. Kiren says:

    Well done tut man, I applaud you!

  2. Alex Tuis says:

    This is fun and very well made!

  3. [...] 22. 80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial [...]

  4. [...] • 80s Slasher Photoshop Tutorial (Level: Intermediate) >> Use Selective Color, Lighting and Compositing techniques to create a truly badass 80s style Slasher Poster in this Horror Tutorial. [...]

  5. Matt says:

    Really cool tutorial, thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Andy says:

    I was just looking about that, thanks for worth sharing.

  7. What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you are no longer actually a lot more smartly-preferred
    than you might be right now. You are so intelligent.
    You understand thus considerably when it comes to this matter,
    produced me in my opinion believe it from a lot of varied angles.
    Its like women and men are not involved unless it’s something to do with Girl gaga!
    Your individual stuffs excellent. At all times take care of it up!

    Look into my page :: לחץ כאן כדי לקרוא

  8. After exploring a few of the blog articles on your site, I truly appreciate your technique of blogging.
    I added it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon.
    Please check out my web site too and tell me what you think.

    my blog post – סוגי מנעולים באזור חיפה

  9. On ƿeut vous diore que ce n’est guère absurde !!!

    Alsߋ visit my webpage: clip adulte gratuit

Leave a Reply