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Halloween Photoshop: Skull Face Tutorial


Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial Title PostAs the mystic season approaches, we celebrate communion with the dead in grisly style.. 4 Weeks of Terror!! This is the first walkthrough in our Halloween Photomanipulation mini-series; a ghoulish skullface effect created using layer masks and blend modes. Terrify friends and family with your reverse-makeover (or an amusing ‘before and after’ crystal meth poster..) Read on for the skinny..


I was a Teenage Ghoul..

This composite is put together using a primary figure image, a selection of skulls and some ‘flesh’ textures:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 1

Prepping the Face

The first step is to find a suitable stock image for base figure; it’s worth selecting a portrait style pose, facing straight on; this will make life easier when matching the skull stocks. For the example piece, Ive used an image by MinorphicPhoto (DeviantArt).

Start off by removing the background from your base figure – I used a Layer Mask and the Pen Tool. Check out our Pen Tool Background Removal article if your not familiar with this technique. You may want to pull in a new background to start adding a sense of mood, I used some film textures from Lost&


Lose the Eyebrows

Eyebrows usually get in the way with this type of work, so it’s a good idea to get rid of them! This process is very straightforward, simply use the Patch Tool (J) to draw a rough selection around the eyebrow, and then click and drag to a clear area of skin – this will ‘content-aware’ fill the eyebrow area and usually works quite well. Repeat for the second eyebrow.

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 2

Evil Eyes

You may want to tweak the stock model’s eyes to ramp up that evil aesthetic. I used a little technique here involving duplicate layers and Screen Layer Mode. I’ll be doing a seperate tutorial on this style of eyes in the near future – so stay tuned for that one!!

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 3

Mute Skin Tones

Chances are your stock model will have a healthy skintone like our example gentleman.. A tweak of the skintones will help match the muted colours of the bone and also contribute to the macabre nature of the work. Create a new Layer Group (Ctrl/Cmd+G), and within the group use Adjustment Layers to work with the skin tones.

I used a couple; Curves, Colour Balance and Hue/Saturation. For your own piece, use your preferred method to drain some of the life out of those cheeks! Once you are happy with the overall skintone, add a Layer Mask to the group that contains your Adjustment Layers and Invert the mask to Black (Ctrl/Cmd + I).

Create a selection based on your stock model base layer (Ctrl/Cmd + click layer icon) and fill that selection with white on the skintone Layer Group Mask. This will apply all your adjustments to the figure only, and not the background. Your layer stack may look something like this:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 5

Before and after our skin muting adventures:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 4

Dem Bones

Now it’s time for a bit of ‘bone work.. If your lucky, you may find just one skull image that fits nicely with your base stock – that wasn’t the case with me!! Here are the skull stocks that I used to construct the example piece.

Skull1 from my HD, Skull2 by Aleuranthropy (DeviantArt), Skull3 by TheManface (DeviantArt)

Skullface Photoshop Tutorial 6

Whatever skulls you are working with, perform a background removal on each stock image so you are left with the skull only.


Contorting the Skull

Place your skull over the stock base layer; you may want to temporarily switch your skull to Overlay Layer Mode, so you can see how it ‘fits’ the face. Use the Distort Transform (Edit > Transform > Distort) to contort the skull stock to fit the model’s face. Once happy with the position, you may switch the Layer Mode back to Normal.


Blending Elements

This step arguably represents the true ‘art’ of the walkthrough. Add a Layer Mask to your skull layer(s) – invert the mask to black (Ctrl/Cmd + I) and then paint the skull elements back into the image using a large Soft-Edged Brush (B) set to white. In the screenshot below, all skull layers are set to Normal Layer Mode:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 7

Soft Light / Overlay

Aside from using Normal Layer Mode, Soft-Light and Overlay are also used for more subtle bone effects. Using the techniques outlined above, ‘paint-in’ skull elements over your composite – but try using Soft-Light and Overlay modes to achieve a more restrained look. A new Layer Group for your skull elements is always helpful to keep things organised. Here’s the layer stack showing all the skull elements and their respective Layer Modes / Opacity:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 8

Slaughter Skin

A selection of gore stocks were used for the decomposing skin effects, these elements were sourced from the Resurgere Slaughter Pack (DeviantArt)

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 9

These flesh elements were blended using Layer Masks and set to Soft Light Layer Mode. Each of the gore layers were desaturated (Shift, Ctrl/Cmd + U), the desaturation basically stops the red tones overpowering the composite – but this is down to personal preference. The Layer Group containing the flesh elements:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 10

Final Adjustments

To darken / accentuate contours and recesses – use Levels Adjustment Layers to reduce brightness, set the mode to Soft Light and selectively paint in using the masks. In the example I also created a new layer (set to Soft Light), and painted with a dirty yellow colour to take the greys out of the cheekbones. Little touches, but well worth the effort:

Skull Face Photoshop Tutorial 11

The Result..

For the final version, I ran our new ‘HD-Raagghh’ Photoshop Action through it, and it spat out this beast:

 Skull Face Tutorial 12


I hope you enjoyed the first entry in our new series – be sure to tell your friends!!

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy


• Halloween Photoshop: Slenderman Walkthrough (Level: Advanced) >> Use photomanipulation and digital painting techniques to create the creepy Slenderman character.

• Halloween Photoshop: Stitches Tutorial (Level: Advanced) >> Create torn skin and grisly stitches with this Photoshop Horror Walkthrough.

• Halloween Photoshop: Evil Eyes Tutorial (Level: Intermediate) >> Use Photomanipulation techniques to create creepy evil eyes in this Photoshop walkthrough.


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28 Responses to “Halloween Photoshop: Skull Face Tutorial”

  1. Ren says:

    OMG… WHY didn’t I look at this website days ago when I was trying to do this very thing!

    Going to try it now. :)

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