Photoshop Tutorial: Flaming Skull Photo Manipulation for Beginners

by . December 11th, 2014

Good day, creatives! In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a kick-ass flaming skull photo manipulation using Photoshop. This tutorial was simplified with 12 easy steps so everybody—including newbies—can follow along. Though intended for beginners, this tutorial will teach you some tips and tricks that might be new to you so read on.  We will be using stock images from Graphic Stock for this photo manipulation tutorial. So let’s get rollin!

This is what our final image should look like.



Download the Assets

First, download all of the assets we will be using for this tutorial. All images we’re using are from Graphic Stock.

– Skull

– Flames

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Step 1: Getting Started

Create a new document and set the size to 2480px by 3425px. Set the resolution 300 and the color mode to RGB.

1 - new document

Step 2: Adding up the vector image

Open this nice skull vector file we’ve got from the Graphic Stock. Now drag the vector from Illustrator to Photoshop and place it in the center. Once done hit Enter to confirm.

2 - open vector and place

Step 3: Make a high contrast

Notice that when we dragged the vector file from Illustrator to Photoshop, the file automatically became a smart object. So we have to rasterize the layer so we can modify it. To do that, right click on the layer then choose Rasterize layer. Notice that the small box icon on the thumbnail suddenly disappeared. Now go to SELECT > COLOR RANGE then a box will pop up.  Set the Fuzziness to 200 then hover your mouse pointer over the skull, notice that it automatically became a COLOR PICKER TOOL. Select the black part of the skull then hit Ok to activate the selection. Once the selection was activated, hit Delete.

3 - color range and delete

Step 4: Fill up our skull with the base color

Activate the skull’s selection by pressing (CTRL + clicking on the layer’s thumbnail). Running lines should be visible by now but make sure that the selection is for the inner part of the skull. Now fill up our skull with a yellow-ish base color ( we used #ffae02) using the paint bucket tool or by pressing (ALT + DELETE). 

4 - change to yellow color

Step 5: Add some depth

With the selection still active,  grab the BRUSH TOOL and set the color to red (f00000). Now gradually paint on the side of our skull to add some depth and bring up a fiery color scheme. You should have the same result below after this process.


5 - paint red on edges for depth

Step 6: Open the fire stock photo

Open the fire stock photo from Graphic Stock in Photoshop. Go to SELECT > COLOR RANGE and set the fuzziness to 200.Using the COLOR PICKER, select the background of the image (the darkest part) then hit Ok. Now invert the selection by hitting (CRTL + I) to select the fire image. Now make a feather selection by hitting (SHIFT + F6) and type in 10 px. Once done, drag or copy the fire to our skull’s main document.

6 - open fire photo then drag

Step 7: Arrange the flames accordingly

Using the Lasso Tool, select certain parts of the flames and arrange them to your desired position.To do this select a portion of the flame then press (CTRL + T) then right click and select Warp. Placing strips of flames on some of the most notable features of the skull like the forehead, eyes, nose, and mouth is pretty effective to give emphasis on the skull’s shape and form. Then place some bigger flames on other side of the skull to form the overall appearance of our flaming skull. Go and play around with it until you have your desired look. This part of the tutorial is basically trial and error so don’t be afraid to experiment.






Step 8: Fine Tune

Now fine tune our flames by erasing several unwanted parts. you can use layer mask if you prefer to but you can also erase it directly using the ERASE TOOL. Then tweak it further by using the SMUDGE TOOL to blend the skull with the flames. Take your time experimenting until you are satisfied with the over all appearance.

8- preview

Step 9: Colorize the flames

We can tweak the color so we can achieve a more realistic effect. Select the flames then press (CRTL + U) to access the Hue/Saturation panel then enter the following settings below. Basically we want fire up our image and bring up some red-ish hue.

9 - hue saturation

Step 10: Add a glow

To make our fiery effect  more realistic, we have to add some glow around our flaming skull. Create a new layer then grab the ELLIPTICAL MARQUEE TOOL the fill the selection with a dark maroon color (#4f0000). Go to FILTER > BLUR > GAUSSIAN BLUR. Type in 250px the hit OK. That’ll do the trick.

10 - blurred maroon bg

Step 11: Dodge and burn

Create a new layer and named it “Dodge and Burn”. Change the color mode to Overlay and then put a check on the “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray)”. You’ll then have a gray-filled layer ready for dodging and burning. So grab a white brush with a 30%-50% opacity, gradually paint on the highlights to make it more prominent. The same method also goes for shadows but instead of white brush, you have to use a black one. Don’t overdo this process though; it can affect also the background. Subtle modification will do wonders for you.

11 - dodge and burn

Step 12: Add smoke for finishing touches

Now for the last part. We have to add smoke to our image. To do that, simply duplicate a flame layer and send it’s layer on top of our layer’s panel. After that, desaturate the duplicated fire by hitting (CTRL + U) and applying the settings below. Now go to FILTER > BLUR > GAUSSIAN BLUR and set it to around 20px. Arrange the smoke at your will then lessen the opacity around 40%-60%. Viola! There you have it, our kick ass flaming skull made right out of Photoshop.





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Manila-based multimedia designer specializing in graphic design, illustration and photo manipulations. Fascinated with vector illustrations, minimalist designs, and clever advertising ideas. Always on the lookout for creative stuff serving as his daily dose of inspiration.