PSD Tutorial: Perfect Product Reflections

By 03/05/2012 10 Comments

The “Glossy Table effect” has been around for awhile now and many credit Apple for its popularity. It remains a good way of suggesting efficacy and giving a boring isolated product shot some visual interest. If there’s a plugin for this effect (That Works!), please reply and I will pay any amount of money. Unfortunately, the parameters are I think a bit complex for this to be automated. The only automated methods I’ve seen only work on objects that have a flat bottom on a straight horizon (Like a box or rectangular photo).

There’s lots of ways of doing this right and a lot of ways of doing it wrong (see this example by Pepsi). The Following is a step-by-step process of my tried & true technique. The example is for a company that I freelance for (Done in Photoshop CS5).

STEP 1: Start with a Hi-Rez, Image that is either clipped or masked.

It’s better to be safe … than have to redo it later. If  your only intention is to use this for the web, than 800 px @72 dpi should be adequate. Adjust your canvas size to accomodate the reflection and fill your background with white. Having a background isn’t totally necessary, but it will help later on determining the proper opacity (Tip: I generally use a shape layer for my background so if I ever resize my canvas, I won’t need to “refill” it).

Step 1

STEP 2: Reflect the image Vertically

Duplicate the Product Photo layer and “reflect” it along the X/Horizontal Axis through the Edit/Transform/Flip Vertical menu item. Move the layer down so that it is tangent to the botton of the product image. Reorder the layer if necessary. Rasterize this reflection layer with the Right-Click/Rasterizing Layer command. In this example, because the image has a clipping-path, I’ll need to delete the layer mask that is created. You can do this by dragging it to the trash icon in the Layers palette. Photoshop will prompt you: “Apply mask to layer before removing?”. Click “Apply“.

STEP 3: Warp the Reflection Layer

Because the product has a concave bottom, I’ll need to warp the reflection layer to make it look realistic. Select: Edit/Transform/Warp and Photoshop will create a vector grid with handles that you will use to simulate the appropriate amount of distortion. Pull the outer handles up in this case (or whatever is appropriate for your image). Commit these changes by hitting Enter.

Step 3

STEP 4: Diffuse the Reflection

Reflections are never as sharp as the original (unless placed on a mirror) so blurring the reflection will give it a more accurate “diffused” look. Here’s where I would consider converting the refection layer into a smart object as using any blur effect is “destructive” and thus cannot be altered after your document has been closed. Do this by right-clicking/Convert to Smart Object. Create the diffused appearance by using the Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur effect. The amount of blur you apply will of course depend on the resolution of your image. Add a layer mask to the reflection layer.

Step 4

STEP5: Taper the Reflection

“Reset” your foreground/background palette pair to black & white with the “D” key. Make sure your layer mask is selected and then select the Gradient tool (G). Draw a gradient top-to-bottom starting just above the virtual horizon and release it wherever you’d like the taper to end. You can keep repeating this step until it “looks right”.

Step 5

STEP 6: Add a Shadow

The final step to making this look like a realistic refection is adding a drop shadow to the product image to make it appear as if it is resting on something. There are several ways of doing this depending on the source image. Adding a drop shadow effect to the product image is one method but the shadow may creep a bit outside the image. In this example, I created a black ellipse shape layer, converted it to a smart object and applied a gaussian blur effect to it. I then applied a multiply to this layer and adjusted the opacity until I was visually satisfied.

Step 6


And your done! I may consider deleted the background layer and collecting all the layers into a final, appropriately named smart object so it can be nimbly resized and included in my comp.


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