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Realistic rope in photoshop

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This tutorial came out of a request from the forum.

I was asked if I could make a realistic rope. But it needed to be "coiled up like a cobra" with an end sticking up. I just cannot resist a challenge and this is the result. I present the "rope charmer"

Create a new document.

The size here is really important because it will determine the angle of the coil. In this example I used 600x600. Look at the 2 examples at the end of the tutorial, the variation was created on 800x600, notice that the angle is a little wider and less round. Personally I think I prefer the 800x600, but experiment with different sizes and see how you like the results.

Create a new layer and choose filter>sketch>halftone pattern.

Size =2 (use higher for a higher res image)

Push the contrast pretty high

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Now rotate the pattern by pressing cmd/ctrl+T for free transform and then pulling one of the corners around. (You may enlarge the pattern to fill more of the page if you wish.)

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To give a more frayed look add some noise: filter>noise>add noise

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Make a selection with the rectangular marquee tool. This will be a strand of rope

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Press Cmd/ctrl+J to copy the selection to a new layer. Hide the layer underneath by clicking on the eye icon. Position the rope near the center of the page

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Lets make it coil> filter>distort>polar coordinates and choose rectangular to polar.

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Te contrast between the black and white is too strong, lets tone it down a bit by choosing the levels control. Cmd/ctrl+L

Move the bottom slider (shown) to the right to tone down the shadows.

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Lets add some depth.

Press the little "f" in the layers palette to open the layer styles.

Choose inner shadow. Use the setting here

Also add a drop shadow as shown.

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Press ok and you will see a realistic loop of rope.

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Duplicate the layer 4 or 5 times and stack them as shown, we now have the coil.

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Now for the end of the rope:

Show the pattern layer again and make a selection and copy it to a new layer just like we did before. (cmd/ctrl+J)

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Rotate the rope 90 deg.

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To make it "wiggle" filter>distort>shear

Click to add points and drag as shown.

Press ok

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Let's blend it in.

Add a layer mask by clicking the new layer mask icon in the layers palette.

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Choose a large soft black brush and paint the very end of the rope and notice it will fade smoothly into the coil.

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To the left is our final rope with a little hue/saturation added to give it a hint of color.

Here is a variation with a wider canvas width and a different hue/saturation value applied. I also nudged a couple of the "coils" so they were not so perfect. This results in a more natural finish.

Realistic Rope in Photoshop


Colin Smith

Colin Smith is a best-selling author, trainer, and award-winning new-media designer who has caused a stir in the design community with his stunning photorealistic illustrations composed entirely in Photoshop. He is founder of the world's most popular Photoshop resource site,, which boasts more than two million visitors.

With over 10 years of experience in the design industry, Colin was formerly Senior Editor and Art Director for VOICE magazine. He is a regular columnist for Photoshop User magazine,, and the official site of the National Association for Photoshop Professionals. He also contributes to a number of other graphic art publications and Web sites, such as Mac Design magazine, Web Designer magazine and Computer Arts Magazine.

Colin's graphic design work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Guru awards at Photoshop World 2001 and 2002, for his work in both Illustration and Web Design. He's authored or co-authored more than ten books on Photoshop, including the best-selling How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2003) and award-winning Photoshop Most Wanted: Effects and Design Tips (A Press/Friends Of Ed, 2002). Colin is also creator of the Photoshop Secrets Video training series ( He is in high demand across the United States as a lecturer, presenting his Photoshop techniques to Web designers and other graphics professionals across the nation.

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