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How To Make Ghosts In Photoshop or GIMP

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Halloween is fast approaching, so why not use this how-to and haunt your friends? A few minutes Photoshop or GIMP handiwork, and you can be making scary pictures to send to everybody you know. Keep reading!

This how-to is a lot of fun, and hopefully you’ll enjoy making your own horrific images. Take a look and see how easy it is, and maybe even send us some examples of your handiwork once you try it yourself!

Making Ghosts in Photoshop

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We’ll start with some good source material. This photo is gem from a Flickr gallery that turned up on Reddit a few weeks ago.

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We’ll also use this bizarre hallway as a backdrop for our ghost photo.

Crop (shortcut key c) down to just the area you want to isolate for your ghostly image. We’ll isolate this one terrified girl from the group, as shown.

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Make a new layer on top of your background layer by pressing the new layer in the Layers panel.

We’re going to do some brushwork, so grab your brush tool by pressing b, then right click to set the hardness. 100% is preferable for hard edges, although softer brushes may be good for areas like her hair, that aren’t well defined.

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Paint in your new layer with pure black, and cover up any part that you don’t want to become part of the ghost. The brightest areas are the most important, and accuracy isn’t paramount, so be a little sloppy if you want.

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Once you finish painting out everything that isn’t your soon-to-be ghost, flip to your Channels panel. If you don’t see it, navigate to Window > Channels.

Ctrl + Click on “RGB” to load a selection of all three channels at once.

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Your image should look something like this with your selection going.

ctrl shift N to create a new layer.

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Navigate to Edit > Fill and select “Use: White” as shown here. Then navigate to Select > Deselect to get rid of your selection. You’ll now have a layer with white painted in the highlights of your figure. Find your background image and get ready to start working in it.

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Press v for the move tool, then drag your new white ghostly layer onto your background.

Ctrl t will “Free Transform” and allow you to resize and scale up or down your ghost image. Check out how cool the transparent shadows look!

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Press ctrl G to group your layer (optional), then press the masks to create a layer mask. Click the layer mask as shown above, left, then navigate to Edit > Fill, and set it to “Use: Black” as shown above right.

 

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Don’t be surprised if your ghost disappears! With your layer mask still selected, navigate to Filter > Render > Clouds.

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This gives a smoky, fading in/fading out texture to your ghost. You can also paint out parts of it with your same black paintbrush.

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Click the adjustment layer to create a “Solid Color” adjustment layer.

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Use any color that seems ghostly to you. This color seems straight out of Ghostbusters, so we’ll use it.

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This layer should be on top of your background and directly on top of your ghost layer, as shown. Make sure you have it selected in the layers panel.

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Navigate to Layers > Create Clipping Mask. This clipping mask will allow you to use any color you want for your ghost and change it dynamically.

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Transparency settings or even more mask painting on your ghost layer can change up your image even more, and give you richer and cooler results.

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Here’s our final image, with a little bit more transparency than our last one. What do you think?

What’s Different in GIMP

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Most of the directions above will work, but grabbing the “ghost” image from your picture is slightly different in GIMP. Here’s how to tackle that part of this How-To.

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Create a new layer, just like in Photoshop and paint over the areas you don’t want to be in your ghost.

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Again, no need to be incredibly precise. A little bit of sloppy painting isn’t going to hurt you.

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Flip to your channels palette, right click the Red channel, and select “Channel to Selection.”

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Then right click the Blue channel and pick “Intersect with Selection.” Finally, right click the Green channel and pick “Intersect with Selection” again. That’s “Channel to Selection” once and “Intersect with Selection” twice.

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Make your new layer as before.

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GIMP will allow you to fill with your foreground or background color. In this case, our BG color was white, and we want to fill with that BG color.

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At this point, your best bet is to save your new ghost image as a GIMP xcf and place it in your background layer.

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In order to do this, make sure your ghost image is saved as an XCF file and open up your background file. With that open, go to File > Open as Layers.

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The scale tool can resize your ghost, and you can mask your layer and play with the transparency, similar to the Photoshop how-to.

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GIMP doesn’t exactly support clipping masks the way Photoshop does, so we’ll create a workaround. On your ghost layer, right click and pick “Alpha to Selection.”

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Create a new layer with your ghost color, right click it and create a layer mask. When you get the dialog on the right, make sure you have “Selection” loaded and click “Add.”

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And there we have it, our ghost now mashed up with our background in GIMP. Simply hide your old ghost layer and play with the transparency of the new one to similar effects.


Give our method a shot, and let us know how your Halloween ghosts turn out! Send your best ghosts to us at ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com, and if we get enough, we’ll feature our favorites on the How-To Geek Facebook page.

Image Credits: Pic0332 copyright Nightmare Fear Factory, assume fair use. NY a dark and scary place by Perica, available under Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 10/19/11

Comments (11)

  1. MARK

    I THINK THIS WILL COME IN HANDY WHEN SENDING PHOTOS TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY ALSO .

  2. Jim

    I’d love to try this but i can’t seem to find the picture of the hallway, can i get a page number on that please.

    Thanks,
    Jim

  3. Birchwood Pie

    I found the hallway. http://www.flickr.com/photos/perica_000/5038398801/. Can’t wait to try this.

  4. Holston

    I can’t figure out how to get both images available in this step … help?

    Navigate to Edit > Fill and select “Use: White” as shown here. Then navigate to Select > Deselect to get rid of your selection. You’ll now have a layer with white painted in the highlights of your figure. Find your background image and get ready to start working in it.

    That last sentence doesn’t tell me anything.

  5. Holston

    It appears you copy the image just processed and paste it onto your background.

  6. Jim

    Hey thanks for the link Birchwood.

  7. shambhu thapa

    its a very good idea and i’m going to try it just now. Thanks for such a good idea hope u will new ideas soon.

  8. ferry

    I’m very new in ubuntu, just got it for a week and more for that i’m very blank with graphic software. this article surely help me a lot learning simple effect with gimp. thx a lot.

  9. Eric

    I tried it a couple of times with GIMP and got it to work every time, but I notice that the cloud rendering effect doesn’t show up when I add the green layer mask. Still looks great, though.

  10. dwi

    thanks ,,,i will try this, nice info…

  11. Alex's Gimp Tutorials

    Good tutorial! I feel this lesson shows people the best way to do this. another thing to note about this is you can make the ghost appear to “fade out” at the feet by adding a black to transparent gradient from the bottom of the layer mask image up.

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