1. Web Design

Create a Comic Book Themed Web Design, Photoshop to HTML + CSS (Part 1)

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Read Time: 18 min

Updated with the Coding Tut! This time I've got for you a fun tutorial for everyone. In Part 1 we will create a very original design for all the comicbook fans out there. We will create this blog layout from scratch using several tricks in Photoshop to make it look awesome. Then in Part 2 we will learn how to slice it, code it, and get it ready to be converted into a blog CMS theme. Are you ready?

The Coding Phase is Available

The coding phase of the tutorial (Part 2) is now available over at our sister site, Nettuts! When you're finished with this design phase, head on over to Nettuts to slice and code it in HTML/CSS. Thanks for all of the feedback and requests for the followup everyone!

Before Getting Started

Let's get it started! In order to speed up the reading I will avoid some of the most basic explanations (like how to create a layer mask or how to edit the handlers or Beziers of a vector shape). You will need some basic knowledge about Layers, Guides, Vector and Layer Masks, Brushes, the Pen Tool, and working with Typography (Character and Paragraphs).

The assets for this tutorial are:

The first step is creating a mock up, doodle, or even just a sketch the layout on a napkin. Having a rough draft of the site's structure makes easy placing the elements on the design. Below you will see a simple sketch showing the following elements:

A header, with the logo, search bar and social media links, besides the main navigation bar.
A banner, with featured posts, notice how the post text is placed over the image into a talk bubble to depict the "comic" style.
A content area, with a list of posts displayed in two columns, each post have a picture associated and the text is shown into a talk bubble as well.
A footer, with a list of the blog's categories, archive and popular post and recent comments and the copyright information.

Step 1: Setting Up the Document

Open Photoshop, download the 12 columns Photoshop template from 960 Grid System or create a new document 960px with and make draw some Guides to the left and right borders.

Increase the working area to see how it looks on wider resolutions and increase the height as well. I'm setting the document dimensions to 1420px width and 1200px height. Finally go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color... and set a Black (#000000) background for the canvas.

Step 2: Header Background

Draw a horizontal Guide around 450px from the top border, we will use it as a reference guide to add a shade on top of the page. Using the Rectangle tool, draw a wide rectangle using this color as foreground (#AA0001). Then apply a Gradient Layer Mask (Black to White) to the rectangle in order to hide the bottom part of it.
Tip: do not ever use a Gradient Layer for backgrounds, because when increasing the height of the canvas (a very common practice in web design) the background gets distorted.

Step 1: Add a Texture to theBackground

Open the "Paper Texture" from the assets Copy and Paste it above the red gradient layer. Scale it in order to make it fit into the bounds of the design and change the layer's Blending Mode to Linear Burn. We will slice this as a large image background, but for wider resolutions we need to subtle merging the edges of the paper with the black background, for this, using the Burn Tool, darken the areas close to the Left and Right edges of our paper texture. You can use a big and soft Brush (0% Hardness).

Always keep your layers organized, put both layers ("Paper" and "Rectangle") into a folder named "Header Bg".

Step 1: Sunbursts

Moving forward with the comic style, let's add some sunburst stripes to create a dramatic background for the logo.

Open the "Sunburst" shapes from the assets. On the Custom Shape tool, choose your favorite sunburst shape an draw it over the red gradient layer. Place the shape to near to the left border of the 960 template (show the Guides to see the bounds). Apply to the "Sunburst" layer a Radial Gradient Layer Mask (white in the center and black in the outside). Change the Layer Opacity to 50%. Optional: using an irregular Brush, paint with Black over the Layer Mask to create a more grunge merge between the sunburst and the background.

Step 1: Halftone

In order to enforce the comic style, we will add some Halftone points over the header background. Create a new layer above the "Sunburst" layer, and render some Black and White Clouds in there (Filter > Render > Clouds). Then go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. Change the "Halftone" layer's Blending Mode to Multiply and add a Layer Mask > Hide All to it. Then using a big and soft Brush (Color: White and Opacity and Flow to 75%) paint some areas of the layer mask to make visible only a bit of the halftone pattern.

Step 1: The Title

Now you have the header background finished, let's add the Logo. First draw a reference Guide around 180 px below the top border, the logo shouldn't be below that guide. Using the "Komika Title" font face from the assets type the title of the site ("Comicastic") Font Size: 68pt and foreground color: #FFB401. Then Add more text element, like the exclamation sign or the slogan in white (font size 16pt).

Then using the Free Transform Tool rotate the text a few degrees left to make it look less formal. Try to get something like the image below, but remember not to place any element below the guide. Finally put all these layers into a folder labeled "Logo".

Step 7: Logo Layer Styles

Add a Layer Style > Gradient Overlay (#EA9403 - #FFC501) a Stroke (Size:1px, Inside, #FCB600) and a Drop Shadow (Black, 50% Opacity, Distance and Size: 2px) to the "logo" layer. Use a similar Style to the slogan, but change the colors of the Gradient Overlay to #EDEDED - #FFFFFF and the Stroke to White (#FFFFFF). If you place the exclamation sign to the logo, you can try converting it into a shape (Layer > Type > Convert to shape) and distorting it a bit as shows the bottom of the image below.

Featured Posts Banner

Step 8: Background

Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (Radius 5px) to draw a wide rectangle all across the banner below the logo as shows the image below, the height if the rectangle is up to you, I'm setting 250px. Then apply a Gradient Overlay (Colors: #DA7E00 - #F0AD00, Angle: 90°) and Stroke (Color: #F2AA00, Size: 1px, Position: Inside).Layer Styles to it.

Step 9: Changing the  Top Banner

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) over our brand new rounded rectangle, grab the points of the top left corner and move them to the right (you can use the cursors for an accurate move). Then move the bottom right points a few pixels left.

Step 10: Adding the sliding picture container

Now, using the Rectangle Tool draw a gray rectangle inside the yellow banner (630px x 250px aprox.), you can leave the bottom part of the gray rectangle a few pixels away to the bottom of the yellow banner to create an out-of-bounds effect. Add a Stroke (Size: 1px, Position: Inside, Color: #FFFFFF) and a Drop Shadow (Color: #000000, Opacity:50%, Distance: 0px, Spread: 0px, Size: 5px) and try to place the rectangle as shows the image below. Finally, put both layers (Gray and Yellow rectangles) into a folder named "Top Banner".

Step 11: Main Navigation

Using the font family "Komika Text" type the pages navigation at the top right of the top banner, set the font Size to 18px and color: #FFFFFF. Put it on a folder named "Pages Navigation", be sure this folder is behind the "Top Banner". Then using the Rounded Rectangle Tool (Radius: 3px, Color: #EFA800), draw a rectangle just behind the first word of the navigation, name the layer "Selected Tab". Next using the Direct Selection Tool (A) move the points of the bottom left as shows the image below. Next apply a Gradient Overlay to the "Selected Tab" layer (Colors: #F0A900 - #FEBF00, Angle: 90°). If you want to, you can add a very subtle Drop Shadow (Color: #000000, Opacity: 25%) to the navigation text.

Step 12: Add the banner images

To show an actual sample, paste any image over the banner. If the image is bigger that the rectangle you can use a Clipping Mask, for this paste the image above the gray rectangle, then Option / Alt - Click between the two layers, this will clip the image inside the rectangle no cropping needed.

Step 13: Banner Controls

Select the Custom Shape Tool and chose one of the arrows, and draw a couple one next to the other, both pointing left. Then Apply to both a Gradient Overlay (#6D0004 - #980000) and a Stroke (Size: 1px, Position: Inside, Color: #B20002). Put both arrows into a folder named "Prev" and using the Free Transform Controls and holding the Command / Ctrl key, distort the arrows a little bit. Then duplicate the folder and rename it to "Next", move it to the right of the banner and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal to change its direction. Finally put both folders "Next" and "Prev" into a new folder named "Controls".

Step 14: Controls Hover

Now duplicate the "Next" and "Prev" folders and apply a different layer style to the arrows in order to create a hover effect for each one. I'm Copying the Layer Style from the exclamation sing of the title.

Step 15: Halftone details

With the same process of Step 5, create a Halftone Layer above the yellow banner. With the "Halftone" layer selected do Command / Ctrl - Click over the yellow banner, then hit Command / Ctrl + Shift + I to invert the selection, then delete the exceeding. Change "Halftone" layer's Blending Mode to Overlay and Opacity to 25%. Finally add a Layer Mask > Hide All and using a big soft White Brush, paint over some areas on the layer mask to make visible only a few portions of the pattern.

Step 16: Featured Article Talking Bubble

Now is time to add a field to put the featured post's content. For this, using the Custom Shape Tool look for the Rounded Cornered and Rectangular talking bubble. Draw it over the "Featured Image" Banner and place it on the right as shows the image below. Before designing any of this features you need to do some research if it's possible to achieve this kind of effect, even if you don't know how to code, you can look for some existing libraries of Ajax (JQuery / MooTools) and see what is already done and working, and then adapt your design to an existing library.

Then, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) distort the shape of the bubble a little bit. Finally apply a Drop Shadow (Color: #000000, Opacity: 25%, Distance: 5px, Spread: 0px, Size: 10px).

Step 17: Featured Post Text

It's time to add the title and a brief to our featured post. For the title use "Komika Title", 18pt. #680001. For the Body text, use "Komika Text Tight", Size: 16pt, Color: #1B1B1B. Place the text layers right aligned as shown on the image below.

Step 18: Comments Box and Post Meta

Now, add another bubble, but smaller this time, use this color as foreground: #9C0001 and add a Stroke layer style (Color: #D00000, Size: 1px, Position: Inside), just as shows the image below, then add the comments number with "Komika Title" font face, Color: #FFFFFF and Size: 24pt. And the word "Comments" with "Komika Title", Size: 12pt, Color: #FFB301.

Finally add a small Meta (information about the post) below the post brief with "Tahoma" font, Size: 10pt, Color: #1B1B1B. If there's no enough space to put the Meta text, you can use the Direct Selection Tool to increase the height of the featured post bubble box a little bit.

Tip: Do not ever transform a Vector Rounded Corner element using the Free Transform Tool in Photoshop, this will distort the corner, select the points you want to move using the Direct Selection Tool and then displace them.

Step 19: Featured Post Title's background

Duplicate the featured post background bubble, hide the drop shadow, change the fill color to yellow (#FFC001) and rasterize it. Then, using the Rectangular Marquee Selection Tool, select all the yellow bubble below the title line, then Delete the selection. Next, add a line of border, with the "Bubble Title" layer selected, Command / Ctrl - Click over the "Bubble Background" Vector mask. Then Go to Edit > Modify > Contract and set the value to 1px. Finally, hit Command / Ctrl + Shift + I to invert the selection and delete it.

This is a good time to set everything related to the top banner organized into folders and add more detail if you want to, I'm adding a yellow line between the Post brief and the Meta.

Main Content

Step 20: Content Background

Now let's move forward with the main content background, create a Folder named "Page Content" and draw a white (#FFFFFF) Rounded Corner Rectangle (5 px radius) several pixels height (If the original canvas size becomes too small at this time you can increase its size, just ensure to keep the top border as is).

Step 21: Post Image

It's time to start adding content to the page, as default on blogs we will design a list of the latest posts.

Draw two squares (3 columns width aprox.) and place them as shows the image below. Doing the same process than step 12 add some images over the squares using them as Clipping Masks. Finally select the square and add a Stroke Layer Style to it (Color: #FFB801, Size: 1px, Position: Inside).

We will work over one of this images adding the content around it, and then duplicate it as many times as post want to show on the homepage.

Step 22: Add posts' Titles and Categories.

Draw two wide rectangles, one yellow (#F2AA00) and another White with yellow border below (#FFB401). Over the yellow stripe, type the title of the post using "Komika Title", Color: #670003, Size: 18pt. And on the white stripe, type the Categories names using "Komika Text Tight" Size: 13pt, Colors #212121 for links and #670003 when mouse over.

Step 23: Post brief and Meta

Draw a talking bubble again, over the picture and the yellow stripe, fill it with this Color: #333333 with a 1px Stroke (Color: #696969) and also apply the Drop shadow we did before on the banner. Then add the a sample brief text using "Komika Text Tight" Size: 14pt, Color: #FFFFFF, a sample Meta text using "Tahoma" 10pt Color #979797 and if you want to a line between both texts (#4B4B4B).

Step 24: Finishing the main content

To finish this part add a Comments bubble, basically repeating the process of Step 18. Then put everything on folders, I'm naming the post folder "A post". Then, duplicate it (Command / Ctrl + Drag) and place it on the right. Repeat the process with two or three rows of post as shown at the bottom of the image below. Increase the height of the white background as needed to fit all the post in.

Step 25: Page Content Corner

To increase the "comic book" style, we will add a simple page curl at the bottom right of the white background.

First draw a Black Triangle at the bottom right corner (you can use the Pen Tool), then duplicate it and move the triangle making it a "reflex" of the black one, you can fill this copy with any other color. Next warp the second triangle making it a little curve. Then, apply to the warped triangle a Gradient Overlay using a nice mix of colors: (#9C0001 - #FE0000 - #9C0001) and change the Angle to anything that looks good according the angle of the curl, in this case 108 degrees. Next using a Soft Brush (Black, Opacity and Flow 50%) paint some shadows in a new layer behind the warped triangle. If you want to, add some points to the warped triangle in order to add a rounded corner to the tip just as shows the bottom of the image below. Finally, put all the curl related layers into a folder named "Page Curl". Keep it handy because we are using it later.

Step 26: Footer Background

We are almost done, first create a folder named "Footer" and ensure is below the "Page Content" folder, inside it draw a red (#9C0001) circle, then apply a Gaussian Blur of at least 65px radius. Then transform the resultant blurred circle to make it match with the bounding guides.

Step 27: Background sunbursts

Now, with the Custom Shape Tool, select one of the Sunburst shapes and draw a black one in the middle, then down its Opacity to 50%. Then add the Halftone Pattern over the red glowing circle, hide it using a layer mask and show only some parts of it. Finally down the opacity of the red circle to 50%..

Step 28: Footer content background

We will add common elements of a blog such Categories and Archive on the footer.

Now, let's add a background for the footer elements, draw a Rounded Rectangle (5px radius) Color:#1A1A1A and set its Fill value to 50%, making it around 3 columns wide. you can create copies of it to make fit 4 boxes at the footer.

Step 29: Footer content background - Curl

Select the first rectangle, (you can delete the others at this point). Then duplicate the "Page Curl" folder and place it inside the "Footer" folder, transform it to make it match with the bottom right corner of the rectangle, then change the colors of the gradient to different tones of gray. Finally add to the rectangle layer a Stroke style (1px, Inside, #242424).

Step 30: Categories

Now, add the title of the section, in this case "Categories" using "Komika Title", Size: 14px Color: #F2AA00. Use guides to delimit the title baseline, keep it at least 20 px below the end of the page content background. Then add some rows as sample categories, using "Komika Text Tight", Size: 16px, Color: #FFFFFF, and Red (#EC000A) as hover effect. As an additional detail for the hover effect, add a little yellow (#FFB301) arrow using the Custom Shape Tool. Put all the layers into a folder named "Footer Element".

Step 31: Duplicate the footer section

Duplicate the "Footer element" folder and move it to the right, change the words to depict "Archives" this time.

Then duplicate the folder again but this time expand the translucent background to make it twice wider, on top, type the titles for "Popular Posts", "Latest Posts" and "Recent Comments", use yellow for the first one and gray for the other two. As you guess, this will have a similar functionality than a tabbed pane. Then add a little yellow triangle to mark the selected tab.

Step 32: Tabbed pane content

Since this part will have mostly lists of posts, lets add them, basically is a combination of "Komika Title" and "Komika Text Tight" with different colors (See the screenshot below). The first row will be a sample of the selected (hover) item, on this, add a black (#000000) rounded rectangle behind the text and add a Horizontal Gradient (Black to White) Layer Mask.

Finally, add a little Pager at the bottom of this section.

Step 33: Search Bar

It's time to add some details to finish up our graphic. Let's start with the search bar. Create a folder named "Search Bar" on top of everything, create a Rounded Rectangle (3px Radius, Color: #000000 with a Stroke Effect Size: 1px, Position: Inside, Color: #7C0000) as the search input, and a small rectangle for the search button; Copy the Layer Style of the selected item on the main navigation and paste it to the search button. For the actual button, type the word "Go!" over it with White, and apply the same Drop Shadow than the main navigation text (recycling layer styles is a great time saver). On the Search input, type the Word "Looking for something" using "Komika Text Tight" Color: #F9A600.

Then add a Rectangle behind all the layers inside "Search Bar", fill it with a dark red #380001 (Fill: 50%) and apply a Stroke using this Color: #890101. Convert it to a Smart Object and apply a Layer Mask > Hide All to it, fill the mask with a Reflected Black - White Gradient to create the effect show at the bottom of the image below.

Step 34: Social Media Icons

Repeat the process of the search bar background but this time using a less height bar and with a sightly different Stroke color (#860001). Then type the word "Follow us" using "Komika title" and paste all the icons you want to add, you can use the mini icons from the assets. Don't forget to keep your layers organized under folders.

Step 35: Footer navigation and copyright information

Finishing today's work, let's add the Footer navigation. Delimit the section with a white Line, masked with a reflected black - white gradient. Type the navigation links using Arial, Size 10px, Color: #515151 and highlight a hover effect with yellow: #F2AA00. Then add the copyright text Right aligned.

Step 36: This is it!

Finally double check all the layers are on its respective folder.


We finished the graphic part of the process, now it's time to jump over NetTuts+ to see how to slice this and turn it to HTML+CSS, are you ready?

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