Made popular by Apple, the “wet table” reflection effect is now so prevalent that we hardly notice it. That is, unless it’s botched due to a misunderstanding of how real reflections work. Avoid making the most common reflection errors in Photoshop by following these six rules:
Table of Contents
- Rule #1 – Make sure you have the correct image reflected.
- Rule #2 – Angled sides get their own reflections.
- Rule #3 – Separate items get their own reflections.
- Rule #4 – Items pointing toward you have smaller reflections than you think.
- Rule #5 – Cars don’t float. And they have underneathy-bits.
- Rule #6 – Round and cylindrical objects need special handling.
- Bonus Guide: Make It Look More Like a Wet Table Than a Mirror
- More Reflection Catastrophes
Photoshop Reflection Bloopers
The following images were created without a strict eye for detail.
In this photo we can see how a reflection appears when we look at a flat object face-on:
Notice the yellow lines I drew on the right-hand copy. The R is both upside down and backward. There is an element of perspective here too.
Reflection Realism in Photoshop
Here’s how to get a much more realistic reflection for a simple, flat item that is not turned at an angle:
- Start with a layer that has just your image, separate from the background.
- Press Ctrl+J (Mac: Cmd+J) to duplicate the layer.
- Press Ctrl+T (Mac: Cmd+T) to enter the Transform command.
- Click and drag down on the top-center square (handle) of the Transform box. Drag it all the way past the bottom edge of your object, so that it is flipped and not quite as tall as the original object.
- Press Enter/Return to complete the transformation.
- Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
- Select the Gradient tool from the Tools panel.
- Up in the Control panel, click on the Click to open Gradient picker icon.
- Select the Black,White gradient (3rd from the left on the top row).
- Select the Linear Gradient in the Control panel.
- Make sure that the layer mask is still selected in the Layers panel. It should have a broken rectangle framing it.
- Click and drag a gradient from the center of the reflection up to where the two box images meet. Hold the Shift key down to keep the gradient straight. Don’t let go of the Shift key until you let go of the mouse button.
Because you are on the layer mask, instead of seeing a black-to-white gradient, you will see the reflection disappear as it nears the middle.
You’re done with the basic reflection. To see it clearly, you need a background behind it. I have a white background here:
To make this image more realistic, add perspective.
- Select the top (reflection) layer and press Ctrl+E (Cmd+E) to merge it down to the original image layer.
- Edit > Transform > Perspective.
- Click and drag the bottom-left handle to the right a bit.
- Press Enter/Return to save the transformation.
Finally, I added a thin black shadow line with the Line tool. I also put a chic white-to-gray gradient on the background layer.