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6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop

Reflected Phones
Reflected Phones
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.

Photoshop Reflection Bloopers
The following images were created without a strict eye for detail.

Upon reflection, it's only 4GB.
Upon reflection, it's only 4GB.
Mary J. Blige, Macy Gray: who's gonna notice?
Mary J. Blige, Macy Gray: who's gonna notice?
You just spun it around, didn't you?
You just spun it around, didn't you?

 

Reflection Reality
In this photo we can see how a reflection appears when we look at a flat object face-on:

Flat-surfaced item, face on.
Flat-surfaced item, 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:

  1. Start with a layer that has just your image, separate from the background.
  2. Press Ctrl+J (Mac: Cmd+J) to duplicate the layer.
Duplicate the layer
Duplicate the layer
  1. Press Ctrl+T (Mac: Cmd+T) to enter the Transform command.
Transform command
Transform command
  1. 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.
Drag the top handle down
Drag the top handle down
  1. Press Enter/Return to complete the transformation.
  2. Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
Add Layer Mask icon
Add Layer Mask icon
  1. Select the Gradient tool from the Tools panel.
Gradient tool
Gradient tool
  1. Up in the Control panel, click on the Click to open Gradient picker icon.
  2. Select the Black,White gradient (3rd from the left on the top row).
Gradient Picker
Gradient Picker
  1. Select the Linear Gradient in the Control panel.
Linear Gradient
Linear Gradient
  1. Make sure that the layer mask is still selected in the Layers panel. It should have a broken rectangle framing it.
Layer mask selected
Layer mask selected
  1. 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.

Drag a gradient up
Drag a gradient up

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.
Gradient on layer mask
Gradient on layer mask

You’re done with the basic reflection. To see it clearly, you need a background behind it. I have a white background here:
White background
White background

Extra Credit
To make this image more realistic, add perspective.

  1. Select the top (reflection) layer and press Ctrl+E (Cmd+E) to merge it down to the original image layer.
  2. Edit > Transform > Perspective.
  3. Click and drag the bottom-left handle to the right a bit.
Drag the bottom-left handle to the right
Drag the bottom-left handle to the right
  1. 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.

Reflection in perspective
Reflection in perspective

 

Next: Rule #2 – Angled sides get their own reflections.

11 replies on “6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop”

Know what?!i don’t have formal training in PS..but because of you..i took up all your tutorials….it’s good…like to thank you ma’am…still got lot to learn though

Great article, I was having a heck of a time finding info/tutorials on photoshop reflections. I found quite a few botched reflections on bestbuy.com check out the icons on their category pages, computers for example, some of the reflections look right but a lot are botched.. It looks like they just had so many to do they just rushed their way through.

Lmfao, its sad to see that laws of reflection are not followed while making the reflections. Designers, editors need to learn some physics.

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