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Flip, Rotate and Mirror Designs and Patterns in Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. In a previous Photoshop photo effects tutorial, we learned how to create a simple mirror effect with an image by flipping the right side of the photo horizontally to create a reflection of the left side. In this tutorial, we’ll take the same general idea and go much further with it, creating interesting effects, designs and patterns by doing nothing more than flipping, rotating and mirroring the same image over and over again! We’ll also experiment with Photoshop’s layer blend modes to see how different blend modes can dramatically change our results!

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You can use any photo you like for this tutorial, but the effect tends to work best if you start with an image that already contains some sort of interesting pattern or design. I’m going to use this photo of trees. It’s the same image I used in the Adding Sunlight Through The Trees tutorial but it should work great thanks to all the tree branches heading off in different directions:

A photo of a tree. Image licensed from iStockphoto by Photoshop Essentials.com.
The original image.

Here’s just one example of the sort of design or pattern we can create from it in just a few easy steps. Every photo you try this with will give you different results:

The final pattern design created from a single image in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
One possible design. Your results will depend on your photo and the blend modes you choose.

Important Note: Make sure you work on a copy of your image, not the original, when creating this effect since there won’t be any way to get the original back later if you need it. To create a copy, go up to the File menu at the top of the screen and choose Save As, then save the image under a different name.

I’ll be using Photoshop CS4 in this tutorial but any version should work. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Switch To Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar

Before we begin, let’s make a quick change to the way Photoshop is displaying our image so it will be easier to see what we’re doing as we make our way through the steps. By default, Photoshop displays images in floating document windows, which is usually fine. In this case though, since we’re going to be increasing our canvas size quite a bit, it will be easier for us to work in one of Photoshop’s full screen modes. Once you’ve opened the image you want to work with, go up to the View menu at the top of the screen, choose Screen Mode, and then choose Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar:

Photoshop screen modes. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Switching to Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar will make it easier to see what we’re doing.

You can also cycle through all of Photoshop’s screen modes by repeatedly pressing the letter F on your keyboard. Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar will switch Photoshop to full screen, displaying a gray pasteboard area around your photo (the other Full Screen Mode will do the same thing but it hides the Menu Bar, as well as all of your palettes). To get back to the document window mode at any time, go back up to the View menu, choose Screen Mode, and then choose Standard Screen Mode, or simply press the letter F a couple of times.

Step 2: Crop Away Any Unwanted Areas Of The Photo

To begin, let’s remove any areas of our image that we don’t really need for the effect. In my case, I want to keep the trees themselves but the ground below them doesn’t look very interesting and probably won’t add anything to the final design or pattern, so I’ll crop the ground away. Do do that, I’ll select Photoshop’s Crop Tool from the Tools panel. I could also press the letter C on my keyboard to select it with the shortcut:

Selecting the Crop Tool in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the Crop Tool.

With the Crop Tool selected, click and drag a cropping border around the area of the image you want to keep. In my case, I’ll click in the top left corner of the photo to add a starting point, then while holding my mouse button down, I’ll drag down and to the right to a spot an inch or so above the bottom right corner of the image. This will keep the trees inside the crop border, while everything along the bottom of the image will be cropped away:

Cropping an image in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click and drag a cropping border around the area you want to keep.

Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to crop away the unwanted areas. Here’s my image now with the ground along the bottom removed:

The image after it has been cropped in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The remaining part of the image should create some interesting designs.

Step 3: Duplicate The Background Layer

If we look in our Layers palette, we see that we currently have only one layer, named Background. This is the layer our image is sitting on:

The Background layer in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Our Photoshop document contains just one layer at the moment.

We need to create a copy of this layer. To do that, go up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen, choose New, then choose Layer via Copy. Or, for a faster way to duplicate a layer, press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac):

The New Layer via Copy command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy, or press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac).

Either way tells Photoshop to make a copy of the layer, and if we look again in the Layers palette, we see that sure enough, a new layer, which Photoshop has automatically named “Layer 1″, has been added above the original:

A copy of the layer appears in the Layers palette in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The new layer contains its own copy of the photo for us to work with.

Step 4: Double The Width Of The Canvas

Go up to the Image menu at the top of the screen and choose Canvas Size:

The Canvas Size command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Image > Canvas Size.

This opens Photoshop’s Canvas Size dialog box which we can use to add more canvas space around our photo. We need to double the current width of our canvas, and we want all of the extra canvas space to appear on the right side of our image. To do that, set the Width value to 200 percent and the Height to 100 percent (which will leave the height of the canvas at its current size). To force the extra canvas space to the right side of the photo, click on the left middle square in the Anchor grid:

The Canvas Size dialog box in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Enter 200 percent for the Width, 100 percent for the Height, and click on the left middle square in the Anchor grid.

Click OK when you’re done to close out of the dialog box. Photoshop doubles the width of the canvas, adding all of the extra space on the right side of the photo. By default, Photoshop fills the extra canvas space with white:

Extra canvas space now appears on the right side of the photo. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The extra canvas space appears on the right side of the photo.

Step 5: Drag The Photo On Layer 1 To The Right Of The Original Image

Now that we’ve added our extra canvas space, we need to drag the copy of our image on Layer 1 into the new area. Select the Move Tool from the Tools palette, or press the letter V on your keyboard to select it with the shortcut:

The Move Tool in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the Move Tool.

Make sure Layer 1 is selected in the Layers palette (selected layers are highlighted in blue). Hold down your Shift key, then click inside the document and drag the photo on Layer 1 over to the right side of the original image. Holding the Shift key down as you drag will limit the direction you can move, making it easy to drag the photo horizontally. When you’re done, you should see two copies of the photo sitting side by side each other:

Dragging the image on Layer 1 into the new canvas area. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click and drag the copy of the image to the right of the original.

Step 6: Flip The Image On The Right Horizontally

So far, all we have are two identical twins. Let’s create our first mirror effect by flipping the image on the right horizontally so it appears as a reflection of the one on the left. Go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen, choose Transform, and then choose Flip Horizontal:

The Flip Horizontal command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

The photo on the right instantly becomes a mirror reflection of the photo on the left, creating our first effect:

The right image is now a reflection of the left image. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image on the right is now a mirror copy of the one on the left.

Step 7: Merge The Two Layers Together

So far, so good, but as they say, but we’ve only just begun. Let’s merge our two layers into a single layer by going up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen and choosing Merge Down, or press Ctrl+E (Win) / Command+E (Mac) to select the Merge Down command with the keyboard shortcut:

The Merge Down command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Layer > Merge Down, or press Ctrl+E (Win) / Command+E (Mac).

Nothing will seem to have happened in the document, but if we look at our Layers palette, we can see that our two layers have been merged into a single layer:

The two layers have been merged in the Layers palette. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The mirror effect is now contained on a single layer.

Step 8: Duplicate The Layer

Just as we did back in Step 3, let’s duplicate the layer. Press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to quickly duplicate it using the keyboard shortcut. A copy of the layer appears above the original in the Layers palette:

Duplicating the Background layer in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to quickly duplicate the layer.

Step 9: Double The Height Of The Canvas

We’re going to create another reflection of our image, this time vertically. For that, we need to double the height of our canvas and have the new canvas space appear below our existing image. Let’s once again bring up the Canvas Size dialog box by going up to the Image menu at the top of the screen and choosing Canvas Size. When the dialog box appears, set the Width to 100 percent (which will leave the width of the canvas at its current size) and the Height to 200 percent. To force the extra space to appear below the image, click on the top middle square in the Anchor grid:

Doubling the height of the canvas in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Enter 100 percent for the Width, 200 percent for the Height, and click on the top middle square in the Anchor grid.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box. Photoshop adds the additional canvas space below the image. If you can’t see the entire canvas area because it has become too large to fit on your screen, go up to the View menu and choose the Fit on Screen command, or press Ctrl+0 (Win) / Command+0 (Mac). Photoshop will zoom the image out to whatever level is needed for it to fit:

The extra canvas space has been added below the image in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The extra canvas space has been added below the image. Press Ctrl+0 (Win) / Command+0 (Mac) to fit the document on screen if needed.

Step 10: Drag The Image On Layer 1 Below The Original

With the Move Tool selected in the Tools panel and Layer 1 selected in the Layers palette, click inside the document and drag the photo on Layer 1 down below the original image. Hold down your Shift key as you drag to limit the direction you can move, making it easy to drag the photo straight down:

Dragging the image on Layer 1 down below the image on the Background layer in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
With the Move Tool selected, drag the image on Layer 1 down below the original image.

Step 11: Flip The Bottom Image Vertically

To turn the bottom image into a mirror reflection of the top image, go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and then choose Flip Vertical:

Selecting the Flip Vertical command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical

We now have our second mirror reflection, this time vertically:

The second Photoshop mirror reflection effect. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The bottom image is now a reflection of the top image.

So far, all we’ve been doing is making copies of the image and flipping them horizontally or vertically. Let’s see how much further we can take things by rotating copies of the image and trying out different layer blend modes!

Step 12: Merge Both Layers Onto A New Layer

Let’s merge both of our existing layers onto a brand new layer. To do that, hold down your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key and, while still holding the key down, go up to the Layer menu and choose Merge Visible down near the bottom of the list of options:

The Merge Visible command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Hold down Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and go to Layer > Merge Visible.

Normally, the Merge Visible command would have merged our two layers into a single layer, similar to the Merge Down command we used earlier, but by holding down the Alt / Option key as we select the command, we tell Photoshop to create a brand new layer and merge our existing layers on to the new layer. We can see in our Layers palette that we now have a third layer (Layer 2), and we can see in its preview thumbnail that it contains a merged copy of the images from the original two layers below it:

The two original layers are now merged on to a third layer in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Holding down the Alt / Option key allowed us to create a merged copy of our layers without losing the original layers.

Step 13: Rotate The New Layer 90°

Go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and then choose Rotate 90° CW:

The Rotate 90° CW command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Transform > Rotate 90° CW.

This will rotate the image on Layer 2 90° clockwise inside the document:

The new layer has been rotated 90° clockwise in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The new layer has been rotated 90° clockwise.

Step 14: Crop The Document Around The Rotated Image

Let’s clean up the design by cropping the document around the rotated image. Hold down your Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key and click directly on the preview thumbnail for Layer 2 in the Layers palette:

Clicking on the preview thumbnail for Layer 2 in the Layers palette in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Hold down Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) and click on Layer 2′s preview thumbnail.

This will place a selection outline around the rotated image in the document. With the selection outline in place, go up to the Image menu at the top of the screen and choose Crop:

Selecting the Crop command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Image > Crop.

Photoshop crops the document, removing the areas that extended above and below the rotated image. Press Ctrl+D (Win) / Command+D (Mac) to quickly remove the selection outline since we no longer need it:

The image has been cropped in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The document after cropping it around the rotated image.

Step 15: Change The Layer Blend Mode

At this point, things start to become a bit more experimental and a matter of personal taste. Currently, the image on Layer 2 is completely blocking the layers below it from view, which isn’t what we want. We need to blend the layers together, and we can do that by simply changing Layer 2′s blend mode. The blend mode option is located at the top of the Layers palette. By default, it’s set to Normal, with "Normal" meaning that the layer is not blending at all with the layers below it. Let’s try out a few different blend modes and see what we get. I’ll change my blend mode to Multiply:

Changing the blend mode for Layer 2 to Multiply. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Changing the blend mode for Layer 2 from Normal to Multiply.

The Multiply blend mode does a nice job of blending my images together to create an interesting design, but it’s also darkened the image quite a bit:

The design after setting the blend mode to Multiply. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Multiply creates an interesting but dark pattern.

I’ll try a different blend mode, Lighten, which should give me a much brighter effect:

Changing the blend mode for Layer 2 to Lighten. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Changing the blend mode for Layer 2 to Lighten.

The Lighten blend mode has definitely brightened things up and given me another interesting design:

The design after setting the blend mode to Lighten. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Lighten creates another interesting and much lighter design.

Obviously, I could go through each blend mode here and you’ll want to do just that on your own, but to save time, I’ll try one more, the Darken blend mode:

Changing the blend mode for Layer 2 to Darken. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Trying a third blend mode, this time Darken.

In my case, I think Darken gives me the best results, but of course the blend mode you end up choosing could be different:

The design after setting the blend mode to Darken. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Darken blend mode is, in my opinion anyway, the winner.

Let’s try rotating one more copy of the image, changing the blend mode, and seeing what we get!

Step 16: Merge Both Layers Onto A New Layer

Once again, let’s merge our existing layers onto a new layer. Hold down your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key just as we did before and, while still holding the key down, go up to the Layer menu and choose Merge Visible. A new merged layer (Layer 3) appears above the original layers in the Layers palette:

A new merged layer appears above the original layers in the Layers panel in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Photoshop always adds new layers directly above the layer that was previously selected (which was Layer 2).

Step 17: Rotate The New Layer 45°

With the new layer (Layer 3) selected in the Layers panel, go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and then choose Rotate:

Selecting the Rotate command in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Transform > Rotate.

The Options Bar along the top of the screen will change to display options for transforming the contents of the layer. Enter 45.0 into the Angle input box to tell Photoshop to rotate the image on Layer 3 by 45° clockwise:

The Rotate command options in the Options Bar in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Enter “45.0″ into the Angle input box.

Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) once to accept the angle that you’ve entered, then press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) a second time to exit out of the Rotate command. Here’s my design with Layer 3 now rotated:

The design after rotating Layer 3 by 45° in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The effect after rotating Layer 3 by 45°.

Step 18: Change The Blend Mode

Finally, try out different blend modes just like we did before to see how each one affects the way the rotated image on Layer 3 blends in with the layers below it. Different blend modes will give you different results. After trying out a few blend modes on my own, I’m going to choose Lighten this time:

Changing the blend mode for Layer 3 to Lighten in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Experiment with the blend modes to get different effects and patterns. I’m going to go with Lighten.

And here, after a series of copying, dragging, flipping, merging, and rotating layers, and playing around with different blend modes, is my final result:

The final pattern design created from a single image in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
My final design.

And there we have it!

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