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Making Snowflakes

This tutorial is based on the principles of reflection and rotation, the same principles by which you made those cut-paper snowflakes in school.

pssnow3.jpg (16757 bytes) 12-pointed star that i used with this method. What angle would i start with for this?  a 5-pointed Mandala that i made using this method. What angle did i start with for this?

As you work through this tutorial, you will work with several useful tools and processes.

  • Making a rectangle by filling a selection.
  • Transforming a selection.
  • Using the Polygonal lasso tool.
  • Transforming using rotations and flipping.
  • Using layer effects.

snowflake final

The directions were written for PS 7, but with a few modifications, you can do this in other versions too! For the pattern triangle, I have alternate directions for Elements, which also work in PS. You can find these directions HERE.

This tutorial is written with beginners in mind, though I hope that even more seasoned Photoshop users can have some fun with these methods. There are some words in this tutorial that are in purple with links. These are clickable and take you to a more complete description of that topic.

1. Make your 30° pattern triangle. We will begin this by making a rectangle, and then cut away part, leaving a 30° triangle.

  • File -> New and make your canvas large; I like 600x600. Click the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

  • Choose the Rectangular Marquee tool from the toolbox (upper left) and drag out a rectangle in the top half of your canvas. If your canvas were a clock, you want the rectangle to be from the center up to the top of the clock in height, and between 12 and about 1:30 in width. The exact size doesn't matter at all here.

  • Choose the color you want for your snowflake in the foreground color picker square. Alt-Backspace to fill the selection. (Or Edit > Fill.)

make rectangle
  • Now, we'll transform this selection so that we can take a 30° bite out of this rectangle.
    • Select > Transform Selection. This brings up your bounding rectangle.
    • Drag your selection a little taller, using the bottom handle.
transform selection
    • Now bring the cursor to just outside of the bounding rectangle till you see the little double-headed rotation arrow. Then hold Shift and drag. By holding Shift, you constrain the rotation to 15° increments, so drag it two little jumps and that will be your 30°!
    • Hit Enter to complete the transformation of the selection.
rotate selection
  • Put your cursor inside the selection and drag it to where it cuts your lower left vertex, as it is here. Hit the Delete key. Ctrl-D to Deselect.
  • You should have a triangle that has one 30° angle on one layer, as you see below, and your background layer.
  • File -> Save as -> and choose a name for your project. Leave it in .psd format.

triangle 

triangle

 

2. Do your cutouts.

  • Use the polygonal lasso tool to select an irregular region and then hit the delete key. Do this again and again till your snowflake has lots of holes.
  • File -> Save.

cut out            cutouts

3. Reflect on this.
  • Copy your triangle by dragging that layer to the new layer icon on the layers palette.
  • You are going to reflect this new triangle horizontally. With the triangle layer selected in the layers palette, click Edit -> Transform -> Flip Horizontal.
  • Position this flipped triangle exactly against the first one. Use arrow keys to nudge a pixel or two if you have to. Ctrl-E to merge down. Do not flatten the whole thing, just the two triangles.
  • File -> Save.

cutouts reflected

4. Copy and rotate.

  • Drag your active layer to the new layer icon to copy it. Edit -> Transform -> Rotate. Put 60 into the angle box in the Options Bar.
  • Using the move tool, scoot this over exactly against the other layer. Ctrl-E to merge down.
  • File -> Save.

dupe and rotate
5. Copy and rotate.
  • Do the same as in step 4 but your angle will be different. What will it be this time?
  • Do not merge down at this point.

dupe & rotate

6. Copy and rotate.
  • Copy the FIRST section. You will start getting distortions if you keep copying copies.
  • Rotate this copy as you did in step 4 and 5 only you will have a still different angle.

File -> Save.

7. Gloat for a moment at how beautiful this is. Then if it is perfect, merge down. Don't merge it onto the background yet, unless you want it to have a white background with no layer effects. It is good to keep a copy of the .psd file with the snowflake not merged to the background in case you want to add something later, use it for your holiday cards, etc.

snowflake

snowflake
8. Want to make it even cooler? You can use layer styles to add an inner bevel and drop shadow as i have done here. I also stroked the outside border of this using Edit-> stroke. Or you can even add some texture using lighting effects and alpha channels. For a more detailed look at this process, you may want to check my Heart 3 tutorial.

Save. Then Save a copy as a jpg or gif or whatever.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! You can use this method to make a mandala or anything with rotational symmetry.

Always me, Janee

Here are some snowflakes that students have sent me:

gold mandala from Elizabeth Prince Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero Ryan Skelly Neil Carruthers from Michael Nathan     Barb believes in snow!    from Louis Parson  

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