If you want to get more creative with your iPhone photography, a great option is to use layers to add exciting new elements to your images. Working with layers in photo editing apps can be daunting at first, but once you’ve mastered the basics you’ll find the creative opportunities are endless! In this step-by-step tutorial you’ll discover how to use the popular Pixelmator app to add interesting pattern layers to your iPhone photos.
Pixelmator is a powerful, layer-based image editing app for iPhone and iPad. You can touch up and enhance images, turn pictures into drawings and paintings, and create complex image compositions. You can download Pixelmator for $4.99 from the App Store.
For the purpose of this exercise we’re going to work on making a portrait photo more interesting. We’ll be using layer features in Pixelmator to apply a pattern to just certain parts of the image. But you could use these same techniques on any photo you wish.
Here’s the original image that I’m going to start with. To follow along with this tutorial, you can download this portrait photo if you wish. Alternatively, you could use a similar image of your own, e.g. a photo of a person taken against any type of wall.
So, let’s get started!
When you open Pixelmator, you need to ensure you’re viewing the main home screen of the app. If you see an image that’s currently being worked on, tap the left-pointing arrow at the top left of the screen to go back to the main screen. You should now see the “Pixelmator” title at the top of the screen as shown below.
The first step is to open the image you want to work on. Tap the “+” icon at the top left of the screen, then tap Photos to access your Camera Roll, and select the image you want to enhance.
To add a pattern effect to your photo, tap the “+” icon next to the paint brush at the top of the screen. Tap the Layers icon at the top of the screen – second icon shown highlighted in blue below.
Swipe across until you find the patterns as shown in the middle screenshot above. At this point you don’t need to worry about the color of the pattern as you can change that later.
Select any pattern that you like. The pattern will completely cover your picture, but don’t worry about this – you’ll make your photo show through in a moment.
On the left of the screen you’ll see two layers – the bottom layer contains your photo and the top layer contains the pattern. Make sure the pattern layer is selected so that you can make it semi-transparent in the next step.
If you want to hide the layers panel to allow more space for your image, just tap in the black section beneath the layers. To bring back the layers panel, tap the left side of the screen.
The next step is to make your photo show through the pattern. Tap the paintbrush icon at the top of the screen. In the Tools menu that appears, tap Format (you may need to scroll down to see this option).
Now tap the Blending option. The default Blending mode is always Normal which means the pattern layer is opaque.
For this image, I set the Blending mode to Multiply. However, if you’re using your own photo you can experiment with the different Blending options until you find an effect you like.
Go back to the main menu by tapping Style at the top left of the menu, then change the Opacity slider to around 50% – 60%. The opacity percentage is largely trial and error, as each photo will have its own opacity sweet-spot.
At this point, don’t worry that the pattern is covering your main subject. You can erase that area of the pattern later. When you’re happy with the Opacity setting, tap Tools at the top of the menu to take you back to the main Tools menu.
Tap the Add Effects option in the menu, then select Blur which is the first option at the bottom left of the screen.
A cleverly designed circle will appear on the screen that allows you to dial in the amount of blur that you want applied to the blue pattern layer. The reason we add a slight blur is to soften the unrealistic hard edges of the pattern layer’s design.
For this particular photo, you only need a blur of around 10%, but again the blur amount is subjective – feel free to experiment with the amount applied. When you’ve set the blur percentage, tap Apply at the top right of the screen.
At the bottom of the screen you’ll see another effect option called Hue & Saturation (between Noise and Vintage).
Tap on Hue & Saturation, then rotate the color dial to change the color of the pattern. I chose a warm yellow/red, but you can choose any color you like.
Tap Apply when you have the color balance that you like, then tap Done to return to your photo.
The next step is to erase the pattern from certain areas of the photo. Tap the paintbrush icon at the top of the screen, then select Paint and Erase from the menu.
If you see the words “Soft Eraser” at the top of the screen, you’re good to go. But if it says “Soft Brush” you need to switch to the Eraser tool by tapping Soft Brush, then tapping the Erase option at the top of the screen – tap the blue arrow at the top right to return to your photo.
When you can see the pink “Soft Eraser” title at the top of the screen, use your finger to start erasing portions of your photo that don’t need any pattern. For this image I didn’t want any pattern on the road, the young girl or the surrounding bricked window.
If you feel that the eraser is too large, tap on the pink Soft Eraser title at the top of the screen, then use the Size slider to make the eraser smaller – tap the blue arrow at the top right to return to the photo.
If you have a touch sensitive pen or stylus for your iPhone, you may find it more precise than using your finger to erase the pattern.
If you make a mistake, just tap Undo at the top right to go back a step. To zoom in on the image for detailed eraser work, pinch outwards with two fingers. Pinch inwards to return to the full view.
Tap Done at the top right when you’re happy with the image. At this point you should have your successful work of art looking back at you! Congratulations – you’ve now overcome the barrier of working with photo layers.
The last editing step that I performed was to crop the image as I felt there was too much roadway in the composition. To crop the photo, tap the paintbrush icon, then select Crop from the menu.
Crop your photo as you like by dragging the corners with your finger. When you’re happy with the crop, tap Apply.
Your photo is now ready for saving! Tap the up-arrow icon at the top right of the screen, then select Save to Photos.
When Pixelmator saves the finished image to the native iOS Photos app, the pattern layer gets automatically merged with the background photo. When you close the Pixelmator app your photo with layers gets saved automatically within the app for later edits.
Here’s a reminder of what the original image looked like (left) and how it looks after applying a pattern layer in Pixelmator (right). The subtle pattern gives the image a little creative boost, but without taking attention away from the main subject.
While this tutorial used a portrait photo as an example, the processes for creating and editing Pixelmator layers are the same for landscapes, still life, street photography, and any other type of image creation that you enjoy.
On your next Pixelmator practice session, instead of using a pattern layer, why not use an additional photo as your second layer? The possibilities are endless!