In this Photoshop tutorial, I will take you through the process of creating a fun horror movie poster design. We will be mixing up stock photos and brushes with old, grungy textures to create a horror movie poster design for "Dark Castle," a fictional movie. A full moon, a spooky castle, a mysterious caped silhouette in the distance, and bats — you’re going to have fun with this one.

Preview

Click the image to see the final result in full scale.

Tutorial Resources

Step 1: Create the Photoshop Document

Start Adobe Photoshop and create a document with your desired poster dimensions (File > New). If you are planning to send your work to the printing press, use a high DPI (between 150-300dpi) and CMYK Color Mode (learn more in our guide on preparing files for print).

For this tutorial, I created a document sized at 1920x1200px, RGB Color at 72dpi (for web use).

Create the Photoshop Document

Step 2: Create a Dark Gradient Background

Set the Foreground color to a very dark gray color (#1c2021) and the Background color to black (#000000). With the Gradient Tool (G), fill the Background layer so that the very dark gray color is on top, and black is at the bottom.

Create a Dark Gradient Background

Step 3: Add the Moon

Grab the Full Moon Luc Viatour stock image and open it in Photoshop. With the Magic Wand Tool (W), click on the Moon’s background, then invert the Magic Wand selection by either pressing Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I or going to Select > Inverse. You should now have the outline of the moon selected.

Add the Moon

Copy (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and paste (Cmd/Ctrl + V) the moon into our scene. Place the moon at the top of the canvas, with parts of it spilling out of the canvas.

Add the Moon

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast and lower the Brightness option to -40.

Add the Moon

Add the Moon

Add the Moon

Let us give the moon a subtle glow. Set the Foreground color to a light gray (#d0d0d0). Create a new layer (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + N) and place it below the moon’s layer. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the moon layer’s thumbnail to load a selection around the moon.

Add the Moon

Make sure you’re on the new layer (below the moon layer), then fill the selection with the foreground color (Option/Alt + Del/Backspace) and then deselect the selection (Cmd/Ctrl + D).

Add the Moon

Apply Gaussian Blur with the Radius at 10px, then lower the Opacity of the layer to 50%.

Add the Moon

Add the Moon

Move the glow a bit to the right and a bit to the top.

Add the Moon

Let’s create a shadow over the moon. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the thumbnail of the moon layer to load a selection around it again. Create a new layer and, on this new layer, fill the selection with black (#000000).

Add the Moon

Apply the Gaussian Blur filter with Radius at 50px.

Add the Moon

Move the shadow a little bit to the left.

Add the Moon

Since we need the shadow to be just on top of the moon, Cmd/Ctrl + click on the thumbnail of moon layer to load a selection around it, and, making sure the active layer is still the shadow layer, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection to apply a layer mask to the shadow layer.

Add the Moon

Add the Moon

Step 4: Add the Castle

Download and open the image of the Hogwards Castle. Isolate the castle from its background by first using the Pen Tool (P) with the Paths option selected in the Options Bar to trace an outline of the castle, then, in the Paths Panel (Window > Paths), right-click on the path you drew and choose Make Selection.

Add the Castle

Copy and paste the castle into our main document. Use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to make the castle a bit bigger and then rotate it a bit. Afterwards, move the castle in position; use the image below as a reference.

Add the Castle

Desaturate the castle layer by either pressing Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U or going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Add the Castle

Then lower the layer’s Opacity to 35%.

Add the Castle

Cmd/Ctrl + click on the castle layer’s thumbnail to create a selection around it. Create new layer above the castle layer, and fill this new layer with black.

Add the Castle

Use the Eraser Tool (E) with a very soft brush tip (0% Hardness) to slowly remove the black color from parts of the castle you want to be visible.

Add the Castle

You should now have something like this:

Add the Castle

Add the Castle

Step 5: Create Some Fog and Clouds

Add a new layer on top of all the other layers and then set the Foreground color to black and the Background color to white by pressing D. Afterwards, go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Change the Blend Mode for this layer to Screen and lower the Opacity to 30%.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Set your Foreground color to white (#ffffff). With the Brush Tool (B) and a very soft brush (0% Hardness), paint white on the layer mask at areas where you want the fog/clouds to be visible; use the image below for reference.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Click on the fog/clouds layer in the Layers Panel and then duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Change the Blend Mode of the duplicate layer to Multiply, and set the layer Opacity to 30%.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

The fog/clouds reinforce our theme, giving it an eerie look.

Step 6: Creating Mysterious Light

Create a new layer, grab the Brush Tool (B), select an aqua green color (#49a69e), and, with a large, soft brush (800-900px Master Diameter) apply a big spot by the moon (as shown below).

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Apply the Motion Blur filter on this layer (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur).

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Change the layer’s Blend Mode to Lighten and lower the Opacity to 60%.

Create Some Fog and Clouds

Step 7: Create a Human Silhouette

Open up the Victorian Gustov 39 image referenced in the Tutorial Resources at the top, and isolate the man from its background using your Pen Tool (P), similar to what we did with the castle in Step 4.

Create a Human Silhouette

Place the man into our scene and scale him down with Free Transform (Edit > Free Transform).

Create a Human Silhouette

Open the Layer Style dialog window and apply a black Color Overlay to the layer.

Create a Human Silhouette

Soften the silhouette with Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and then lower the Opacity of the layer to 80%.

Create a Human Silhouette

Create a new layer below the silhouette layer. Switch your Foreground color to gray (#7a8384). Create a light spot behind the silhouette using the Brush Tool (B) with a large, soft brush (500px Master Diameter). Lower the layer’s Opacity to 62%.

Create a Human Silhouette

Create a new layer above the light spot layer. Set your Foreground color to a bluish gray (#7a8384) and your Background color to white (#ffffff), then go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Create a Human Silhouette

Give the clouds filter layer a clipping mask (Layer > Create Clipping Mask).

Create a Human Silhouette

Then, change the layer’s Blend Mode to Color Burn.

Create a Human Silhouette

Click on the silhouette layer to make it the active layer, duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + J), then press Cmd/Ctrl + T to enter Free Transform mode.

Create a Human Silhouette

Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and pull the center-top transform control straight down until the duplicate silhouette is flipped vertically. This will become the silhouette’s shadow.

Create a Human Silhouette

Create a Human Silhouette

Move this shadow layer below the silhouette layer, apply Gaussian Blur with a 6px Radius, and then set the layer’s Opacity to 60% afterwards.

Create a Human Silhouette

Here is a preview of where we are now:

Create a Human Silhouette

Step 8: Add Trees

Open the Join me in the abyss… stock photo, desaturate it (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U) and, with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), create a selection around the trees.

Add Trees

Copy and paste the selection into our scene. Flip the trees horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).

Add Trees

Next, adjust the levels to render the sky white (Image > Adjustment > Levels).

Add Trees

Position the trees to the left of the silhouette with the Move Tool (V).

Add Trees

To blend the trees layer with the layers behind it and to hide the white areas, change the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Add Trees

Move the trees layer below the fog/clouds layer, but keep it above the castle layer.

Add Trees

Step 9: Add Bats

In this step, we will add bats to the scene. First, download and install these splendid Halloween Vectors Photoshop & GIMP Brushes. Create a new layer above the fog/clouds layer, but below the mysterious aqua green light layer.

Set the Foreground color to black (#000000), switch to the Brush Tool (B), choose one of the bat brushes, and start adding bats. I suggest that each bat should have its own layer. I know we will end up with a bunch of layers if we were to have one bat per layer, but it gives us freedom to adjust and modify each of them individually.

Add Bats

Add Bats

Reduce the Opacity of the bat layers so that bats father away into the distance are fainter.

Add Bats

Once you are satisfied, select all the bats layers and group them into a layer group (Cmd/Ctrl + G) named "Bats".

Step 10: Add Text to the Composition

Download and install the Bebas font. With the Horizontal Type Tool (T), type "Dark Castle", with each letter on its own layer.

Add Text to the Composition

We are going to use the Character Panel (Window > Character) to modify each letter a bit so they have varying letter-spacing and font sizes; let’s start with letter "D".

Add Text to the Composition

Next, modify the character options of "A".

Add Text to the Composition

Then "R".

Add Text to the Composition

And then "K".

Add Text to the Composition

This is what we have after the character option modifications:

Add Text to the Composition

Do the same for each letter in word "Castle," but do it in reverse order such that as you go towards the last letter, the letters get bigger.

Add Text to the Composition

After making the character modifications, select all the text layers, Control-click/right-click, and then choose Rasterize Type in the menu that appears.

Add Text to the Composition

After rasterizing the text layers, make sure they’re still selected in the Layers Panel, then merge them into one layer (Cmd/Ctrl + E).

Add Text to the Composition

Cmd/Ctrl + click on the merged "Dark Castle" layer’s thumbnail to create a selection around the letters.

Add Text to the Composition

Create a new layer below the "Dark Castle" text layer, go to Select > Modify > Expand and expand the selection by 3px.

Add Text to the Composition

Fill the selection with red (#c90801).

Add Text to the Composition

Let us add more text to our poster. Download and install League Gothic. Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to place some text above and below the "Dark Castle" text using the League Gothic font.

Add Text to the Composition

Add Text to the Composition

Here’s what we should have now:

Step 11: Add Grunge and Scratch Textures

In this last step of the tutorial, we will distress the design a little bit using stock textures and a free Photoshop brush library. First, download Texture No.14 (or, alternatively, use one of the textures from the Grunge Grab Bag: Texture Pack here on Design Instruct) and place it on top of our composition.

Desaturate the texture (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate) to remove its colors, then set the layer’s Blend Mode to Multiply at 70% Opacity.

Add Grunge and Scratch Textures

Add Grunge and Scratch Textures

Next, add some scratches to the surface to give our design an aged, worn look. Download and install the CD Scratch brush pack for this.

Create a new layer on top of the grunge texture. Set the Foreground color to white (#ffffff), switch to the Brush Tool (B), choose one of the CD Scratch brushes, and then set the Brush Tool’s Master Diameter to something large (1920px) so that it will span the entire canvas.

On the new layer, click once to apply the brush. Then, lower the Opacity of the layer to 5%.

Add Grunge and Scratch Textures

Tutorial Summary

In this Photoshop tutorial, I showed you how to create a dark, mysterious horror movie poster design by mixing stock photos, textures, brushes, filters and blend modes. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. Show your own final result by linking to it in the comments and posting it up on our community Flickr group pool.

Download Source Files

Author:

Nikola is a Web Designer, Blogger, and M.Sc in Electronic Engineering from Nis, Serbia. Nikola is the founder of a small design blog called webexpedition18 that publishes graphic design and web development tutorials, articles about inspiration and posts on graphic design, web design and photography. Keep up with him via Twitter.