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Quick & Simple Cylinder/Tube Rendering in Photoshop

Rendering a basic cylinder in Photoshop will introduce you to using the brush tool and actually painting, as well as expanding upon your skills with paths and the pen tool.

The result of this tutorial will be a matte (not reflective) cylinder. The difference between this cylinder and a more complex matte object would be the amount of time spend adding and refining details such as reflected light or cast shadows (which we won’t cover here), more detail inside the tube as well as adding additional layers for color, reflections, etc.

Necessary tools/skills to complete this tutorial

  • A solid understanding of ellipses in perspective
  • Ellipse Tool (U or shift+U) – creates ellipses
    • Shift+Drag – pulls out a circle
    • Opt+Drag (Mac) or Al+Drag (Win) – pulls ellipse out from center
    • Combine the two to pull a perfect circle from the center
  • Shape transformation keyboard shortcuts (Cmd/Cntrl+T to activate transform)
    NOTE: these may vary based on your Adobe version.
    • Drag from tranform anchor to make larger/smaller
    • Shift+Drag – resizes from a corner
    • Opt+Drag (Mac) or Al+Drag (Win) – resizes entire shape around center
  • Duplicate Path in Place – Copy (Cntrl/Cmd + C) then Paste (Shift + V)
  • Brush (B) – paintbrush to “paint on” changes
  • Lock Transparent Pixels – Locks a layer so any changes will only affect pixels already on that layer
  • Black/White Selection Arrows (A or Shift +A)Arrows are used to adjust paths: A or shift+A will get you the black arrow (can move whole paths), and white arrow (moves individual points). Use the white arrow to adjust the anchor points of your paths to improve your drawing if you see errors in the original sketch.

Now let’s get started!

  1. Sketch a cylinder in perspective, following the rules of 1, 2 or 3 pt. Place your sketch in your Photoshop document. If you wish to see your sketch throughout the process, place it as the top layer and set the Layer Blend Mode to “Multiply.”
  2. Create paths to fit your cylinder as indicated below. They should overlap.
    1. Use U / ellipse tool to create the cap ellipses.
      1. Make sure it is set to “path” in the top bar options.
      2. Draw out an ellipse.
      3. Transform to correct degree and orientation (see keyboard shortcuts above if needed).
      4. For the back ellipse: assuming your cylinder/tube does not bend, you will maintain the same orientation, but unless the cylinder is in one point perspective with the cap parallel to you, you should make the degree slightly larger. The overall size will be slightly smaller due to perspective.
    1. Use the P / pen tool to create the connecting path. Arrows to adjust them: A or shift+A will get you the black arrow (can move whole paths), and white arrow (moves individual points). Use the white arrow to adjust the anchor points of your paths to improve your drawing if you see errors in the original sketch.
Ellipse/Path 1 should cover one cap.
Ellipse/Path 2 should cover the back cap
Path 3 should cover the area connecting the two caps.
  1. Create your fill for the visible cap by following these steps:
    1. Make a new layer
    2. Double-click on the Foreground Color palette and choose a light grey
    3. Select Ellipse 1 using the black arrow
    4. Click the solid circle at the bottom of the Paths window (“Fill patch with foreground color”). 
  1. Create the fill for the length of the cylinder as follows:
    1. Make a new layer and select it.
    2. Select Ellipse 2 and Path 3 using the black arrow
    3. Along the top bar, change the Path Operations setting to “Combine Shapes”. This will allow you to fill both at once.
    4. Click the solid circle at the bottom of the Paths window (“Fill path with foreground color”).
    5. Drag the layer below the cap in the layers window.
  1. Add form shadow to the length of the cylinder by painting it in:
    1. Lock the layer with the “Lock Transparent Pixels” setting. This will allow you to paint only on the existing pixels of that layer.
    2. Select the brush (B) and choose a large soft airbrush from the Brushes window. Choose your desired shadow value/color.
    3. Paint in a shadow along the shadow side, so the transition area suggests your light source.
      NOTE: The transition should not extend across the whole shape; it should only transition where the shadow wraps around the edge of the form.
  1. Making a tube? Its just a bit more:
    1. Duplicate your cap ellipse (copy / paste) and resize and reposition it as needed (if it is in the same plane, it will be the same degree ellipse).
    2. Create another layer and fill using the techniques above.
    3. If you are rendering a tube opening on the shadow side, it can just be filled with a slightly darker value. If on the light side, paint a gradient using the technique above, except in the opposite direction.
  1. Finish Up
    1. In your “Paths” window, click in the empty space to deselect your paths. Also, hide your sketch layer. Then you can see your cylinder more easily.
    2. Make any value adjustments to the fill layers using levels (Cntrl/Cmd+L) for a clear lighting scheme.
    3. When you are satisfied, merge your three layers (NOT YOUR SKETCH LAYER): hold the shift key and click each of the three layers. Then right click on one and select “Merge Layers”. LOCK the layer.
  1. In your Paths window, click your Work Path, then delete it using the trash can at the lower right. 
    NOTE: for more complex illustrations, or if you would anticipate needing to use the paths again for any reason, you would not delete them. Instead you would rename your Work Path (i.e. “cylinders”) and make a new “Path Layer” for different objects–or you would continue adding additional paths on the same layer.
  2. Save your work!

And now you have a simple matte cylinder. To take this further, you could add a little reflected light and a cast shadow. Color and more will be discussed in future tutorials.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Use overlapping paths to refine your drawing and create a clean base layer. Use “Lock Transparent Pixels” and a brush to add subtle detail painting.

Did you find this helpful? Do you have any of your own tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it if you decide to try something new. If you use it differently, I’d love to hear that, too!

– Laura

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