Create a Realistic Break-Apart Effect with Debris Brushset in Photoshop

In this tutorial, I will show you an interesting technique I use to produce realistic break-apart/disintegration effect in Photoshop by using debris brushes, with a watercolour background attached. There are many tutorials on the web showing techniques about break-aparts but, it never hurts to learn more :) It will be a bit boring if the whole tut is just to break something apart, so I also combined a bit of photo retouch techniques along side and hopefully they can be useful to you as well. Together we will be using layer blending options, masking, the pen tool, adjustment layers and of course, brushsets. Have a try!

In this tutorial, I will show you an interesting technique I use to produce realistic break-apart/disintegration effect in Photoshop by using debris brushes, with a watercolour background attached. There are many tutorials on the web showing techniques about break-aparts but, it never hurts to learn more :)

It will be a bit boring if the whole tut is just to break something apart, so I also combined a bit of photo retouch techniques along side and hopefully they can be useful to you as well. Together we will be using layer blending options, masking, the pen tool, adjustment layers and of course, brushsets. Have a try!

Here is a preview of the final effect:

break-apart-final-3

Alternative version:

break-apart-final2-1500

OK let’s get started!

To complete this tutorial, you will need the following stocks:

Female stock

Debris Brush

Watercolor Brush

Step 1

Create a new document sized 3100px * 3600px with White background. Open the “Female Stock” image in Photoshop, use Pen Tool (or whatever selection method you prefer) to make a working path around the model:

pen-tool

pen-tool-1

pen-tool-2

pen-tool-3

If you chose to use Pen Tool, make sure to make a selection after you close the path (by right-click inside the path with Pen Tool selected):

mark-selection

After clicking “Make Selection …”, keep the Feather radius to 0px and tick the “Anti-aliased” checkbox as shown below:

selection-fea

If your selection isn’t perfact, you can hit Ctrl + Alt + R and bring up the refine edge option and apply the following settings:

refine-edge

Then copy and paste the selection on our document and name this newly-created layer as “model”, resize and position it as shown below:

1-position

Step 2

Duplicate the “model” layer twice. Then on the first duplicated layer, change the blending option to “linear burn”:

2-linear-burn

Add a vector mask and grab a soft round brush, gently erase the portion as shown below:

2-mask

2-mask-layer-1

This is the effect after apply the layer mask, you can see the dask parts are now gone:

2-after-mask

Then on the second duplicated layer, change its blending mode to “Screen”, then also grab a soft round brush and apply the following mask onto it:

2-screen-mask

2-mask-layer-2

Here is the effect so far:

2-effect3

Step 3

I decided to add some black and white adjustment to the model however preserve the yellow and orange parts of the image.

So we can go to Layer > New adjustment Layer > Black and White and apply the followng options:

3-bw1

On the mask of this adjustment layer, use the Eraser tool with a soft brush to erase the following part of the image:

3-mask2

I also feel like to preserve the lip colour for the model, so I used the Eraser Tool (with a opacity of 40%) to gently erase the lip part on the mask of this adjustment layer:

3-lip

And you will have the following effect:

3-effect3

We can adjust the lighting contrast a bit for the model. So go to Layer > New adjustment layer > Curves and apply the following settings:

3-curve1

And here is the effect so far:

3-effect-21

Step 4

Now we’re on the break-apart bit of the tutorial! Firstly load the “Debris Brush” into Photoshop, then create a new layer called “break apart” on top of all other layers:

4-break

Grab one of the brush in the “Debris Brush” set, use a colour match the background colour (in this case it’s white), then use the lasso tool with 100px feather to draw a selection in the area you would like to break apart, simply paint over it:

4-lasso-tool

Duplicate this “break apart” layer, hit Ctrl + I and invert the colour on the duplicated layer:

4-invert

Add a layer mask on the duplicated layer, this time use the Eraser tool with the Debris Brush, eraser the area and reduce the density of the black part:

4-erase-2

Also use the Warp Tool (Ctrl + T and right-click choose Warp) to add a bit of motion:

4-warp

Also tidy up the bits and pieces arund the hair with a soft eraser:

4-erase

Here is the effect I have after apply the above steps:

4-effect3

Step 5

Now we can use the watercolour brush to add some background for this image. Create a new layer just above the background layer, load the “Watercolor Brush” into Photoshop and simply paint over it (great chance to use your creativity!)

Here is what I have after the painting:

5-effect3

We can futher add some colour onto our image. To do this, simple create a new layer on top of all other layers, set its blending option to “overlay”, use a big soft brush and paint over it.

Here is my effect so far:

5-effect-2

Ok that’s it for this tutorial! You can of course add some of your own texture or filter effect and see what the end results are!

Here is my final image for this tutorial: (I slightly adjusted the colour balance and curves ) – Click to enlarge:

break-apart-final-3

Alternative version:

break-apart-final2-1500

Hope you enjoy this tutorial, drop me a comment if you have any question, I will try my best to help you out.

Cheers and have a nice day!

  1. nice..^^ i really appreciated all your photo effects..^^ it is easy to understand..

  2. how do i add a vector mask? i’m just starting to work my way around photoshop.. i need your help in this one :( .. thanks..

  3. @MICHELLE: you can go to Layer > vector mask. In CS3 there is also a small icon down the bottom of the layer palette to add a mask.
    Hope this helps

  4. dude,there is no new adjustment layer called Black & white in CS2,,poor me!!btw awesome tutorial man…i’ll ask you again if i could borrow your brain and your creativities..lmao :D

  5. @iki – Duplicate the layer (Ctrl + J) and go to Images -> Adjustments -> Black and White, that’ll end up being the same thing.

  6. Well I want to do this with MY photo, not this, and I’ve followed the steps on this with my photo to Step Two, Part two where you got to erase some parts. what the frig. this is complicated especially when its NOT your photo. someone should make a tutorial of this but explain how to do it on a photo you choose.

  7. Elo may i noe how do u make the alternative version as
    i dunno how to create the ‘wall’ behind the model ..
    Btw,its an awesome tutorial.Bravo man

  8. That’s great. I love the final effect so will try this myself at some stage. Cheers!

  9. very very nice tut i hope for more
    i found out if u use the glossy blood splatter instead of debris it gives a totall awesome new effect

  10. Hmm… having a lot of trouble with your tutorial. Maybe it is because I am on a mac, but when i follow your beginning steps strictly, does not show the same results. Would be nice to see a video version, or a more detailed tut for I am having trouble following this one ><

  11. I’m sorry, if may be something wrong on my end, but when I try to unzip the debris brush I get an error saying “! F:\Aaleen\Downloads\Debris_Brush_Set_by_zigabooooo.zip: The archive is either in unknown format or damaged”

    If anyone could help me that would be sincerely appreciated.

    Thanks for the amazing tutorial though, I’m sure if I can get started on it after unzipping the file I will be completely satisfied.

  12. Cool.. thnx for sharing this technique! Hope this site stays on forever
    to help those new to photoshop and also those who might have forgotten certain techniques here and there.

  13. Good tutorial…but i still got confused with it. Work on the explaining part and you’ll be ok!

  14. can you tell me,how the exactly i must do to ” Grab one of the brush in the “Debris Brush” set, use a colour match the background colour (in this case it’s white), then use the lasso tool with 100px feather to draw a selection in the area you would like to break apart, simply paint over it:” in step 4. i use cs4.

  15. grab a soft round brush, gently erase ? poor explication if u are not advanced photoshop user you ll get NADA

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