Create interesting visuals using one of Photoshop’s hidden tools
The repeat transformation function: an incredibly useful and effective tool that few people seem to know about. A sort of party trick that designers can whip out to impress one another when they get bored.
This is one of those tools that scratches a very particular itch, the kind where you find yourself in a situation and think “wait, there’s a tool for this isn’t there?” then spend half an hour trying to remember what it is and how to do it. In fact, I recommend bookmarking this tutorial, because the commands for this particular trick are frustratingly easy to forget.
Although this technique can be used to create an infinite variety of effects, for the sake of this tutorial we’re going to create a simple mandala-esque graphic.
With enough patience you could create this in a few minutes by duplicating, rotating, then merging your layers over and over again until you’ve completed the circle. Instead, we’re going to do it in about thirty seconds with just one rotation and one merge.
This tutorial is intended for people who already understand how to use Photoshop’s basic functions and tools. You can find an entry-level tutorial at the conclusion of this article.
Step 1: Create and centre your graphic
Start with a line or shape in a new layer. Here I’ve started off with a simple jagged line, and to make the effect more interesting I’ve brushed in some colour. No matter what shape or line work you feel like drawing, the steps are the same: find the centre of your canvas and align your shape as though it were the hand of a clock. Bear in mind that we’ll be using the central point of the canvas as the centre of our mandala. For this example I’ve marked it with two guides.
Step 2: Begin your initial transformation copy
Now we need to transform the shape. Normally, you’d press command+T (control+T if you’re using Windows) to do this. Instead, hit command+option+T (control+alt+T). The difference is that this command will duplicate the active layer then transform it.
Make the transformations you require. Since we’re creating a mandala, we just need to rotate our line. Set your action point to the centre of the canvas (as circled below) then—like hands on a clock—rotate your shape as far as you please. If you want your lines to be evenly spaced when the circle is complete, use a factor of 360 for your degree of rotation. I went with 5°.
Once you’ve completed your transformation/s, hit return (enter).
Step 3: Then repeat
This is the fun part.
Hold down command+option+shift (control+alt+shift) then press T. Your layer will copy, then repeat the transformation. At this stage you should have three copies of your original layer as pictured.
Keep the function keys held down and press T repeatedly until you have completed your circle. Take a moment to appreciate the sheer satisfaction and awesomeness of what you’ve just done.
Once that fun moment of learning a novel, new skill has worn off, go ahead and merge the skyscraper of layers you’ve created in the process.
And you’re done! Remember that this tool can be used for any kind of transformation; scale, rotate, skew, distort, etc. so the possibilities are pretty much endless. Run some experiments, have fun, and marvel at the trippy thing you just created that kinda looks like it’s moving.
Need more information?
For the sake of keeping this tutorial to a digestible length, I didn’t explain some of the basic Photoshop functions you will need to use to complete this type of graphic. If you need a more thorough tutorial, or want to create something more elaborate, I recommend checking out this video by Evan Eckard.
Otherwise, I’ll see you in six months or whenever it is that you need to use this tool again but have forgotten how to do it.