Halloween Photoshop Tutorial: Creating Zombie

This Photoshop CS2 tutorial will show you how to rot people’s face, expose their skull and turn them into zombie.

Video tutorial is also available here

What you need:
+ A portrait of the victim. AKA, the zombie and a picture of a human skull. Ideally in the roughly the same pose as your portrait which can be found on Google images.
+ Download The “Pretty” free brush collection found here. Ideally you will need to grab “Pretty Cuts`n`cracks” & “Pretty Sore”
+ Download The “Veins” brushes here.
+ It would also be nice if you had the `tonemapping` plug-in by Photomatix. Not essential but handy.

Let’s get started!

OK, First off, install the downloaded brushes into your Photoshop brushes folder, we’ll need them a bit later.


Now, we need to prepare your portrait. These next steps are not obligatory, and you can skip to Stage 2 and start to zombify your image.

how to create a zombie

I would recommend resizing the image to roughly 1300 pixels at its longest edge. The reason for this is that some of the brushes we downloaded earlier look a bit crappy if we try to enlarge them to accommodate a bigger image, I found that working on a medium sized image allows us to retain the clarity of the brushes later on. You may crop it to the desired format at this point as well as I have below.

how to create a zombie

Next, and this part is optional, we tonemap the image. So first off you will need to convert the image to 16-bit, the run the tonemapping filter. Play with the sliders until you get an effect you like. I use tonemapping as it gives the image a nice dirty look.

how to create a zombie

Next I duplicate that bottom layer,s o now we have two layers the same. Selecting the top layer You need to Desaturate it (CTRL+SHIFT+U) then set the blending mode of the newest layer to OVERLAY. Set the opacity of the new layer to roughly 70%. You should end up with something akin to this.

how to create a zombie

We need to bring the eye detail back into the image, so we are going to add a layer mask to the top layer. To do this, select the layer and click the little black rectangle with the white circle at the bottom of the layers palette. You should now get a white rectangle alongside the thumbnail of the top layer. Next select the brush tool and select black as your colour. Now click on the white rectangle next to the top layer thumbnail to select it. Now you should be able to `paint` over the eye and you will see the bottom layer appear. Close up view below.

how to create a zombie

OK, now that’s all done, we will flatten these two layers into a new single layer, press CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+N then CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E. this will consolidate all the work we have done so far into a new, single layer. This will now act as our base image. You may hide the previous 2 layers.

STAGE 2 – Adding the skull

Right, now we need to add the skull to the image and fit it to our face. The image of the skull I use in this tutorial was a skull I borrowed from the Oral Surgery department at the hospital where I work. Anyway, I opened the image in Photoshop, cropped the skull to size, then copied it into my base document.­­

I reduced the opacity of the skull to 50%, then hit CTRL+T to enter into transform mode. Move and resize the skull to fit your face. The best way to line this up so it is more realistic is to pay attention to key feature. The most important being the upper ridge of the eye-socket lines up with the same ridge on your face, the jawbone needs to roughly line up as well, and also make sure the teeth and nose are in roughly the right place. This may mean you need to distort the skull image quite a lot from how it originally looked, but since we wont be seeing too much of the skull it doesn’t matter if the rest of it isn’t perfect.. basically the ridges of the eyes/eyebrows, the teeth and the nose are the most important here. See below for example.

how to create a zombie

Once you are happy with the skull placement, hit enter and then set the opacity of the layer back upto 100%. Add a layer mask to the skull layer and mask out the edges around the skull. I also had to mask around the fingers as they would, in real-life(?) be obstructing the face/skull. This is what I have so far, hopefully yours will be looking something like this now.

how to create a zombie

OK, next we need to go back to our base layer, that is the composite of the first two layers, and duplicate it and drag it to the top of the layer stack. Create a layer mask on that layer and get ready to scrape away some of your skin!!

Selecting the newest layer mask, select the brush tool, medium hardness, and select black from the colour palette (remember you can switch between Black and White by pressing the “X” key). Now, when you start to paint on the face, you will see the skull layer beginning to appear, freaky huh? I find its best to completely paint out the nose and one of the eyes and of course the teeth! Another great tip to remember is to use the square brackets “[ & ]” to alter your brush size on-the-fly.

Take you time on this stage and have fun, pay particular attention to the area around the teeth and try to make the skin/teeth blend in nicely together. Hopefully your image will look something similar to this now.

how to create a zombie

Even at this stage the picture looks super gruesome already, but what kind of self-respecting zombie doesn’t have a bit of flesh-rot to really stink up the place!! This is where things get very nasty indeed.

STAGE 3 – Rips and Scars and Veins, oh my!!

OK, next you need to create another layer, name this one VEINS.

OK, here you need to load up the “Pretty Cracks & Sores” brush set we downloaded earlier. These are pretty big brushes, however we really need them to cover the whole face (we will mask out the surplus veins in a minute). Select a brush you like the look of, choose a nice dark, deep red from the colour picker (and RGB value of 74,0,0 works well) and stamp it over your face (on the new layer). Don’t worry if it looks a bit strange at the moment. Add a layer mask to this layer and use the black brush tool to delete the veins’n’stuff from areas that don’t need them (eyes, bits of skull, fingers, teeth etc). Set the layer mode to `Multiply”. Again, spend a bit of time on this to make it look badass. Once finished, right click on the layer. Select “Blending Options” and put a tick in the “Bevel & Emboss” check box, here I used the defaults but adjusted the depth a tiny bit to increase the bumpiness of the veins.

Now, you can add more layers and use more of the brushes we download earlier to add more scarring, tearing and veinage, experiment and have fun, it really is great defacing yourself or a loved one!! Remember to use separate layers for the hands, body etc.

how to create a zombie

So next is just a few more overall cosmetic changes to the image to make it darker & grittier. Basically I just add a gradient map layer (black to white), contrast/brightness layer and adjust to taste!! Now, hopefully you should be zombified up to the max. George Romero would be proud of you! R.I.P.

how to create a zombie

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Creating Zombie Tutorial by Mark Simms [ e-mail | Flickr | DPChalange ]

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140 Responses to “Halloween Photoshop Tutorial: Creating Zombie”

  1. Whatever-ishere says:

    thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful…

  2. Jeremy says:

    Great tutorial. This is only my third day using photoshop, so with a little practice I’m sure i could do better. Learned a lot, though. Here’s my result.


  3. M.A says:

    This is too cool!.. but I cant get the teeth to fit “nicely” with the “living” and “dead”(wrong size and distance) but the rest fits perfectly! ^^

  4. saif says:

    this is good effect in the photoshop I like it plz send some more effect in myid

  5. k0nfa says:

    Awesome tutorial! Keep on the good work!

  6. bob says:

    what is tonemapping?thnx

  7. Kris West says:

    Hey, Thanks for the Tut. I didn’t quite follow it bit for bit.. Just the basics but here is mine.

    (If that dosn’t work – Link to Original: http://www.imagecross.com/myspace-image-upload-viewer-7.php?id=4167Skull.jpg)

  8. 13th ugliest says:

    the tutorial is good but i get stuck with the layer mask for hours, especially the second time. it never works for me.

  9. Mike-ay says:

    “Set the layer mode to `Multiply”.”

    I can’t seem to find how to do that, any help!?

  10. Thomas Speer says:


    I have done 3 pictures inspired by this, one im proud of, one im ashamed of, and one im semi ok with.

    Sadly, they went in THAT order. My first was my fave, but i overlaid the skull, and it ruined it.

    The second one turned into planet of the apes

    The third one, i left the skull alone, but its color just isnt right… and im still having trouble with the scars…

  11. lauren. :D says:

    wow i loved this.

    mine came out REALLY good.

  12. Mark Simms says:

    Hi, not being funny, but if you are not sure how to save as a JPG in photoshop then this tutorial may be a bit above your skill level at the moment.

  13. Mark Simms says:

    On the layers panel, highlight the layer then click the `layer mode` drop box at the top of the layers panel – choose Overlay from in there.

  14. Puffy says:

    AMAZING TUTORIAL, its helped me alot!
    i want to try another zombie looking picture, just with tonemapping.
    i have no idea what i need to do or where to find it??


  15. deadly_unvalentine says:

    you elp me pass my photography class…
    thank you so much!!!!!!!!

  16. Mark Simms says:

    That’s great, glad you found it helpful.. I am working on a new tutorial now that is even cooler!! Congrats on passing your class!

  17. Brad says:

    This tutorial was really helpful and clear

    I just downloaded a 30 day trial of photoshop and this was my first time ever using it


  18. sebastian says:

    thanks for the tutorial, it’s great, you give me good ideas, keep working on that to share with us, again thanks

  19. Jonathan says:

    loved the tutorial helped alot.im new to photoshop so i felt it didnt match the ones the rest did but cant blame a guy for trying now can you.


  20. Lydell B. says:

    Thank you for this Tut,I had a certain urge to do something like this and this really helps. On top of what you’ve outlined here, I’ve gotten rid of my pupils, and also some other stuff.

  21. Isaac says:

    Pretty awesome tutorial, there was only one or two things I didn’t understand or follow, but here’s the end result!


  22. JE says:

    Where do you get that tonemapping filter?

  23. Pele57 says:

    i like your tutorial and must admit that it has brought some interesting new things to my attention…keep up the good work

    this is my first attempt of creating this kind of a zombie not good as it could be but still it came out pretty fine 🙂

  24. Spylad says:


    I bought CS3 earlier this year and this is the first time that I’ve come to use it, tonight.

    Good tutorial, just wish I could do it in 13 mins!!

    I reckon an hour or so, before I can get it to look good. Fingers crossed i can get it done for tomorrow!

    woooop wooooop!


  25. Frankenberry says:

    Very cool tutorial. Enjoyed the process a lot.

    here is mine 🙂

  26. Ali Sezgin says:

    THnx for the tutorial, really helped me a lot

    Zombie me;


  27. l K says:

    good one!

  28. Jane says:

    join all the amazed company)) i’ll be trying))

  29. RasmusFurbo says:

    Hey really nice tutorial. I tried it out, but I just don’t have a really good picture of a skull. I can’t find any good ones in Google 🙁 So if theres anyone who have a good one pls link 😀

  30. RasmusFurbo says:

    Hey! I found a skull (after searhing for skulls in other languages :/ )

    I had some problems with making the pretty cuts and cracks look real, so I only used some smaller veins and cracks.

    Anyway this is what mine came out like

  31. Aji says:

    Briliant…, I will learn it…

  32. Kelso says:

    How do you do tonemapping on CS3?

  33. Sj says:

    Hey, which version of photoshop do i need for this? and do i just google random skulls?

  34. Pranav says:

    I have problem using quick mask tool, when i brush with black it masks but when i brush with white nothing happens

  35. Jeevan says:

    +1 Great tutorial still. This method could be used for so many other special effects with images.

  36. Blake says:

    Nice tutorial, I chose Barack Obama for mine (view at your own discretion)


  37. noerfaz says:

    very very good,,,,,,,,,

    thank’s for tutorial

  38. breeana garcia says:

    that stuff was pretty cool but i think it could of been better thats all im sayin

  39. Jay Richards says:

    Thanks, took your advice and expanded.

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