Honda, Hippos and Photoshop Tips—Oh, My!

As a designer, you know the phrase, “make it pretty,” all too well. You’re often asked to work your magic on a variety of projects—and it’s not always limited to websites or brochures. In fact, sometimes things are a bit more … shall we say … environmental. Take vehicle wraps, for example. These moving billboards are a creative way to get your advertisement in front of eyes you otherwise wouldn’t get if it was static. But developing an eye-catching wrap takes some Photoshop skills—lucky for you, we’re breaking down the steps to create your own, compliments of Cincinnati’s very own beloved hippo, Fiona. And, while you may not need a Fiona vehicle wrap necessarily, we’ve outlined the steps so you can practice in Photoshop and swap the images for your own needs.

Let’s get started—and enjoy some Photoshop tips along the way!

Step 1

Make a 37.5″x 16.5″ comp at 300 dpi (you can get those measurements going off of vehicle blueprint size). We can’t build to scale since our source assets aren’t large enough, but you want the aspect ratio to be similar to the car. It doesn’t have to be perfect—just close. Since you’ll ultimately be printing the wrap, make sure it’s in the CMYK color space.

Step 2

Next, add water. It needs to be longer than the photo is. Let’s duplicate it and Edit > Flip Horizontally. Then, line them up. This should make the seam seamless. Trim the transparent pixels via Layer > Trim. Save your water out as a .PSD.

Step 3

Find a hippo picture and cut it out with the pen tool. Once you close the path, go to the pen toolbar at the top and Make > Selection. Then, click on the layer mask button to “cut out” the hippo. Trim the transparent pixels via Layer > Trim. Save your hippo as a .PSD.

Photoshop Tip: Use Layer Masks
Layer masks allow you to show or not show parts of a layer using white or black luma mattes. Simple way to remember: black = don’t show; white = show. The key capability of layer mattes is to be able to work non-destructively (i.e. you can revert any part of composing your scene). Using the eraser tool for example is “destructive”; it can’t be targeted or reverted easily. You can use layer masks on practically any layer—smart objects, linked smart objects, folders and even raster layers. The functionality of adjustment layers and smart filters include a layer mask for you to dictate where you want an adjustment or filter to happen.

Step 4

Bring your hippo .PSD in as a linked object (File > Place Linked). Put it where you think you want it in relation to the car and save.

Photoshop Tip: Linked Smart Object
A linked smart object lets Photoshop reference an externally-hosted asset. It’s great if you need to use an asset in multiple projects or multiple times in a project without having to try and recreate it over and over again. Do your art up and save it out. Then, in your master composition, select File > Place Linked. You can also make an existing smart object into a linked object by right-clicking on the smart object and selecting “Convert to Linked.”

Step 5

Next, go to the car template and File > Place Linked your underwater scene with Fiona—now you can see where the image is landing in relation to the car. Double-click on the linked underwater Fiona layer to open it as a .PSD tab. Now, adjust the hippo. Save and repeat until Fiona is where you want her.

Step 6

This part is important: We need to make it look like Fiona is underwater. To make the hippo’s head look like it is above water, create a new layer mask and then select it in the layers palette. Use an 1800-pixel feathered brush at 40% opacity to fully paint the Hippo’s body underwater. Then, use a brush with a hardness of 40% at 100% opacity and paint her head back in. Now for finishing touches … use that same brush at 90% opacity and paint the water edge back in around the neck.

Step 7

The picture we chose is somewhat flat compared to the water. Let’s create a curves adjustment layer to crush the shadows and bring out the highlights (commonly referred to as an “S” curve).

Photoshop Tip: Adjustment Layers
When making color edits to your art like curves and levels, you want to use layer masks to do it non-destructively. Layer masks let you turn on/off, change in real-time and mask out many different changes to a layer(s) utilizing a built-in layer mask.

Step 8

Ready to add some fishies? Cut fish out, save and place them into your underwater Fiona comp. Fish need some blue to match the water—so drop the opacity. To soften it up, add some Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Now duplicate the fish and change size and rotation for variation.

Step 9

Place your logos as embedded smart objects so that you can resize easily without changing the quality.

Photoshop Tip: Embedded Smart Objects
Use an embedded smart object to scale and resize vector or raster art without changing quality. You can also work smarter by editing your assets inside the embedded smart object and then saving it—then it will update in your main composition: right click > convert to smart object. Smart objects will also allow you to apply Filters to layer(s).

Step 10


We’ve all been there—you get stuck in a creative rut and don’t know how to dig out. Sometimes it just takes getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new and putting your skills to the test. Whether it’s trying out a Photoshop tip from the post above or diving deep into the vehicle wrap step-by-step, practicing your craft will only make you that much better … and allow for more creativity in the future.

If you find yourself needing a hand with any kind of design work or your own vehicle wrap, St. Gregory is here to help. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consult.