Deke’s Techniques 105: Op Art Experiment 1a: Inflated Checkers in Photoshop

This week finds me in classic art history mode, exploring a classic op art effect in Photoshop. We create the effect from scratch, without so much as a stock image in sight.

Here’s the official description from

In this week’s Deke’s Technique, Deke takes a Photoshop journey in to the eye-bending world of op art, creating a Bridget Riley-inspired twist and bulge of checkerboard contortion. You won’t need a sample file or unsuspecting model to follow along with this one—just Photoshop, some black and white pixels, and a love of (and visual tolerance for) optical illusion.     

The project starts with a simple square document, created in the Grayscale color mode to keep the high resolution file manageable. (You won’t need any colors, so no sense making room for them.)

Next, Deke creates a 2 x 2 checker pattern by using the Rectangular Marquee tool set to a fixed size equal to one-quarter of the image. Once the upper-left square is filled with black, you can drag a copy to the lower right corner by pressing the Alt (Option) key while you drag.

With the basic unit of the pattern complete, you can turn it into a reusable Photoshop pattern by choosing Edit > Define Pattern. In this case, Deke aptly named it Checkers:

Deke then applies that Checkers pattern to a new blank 4800 x 3000 document. Click the black/white icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to make a new Adjustment Layer and choose Pattern. Then choose your Checkers pattern from the available patterns and set it to 50 percent to fill the document with a bunch of small squares.

Saving the pattern layer as a smart object allows you to warp it non-destructively with the Transform command. Choose the Warp icon from the options bar and select Inflate from the Warp pop-up menu. Then set the bend to -100. The checkerboard is pinched inward:

Checker pattern warped in Photoshop

The pinching motion of the Inflate transformation has pulled the pattern away from the edges. Deke adds more checkers to the outer edges by opening the smart object and doubling its size.

Deke then creates the round, bulging part of the illusion by applying the Spherize filter to a circle selection in the middle of the image. 

To achieve the final effect, Deke applies two more doses of the Spherize filter, and the result is a swirling, bulging, some might say hypnotizing bit of Photoshop-created op art.

Op Art spherical checkerboard in Photoshop

For members of the library, Deke’s got another exclusive movie in which he turns a flat collection of rectangles into a curving wall of optical mystery (pictured below).

And Deke will be back next week with another mind-bending technique.

Just for the record, here’s the members-exclusive artwork (Op Art Experiment 1b), which really was inspired by Bridget Riley. Except that I went with windows instead of checkers or lines. And again we create it entirely from scratch in Photoshop.

Deke's Techniques 15: Op Art Experiment 1b: Rounded Windows

Next week, our art history lesson shifts to Otto and Marie Neurath, pioneers of the universal pictographs that we take for granted every day. Join me, won’t you?

Next entry:Creating a Universal Male Symbol in Adobe Illustrator (No Drawing or Tracing Required)

Previous entry:Martini Hour 101, In Which Deke and Colleen Have One More for the Road


  • Wrong number

    He Deke,

    The number on the Op Art Experiment is 189 (on Lynda) not 105…;)

  • We succumbed to the numbering system

    Good observation. Deke’s still getting used to using the numbering instead of his own, which previously skipped all the exclusive. But things were getting complicated. So, you know, we decided to make it more so. Temporarily. I think.

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