Create a Soil Cake for Pie Charts and Infographics

Create a Soil Cake for Pie Charts and Infographics

Infographics are an efficient and fun way to present data. You may notice, however, that infographics are often flat vector illustrations. What if you wanted to create something a bit more photo realistic? In this tutorial, we will show you how to create a soil cake using photographic elements for use in pie charts. Let’s get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial. Please download them before you begin.

1. Draw a Sketch

Step 1

Create a new document (Command/Ctrl + N) sized 600 x 700 pixels. Draw a simple b/w sketch any way you prefer (shapes, scan, etc.). In this case it has been drawn with a pen tablet. It’s needed for understanding a general lay-out and a perspective.

Step 2

Group your sketch. Then create new groups for different kinds of materials and surfaces below the sketch group. Draw vector masks for the groups with the Pen Tool and create Solid Color Fills in them. You don’t have to be very accurate.
If your sketch has any fills or it’s scanned you can turn its Blend Mode to “Multiply” to make it transparent.

You can use another method for mask drawing, but you should make masked groups. It would be really helpful later.

Step 3

Create shapes of soil layers with the Pen Tool in the soil groups.

You don’t need the sketch anymore so you can hide it.

2. Texturing

Step 1

Drag the textures or good parts of them into the file as smart objects and scale them proportionally to each other and the cow. Don’t worry about the color or perspective. In this step you should make sure that they fit your illustration.

For the soil layers use them as clipping masks (Alt + Command/Ctrl + G or Layer > Create Clipping Mask or Alt + Click between layers). Then place the textures into other parts of the soil.
Since the piece has two surfaces create and mask a group for the side surface into the “Piece” group and copy soil layers into it.

Step 2

Now you need to lay the textures which have noticeable horizontal stripes on their surfaces. Distort them using Warp (Edit > Transform > Warp) and Distort (Edit > Transform > Distort) for the side surface.

Don’t use the Warp for the middle layer as you distort the stones. You should use the Perspective a bit (Edit > Transform > Perspective).

Make sure again that the textures are proportional to each other. Move the textures a little to find some interesting similarities between different layers and surfaces. It will be very helpful later.

As you can notice the distorted smart objects look terrible especially on the side of the piece. There is one trick to refine them. The reason for this effect is that Photoshop scales smart objects before distorting them. Just enlarge the distorted textures threefold, rasterize (Right click on a layer > Rasterize Layer) them and then reduce them to needed size.

Step 3

Very soon the cake will look much better so let’s begin color correction! Start from the “Middle” layer. It will be the main soil color. Create two adjustment layers: Levels and Hue/Saturation (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > ) and make the “Middle” their Mask.

Then select the “Bottom” layer. The texture has really nice looking color difference. Increase it with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer first.

After that add a Brightness/Contrast layer and a Solid Color Fill Layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color) in “Soft Light” mode (Color: #514740).

Next one is the top level. Create a Levels layer and drag the left slider to the nearest peak. It’s needed to accentuate dark details of the texture. Then add a Brightness/Contrast layer and make the texture much darker.

After all just copy created adjustment layers to the same textures in other groups. Of course it looks too easy in the tutorial but I spend a lot of time tuning adjustments and trying different variants.

Step 4

Now you can continue with the vegetation. And here is some good news! You don’t have to do anything with the grass the reason being the source photo is gorgeous! But the wheat looks a little pale. So just saturate it.

3. Lighting

Step 1

Let’s begin from the top. Hide the cow temporarily. The grass looks good but it would be better to add a bit of perspective on it. Make a new layer in the “Grass” group and create a vertical gradient.

Then use its layer effects to overlay it with a light yellow color (#fffae1) and set 30% opacity.

Step 2

It’s really helpful to create a lighting guide in order to remember where your sun is. Create a circle shape and draw shadow and light with black and white brush.

Step 3

Make a “Shadow” group in the “Cake front” group and create a Brightness/Contrast layer. Then make the soil as dark as darken part of the lighting guide.

Select the mask of the layer and erase the shadow with large soft black brush where you don’t need it.

Create a new layer and turn it in “Overlay” mode. Add light and shadow details with black and white brushes.

Make lighting for the other soil group the same way. For the “Cake back” group also add some air perspective. Now it looks good but it definitely needs drop shadows.

Step 4

Start from a base shadow. Create a new “Shadow” group below others. Copy paths of the soil masks and make a new black shape from them. Move the top points to make something like a bottom of the cake. Pay attention only to the side lines and don’t worry about distant points.

Make a copy of the shape and rasterize it. Then blur it with the Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur / Radius: 2.0).

In order to make it thicker copy and merge the layers (Command/Ctrl + J, Command/Ctrl + E).

Step 5

If you want to make a good shadow you have to use some geometry. Create a simple outline like this any way you like. It’s the cake from the top.

Combine it with the top of the cake using the Transform and the Perspective (Edit > Transform >). Extend vertical lines to get their vanishing point. It might be outside the canvas don’t worry. It won’t have to be ideal. Then copy the outline and combine it with the bottom. Be guided by the perspective lines.

Create an ellipse at the bottom. Copy the path and move to left and up (don’t forget about your lighting guide and perspective lines). Connect them with another path. Cut out a part beneath the piece. The result should look like this:

Make another shape for the piece. Rasterize the layers and create a Quick Mask using the Gradient Tool.

You can hide a selection using Command/Ctrl + H.

Select the shadow of the cake and blur it with the Gaussian Blur (Radius: 15). For simple faking of perspective use the Motion Blur.

Erase the edges of the shadows a bit using a mask and a black soft brush.

Then make the shadows a little brown with the Color Overlay (#0e0700) and set the Opacity to 85%.

Now add dark shadows in corners with a soft black brush on a new layer.

4. Transitions

Step 1

The grass has roots, so let’s add them. Make a group below the “Shadows” group in the “Cake front.” Drag the source texture of dead grass (GrassDead0042_11_S) into it. Move it to see the soil beside.

Then tune it with adjustment layers Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Saturation.

Nice! Looks like roots! Move it to cover the soil and create a mask. Now you can draw your roots with a soft white brush! The Mask should look like that:

Not bad, but the roots look too blurry. You can just sharpen them (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask / Amount: 40%, Radius: 1), but I recommend you another way. Copy the root layer and turn its mode to “Overlay”. Then apply the High Pass Filter (Filter > Other > High Pass / Radius: 0.5). It’s better because you can tune sharpness with the Brightness/Contrast and use a mask for selective sharpness.

Now repeat for the other parts of the soil.

Step 2

Let’s draw blades on the edge of the grass. Unhide the cow (you shouldn’t do unnecessary work). Rasterize the mask of the “Grass” group. And just draw blades with a 1px hard brush. You’d better use a pen tablet but be sure with a mouse it’s also possible.

Choose noticeable blades on the photo and just extend them with the brush. Also use a black brush on the top to thin out the grass.

One small thing more. Create a bevel on the edge. Add a new layer in the “Grass” group. Turn it to “Overlay” mode and draw the bevel with white and black brushes.

Step 3

Now do the same for the wheat. One thing don’t forget the wheat is taller than the grass and in this case use a black brush on the bottom also.

Don’t forget about a bevel!

Extra thing. Add some blades drawn by hand on a new layer.

Step 4

O.K. Now transitions between the soil layers. Rasterize the “Top” shape in the “Cake front” group. Using the Brush and the Eraser Tools make the border more natural. Pay attention to details of the texture. Just follow them and your transition will gorgeous!

Looks nice but the middle layer is too flat. Copy the layer of the top texture, move down and desaturate it (Shift + Command/Ctrl + U).

Turn the blending mode of the layer to “Overlay”. Tune it with a Brightness/Contrast layer for a neutral look.

Add another Brightness/Contrast layer and slide the Contrast to 100. Use a mask for remove the creases from the rock.

Use the same technique for the transition between the middle and the bottom layers. Make it for other soil layers.

Step 5

Rasterize the masks of the soil groups. Crumple their edges with a small hard brush. Don’t forget about the edge between sides of the piece. After that you need to return to the “Base” shadow of the cake. Show the dents on the bottom using the Finger Tool.

As there is a shadow on the background you should also add a reflection from the cake on it. Copy the “Base” shadow layer. Move it down and blur with the Gaussian Blur and then the Motion Blur. Apply the Color Overlay (Color: #675039) and set 70% of the Opacity.

Step 6

This is the time to return to the crumbs! Copy the texture and adjustment layers from the middle layer of the soil to the top of the “Soil” group.

Merge them (Command/Ctrl + E). Select with the Lasso Tool stones you like and copy them to new layers (Command/Ctrl + J).

O.K. Delete the merged texture. Move the extracted stones to places near to the crumbs on the sketch.

You can use the Layer Effects for lighting of simple objects. Firstly the Bevel.

The Drop Shadow.

The crumbs are definitely too bright and smooth. So sharpen them with the High Pass filter and darken with a Brightness/Contrast layer.

5. The Cow

Step 1

Drag the photo of the cow into the file. Mask the cow and roughly extract it with a brush. Move it and transform to fit the sketch.

Create an accurate vector mask with the Pen Tool.

Step 2

The photo has different color balance so you need to tune it. For a better result hide the vector mask (Shift + Click) this way you can see the original grass and tune it near to the environment. Return to the vector mask.

Step 3

Next step you should improve the lighting of the cow. Unhide the “Lighting Guide” group. Create a new layer in “Overlay” mode and draw shadows and lights with b/w brushes.

But the shadows are dark not enough. Create a “Levels” adjustment layer and darken it strongly. Make a black mask and draw deep shadows with a white brush.

Let’s add some shadows in “Normal” mode.

Step 4

Now a drop shadow is needed! At first make simple shadow guides.

Create a new “Shadow” group and make rough shapes for the head and the legs of the cow.

Lay them with the Transform Tool to the ground.

Move the shadow parts to their initial points.

Now you can draw a body depending on the parts.

Merge the shapes (Command/Ctrl + E), make selection (Command/Ctrl + Click) and create a mask with the selection for the “Shadow” group. Move the group into the “Grass” group. Create two adjustment layers: Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast.

Blur the mask with the Blur Tool and erase it a little with a black brush, especially the distant parts.

Take a small hard brush and draw grass blades on the edge like you did it for the grass. Cool! You’ve done with the drop shadow!

Step 5

Return to the cow. Delete the rough bitmap mask and create a new. Make similar blades for it. You might have to erase a bit the shadow below the legs.

The cow is a bit out-of-place. The reason is its color. Add some reflections to it. Create a new layer in “Soft Light” mode. Use a green brush for the bottom and a yellow f brush or the top.

Sharpen the cow with a High Pass filter and remove any defects on the cow with a brush on a new layer.

6. Final Touches

Step 1

You’re almost finished. Merge all the layers as a copy (Alt + Command/Ctrl + Shift + E) and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). This will help you see any defects in the illustration that you may have missed.
Now you may be able to see that the wheat is too small, the perspective of the cake is wrong, the lighting shadows are too faint, the drop shadows are too dark, and the cow is absolutely out-of-place. Don’t panic! You can improve it.

Step 2

Now perform the following steps.

  • Make the drop shadows lighter.
  • Draw extra lighting shadows for the soil on new layers in “Normal” mode.
  • Add some shadows for the cow in “Normal” mode and add a light in “Overlay”.

The most time-consuming task will be fixing the wheat. But it’s really easy! Just select the top of its mask with the Lasso Tool and move it up. You can also enlarge the texture a bit.

Fill the gap in the mask and draw some new blades on the “Wheat drawing” layer.

The wheat is taller now so you need make its shadows thicker but “Overlay” makes it too vivid so use “Normal” mode on a new layer.

Step 3

Let’s add some more nice details. Create a new Brightness/Contrast layer for the “Middle” layer of the soil. Mask it and select on the mask stones you like. Then give more both sliders.

Do the flip trick again. You should darken the cow’s shadow and erase the base shadow a bit.

Also add some more blades on the grass especially near the cow’s head. Copy the Brightness/Contrast layer of the stones to the crumbs and make part of them white. The top layer of the soil is too smooth. You should sharpen it.
Do the flip trick again. The cow is out-of-place yet the reason being its perspective doesn’t fit completely to the cake’s one. Unfortunately you can’t rotate it like 3D model. The most glaring defect is its legs. It stands like a dancer on one line. And you can improve it! Just erase the distant legs a bit and fix the shadow. Also add some more shadows in “Normal” mode to the left side of the cow and some light to the right one. Then you should improve the drop shadow of the cake. Just erase its distant edge a bit and make it thicker.


In this tutorial, we have shown you how to use photo manipulation techniques to help you create graphic elements for an infographic. You have learned how to sketch out your idea, draw it in Photoshop, add texture and lighting, and finally, how to add the finishing touches. Hopefully, this will help you come up with ideas to create your own stunning infographics.

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