Stretch Effect

Editing Tutorial with Pixlr X

If you fancy yourself at pushing your photo editing skills, then this is a brilliant (and easy) tutorial to start off with. To demonstrate how straightforward creating a stretched photo effect is, we aren’t even using Photoshop. Instead, we’re using the free-to-use Pixlr X Editor.

If you’re familiar with Photoshop already, you may find some of the tools similar but even if it’s your first time editing then you’re in safe hands with us.

Step 1: Choose an Action Shot

Firstly, find yourself a suitable picture to stretch. Action portraits are really good to use, if you don’t have any then search some free stock sites such as Unsplash, Pexels or Pixabay to get yourself a good starting point. Look for shots with a clear background and outstretched limbs like these:

man jumping on skateboard stretch effect
woman exercising jump stretch effect
happy man leaping into air stretch effect

Step 2: Cut Out Your Subject

Next, with your image chosen, we need to cut the subject out from the background.

In Pixlr, select the Lasso tool (1) from the vertical toolbar and then choose the Polygonal Lasso (2) option from the horizontal toolbar above. It’ll make your selection more accurate.

Zoom in close and begin by setting an anchor point along the body and move your cursor to set the next and just keep doing this to create an outline of the person.

It may take a while, but more accurate outlines make better results.

stretch effect pixlr step 1
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Step 3: Create a New Layer

Moving on from our selection, it’s time to separate them from their background.

First off, using the menu bar at the top, choose EDIT>COPY, then LAYER>NEW LAYER so we have a space to put our cut out on.

With our new layer active on the layers panel, return to EDIT and this time select PASTE, so our selection ends up on its own layer.

You can delete or hide the original photo if you want, we won’t need it anymore.

stretch effect pixlr step 3 cut out from background

Step 4: Draw out a Single Line Selection

Instead of manufacturing the stretch effect using shapes etc, we are going to use our subject to provide all the colours. Make a single line marquee selection across the middle of your subject.

Try to make the selection as narrow as possible, but above all aim to include as many colours in the picture as possible. Similarly, to how we transferred our subject on to a new layer, we need to do the same with this single line selection. Follow these steps again;


  • (with the single line selection active) EDIT> PASTE
lasso tool single line marquee selection

Image: Draw a single line selection across your subject

edit and copy selection

Image: Select FILE > COPY

create new layer

Image: Add a new layer

select new layer and paste single line marquee on stretch effect tutorial

Image: Select FILE > PASTE

Step 5: Stretch Your Selection using Filters

Next, we need to expand the single line selection to start the appearance of the stretch effect. Activate the layer with the single line on and go EDIT>FREE TRANSFORM. You’ll get some little blue dots on the edges of your selection, hover your cursor next to one and push it around so the horizontal line becomes vertical.

Now pull the anchor points apart and you’ll have a colourful selection of stripes. Now comes a magic trick…

With the stripey selection active hop to FILTER>POLAR COORDINATES and stick with the first option of ‘rect to polar’. Your bank of stripey colours has now become a colourful circle. Yippee!

If you’ve got some straight edges on your layer, select them using the magic wand tool and erase them to make the circle more, well…circular!

final effect with polar circle step 8 part 2

Image: Stretched selection transformed using polar coordinates

stretch effect final version

Image: Erase the areas of the circle that cross over the subject

Carrying on, position the circle over your subject and swap their layer positions, so your subject is on top.

And finally, we’re at our last step. It’s just a case of erasing areas that cross in between some of your subject’s actions. This is why outstretched limbs are a good feature for this type of edit as they can mark out start and endpoints to your effect.

Set your erase to 100% hardness and brush away parts of the circle to make it look like arms and legs have created this stretched trail of colour!

Tip – Don’t forget to merge all the layers together when you’re done so you can save it as a JPEG or PNG.

Stretch Effect Edit Summary

To summarise, how easy was that?! It cost you 10 minutes of time, but nothing more than that. It just goes to show you how fun, quick and straightforward photo editing can be with iPhotography.

If you want to learn more about creative editing using professional software such as Photoshop, then we’ve got 3 brilliant courses for you to try out on iPhotography Photoshop. Just choose the right level for you and get started straight away by clicking here.

Above all, we want to see your attempts at this stretch effect, don’t be shy now! You can’t spend time trying it out and not showing off your newfound skills. Get those edits uploaded to the gallery and our teaching staff will be keeping a keen eye out to give you feedback.


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