How to Tie Someone Up in Red Tape in Photoshop

The term red tape originates from the ribbon 16th century lawyers used to tie up their bundles of papers. Today, it refers to any unnecessary bureaucracy. It may be hard to get rid of, but it’s not that hard to make.

Step 1: Choose Your Image

You can wrap just about anyone in red tape, but it’s going to look best if the subject doesn’t look too pleased about it. This man makes a good starting point.

Step 2: Draw Your Shapes

With the Pen tool set to Path mode, draw loops around the body. It’s important not to let the paths overlap, or it will cause difficulty later. Draw several individual paths that loop from behind the body.

Step 3: Duplicate the Paths

With the Direct Selection tool, select all the paths and hold Option/Alt as you drag them to make slightly offset copies. Then, for each pair, use the Pen tool to join the end points – you only need to join one set of end points for each pair of paths.

Step 4: Fill with Color

Press Command+Return (Mac) / Ctrl+Enter (Windows) to turn the paths into selections. Then make a new layer, choose a mid gray foreground color and hit Option+Backspace/Alt+Backspace to fill the selection with that color.

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Step 5: Patch and Erase

If your subject is on a separate layer, load it as a selection by holding Command/Ctrl and clicking on its thumbnail in the Layers panel. Then mask the tape where it goes behind the body. (If it isn’t a separate layer, you’ll just have to mask it carefully.) It looks more tangled if it weaves over and under the fingers. Use a very small hard-edged brush to paint where the paths overlap to give the tape more substance.

Step 6: Light and Shade

Use the Burn tool to darken the tape where it goes behind the body. Hold Option/Alt to get the Dodge tool temporarily, and use it to add highlights to give the tape a more three-dimensional appearance.

Step 7: Bring on the Color

Use the Hue/Saturation dialog set to Colorize to add a red color to the tape. You could have made the tape red in the first place, but the Dodge and Burn tools work much better on gray.

Step 8: Add a Shadow

Duplicate the tape layer, and fill the copy with black. Drag it behind the tape, and make a Clipping Mask with the person layer. Lower the opacity, and use the Smudge tool to smear it away from the tape in areas such as the sides of the head.

Step 9: Add some more

To add a second layer of tape, just repeat the whole process. It’s also with adding some shadow to both this and the original tape layer where they overlap: alternating the shadows can help to make the tape look like it’s weaving in and out of itself.