Photographers and photo editors often need to mirror an image in Photoshop. Perhaps they’re doing a photo composite or a pattern. Or maybe it fits with the graphic needs of a magazine or a poster.
Whatever the reason, if you need to flip an image, simply follow the step-by-step guide I share below! I also show how you can create a pattern using the mirror effect. Sounds good? Then keep on reading.
What is a Photoshop mirror effect?
Mirroring an image in Photoshop involves flipping it horizontally or vertically to create a reflection.
But the mirror effect takes this further; it’s when you use a mirror technique to create patterns or kaleidoscopic images, like this:
A mirror effect is very artistic, and it can be a great way to have plenty of creative fun in Photoshop!
When should you mirror an image in Photoshop?
You might mirror an image in Photoshop for many reasons. The first and most practical one is to correct an image that you may have done through a mirror (e.g., a selfie).
But there are also more creative reasons for mirroring an image. If you simply flip your photo – without creating any doubling or kaleidoscopic effect – you can create a sense of unease in the viewer. Try flipping a portrait, and you’ll instantly notice how swapping the sides of the face will make your subject look very different. You can also mirror images that feature reflections, flipping the “real” object and its reflection.
If you want to make your images look more surreal, you can create a mirror, but then combine the mirrored and original versions in the same file to produce interesting patterns.
Finally, you can multiply your flipped images to create a kaleidoscopic effect. This is great if you’re after abstract art, patterns, or graphic work.
How to create a mirror image in Photoshop
It’s very easy to mirror an image in Photoshop. Here are two easy techniques:
1. Flip Canvas
This feature works when you want to mirror a single-layer document, such as a JPEG. It’s also useful if you want to flip all the layers of a document at once.
Simply go select Image>Image Rotation>Flip Canvas Horizontal or Flip Canvas Vertical. (The axis that you choose depends on the effect you’re trying to achieve.)
If you want to mirror a layer separately from the rest, see the next technique:
This technique is different from the Flip Canvas option shared above because it allows you to mirror individual layers.
First, click on the layer you wish to flip, then select its contents using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd+A. Alternatively, click Select>Select All.
Then choose Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical.
Alternatively, tap Ctrl/Cmd+T. The marching ants from the selection will disappear, and a border with handles on each side will appear in their place (indicating that the Transform tool is active).
Right-click inside the image to open the menu. Choose Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical. To save the effect, click the checkmark at the top of the window.
Note that you can also do this with a single-layer document. When you first open your image in Photoshop, the Transform tool won’t be available because the layer will be locked. But you can unlock it by clicking (or double-clicking) on the lock icon on the right side. This will open a dialog box where you can rename the layer. Click OK, then follow the rest of the steps as if you were working with more than one layer.
(It’s worth noting that on single-layer documents, Flip and Flip Canvas offer the same result.)
Mirror reflections: A step-by-step example
Now that you know how to mirror an image, it’s time to create an artistic pattern.
Start by opening your image in Photoshop. You can choose any photo, but if it already has a clear pattern, you’ll often get better results. Abstract images work very well, too. For this example, I’m using a photo of a palm tree that was captured from below:
When you first open your image, it’ll appear as a locked layer called “Background” (see the example above). To create interesting mirroring effects, however, you need to unlock it. Double-click the image layer in the Layers panel; this will open a dialog box where you can rename the layer:
I’d suggest calling it Layer 1 because, in a moment, you’ll create another layer to go underneath. Alternatively, you could name it “Original” or choose another name that makes sense to you.
Then click OK. You’ll see that the layer is now unlocked and has your chosen name.
Next, create a new empty layer by clicking on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel or by selecting Layer>New>Layer in the Photoshop menu. Name the new layer “Background” or “Layer 0” – whichever you prefer. Drag this new layer beneath your original layer.
You’ll need to increase the size of the canvas so that it has room for mirrored images. Click on Image>Canvas Size:
The most traditional way to create a mirroring pattern is with four versions of the original photo. (You flip it on one axis, then you flip it on the other.) To do this effectively, you’ll need to double the size of your canvas both vertically and horizontally.
So change the Canvas Size units to Percent. Then type “200%” in the Width and Height boxes. Click OK.
Now click on your foreground layer, then drag the image to one of the canvas corners. (Pick the best corner based on how you want your pattern to look.) I want the palm tree trunks to converge in the center while covering the border with leaves, so I’ll drag the photo to the top right corner:
Now you have to duplicate and flip the layer. Duplicate it by dragging the layer to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layer panel or by selecting Layer>Duplicate Layer.
Now, select the duplicate layer by tapping Ctrl/Cmd+A. Then select Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal.
You’ll now have a mirrored layer, which you can drag to the corner opposite the first layer:
Next, head to the Layers panel and select both image layers. (To select multiple layers, hold Ctrl/Cmd as you click.)
Click on Layer>Duplicate Layers. Your Layer panel should now be populated with four separate images. With the two newest layers selected, choose Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical. The layers will flip, and you can drag them to cover the rest of the canvas:
That’s it! You’ve made a pattern with mirrored images. To create a bigger pattern, simply increase the canvas size and repeat the process. You can also scale the pattern and use the Rotate tool to make a more complex image. Experiment with different blending modes, too!
Pro tip: The more layers you use, the more important it is to keep a tidy Layers panel. Therefore, it’s useful to name layers as you create them. You can also group or merge the layers as you go along.
How to mirror an image in Photoshop: final words
As you can see, mirroring an image in Photoshop is pretty easy; it only requires a few clicks.
So have fun. Try creating different mirror patterns, and see what you can come up with.
Now over to you:
How do you plan to use the mirror effect? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.