Photoshop - Droste Effect

Photoshop – Droste Effect



I an earlier blog post I introduced Pixel Bender a new extension for Photoshop CS4 and CS5 from Adobe Labs. In this post I’ll show you a filter which lets you create a Droste effect with an image. The filter is free to download and once it is installed you can apply it from inside Pixel Bender. It was created by Tom Beddard who is author of a lot of really wonderful filters – you can see more of them here.

The Droste effect is an image effect named after a Dutch cocoa company called Droste. In 1904 it produced packaging for its cocoa product showing a woman carrying a tray with a box of cocoa and a cup on it. A small version of the package appeared on the cocoa box on the tray and so on – each version of the image being successively smaller than the last.


To create the Droste effect you must first have Pixel Bender installed so, if you don’t, visit my earlier post to learn where to find it and how to install it. Then, you’ll need to download the Droste filter from:


Unzip the folder and copy the .pbk file to your Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS5\Pixel Bender Files folder. Restart Photoshop and the Droste filter will be in place.


Start with an image that is square with some element of interest centered in the middle of the image. I chose a flower against a neutral background – start with something simple as you learn how the filter works – then plan to use a more complicated image later on.

Make a note of the size of the image by choosing Image > Image Size and write down the image width and height.

There is a physical limit to the size images you can use with Pixel Bender which is 4096 x 4096 so make sure your image is smaller than this. I suggest you start with smaller images still as they render faster.

To run the filter, choose Filter > Pixel Bender > Pixel Bender Gallery and select Droste from the dropdown list. If you have used the filter previously, hold Alt (Option on the Mac) and click on the Reset button to reset the filter settings.

Set the Size [0] and Size [1] sliders to match the width and height of your image – my image is 530 x 530 pixels.

By default, you should see a typical Droste file image with straight edges.


To turn the straight edges into a curved spiral, deselect the TransparentInside checkbox.

If the image is off center, the spiral will look askew at this point. To change the center point of the image and align it with the center of the spiral, adjust the centerShift [0] and [1] sliders – each of these operates in a different dimension. Adjust the center of the image until the spiral looks correct.

To adjust the placement of the final image, use the Center [0] and [1] sliders.


If you do not have an image spiral that completely fills the image area you will see some black background color outside the spiral. You can control the color used for this background by setting the BackgroundRGBA values. The [0] setting controls the Red value, [1] controls Green, [2] controls Blue and [3] controls the opacity of the background. The default is that all sliders are set to 0 and the Opacity slider to 1 which gives the black color. You can view the current background by setting Levels to 2 and the LevelsStart value to 1. Then create your own background color and, when you’re done, increase the Levels value to back up again to around 7.


To make the spiral tighter or looser, adjust the RadiusInside value. Set it to a very small value to get a small number of loops and to something like 50 to get one with lots of loops. The default setting is 25.


Decreasing the OutsideRadius twists the spiral more tightly. The default value of 100 makes the spiral looser.

Periodicity is the number of times the image repeats in each loop of the spiral. If you set this to 2 the image will be repeated twice per spiral – the Default value is 1.


The Strands value sets the number of loops in the spiral. If you set this to 2 you will have two interlocking spirals and if you set it to three you’ll get three strands/spirals and so on.


Other interesting effects include using the RotatePolar value. By setting it to, 90 as shown here you will get different spiral loops on the screen. Having done this, you can then select RotateSpin to adjust the effect.


If you enable HyperDroste then adjust the FractalPoints value, you will create an image that is reminiscent of a fractal style image.


If desired adjust the Zoom value to zoom into the design.

Use RotateSpin and RotatePolar with FractalPoints and HyperDroste to fine tune the effect.

When you have a design you like, click Ok button to apply the Droste effect to your image.

Once you know how the controls in the Droste filter work you’re ready to apply it to a more complex image.

To get best results, start with a square image with something of interest in the center and make sure to set the image dimensions in the filter before working with the other sliders.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Janine Edmondson May 11, 2013 11:04 pm

    Can I use this in Elements 10? Sure would be nice...

  • Terry April 16, 2012 12:02 am

    Excellent tutorial. I downloaded the plugin to CS5 and was experimenting with it blindly. It was discouraging because I really didn't know what each slider did. Your tutorial cleared it all up.
    Thank you very much.

  • Mona December 8, 2011 04:37 pm

    Great tutorial…Its help me a lot. Have some more droste effects at
    Thanks for sharing…!!!

  • Mona December 8, 2011 04:28 pm

    Great article… Have some more droste effects at
    Thanks for sharing…!!!

  • Molly dek Rosario November 7, 2011 04:10 pm

    Thank you madame Helen Bradley for this simple to follow tutorial on "Droste Effect". I was able to download the pixelbender and the droste plug in my computer but found it hard to incorporate it to the Phototshop. Nonetheless, i was able to use it preferably much easier than the GIMP method i had downloaded earlier, and your tutorial pave my way to create the Droste effect I wished to learn. Thank you very much on sharing the simplified technique. One limitation though that i encountered was i have to reduce the size of my JPEG pictures to 300x200 size. And upon review of your column, you had mentioned: "There is a physical limit to the size images you can use with Pixel Bender which is 4096 x 4096 so make sure your image is smaller than this. I suggest you start with smaller images still as they render faster."

  • nidagal April 22, 2011 08:20 pm

    is there any minimum system requirements for running droste effect filter within pixel bender, cos it says i need to configure my gpu settings.. can you please help me in this..


  • Helen Bradley October 31, 2010 03:46 am


    If you check this earlier post you will see where to find PixelBender:


  • missy October 30, 2010 03:54 pm

    i downloaded it but was not able to find a pixel bender file area. says it was a dialup phonebook file. any help?

  • Helen Bradley October 11, 2010 01:21 pm

    Giovanni... I am sorry - I have looked but never found a similar solution for Photoshop CS3 and earlier. I've been wanting a filter like this for years and some time ago traced some information about one that is an add in for Gimp (I think) but so far as making this in Photoshop without Pixel Bender I think you're probably out of luck in finding a simple solution. However you can get a spiral effect by repeatedly copying, sizing and rotating a single layer in Photoshop provided you do this around a central point. I'll put an explanation of this on my "to do list" for you and try to blog it soonish.


  • Eileen October 9, 2010 01:38 am

    Wow! I got some beautiful designs just following this tutorial step by step. Now I need yo play around and try to understand the different effects. Thanks a bunch!

  • Giovanni October 8, 2010 02:45 pm

    Would love to try out this technique ... but don't own CS4. Can it be done in CS2 (without using Pixel Bender...?)

  • Pushpinder Bagga October 8, 2010 12:21 pm

    I had tried this before and the details above suggest this indeed is a great tutorial. I use Photoshop CS4 and an inbuilt filter is not available for it. So used the above method only... I shall look into it more soon... and would refer to the above...


  • toomanytribbles October 7, 2010 10:03 pm

    i gave it a .... whirl ...
    ...pun intended...

  • Helen Bradley October 7, 2010 05:50 pm

    There is a version for CS4 - check Adobe labs for Pixel Bender and you'll find a link to download the CS4 version - it's at the foot of the text and not on the right of the page!

    And.. sorry, no .. this doesn't work in Lightroom or Elements. There are only separate versions for CS4 an dCS5

  • Chen October 7, 2010 11:58 am

    This is wonderful! I have been looking for this technique. This is exactly what I am looking for. Thank you so much!


  • Theresa Sheridan October 7, 2010 07:49 am

    In this post you mention to download Pixel Bender for CS4 or CS5 at the link provided, but when I got there, it says that Pixel Bender is only for CS5. Is there another version somewhere else for CS4?

  • woble October 7, 2010 01:21 am

    Adobe should rewrite all those stone age plugins in Pixel Bender. It's just so much faster.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer October 7, 2010 12:47 am

    Wicked cool! These effects would work great for my graphic design projects to give photos another look.

    Thanks for sharing :D


  • Velva Lee Heraty October 7, 2010 12:39 am

    Hi Helen, I have Elements and Lightroom. Can I use these filters in either or both of these programs?

  • cathode October 7, 2010 12:20 am

    Fascinating tool and detailed writeup. Will have to snag this from Adobe,