Using Displacements Maps with Type

The Displace filter is great for any situation when you want to transfer the surface contours of one photo onto another image element. The secret to a good result lies in creating a custom displacement map that will suit your purposes. When used correctly, objects can be made to “bend” precisely around existing curves and bumps in an image. In this tutorial, we’ll go over how to create custom displacement maps and use them for styling type. In one example we’ll project words onto a theater curtain and in the other, we’ll show how to use the Displace filter to customize a watery reflection. Along the way, we’ll also dabble with some adjustment layers, layer masks, perspective transformations, and the Lighting Effects filter.

STEP 1: Displacement maps use light and dark values to shift or displace another image element. Dark values will cause an apparent recessed or backwards shift, while lighter values will cause a raised or forward shift. A value of 50% gray has no effect at all. Start off with an image and add some type that you want to displace. A displacement map can be any grayscale image saved in the Photoshop (PSD) format. In this example, we’re going to displace the type so that it looks like it’s projected onto the stage curtains.

STEP 2: If you want to use the same image as the displacement map, hide the Type layer by clicking on its Eye icon in the Layers palette, and then choose Image>Duplicate. In the resulting dialog, name the file (I usually put the word “displace” in the file name so I know it’s a displacement map) and click on the checkbox for Duplicate Merged Layers Only to flatten the duplicate file. Once the duplicate image appears, convert it to grayscale (Image>Mode>Grayscale). If you want to use another image for the displacement map, open it, duplicate it, and convert it to grayscale.

STEP 3: Make adjustments to the grayscale displacement map image by applying Levels or Curves. The idea here is to accentuate the contrast between the dark and light values. The greater the contrast, the more pronounced the displacement effect will be. Of course, if you’re going for a subtle look, then you might choose to leave the image asis. For the curtain displaced image, we increased the contrast a bit with Curves (Image>Adjustments>Curves) as shown here. Then, save the image as a PSD file and close it.

STEP 4: Return to your original image and turn the Type layer back on by clicking in the empty box where the Eye icon had been. Make a copy of the Type layer by dragging it to the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Turn off the visibility of the original Type layer and then, with the duplicate Type layer active, choose Layer>Rasterize>Type. This will turn the Type layer into pixels that can no longer be edited as text. This is a necessary step because the Displace filter doesn’t work on a Type layer.

STEP 5: From the main menu, choose Filter>Distort>Displace. In the Displace dialog, accept the default values and click OK. In the resulting Open dialog, navigate to where you saved the grayscale displacement map image and select it. Click Open to apply the displacement map to the duplicate text layer.

STEP 6: To make it look like it’s being projected onto the curtain, we need to do a few more steps. Command-click (PC: Control-click) on the displaced text layer in the Layers palette to load it as a selection. Then, turn off the Eye icon for that layer. With the selection active, add a Curves adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves). Click OK in the New Layer dialog, and then click OK in the Curves dialog without making any changes to the curve. Then, change the layer blend mode of this Curves adjustment layer to Screen.

STEP 7: Next, Command-click (PC: Control-click) the layer mask thumbnail for the Curves layer in the Layers palette to load it as a selection. From the main menu, add a Hue/ Saturation adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation). Click OK in the New Layer dialog, and then in the Hue/Saturation dialog, reduce the overall Saturation and increase the Lightness value. Then from the Edit pop-up menu, choose Reds and drag the Hue slider a little to the right to reduce some of the magenta in the red letters (drag the Saturation slider slightly to the left if you need to decrease the brightness).

STEP 8: As a final step, click the Background layer to make it active and duplicate it (Layer>Duplicate Layer). Then, use the Lighting Effects filter (Filter>Render>Lighting Effects) to create the sense of a stage light illuminating the curtain. From the Style menu at the top of the Lighting Effects dialog, we chose Flood Light and used the default settings for that style. You can then lower the Opacity of this layer to lighten the Lighting Effects.

Modifying a Displacement Map

STEP 1: Displacement maps are also very useful for creating realistic reflections in water. Although we’re using a typographic example here, the concept is the same for other image elements. To create the map, we duplicated the island image and converted to grayscale. (Note: You don’t have to convert to grayscale, but it makes it easier to interpret how the image will work as a map.) Using the Brush tool (B), add wavy strokes of black and white with a large, soft brush. Save the file in PSD format (this is important; the Displace filter only “sees” PSD files) and close it.

STEP 2: Return to the original image again, add your type, duplicate the Type layer (Layer>Duplicate Layer), and rasterize it (Layer>Rasterize>Type). Then, flip the rasterized text layer upside down (Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical). Press V to switch to the Move tool, press down the Shift key, and drag the flipped text below the original text to form the basic building block for the reflection.

STEP 3: Next, add a perspective effect to the flipped text with the Free Transform command (Edit>Free Transform). By holding down Command-Option-Shift (PC: Control-Alt-Shift) and dragging out one of the lower corner handles, the bottom part of the text spreads outward. Drag upward on the center handle while pressing Command (PC: Control) to apply further perspective distortion, then press Return (PC: Enter) to finalize the effect.

STEP 4: Once the perspective effect is complete, it’s time to use the Displace filter (Filter>Distort>Displace). In the Displace dialog, use the default settings and then select the island displacement map created earlier in Step 1. After clicking Open, the displacement effect is applied to the text.

STEP 5: In the Layers palette, change the blend mode for the displaced layer to Soft Light and lower the Opacity to 40%. The Overlay blend mode also works well for this, but it produces a stronger effect and generally needs to be used with a lower Opacity.

STEP 6: For the final touches, we used the Magic Wand tool (W) to select the island, then copied it onto a new layer by going to Layer>New>New Layer Via Copy (Command-J [PC: Control-J]). Then we dragged this layer above the original Type layer so it looks as if the main type is behind the island. We added a default bevel to the word “Island” by choosing Bevel and Emboss from the Add a Layer Style pop-up menu (f) at the bottom of the Layers palette, and we added two lines of copy at lowered Opacity to finish the movie promo look.

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