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Beginners Guide to Creating and Applying Texture Overlays Using Photoshop

Creating and applying textures is surprisingly simple and fun to do.

Adding texture to photographs was happening long before the invention of Photoshop and other editing programs. In the days of the darkroom, we would scratch negatives with pins, sand paper them, stain the photographic paper with fixer before exposing, layer two negatives on top of each other in the enlarger, or push our film ISO to increase grain. These days, with editing programs being our digital darkroom, we simply have yet another way of adding texture to photographs.

What is a texture?

In digital photography terms it’s simply another layer added to your photograph in an editing program, usually an image of some sort of textural surface, such as paper, wood, concrete, etc., but anything at all can be a texture. They can be photographed, scanned or even made in Photoshop.

Almost anything can be used as a texture.

Some examples of textures. A friend’s work bench, a close-up of my lamp shade, a mossy rock, fog from a smoke machine, and some very ugly carpet.

Why use textures?

With the right texture overlay, and application of it,  you can add an extra level of depth and feeling to your photograph. You can use them for anything – from adding a vintage or grunge look to your photographs, to creating fine art pieces.

One of the best uses is to rescue a photograph that just isn’t quite working. I’ve been told no texture overlay will save a terrible photograph. While this is true for the most part, sometimes it can transform an otherwise unusable image to something more promising.

A texture can transform an otherwise unusable image into something more promising

A texture can transform an otherwise unusable image into something more promising.

Textures can be added to almost any kind of image. If you’ve ever downloaded a photography app for your Smartphone, you have most likely had them add a texture with the app’s built-in filters.

Some mobile phone apps add texture for you

If you’ve ever used a filter on a mobile phone app, you have probably already had textures added for you.

Getting started

You don’t need to create your own texture to get started. There are many pre-made, free textures available on the internet. A quick Google search will bring up a bunch of free texture sites. But not all textures are created equally, or usable legally. You need to look for textures that are a decent size and resolution, a 200px/72dpi texture over a 3200 px/300dpi image probably isn’t going to work so well.

You’ll also want to make sure the texture has the right copyright permissions. Sites like deviantart.com have many stock textures offered free by their artists for personal use. These artists ask that you simply return the favor by sending them a link to the image you created using their work. Other sites like freetstocktextures.com offer their images copyright free for personal and commercial use, as long as you aren’t reselling the texture images themselves.

Creating your own textures

Creating your own textures is as simple as taking a photograph. Why do that, when you can download free ones? Because it’s fun, your work is then completely all yours, and you can tailor your textures to suit your images. For example; if you’re photographing skateboarders at a skate park, you could also gather some shots of the concrete they skate on, or graffiti around the place to create original textures that work with, and possibly add to, the story of your subject matter.

create your own textures to add more story to your image

Textures can add a bit more of a story to your images.

The image above is of my daughter asleep after a day at the beach (many years ago) combined with texture of the water I took that day, to add to the story and memory of the day, and give the photo an extra dream like feel.

Create a texture with your scanner

Below is the first texture I created, one that I still use years later. It was created by scanning the bottom of an old baking tray. Scanning works well for textures of papers and other small flat surfaces.

You can also use a scanner to create textures. Thiis is a scan of the bottom of an old baking tray

Scanned texture from an old baking tray.

The baking tray texture was used in the image of the cello player at the beginning of this article, in combination with a manuscript image of the music she played on the day. I also used it in the image below; one of a series of images created in collaboration on album artwork with Canadian singer songwriter Sora. The texture was used to tie all the photographs in the album together even though some were taken by other photographers. Yet another use for textures!

Baking tray texture in combination with a few other textures.

Textures can be used to tie a series of images together.

Create a texture in Photoshop

You don’t need to understand complex Photoshop processes to create a texture quickly and easily. Here are a few simple steps to create a basic texture in a few minutes:

  1. Open a new file the size and resolution you require
  2. Brush around a couple of colors
  3. Add a Render Clouds filter
  4. Adjust levels for a bit of contrast
  5. Add a vignette and a color filter
Creating a texture in photoshop takes only minutes.

Paint in some colors, add Render Clouds Filter, some contrast, then some colour and vignette. Easy!

Instead of a Render Clouds you could use the Blur Tool to swirl your colors around, or try some of the other filters in Photoshop to get different effects. I tested it out on what was originally a rather terrible photograph of this orchid.


The texture, plus a few color adjustments and a warming photo filter, and it’s a whole different image.


While it does look a little like something you might see on your Facebook stream with a positive affirmation written across it in an awful font, it took me less than five minutes to do for this demonstration to show you how simple it can be to create a texture from scratch.


Applying your texture

It is really very easy to apply your texture. There are some more technical articles on adding textures here on dPS, but here is a quick guide to get you started.

Click and drag your texture thumbnail in the Layers palette over onto your original image. Your texture becomes layer 1 in your original image’s Layer palette. Choose your level of transparency with the Opacity Slider and use Free Transform Tool to move the texture about. Turn it around, enlarge or stretch. See where it sits best.


Then it’s simply fine tuning the Opacity, maybe putting Eraser Tool on a low opacity and painting out unneeded parts of the texture. Alternatively use a layer mask to paint out some areas, as well as back in, if you accidentally paint out too much.


Have fun with it and experiment. Try a few different layer blend modes, add multiple textures, or add the same texture image a few times, perhaps with each layer having a slightly different hue. There are no rules.

Have you created a texture that you love? Share it and its use (your images) in the comments below.

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Lea Hawkins
Lea Hawkins

is an Australian photographer working mainly in the areas of portraiture, fine art, and for the local press. Her work has been published, exhibited, selected and collected – locally, nationally and internationally, in many forms. All shot with very minimal gear and the photographic philosophy that it’s not so much the equipment, but what you do with it. You can see more of her work at www.leahawkins.com

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