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Adding Texture and Texture Layers in Photoshop

Dan Wiedbrauk (domer2760)

Keywords: domer2760, digital_artistry, photoshop, texture, tutorial, art

In this article, I will discuss how textures and texture layers can transform digital photographs into digital artwork. The article also includes links to two of my Creative Commons images so that you can follow along with the Photoshop tutorial.

A high-key portrait was converted to a line drawing in Photoshop but the result was flat and cartoonish. Texture overlays were applied to the eyes, nose, jawline, and neck to better define the facial contours. The final image has a more realistic, fine art-like appearance.
Click for an enlargement


What’s old is new again.  When I was in school, I learned about the seven formal artistic elements found in the visual and graphic arts--line, color, shape, form, value, texture, and space. By controlling the interaction of these elements, the visual and graphic artist can convey a feeling of movement, ambience, depth, and visual richness within their works. I promptly forgot all that fuzzy science stuff in the pursuit of my technical degrees. But here I am, re-learning the very lessons Mrs. Reynolds covered ever so long ago. 

“Why?” you ask.  Well, it turns out that digital artistry and photography are bound by the same set of rules and principles Mrs. Reynolds tried to teach me. What’s old is new again; and as an aspiring digital artist, I’m learning a lot by studying painting and drawing technique. I still can’t draw worth a whit, but that’s a problem for another day.

I can still hear her voice when I tell you that there are two types of texture in the visual and structural arts--physical texture and visual texture. Physical texture is texture that can be felt by touching the surface of the artwork. In painting and multimedia arts, physical texture can be imparted by 

Most paintings and mixed media works aren’t intended to be touched or handled. So why do artists add physical texture?  One reason is to emphasize the physicality and aesthetic appeal of the work. Another reason is to add micro-contrast and visual depth to the image. The grittiness and/or smoothness of the medium contribute to the overall ambiance of the work as much or more than painting technique. Rough surfaces can be visually active, while smooth surfaces can be visually restful. The use of both can impart a sense of personality. The juxtaposition of smooth and rough textures can also create emphasis, rhythm, and contrast.

OK.  Let’s circle back. Why am I talking about physical texture in the context of photography? Photography is after all, a two-dimensional medium.  My first reason is that some physical texture effects can be simulated by visual texture techniques. Secondly, when photographs are printed, they become three-dimensional objects with their own shape, form, and texture. 


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Sarah Boser (Sarah9) on June 3, 2019

Thanks, Dan for a really wonderful article chock full of information and inspiration.

Dan Wiedbrauk (domer2760) on May 2, 2019

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his frequent assistance to other members by sharing his perspective, skills and expertise, especially with infrared and macro photography. Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Awarded for his expertise in IR & Macro photography Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thank you all for your kind comments. They are certainly appreciated. Norman, I tend to use my own images as the basis of my photo creations because (a) it is cheaper (and photography is expensive enough) and (b) so I won't inadvertently bump into copyright problems. Because digital textures are image files, I tend to use my own images, or parts of them in my creations. I also have some textures that came with other software and some free, Creative Commons files that I've collected over the years. These Creative Commons files usually get combined with other images to create custom textures for a specific image. How do I get my texture files? When I'm out with my camera, I often take random grab shots of textures and shapes and stash them in a "Texture" file. Bonnie Christensen reminded me that I should tag them for easy retrieval using Light Room. Where can you find textures? I've included a link to a thread in the Digital Artistry forum where a number of teture sources listed. Hope this helps! Dan

J. Norman Reid (Positives) on May 2, 2019

Great article, thanks. I understand that On1 Photo Raw can also be used to develop textured photos. Where do you get your textured backgrounds? I'm thinking that I'll want to build a library of different backgrounds to apply. Do you take your own photos and use those? Or, is there a source of ready-made textures that can be used?

Russell Whittemore (rosewood_ltd) on April 4, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas. Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Very nice overview, Dan. Photoshop is, for many of us, a very deep ocean and we bob along the surface like corks, just barely understanding what is beneath us. It's difficult to take that first breath and dive beneath the surface, because the combination, sequence and number of tools is practically infinite. It can be all very intimidating to the casual user. This article is a clear, concise and accessible explanation of one aspect of PS that many people find too intimidating to approach on their own. Well done.

Preston Moochnek RPh. (massulo) on April 4, 2019

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Excellent and very well written

Jim Donelson (jcdonelson) on April 4, 2019

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Fantastic article thank you so much for taking the time to do it. Your style is clear concise and very easy to understand

Gary Worrall (glxman) on April 4, 2019

Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Absolutely amazing Dan Thank you so much for all the effort and time Extremely detailed article I must re-visit this discipline your help may have me going in the right direction ..........Gary

Lisa Pertile (Netvet007) on April 3, 2019

Thank you! I am just starting to learn about textures in photoshop and this is a nicely detailed explanation. I appreciate the time it takes to explain all of the steps. Lisa

Marsha Edmunds (meadowlark2) on April 2, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for her support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Fellow Ribbon awarded for her continuous encouragement and meaningful comments in the spirit of Nikonians. Donor Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for her in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

I sure enjoyed this article, Dan. Great information and inspiring images.