Tutorial: Text Portrait using Photoshop CC




(click image for full size)

I love learning new techniques in Photoshop, and this is one that I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while.

This effect is an ideal way to combine portraits with long passages of text, particularly song lyrics and speeches, for an incredibly dramatic effect. I had so much fun doing this one, I thought I would share how it’s done!

You can click any of the photos to see them full-size.


Open your original source file and crop to the desired size. Just make sure the portrait fills most of the canvas, minimizing the background. I’m making this to hang in our home, so I’m cropping to 8″x10″ at 300dpi. You can crop to whatever you want. I’m not the crop police.

1 crop

I could have cropped out the light in the upper left corner, but I like it, so I’ll leave it for now. I can fix it later if I want.

Next, add a Black and White adjustment layer. Drop the red channel a little to make it pop. Don’t worry if it seems little dark right now, because we’re also going to add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer next!


Add that Brightness/Contrast layer and fiddle until you get a good balance between rich greys and high contrast black and white.


Sweet. Now it’s time for some text. The text I chose is the lyrics to one of  “our songs” I have with my partner, which is If I Didn’t Have You by the hilarious musician, Tim Minchin.  (As for the ostrich… I guess you could kind of say it’s the mascot of our relationship. )Now, when you just copy and paste text, the formatting is probably not going to be what you need. What you want to do is paste everything into a Word document, set alignment to justify and get to work removing all the empty lines and whatnot so that it’s just a big block of uninterrupted text looking something like this:

unformatted text

Select all the text, copy and go back to Photoshop. Drag a text box over the entire photo and paste your text into it. Justify the text using Window>Paragraph.


You have to sort of eyeball it a little here and make your text adjustments. You want the text to fill the entire image and to do it densely, so play around with text size, boldness, leading and tracking by using Window> Character. The smaller the font, the smoother and more detailed it will look, which is cool if that’s what you want. Here I have used the font Keyboard Plaque because I’m going for more of a quirky look. Paste the text in again (and again) if you need to fill the image. It will likely be a balance of both repasting and adjustment.

Here I have adjusted text size and copy/pasted it a few times to fill out the image

Here I have adjusted text size and copy/pasted it a few times to fill out the image

Next, unlock the background layer.
Hide your text layer and apply a gaussian blur to your black and white image by going to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur.

The final result should look like you’re seeing the subject through lightly frosted glass. The amount of blur will depend on the size and resolution of your image and the effect you’re looking for.  For this image, I have the blur set to 9px, but you’ll need to adjust your own. This will become the “contour map” for our text.

6 blur

The more you blur, the less the final text will adhere to the details of the image

Now, save this image as displacemap.psd then Undo the gaussian blur by using the history panel or by stepping backwards using CTRL+ALT+Z so we’re back to a shapr picture.

Make the text layer visible again and select it in the layers palate. Go to Filter>Distort>Displace to bring up the displace dialog box. When prompted, rasterize the type. Make sure your settings in the next box look like this before hitting OK:


Next, it will ask you to choose a displacement map. Don’t freak. This is just the gaussian-blurred copy we saved a few steps back. Locate the displacemap.psd file wherever you saved it and hit OK. This step maps the rasterized text to the contours of the blurry image.


Not looking super impressive yet, but here’s where the magic starts…

Create a new document (Ctrl+N) and make it the same size/resolution as your current doc. Fill it with black and Save As> finalportrait.psd. Go back to the ostrich.

CTRL+click the Text layer icon, which will load the text as a selection.

Ctrl + left click loads the type as outline selections

Ctrl + left click loads the type as outline selections

Without deselecting the type, hide the text layer. Go to Edit>Copy Merged  (or Ctrl+Shift+C) to copy the text. This copied text is now mapped to the contours of the image. Navigate to the blank doc and paste the text using Ctrl+V.  Ctrl+D to deselect.

Et Voila.

Displaced text on black background

I decided I didn’t like the circle after all, so I just erased that bit from the top layer. Alternatively you could just mask it out on a layer mask.

The final result:


Here’s another I did today, combining a portrait of Emma Watson with her incredibly moving address to the UN regarding gender equality:


Hope you enjoyed my very first tutorial! Leave a comment if you have any questions, and please post any portraits you’ve made from this!

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