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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang! This is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques! This week, I'm going to show you how to create the effect of hand carved letters in wood in Photoshop. So just imagine real hands operating real carving tools in real wood. This is what you might call a real wood Photoshop technique. We're going to take these letters right here that I painted using a Wacom tablet, and we're going to turn them into this photorealistic carving. And we're going to do so using a blend mode that you probably don't use very often if at all, and it's called Dissolve.
Now to say that the Dissolve mode is really useful is a wild understatement. What it does is it takes nice blurry edges like these and turns them into horrible looking noise artifacts. So you might wonder how in the world do we start with this and end up with this wonderful effect? Well, why should I tell you, when I can show you exactly how it works. Okay, so I just want to start things off by showing you how the perimeter of each one of these characters actually bleeds into the wood grain.
And we're going to achieve that effect using a combination of the Dissolve blend mode and a couple of filters. We'll go and zoom out so you can see the entire effect, and we're going to start off in this file in which I've hand-drawn some characters on an independent layer using a Wacom tablet. And I'm going to change the Fill Opacity for these letters to 0%, and I can do that assuming that one of my selection tools is active, by pressing Shift+0+0. At least that's how it works in Photoshop CS6. Now let's go ahead and create a soft version of those characters using a drop shadow.
So I'll dropdown to the FX icon, click on it and choose Drop Shadow. I actually want my color to be white, so I'll click on the Color Swatch and change the color to white here in the Color Picker. Click OK and I'll increase the Opacity level to 100% and change the blend mode to Normal so that we can actually see the characters. Right now those invisible characters are cutting holes in the shadow, so I'm going to turn off this check box, Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow so we can see the shadow all by itself, and I'll will reduce the Distance value to zero and I'll take the Size value up to 10.
Right now if you zoom in on the text here, you'll see that we've got blurry letters, I want them to be dithered. That is I want them to have noisy dot edges, so I'll change the blend mode from Normal to Dissolve, and we end up with this effect here. And if you want more dots, then you would raise your Size value. For example, if I change the Size value to 30, we get dots all over the place. If I want fewer dots then I would reduce that Size value. You still get some dithered edges even at a Size value of zero. But as I say, I'm going to go with 10, and then I'll click OK in order to accept that change.
Now we need to turn these letters into a layer mask, so I'm going to click on the sign layer right there, directly below the letters, and I'm going to press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, click the Black/White icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose the very top command Solid Color. And I'll change the name of his layer to black and click OK. And assuming that the foreground color is black, then Photoshop should fill the layer with black by default, if not, change the color to black and then click OK. All right, now we need to select those white letters against a black background and we can do that automatically from the Channels panel, just by switching over to Channels, then pressing the Ctrl key or the Command key on the Mac and clicking on RGB, and that goes ahead and selects the white pixels and deselects the black ones.
Now switch back to the Layers panel, and turn both the go away and black layers off. Click on that sign layer to make it active, and then press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, and drag the thumbnail to the top of the stack in order to duplicate that layer. There's already a layer mask assigned to this layer, that's carving the sign against the country road background, I want to get rid of it, by right-clicking on the layer mask thumbnail and choosing Delete Layer Mask. Now that we have an unmasked version of the sign layer, we need to remask it inside the letters by dropping down to the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the panel and clicking on it.
Now because the letters are filled with the sign and they are set against the sign, they are now invisible. We'll make them visible again, by adding a few layer effects. So dropdown to the FX icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, click on it and choose Inner Shadow. And I'm going to dial in a color by clicking on the Color Swatch and I'll change the Hue value to 30 degrees, I'll change the Saturation to 100, and then the Brightness to 25%, then click OK. Change the blend mode from Multiply to Linear Burn to really burn in those shadows, and then I'll take the Opacity level down to 50%.
I'll tab my way to the Distance value and I'll take it up to 15, leave the Choke set to 0% and then take the Size up to 25 pixels. Now we need to add a little more differentiation, so I'm going to click on Outer Glow in order to trace the outline of these letters. I don't want it to be white however, I want it to be dark. So I'll click on the Color Swatch which might be yellow in your case by the way, and I'll dial in a dark brown once again, 30 degrees for the Hue, 100% for the Saturation, and 25% for the Brightness.
So those exact same values we used for the Inner Shadow. Click OK, change the blend mode from Screen to the same mode we used for the shadow, which is Linear Burn. This time let's take the Opacity level down to 55% and I'll take the Size down to two pixels, so we have just a little bit of tracing around those edges. Finally, I want to color the inside of the letters and I'll do that using a Color Overlay effect. We don't want red of course, so click on the Color Swatch, dial in a Hue once again of 30 degrees, take the Saturation level down to 75% and I'm going to go with a Brightness of 35% in this case, click OK.
Change the blend mode from Normal to Hard Light in order to create this vivid darkening effect here, and then I'll take the Opacity level down to 40%. Then I'll click OK in order to accept those layer effects. Now if you zoom in on your effect, I'll go ahead and zoom in to 300%, so we can see what's going on at a macro level here. And I want to move the wood grain that's inside the letters down a little bit so it appears to be recessed, and so I need to move the layer independently of its mask.
So turn off the chain icon in between those two thumbnails, then click on the layer thumbnail, the one that looks like a little sign to make it active, and press Ctrl+Down Arrow or Command+Down Arrow on the Mac, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times in a row in order to scoot that wood grain down five pixels inside the letters. Now click on the Layer Mask Thumbnail again to make it active. Notice that we have these stray pixels around the outlines of letters? That's a function of the Dither blend mode. We need to turn those dots into little bits of wood grain, and we can do that using Motion Blur.
So again, make sure the Layer Mask thumbnail is selected and then go up to the Filter menu choose Blur and choose Motion Blur. I came up with an Angle value of -3 degrees, because the wood grain is just at a very slight clockwise angle, and the Distance should be pretty small, I think, about five pixels. Then I'll click OK to accept that change. To compensate for the blur we need a little bit of sharpen. So I'll go up to the Filter menu, choose Sharpen and choose Smart Sharpen.
I came up with these values right here; an Amount of 100%, Radius set to one pixel and then Remove set to Lens Blur so that we get the sharpest results possible. Then click OK in order to accept that effect, and we have now converted the dithered dots into little bits of wood grain. Now I'll press Shift+F in order to switch to the Full Screen mode. Press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 to center my zoom, and that is the final effect friends; a series of letters hand-carved into wood here inside Photoshop.
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