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By Colleen Wheeler |

Deke's Techniques: Creating a hand-carved wood effect in Photoshop

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques, Deke uses Adobe Photoshop to create the effect of hand-carved letters in a wooden sign. I don’t mean embossing typed-out text into a wood background, but rather, making hand-drawn letters look like they were manually carved into an old wooden sign many years ago and weathered over time. To create this effect, Deke uses the fairly uncommon Dissolve blend mode. While Dissolve is seldom used, for this particular effect it provides the gritty, worn edges we’re looking for. If you want to watch the video right now, here’s the episode:

If you prefer a step-by-step visual walk-through of this technique, here’s how it’s done:

Starting with an old wooden sign masked against an appropriately desolate background, Deke begins his technique by hand-drawing some white letters on to their own layer using a Wacom tablet.

Adobe Photoshop Layers panel with background, sign, and

The next step is to make the letters soft and more or less invisible. Deke starts by setting the fill Opacity to 0% in the Layers panel so that the writing disappears. Next, he brings back the edges of the now invisible letters by applying a white drop shadow. To do this, click the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to bring up the Layer Style dialog box. Within the dialog box, set the color of your drop shadow to white, the Opacity to 100%, and the blend mode to Normal. In order to ensure the original characters don’t cut holes in the drop shadow (which will become the basis for the letters from this point on), Deke unchecks the Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow check box in order to see the shadow all by itself (minus the actual letters that informed it).

Layer Style dialog box with Drop Shadow option highlighted

In order to get the dithered-edge effect that will simulate carved, weathered wood, Deke applies the seldom-used (and, in truth, seldom-useful) Dissolve blend mode to the drop shadow. Although Dissolve is problematic in most situations, for this technique it works well. Setting a Distance value of 0 and Size value of 10 creates noisy, ratty edges.

Layer Style dialog box with Dissolve blend mode selected

The next step is to turn the letters into a layer mask, so that you can ultimately make a selection that includes both the shape of the letters and the effects you’ve applied. Deke starts by creating an adjustment layer beneath the Go Away character layer that’s filled with black. To do this, click the layer with your sign image to make it active, and then click the black-and-white circle icon to bring up the  fill/adjustment layer pop-up menu at the bottom of the Layers panel. Choose Solid Color from the pop-up menu, and set the color to black. Next, go to the Channels panel and grab the white letters off the black background by Command-clicking (or Ctrl-clicking on a PC) the RGB channel option to automatically select the white characters, and deselect the black background.

Channels panel with options to create noise in the

Once Deke has the selection he wants with all its great noise-infused edges, he turns off the original Go Away character layer and black background layer and duplicates the sign image layer to serve as a base for where he’ll create the carved letters. Since, in its original incarnation, the sign layer once served to mask the sign against the background, you’ll see the duplicate you made of the sign layer also has a layer mask that is no longer needed (or wanted). Right-clicking on the layer mask and choosing Delete Layer Mask from the contextual menu gets rid of your layer mask and puts you in a position to add a Go Away–shaped layer mask to the new sign layer. Clicking the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel will create that mask based on the currently loaded selection.

Layer panel with the noise-infused

Because the letters are filled with the sign and they are set against the very same sign, they’re invisible ghostly placeholders until Deke applies some layer effects. First, the carving gets burned into the sign by applying an Inner Shadow effect. After clicking the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choosing Inner Shadow, he sets the color to a dark brown (Hue: 30, Saturation: 100, Brightness: 25), sets the blend mode to Linear Burn, sets the Opacity to 50%, the Distance to 15 pixels, and the Size to 25 pixels.

Layer Style dialog box with the Inner Shadow option highlighted

To add some differentiation around the outline of the letters, Deke next adds an Outer Glow layer style. Since the Layer Style dialog box is already open, he can just click Outer Glow from the left-hand list. After setting the color to the same dark brown used for the inner shadow (Hue: 30, Saturation: 100, Brightness: 25), he changes the blend mode to Linear Burn again, sets the Opacity at 55%, and the sets the Size to 2 pixels.

Layer Style dialog box with the Outer Glow layer style option highlighted

Finally, Deke applies color to the inside of the carving by clicking Color Overlay from the left-hand list within the still-open Layer Style dialog box. Using a color of Hue: 30, Saturation: 75, Brightness: 35; a blend mode of Hard Light; and an Opacity of 40%, he fills the Go Away letter area with a rich dark brown. Clicking OK at this point applies all three layer effects.

Setting the Color Overlay opacity in the Layer Style dialog box

In order to give the carved area an appropriate sense of depth, Deke moves the wood grain inside the letters down by unlinking the image from its mask (click on the chain-link icon between the sign image and Go Away layer-mask thumbnails) and nudging the sign image down five pixels. You can do this by clicking on the thumbnail with the sign image to make it active; then, holding down the Command key (or Ctrl key on a PC), press the down arrow button five times.

Moving the wood grain inside the lettering with the Layers panel

Finally, to turn the stray pixels around the outlines of the letters into little bits of Photoshop-simulated wood grain, Deke applies a bit of motion blur. Clicking the Go Away layer-mask thumbnail to ensure he’s only applying the blur to the mask, Deke chooses Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, sets the Angle to -3 (to match the direction of the wood grain), and a sets a Distance of 5 pixels.

Photoshop Motion blur dialog box

To compensate for the softness created by the blur, Deke lastly applies a bit of sharpening by selecting Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen, then setting the Amount to 100, the Radius to 1, and the Remove setting to Lens Blur.

Photoshop Smart Sharpen dialog box

And here is the final effect:

The final project

You can see this entire technique in detailed action, including on-the-fly tips and insights from Deke, in the video above, or by navigating to video number 160 on the lynda.com Deke’s Techniques series page. Please let me know in the comments if you like this expanded combination of text instruction alongside video, and if you find it helpful.

And, of course, since we don’t want you to really go away, Deke will be back with another technique next week.

Interested in more? • The entire Deke’s Techniques weekly series on lynda.com • Courses by Deke McClelland on lynda.com • All Photoshop courses on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:• Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Fundamentals• Photoshop Masking & Compositing: FundamentalsPhotoshop Blend Mode Magic

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