Sunday, July 19, 2015

CoffeeShop Photoshop/PSE Tutorial: Digitally Carving Initials on Trees so You Don't Get Arrested!

I am so excited to post my newest Photoshop/PSE tutorial today.  I am going to show you how I carve initials on trees/wood digitally.  This is a really great technique to use on couple portraits and much better than using a knife to deface a real tree.  ;-)

When I used to edit photos professionally for wedding/couple photographers I had many requests to do this type of edit. I wanted to add some initials to a tree recently and went back to the bookmarked tutorial I used years ago and the website is gone. I googled like crazy and couldn't find a tutorial that I loved, so I decided to play around and write my own tutorial and post it up here on my blog to share with you.

Today I am going to walk you through the edit and tomorrow I will post a free action set called "Magic Tree Carving" so you can automate everything. I love using actions, but I also love showing you what is going on "under the hood" in my actions so you can do your own edits without actions if you want.

CoffeeShop Photoshop/PSE Tutorial:  Digitally Carving Initials on Trees So You Don't Get Arrested For Defacing Public/Private Property

This tutorial is written for middle to advanced users of Photoshop/PSE.  If you have questions please post a comment below.  And if you are an editing newbie and find this tutorial confusing or want to automate everything, please come back tomorrow and download my Magic Tree Carving action set.  This action set make this edit fast and simple for everyone, including newbies!!!

For this tutorial I am using this beautiful couple image from B.liss Photography.

The first step I do in this type of edit is create a displacement map. You can make and use these displacements maps in both Photoshop and PSE.

A displacement map is a grayscale version of an image saved as a Photoshop file. The Displace filter then uses the displacement map essentially as an applied texture. The black areas are the low points and the light areas are the high points of the contours of the original image.

This is a great way to make the tree carving blend in to your image so it looks more realistic.

1.  Create Displacement Map: Desaturate your image (shift, cmd-Ctrl, U) and then use a levels or curves adjustment to bring out the contrast on the tree bark/wood surface.  You want to really bring out the wood texture.  Then flatten and save this image as a psd file.

2.  Add heart: Revert your image back to the color version.  If you want to add a heart you can use one of the free ones I made for you and posted here for download.

This heart file is a psd layered file, so just click on the layer that has your favorite heart and click "V" and grab and drag the heart on top of your image.

Free-transform (Ctrl-T) it to fit.

Add text: You will need to use a bold black font so you can see the words clearly.  I like using the Annoying Kettle font. Free-transform the words to fit inside of your heart.  Save this version as a psd file (but not over your B&W displacement map!) right now before going on.  You might want to go back and make changes later so it is always a good idea to save at this step.

Hold Shift and click on both the heart and text layer to select them and then right-click and Merge layers.  Then click to select the new merged layer and right-click and Rasterize (or simplify) the layer.  Now you have two layers, your background and the text layer with the heart.

3. Add displacement map: Now we will add the displacement map we created on the first step. Click on the top text layer and go to Filter, Disport, Displace.

I usually use a horizontal and vertical scale of 5 for lower resolution images and 10 for higher resolution images.  I keep the other settings as seen in the screenshot. You will have to play with these settings for your own images.

Open the B&W displacement map when prompted.

Now the text has texture and looks like it has been incorporated into the wood.  You can repeat the filter if you want more effect.  If it is overdone you can go back (edit, undo) and lower the horizontal and vertical scale numbers.

4. Add Bevel & Emboss


I like to add some Bevel & Emboss to the text so it looks carved in the wood.  In Photoshop go to Layer, Layer Style, Bevel & Emboss and add an inner bevel, direction down and set the depth and size to taste.  Adjust the Shading if needed.

Bevel & Emboss, PSE:

In Photoshop Elements go to Layer, Layer Style and click on Bevel and selection Down and set the size to taste.

Now it is looking so much better, right? If you want your initials to look carved and painted you can stop here.

But if you want this wood/tree carving to look more realistic, I want to show you how to add more texture and change the color to match your image so this looks like it was actually carved into the wood.

5. Add texture and change color: Make two copies of the original image (background) and drag them above your text layer. Group both of these copied layers to the text layer.  Then add a color fill layer under the copied layers and grouped with the text layer.

You should have three layers grouped to the text layer as seen in the screenshot. The top two add texture and the color fill adjustment layer allows you to customize the color of the carving.

I put the top copied layer in overlay mode and the one below that in soft light mode. This adds more texture to your tree carving.  You can change the blending mode or adjust the opacity to taste of these two layers.

For the final step, adjust the color fill layer (normal mode) to bring out the carving.  I usually use a light color from the tree/wood, but you can use any color that looks realistic.

Here is my final edit.  I love how it turned out!  For your own images you will have to play with the setting to get your own perfect edit.  And if this tutorial seems too complicated, don't worry.  Tomorrow I will release the action set to automate and simplify this edit where even a newbie Photoshop-user can do this on their own!

Questions? Please post them below.  And I would love to see your after edits using this technique on my Facebook page!

Do you want to download my favorite CoffeeShop PSE/Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets or Design Elements in one convenient zipped file AND help support this blog? Just click here for my action pack or here for a download of some of my most popular design elements, storyboards, and textures.

For complete info on installing all of my actions, click here.

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  1. Ah! The mysterious 'displacement map'! LOL Thank you for this neat tut! I will look for the action tomorrow.
    I had troubles with dm's. Then, I read something that warned not to move the map or resize it or you lose the effect where it should be. I had been doing that! They still aren't the greatest, but, they are sure better!
    Thank you!


  2. Rita.....this is really awesome, Thank you!!

  3. Hi Rita!! Thanks again for all of your hard work to make our life easier!!! Can't wait to use this action!! I want to use it as "writing in the sand" I think the hardest part will be making it look like it is laying in the sand. Any pointers!?! I am using PSE Thanks!!

    1. Debbie, you can use this on sand, it works great! I will post a sample with the action set today. Just need to get everything ready for posting. I have three boys (my 6 year old nephew is visiting this week) and a puppy which are keeping me busy this morning!!!

  4. Hi Rita! Thank you so much for all of your wonderful actions. When I try and run this one Im getting a bunch of errors that different parts of the action are not they won't run that part. Any ideas?

    1. Reset your photoshop preferences, that will fix it. :-) Just google the keystrokes, I can't remember off-hand. Rita


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