Tips + Techniques

Free and Easy

September 1, 2011

By RF Staff

Textures, literally and figuratively, add a layer of interest to any image and can be just the thing to take an okay photo to an oh-wow” photo. Texture can change not only the look of a photo, but also the feel—from dark and foreboding to light and happy and everything in between. Finding the right textures, however, can be time-consuming and costly, especially since there’s no guarantee that any given texture will work with any of your photographs. There can be lots of trial and error involved in using textures (and as with any enhancement, they’re best used in moderation), but the results—whether subtle or bold—are worth the additional time and effort.

Creating your own textures is easy, as they can be found pretty much anywhere. Simply focus your camera on different surfaces you encounter during the day, such as peeling paint, a brick wall, parchment paper, boulders and rocks, a rusty car, colorful graffiti or sections of drawings or paintings (that you created, to avoid any copyright issues). My favorite and most often used textures are created using handmade papers and colorful inks. Every year, I enroll in a weekend printmaking class at a local art studio where I make monotypes, woodcuts and etchings. The classes provide me with both a creative outlet and fresh “textures” to work with that are uniquely my own.

Paper and stationery suppliers like Paper, Paper, Paper, and Michael’s craft stores have hundreds of papers in a variety of colors and surfaces to choose from. Buy a bunch, photograph them, and if you like, alter them in Photoshop and/or Corel Painter. When choosing the photos you’d like to add textures to, it’s best to work with images that have large, open areas where the texture can “take,” such as the train of a wedding gown, a plain sky or the broad side of a building.

If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own textures, then check out Urban Dirty’s free textures ( There are thousands to choose from, ranging from ethereal to distressed to funky. The site is regularly updated, so there’s always something new to try. Additional sites with textures include:, and

Simple Simon
Using layers and masks will help you blend images together without directly changing them. They’ll also allow you to change your mind often without having to begin again at square one. Creating images using multiple layers and masks really is easy, no matter how up-to-date your software is or isn’t.

To begin: Launch Photoshop (PS) and open the files you want to use. This includes the image you want to add texture(s) to and the texture file(s). In addition, open the Layers Palette, the Brushes Palette, and the Swatches Palette. In your PS toolbar, choose black for the foreground color and white for the background color.

Now, click on the texture image you want to add first; a thumbnail will then be displayed in the Layers Palette. Drag that thumbnail from the Layers Palette over the image that you want to apply it to (we’ll call that “original image”). Using the Move tool (in your PS toolbar), line up the two layers so the texture layer is completely covering the original image. Then click on the Mask box (it’s a square with a circle in the middle located at the bottom of the Layers Palette).

Next, select the opacity bar near the top of the Layers Palette—move it back and forth to reveal either a lot or a little of the original image below the layer. More than likely, you’ll adjust the opacity several times throughout the process. Select the brush tool in your PS tool bar; in the Brushes Palette, choose your brush and slide the master diameter located near the bottom of the Brushes Palette back and forth to select the size of your brush (you’ll probably need a fairly large brush to begin with and smaller ones later when tweaking details).

Next, click on the PS opacity bar located near the top left of your screen to determine how much of the original image under the texture layer you want to reveal (basically, you’re erasing the texture layer to reveal the original image). You may also customize your brush in the Brushes Palette under Brush Presets. I like the texture selection (click on box to select) as it provides a painterly look, but it’s best to try each one and see for yourself what they can do.

Now, move your brush around the texture layer to reveal portions of the original image (adjust opacity and brush size accordingly). If you decide after working the image for a few minutes that you’ve erased too much in one particular spot, click the little arrow between the foreground/background colors on the PS toolbar and bring the color white to the foreground. Then, when you apply the brush tool, you’ll be able to add more texture to a specific section without adjusting the entire layer (black subtracts and white adds—but remember, the color must be in the foreground box to work accordingly).

Want to add another layer? Once again, open and click on a texture file (thumbnail will appear in Layers Palette) and drag the thumbnail over the original image. Click on the mask box symbol, slide the opacity bar and choose a brush. Repeat for each layer; add as many as you’d like. As needed, click on each layer in the Layers Palette to adjust the image (and black/white foreground color to add or subtract). If you change your mind about using a layer, simply drag and drop it into the trash and/or try a different one. Yes, it’s that easy.

To view more textured images., check out Rangefinder’s September issue online:

Quick Guide
• Launch Photoshop; open texture and original
image files.

• Open layers, brushes and swatches palettes
Click on texture file; drag file from layers palette over original image.

• Choose brush tool from Photoshop tool bar; choose brush size and opacity.

• Click on mask box at bottom of layers palette
In layers palette, adjust opacity of texture layer

• Move brush tool over layers to reveal
original image.

• Adjust opacity and brush size to taste.

Lorraine A. DarConte is a freelance writer/photographer living in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in numerous publica­tions including Rangefinder, Studio Photography & Design, Newsday and Tucson Visitors’ Guide.