Wrapping objects with Displacement Maps in Photoshop

September 4, 2006 7:27 pm

Wrapping objects with Displacement Maps in Photoshop

Displacement maps seem like such strange and difficult animals until you learn to tame them. In this long overdue tutorial, I will teach you what you need to know about displacement maps in plain English, so that you can take advantage of the stunning effects that can only be created by using these maps.


  • Rock texture
  • Channels
  • Displacement maps
  • Lighting effects
  • Filters
  • Layer Blending modes
  • Difficulty 7/10




This is the technique that will wrap your art around objects and (seemingly) magically make it hug every contour


Begin with a texture, you must be in RGB mode. I have another tutorial under textures that shows you how to create this rock surface. You can also just download it if you wish.

Download Rock here.



Click on the Channels palette and click on each channel until you find the one with the most contrast (dark to light). In this case it is the Red channel.








We need to make a new document out of the channel.
Either right click/Control+click on the channel area of the channels palette, or click on the top right arrow to open the drop down menu. Choose "duplicate channel."

Under destination>document, choose new.

Click ok


You will now have a new document. This will become our displacement map. Apply a 0.7 Gaussian blur (Filter>blur>Gaussian blur) to lower the sharp detail a bit. This will make for a smoother image in the end.





Save the document as a .psd, Any name will work, just remember it and the location. I put mine on the desktop.

We have now created our displacement map for use later on.



On our original document, click on the "RGB" to restore the default channel display.







Open the layers palette and add your artwork or text on a new layer. This is the content that you want to warp. Make sure you have everything you want to warp on one layer. If you have text, rasterize it now. (Right click on the layer palette next to the name and choose "rasterize layer" from the pop up menu.






Now lets apply the displacement map...




Use the settings shown here when the Displace palette opens.

Click ok





You will now see a browser asking you to choose a displacement map.

Navigate to the desktop and load the image we created at the beginning of this tutorial.


Click open








You will now see your artwork distort to hug the texture of the rock.

Lets jazz it up a bit.






Choose Overlay mode to add some realistic blending.

Duplicate the distorted layer to add a bit more strength to the effect.





Here is the result on the blending mode.

See how the color blends in with the texture.








Here is exactly the same image but with a variation.

I added an inner shadow layer style to the top layer and dropped the opacity of the second layer to 30%

I hope you had fun with this tutorial and learned a lot.

See you at the cafe!






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Colin Smith is a best-selling author, trainer, and award-winning new-media designer who has caused a stir in the design community with his stunning photorealistic illustrations composed entirely in Photoshop. He is founder of the world’s most popular Photoshop resource site, PhotoshopCAFE.com, which boasts over three million visitors.
September 4, 2006

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Article Comments

maraich ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 05 September 2006

Great, easy to follow tutorial. I'm not sure where the 7 out of 10 for difficulty comes from, since your tutorial makes this project a snap. Thank you very much - I can see quite a few uses for this.

Sabra ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 05 September 2006

Thanks for this very clear explanation! Took me a while to master the displacement options, but ever since they have proven themselves to be worth the effort.

bobbystahr ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 06 September 2006

Great tute....very clear and easy to follow. Thanx very much...

Mechanismo ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 10 September 2006

oh excellent , didnt know you could do that in photoshop, im using v.6 , worked perfectly!!! cheers

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