Displacement Map Tutorial

Level: Intermediate

Photoshop version: CC 2017

I have struggled for quite some time with effectively using displacement maps. Ever since I was told of their existence Sophomore year, displacement maps were always more trouble than they were worth to me. Through the making of this tutorial I think I have finally figured out how to use displacement maps effectively. When it comes down to it, it’s all about contrast.


Step 1.

Download this picture of rocks from google images and then open it in Photoshop.


Step 2.

Find a vector png, and drag it onto the rock.


Step 3.

Then, using the text tool, place some text next to the graphic. When placing this text, it is best to stack it as seen in the image.


Step 4.

Once you are satisfied with the positioning of the text and graphic, save the psd file.


Step 5.

Next, right click on the background layer, and select duplicate.


Step 6.

This will bring up a dialogue box. Go down to document and click new, then name it DisplacmentMap, and click ok. This will create a new photoshop document from the layer you duplicate.


Step 7.

Save DisplacementMap, and turn it black and white by going up to “image” at the top, then down to “adjustments”, and over to “black and white”. Click ok when the levels pop up.


Step 8.

Displacement maps work by looking at the differences in value (light and darks) an image has. Thus, in order to make an effective displacement map, we have to exaggerate the contrast. Go back up to images at the top, then down to adjustments, and over to Brightness/Contrast.


Step 9.

Bump the contrast up to 100, and the brightness up to 10.


Step 10.

Save the DisplacementMap


Step 11.

Return to the original piece, and select the layer that contains the graphic. Then, go to filter at the top of the screen, down to distort, and then over to displace. Make sure that “wrap around” is selected. Now click ok.


Step 12.

Then find your file named DisplacementMap, and open it.


Step 13.

See if the displacement map worked, we will need to play around with blending options in order to make it better fit the form of the rock.


Step 14.

Text cannot be displaced by a displacement map unless the text is first converted to a smart object. Right click on the text layer and select “convert to smart object”.


Step 15.

Repeat Steps 11-12 in order to displace the text.


Step 16.

Now change the blending modes for both the graphic and the words from “normal” to “overlay”. This causes the graphic and the words to blend much better with the surface of the rock.


Step 17.

Bring down the opacity of the layer containing the graphic to 80%.


Step 18.

Then bring down the opacity of the words to 92%.


Contrast is the the key to the effective use of displacement maps. If our displacement map had had less contrast, the graphics would have maintained more of their shape, but not have formed as well to the general shape of the rock.