Adding Texture in Photoshop

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Today’s Question: I often photograph simple textures during my travels, and sometimes those textures seem like they will go well with another photo. I can’t figure out though how to just put the texture on the image. Do I need to create a selection? That doesn’t seem like it would be very easy or effective.

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can easily add a texture from one image onto another image by first layering the two images into a single document in Photoshop, with the texture layer on top. Then change the blend mode for the texture layer, most likely to the Overlay blend mode, using the popup at the top of the Layers panel. You can also adjust the Opacity for that layer to taste.

More Detail: When creating a composite image in Photoshop you will generally employ a layer mask (often using a selection as a starting point for that layer mask) in order to hide and reveal specific areas of the upper image layer, therefore revealing a portion of the underlying image layer.

When you want to combine a texture from one image into another image, this approach generally won’t provide the intended result (at least not without considerable work). Instead, you will want to blend the two (or more) layers together through the use of a blend mode. The result is similar to what could otherwise be accomplished with a multiple exposure image.

The default blend mode on the popup at the top of the Layers panel is “Normal”, which causes no blending at all. Instead, the upper layer will block all layers below, unless a layer mask is used to block some of the upper layer in order to reveal portions of the lower layer.

To employ a blend mode for this purpose, you’ll first want to combine two (or more) images into a layered document in Photoshop. Then make sure that the texture layer is at the top of the stack on the Layers panel, dragging the thumbnail for that layer to on the Layers panel reposition it if necessary. Be sure the texture layer is active by clicking on the thumbnail for that layer on the Layers panel, so that changes you make will affect the texture layer.

With a blend mode you can essentially combine multiple layers into a seamless result. In most cases you will likely find that the Overlay blend mode provides a good result, because it is one of the contrast blend modes. Light areas of your texture layer will lighten the underlying image, and dark areas of the texture layer will darken the underlying image. You could also experiment with other blend modes to find the effect you like.

Once you’ve selected a blend mode, you can adjust the Opacity setting at the top-right of the Layers panel as needed. This will reduce the appearance of the texture in the image, so that it provides a more subtle addition to the overall composition.