Typography can often appear too stationary for a design. Add some movement and visual interest to stagnant type with the help of Photoshop’s powerful Liquify Tool.

While the art of mixed media and distortion is nothing new, it certainly stands out in a sea of perfect flat design. Designers crave a sense of irregularity by incorporating unexpected visuals in a given composition. Photoshop’s Liquify effect does just that; this handy tool makes it exceptionally easy to distort your image or text and bring in organic elements to your design.

Read on to discover how to give your typography a paint text effect in Adobe Photoshop by using the Liquify Filter and layer masks.


Step 1: Create Document

Begin by opening up Adobe Photoshop and creating a new document with Command + N. Under the Preset Details menu, enter in your document title and the Width and Height dimensions. A good size to start out with is 1000 x 1000 pixels.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Create Document

Set your Resolution to 72 PPI if designing for web or 300 PPI if designing for print, then hit Create to open up your new document.


Step 2: Type Out Letter

With the Type Tool (T) activated, click and drag a text box and type out a letter of your choice. For this tutorial, I recommend sticking with a thick brush script font, such as Julietta, to give your design that natural brush feel. Other font styles, such as serifs or sans serifs, may not translate well when given the paint effect later on.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Choose a Letter

Once you’ve typed out your letter, resize it to fit the dimensions of your canvas with the Free Transform Tool (Command + T). Convert the text layer to a smart object by Control-clicking or right-clicking on the type layer, then select Convert to Smart Object. Smart object layers will feature a folded square icon within their thumbnail, as seen above in the G layer.


Step 3: Bring in the Photo

To make the paint effect successful, find an image with a unique color palette and a transition of colors. Images with exquisite details and patterns won’t work well for this tutorial, so instead try eye-catching gradients, smoke backgrounds, or sunset images.

Bring your image into Photoshop by dragging the image file into the document. The image will translate as a new layer on top of your text layer. Resize as necessary with the Free Transform Tool (Command + T) and hit Enter. The image will show as a smart object, so head to Layer > Rasterize > Smart Object.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Bring in the Photo

Image via ADELART.

Activate the text layer, then hit the Command key to create a quick selection around the letter. A black and white outline that resembles “marching ants” will appear around the letter. Click back to the photo layer and then hit the Add Layer Mask button, circled above.

On the masked layer, create a duplicate by holding down the Option key and dragging upwards. This ensures that you can return back to your original layers if needed. Group the original mask layer and the text layer with Command + G.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Group Layers

Click back to the top duplicate layer and deactivate the chain link icon in between the thumbnail and layer mask. From here, you can resize the photo with the Free Transform Tool (Command + T) or move the image around with the Move Tool (V). Find a visually interesting portion of your photo with unique transitions in color.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Apply Layer Mask

Once you’ve found that sweet spot, control- or right-click on the layer mask thumbnail and select Apply Layer Mask. Duplicate the layer once again by holding down the Option key and dragging upwards.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Liquify

Your layer is now ready to be liquified. Activate the top layer and head over to Filter > Liquify (Shift + Command + X).


Step 4: Liquify

Here comes the fun part: the Liquify menu! With this handy menu, you can warp portions of your image and letter with the help of brush tools. Zoom in to your letter with Command +, then adjust the brush size on the right size of the menu under Brush Tool Options or by using [/]. When warping your image, make sure the size of your brush fits within the width of your letter.

Follow the movement of your letterform when liquifying to best mimic the paint effect. Click and drag in long portions to best liquify the image. Take your time with this part, and be sure to stay within the parameters of the letter. You can always undo if necessary with Command + Z.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Brush Tool Options

Hit OK to return back to the Photoshop document. Then, duplicate the top layer once again and return back to the Liquify menu. This time around, we’ll liquify the actual portions of the letter to resemble that dripping effect.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Liquify Menu

Think of where the drips may appear on your letterform; portions that round off or point downwards are ideal for the dripping effect. Pull downwards to replicate the paint drip. Be sure to apply the drips sparingly; too much of this effect can make the letterform appear wonky. Hit OK to return back to the canvas.

Get a Paint Text Effect with the Liquify Tool in Photoshop — Activate Layer Mask Button

Rinse and repeat as many times as needed to reach the desired paint effect. If you’re not satisfied with portions of the letter, you can always utilize the layer mask and brush away exaggerated areas. Activate the layer mask button, then set the brush color to black and brush away unwanted areas.

Ta-da! You’ve just created a realistic paint text effect. This liquify technique is super versatile. You can also experiment further by applying the Liquify Effect to phrases, shapes, images, and more to give your designs a wavy touch.


Mockup image via grop. Paint effect image via ADELART.

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