Typographic portrait in Photoshop


Have you ever seen book covers that are made of portraits shots filled with words? This effect is called Typographic portrait, and consists on replacing the values of the pixels with text characters, preserving the outline of the overall image; therefore, you will look at it distantly and recognize the shape, even distinguish the image, but if you are close enough you will realize the image is made out by text.

Adobe Photoshop as the versatile tool for designers that it is can give us a wide range of effects to fit our needs; so in this case it is going to be our tool used for this tutorial. If you want to learn how to create a typographic portrait in Photoshop follow up this guide.

Resources Needed

Just as always, we are going to use a fairly large image, preferably over 6 mpx of resolution, and we need a good bulk of text for matching the effect. If the text is somehow linked on its content to the subject of the portrait, better, as it will enhance the message we are trying to give away.

Photoshop Workflow

In case you are working with a colored image, the first step is to De-Saturate it. You can do it via the Image menu or with SHIFT+CTRL+U if you prefer shortcuts.


Then I want to create a duplicate of this image but in another file. Go to the upper corner of the layers panel, and at the options menu, set Duplicate Layer. Target another destiny, so the file can be edited apart from our original file. At this new file, I will apply a Gaussian Blur filter and save it as a PSD file for later usage.

Get back to the original file. Select the Pencil tool with a hard nib and a size around 30; enable the Quick Mask mode. Draw the outline of the mask around the portrait.


Switch to the Paint Bucket tool. Make sure Contiguous is enabled and apply it inside the portrait.


Hit Q to change to the selection mode and Shift+Ctrl+I to inverse the selection. Go to Refine edge and under output option change it to New Layer with Layer Mask.

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Create a new layer and fill it with black. On the portrait layer, refine any hard edge and using the brush tool (soft and large brush) apply at the layer mask a sort of Vignetting effect around our object.


Now I am going to visit a site named Wordle for creating my text.


I chose to use one of Steve Jobs’ quotes, and after inserting the text and work my way through the option the sites give us, I end up with this image at PNG format.

My next step is going to the channel tab, hit this very tiny button over here, and you notice now there is a new selection being held. This tool helps us to select all the tonal ranges on an image.


Go back to the layers tab. Create a new layer. Inverse the selection on the first layer and use the command copy; paste its content on the new created layer. In that way, we now have our text without any background, so, select all with CTRL+A and with the Move tool drag it to our portrait file.

Add a Drop Shadow effect to the words layer.

Then reduce its size a bit and start making copies of that layer.

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After placing the copies of the layer everywhere, convert those groups of layers to a Smart object.


Now I want to add an effect using the displacement map I created before. Select the smart text layer and go to Filters>Distort>Displace.

Follow up this parameters, and when the window prompts to ask for the displacement file, select the PSD file of the displacement map.


Hide the text layer for a while. Create a composite shot by selecting the layer with the mask and then hit Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E. Now hide the layer with the mask and move the composite layer to the top. Change its blending mode to Linear Burn and turn on the layer text.


As you can see, this is the overall effect. Finally I am going to turn on the other layers below, reducing the opacity to enhance the effect of the portrait.


And this is the final result.


Hope you liked this tutorial on how to create a Typographic portrait in Photoshop. Keep Practicing!

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