Photoshop Tutorial: How to Apply a Custom Texture to a Photo
Traditional photography's focus on capturing observable reality can sometimes feel constraining. It'd be a relief to inject imagery whose source is somewhere beyond the camera's angle of view. Custom textures applied with Photoshop provide such imagery. You can apply textures from a breathtaking shot of Lake O'Hara for example, to enhance a lackluster image. Procedures for using textures as backgrounds can vary based on a texture's file format. Textures can appear as Photoshop styles or brushes, for example. To apply textures to the foreground, you can use layer masks to cut a non-destructive hole in the original photo, then show the texture through that hole.
Apply Texture to the Background
Load a photo you'd like to add a textured background to, such as the cowboy photo used in this tutorial. Click Edit>Free Transform, then drag a corner handle toward the photo's center a short distance. This step shrinks the photo slightly to make room for the textured background.
Original photo scaled down
Download a texture appropriate to your photo, such as the denim texture used in this tutorial. You can find free textures on sites such as Adobe Exchange and CGTextures.
Follow the instructions on the download page to install the texture for use in Photoshop. If you're using the images in this tutorial, save the EyeGen_Blue_Denim.ASL file to the Presets\Styles folder. Close Photoshop, then reopen it to make the texture available inside the program.
Follow the instructions that accompanied the texture to apply the texture to a layer underneath your photo's layer to complete the composite image. If you're using the cowboy images, continue with the next instruction.
Create a blank layer by clicking Layer>New>New Layer. Drag the new layer to the bottom of the Layers panel, then click Edit>Fill to fill the new layer with any colour.
Click Window>Style to display the Style palette, then click the Style Categories button. Click the "Denim" item to load the Denim style into the Styles gallery.
Choosing the denim style
Click the Blue Jeans icon in the Styles gallery to apply the custom denim texture to the new background layer. Double-click the Pattern Overlay item in the Layers panel to display controls for adjusting the denim texture. Drag the Scale slider left or right until the denim texture is clear, yet doesn't pull attention away from the photo in the foreground. Close the Layer Styles dialog box to view the completed image.
Scaling the texture
Textured image complete
Apply Texture to Foreground
Load into Photoshop a photo whose foreground you want to apply a custom texture to. See the photo credits following this tutorial if you want to work with the same images as those in the tutorial.
Click the lasso icon on the Tools palette to run the Lasso Select tool, then drag around the image portion you want to replace with a custom texture. For the country road image, drag the mouse around the road, as close as possible to the edges where the road meets the unpaved ground.
The Refine Mask controls
Use the Refine Mask controls to create a layer mask that tightly fits the imagery you want to replace with a custom texture. See Adobe's help page on Refine Edge for details on using Refine Mask.
Close the Refine Mask dialog, then use the Brush tool to fill any gaps remaining in the layer mask. Paint with black to hide the photo's imagery, and paint with white to reveal imagery.
Image after mask is complete
Download the custom texture that you want to appear in place of the original imagery you masked out. See the previous section for resources containing free textures.
Click File>Place, then navigate to and open the downloaded texture file to import it into Photoshop. Drag the texture's layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
Custom texture at bottom of layer stack
Use the Free Transform tool to fit the custom texture to the perspective of the imagery you hid with the layer mask. You don't have to be exact here, but observe closely how the hole's lines converge with distance. Use Free Transform to apply approximately the same rate of convergence to the custom texture.
Using Free Transform to adjust texture's perspective
Use the Forward Warp, or Puppet Warp tools as needed to finish fitting the texture image to the hole you made with the layer mask.
Use the Healing Brush to camouflage any signs of manipulation left by the fitting operation. In the country road picture, for example, the healing brush was used to paint over the seams between the separate instances of the image texture file.
Camouflaging with Healing Brush
Click File>Save to save the completed image.
Cobblestone texture, courtesy CGTextures
Denim texture, courtesy Chad McMillan
Nusfjord Road, courtesy Simo Räsänen
Texas cowboys, courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Pschemp