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Making a texture fit another form can be really difficult to execute, simply because you are trying to take a flat, 2D image and make it appear to fit a rounded object with light and shadows. Luckily Adobe thought of a fairly simple way to make this task look more realistic. They implemented a menu called Displacement Maps. Basically a Displacement Map is where you take a flat image or texture, and force it to fit another form. In this tutorial, we will be conforming a concrete texture to a woman’s face, giving her the appearance of stone. To follow along, you can download the image of the woman here.

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If you want to use the same concrete texture, you can find it here.

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Open the image of the woman and hit Command/Ctrl+L to bring up your Levels dialog box. Move the black and white sliders in toward the center to brighten the light areas of your image, and darken the shadowy areas of your image. This increases contrast and helps with the overall effect.

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Then, go to Image> Mode> Grayscale. It is okay to get rid of the color information, because displacement maps can only be made from grayscale images. Once you are happy with your black and white image, save it as a distinct Psd file somewhere on your computer, while making sure not to override the original. The best method is to name it something different.

Next, open the colored image of the woman again or you can simply hit Command/Ctrl + Z a few times to undo what we just did and go back to your original image. It is time to place our texture within our file, so go to File> Place and select the texture that you want to apply to your person or object. Photoshop will place it on a new layer. Hit Command/Ctrl+T to transform the texture.

Now we can hold the shift key while clicking and dragging one of the corner handles to scale the texture image while keeping it proportionate. Make sure to scale the image large enough to cover all of the skin areas that you can see in the image. I simply scaled it large enough to cover the entire canvas, which is okay, because we will be using a layer mask to hide the areas that we don’t need.

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Once you have your image sized properly, go to Filter> Distort> Displace. I have found that the best results seem to come from the default options, with a horizontal and vertical scale of 10, the displacement map itself set to Stretch to fit, and Undefined Areas set to Repeat edge pixels. Click okay, and you will notice that the texture has slightly warped. The effect seems subtle at first, but every little bit helps.

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Go back to the layer with the woman in it and select the Quick Selection Tool. With the Quick Selection tool, click and drag to select her face and neck, as well as her shoulders. In the options bar at the top of the screen, click Refine Edge. A dialog Box will pop up. Check the Smart radius option and move the slider all the way to the right. Go down to where it says Decontaminate Colors, check it to make it active, and for Export, select Export to a New Layer with a Layer Mask. This duplicates the current layer and applied a layer mask to it. From here click and drag the mask itself up to the texture layer.

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Change the texture Layer’s blend mode to Linear Burn. This does a fairly good job of masking out the areas that we don’t want to show, so that the texture wraps around the subject’s face, while hiding in the background areas and the hair. There are some problem areas, but we can fix those fairly easily.

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The first problem is that the Quick Selection that we turned into a mask isn’t picture perfect. We can fix this though, by selecting the soft edge round brush, setting the opacity to 50% and using black to hide the mask, revealing the texture and white to reveal it. You use this technique to bring back trouble areas where skin is still showing a round a couple of edges.

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Mask out the texture on the lips a little, revealing the pink of her lips, and do a very light mask around the eyes. Paint back in noticeable areas, such as the shoulders, and where the skin meets something like her tank top. This will ensure a seamless appearance. Another thing that we can do is use Dodge and Burn to add highlights and shadows to the texture layer. You will want to make sure that you are working on the actual texture image itself, and not on its layer mask.

This will enhance the illusion of depth, further perpetuating the idea that the stone texture matches the contour of the skin. The Burn Tool will add shadows, and it is a good idea to use a soft edged brush and only affect the shadowy tones of the texture layer. This gives it more natural shadows. Be sure to use the Burn Tool around the eyes, since they are dark, under the chin, and the creases or shadows of the face itself.

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The Dodge Tool allows you to add highlights to the texture layer, but just like the Burn tool, you will want to use a soft edges brush so that you don’t create harsh areas of contrast. Highlight the top of the cheeks, the forehead, the top center of the chin and top of the shoulders.

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Conclusion

Overall, we have a pretty convincing look that we were able to achieve with the Displacement Map. The texture has been wrapped around the woman’s skin, giving her the appearance of being made from rough concrete. This effect not only works on people, but on objects as well. Just a little distortion can really make your work look much more convincing.