You don’t have to swim upstream to add an underwater text effect to your next design. In this short tutorial, learn how Adobe Senior Art Director Lidia Lukianova creates a displacement map in Adobe Photoshop to blend vector text for vivid results.

Lidia Lukianova is an artist and designer who likes traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs. iPad illustration is her passion. Learning how to use this tool for working on all kinds or projects, from identity to illustration, lettering, and animation, has been her primary creative focus. 

What you'll need

This sample file has Adobe Stock images you can use to practice what you learn in this tutorial. If you want to use the sample file beyond this tutorial, you can purchase a license on Adobe Stock. Check out the ReadMe file in the folder for the terms that apply to your use of this sample file.

Prep the image

Start by creating a displacement map of the bubbles by applying a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Lukianova desaturated her image and applied a Gaussian Blur before saving the file as a new Photoshop document.

Left: Crisp image of bubbles in water. Right: Bubblies are blurrier with desaturation and Gaussian Blur added.

Choose the word

Back in the original water image, Lukianova typed the word DREAM and converted the text layer to a Smart Object.

The word DREAM in white text, all caps, appears in front of the bubbles. Text layer is converted to Smart Object.

Start the effect

To form the text around the bubbles, apply the Displace filter (Filter > Distort > Displace) and adjust the settings for your desired effect. Next, when prompted, select the Photoshop document you saved earlier to use as the displacement map.

Bubbles appear to form around the text when Displace filter is added.

Refine the look

Lukianova duplicated the water layer and moved it to the top layer to distort the bubbles around the letters. She then created a clipping mask (Layers > Make A Clipping Mask) so the water would fit around the shape of the letters. After you’ve done that, set the Blend Mode to Exclusion and reduce the Fill percentage. Finish the look by changing the Blend Mode of the type layer to Luminosity.

Bubbles layer is duplicated, added to the top, and clipping mask created. The word DREAM appears to be distorted by bubbles.

Keep your creativity flowing

Use this technique to apply texture to flat images and add depth to your compositions.

Completed composition shows the word DREAM appearing distorted by bubbles in water.

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

With Adobe Stock, you have access to more than 100 million high-quality, royalty-free images including photos, graphics, videos, and templates to jump-start your creative projects. Try Adobe Stock and get 10 free images.


Artist: Lidia Lukianova

Adobe Stock contributor: Tsiumpa

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