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Photograph in Type

A cool effect that you see on websites and in print is a photograph inside of the letters of a word. This is the topic that I am tackling this month. For my example, I’m using Adobe Photoshop and a historic photograph of Mission Concepcion (Figure 1).
Fig. 1
First, duplicate the background layer, either by dragging it to the Create New Layer button on the Layers Palette or choose Duplicate Layer from the Layer menu. I have renamed the layer ‘Mission.’

Next, add the type. For this example, I’m just using the letter ‘M’ set in the font Impact at 300 points (Figure 2). Be sure to use a fairly bold font so that you will see enough of the photograph to be recognizable. Impact, Futura Extra Bold, and Arial Black are all good choices.

Fig. 2

Now I want to create a layer mask on the ‘Mission’ layer using the ‘M.’ To do this, select the ‘M’ layer, and pick Load Selection from the Select menu (Figure 3). In the dialog box, in the Channel pop-up menu choose M Transparency and hit OK. If you are not selected on the ‘M’ layer you will not see that option. Next, select the ‘Mission’ layer again to add the layer mask (from the menu pick Layer: Add Layer Mask: Reveal Selection). You should not see anything different because there is a duplicate layer directly underneath, so set your foreground color to white, select the background layer and fill it with white (from the menu pick Edit: Fill and select Foreground Color from the pop-up).

Fig. 3

Now this still looks like a black ‘M’ on a white background. That is, until you drag the ‘M’ layer under the ‘Mission’ layer in the Layers Palette (Figure 4). But I still have a couple more tricks up my sleeve. Select the ‘M’ layer and choose Layer: Effects: Drop Shadow from the menu. In this instance, I used an Opacity of 45, Distance of 13, Blur of 12 and Intensity of 24 (Figure 5). Play around with the settings until you have a shadow that you like.

Fig. 4

Fig. 5
To finish this picture, I want to put an outline around the ‘M’ so that it will really stand out. To do this, make a new layer called ‘Outline’ and drag it to the top of the Layers Palette. Again load the selection as described above. Make black your foreground color, select the ‘Outline’ layer and choose Stroke from the Edit menu. I used a 4 pixel wide stroke (Figure 6). Save the new image as a Photoshop file (.PSD) to preserve the layers and remember to flatten the image (Layer: Flatten Image) to be able to save it as a JPG or TIF file for other uses.
Fig. 6
Final Image
Paul Vaughn is the Director of Digital Services at River City Silver, the premiere photographic and digital imaging laboratory in San Antonio and South Texas. Mr. Vaughn is a graphic artist with a mission, he can be contacted at

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