Deke’s Techniques 079: Rendering a Portrait in Type

Anyone who knows the ins and outs of the printing business is familiar with halftone dots. Viewed up close, you see the colored dots; viewed from a distance, the dots resolve into a continuous-tone image. This week, I take on something similar. Only instead of dots, I substitute characters of text. Viewed up close, you see letters. Viewed from a distance—or merely, as a whole—the letters resolve into a photograph. Either way, the text remains legible as text.

Here’s the official description from

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques movie, you’ll see how a portrait can literally be worth a thousand words. Well, several hundred at least. Deke demonstrates how to superimpose layers of text over a lovely face, creating an image that’s both literal and visceral at the same time.

Deke begins with this compelling photo from the Fotolia image library:

The Fotolia portrait before the addition of type

Then, using a combination of blend modes and almost automatically generated masks, he integrates three separate layers of text over the subject (and background) to create this effect that is simultaneously organic and literal:

The portrait rendered in type (a.k.a. type face)

The key to creating the masks for this project is all about “using the image to select itself.” Rather than tediously outlining key areas of the photograph in order to separate the eyes and the background, Deke uses some channel exploitation and the Color Range command along with the Quick Mask mode to coax Photoshop into doing the masking work for you. This kind of skill can really help you mask your own images quickly and accurately without ever needing to trace around elements in your photos.

For members, Deke has two exclusive videos in the Online Training Library that provide variations on this technique. You can check them out in the This Week’s Techniques section of the Deke’s Techniques course. And if you’d like to further hone your masking skills, be sure to check out Deke’s new Photoshop Masking and Compositing course, in which you’ll find much more about coercing your images to mask themselves and get to know the entire toolset of masking features in Photoshop.

And we’ll see you here again next week for more Deke’s Techniques.

In case you’re curious, those related videos are “Rendering a portrait in tile patterns” and “Rotating a pattern layer in Photoshop.” Below we see the final result.

The portrait rendered in tile patterns

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