Design Illustrated: Heavy Metal Type from Scratch in Photoshop

Featured in a recent Deke’s Techniques episode (CS6+) and a very early Deke’s Techniques episode, Deke’s striking heavy metal type effect is made completely from scratch using a little Myriad Pro, some Photoshop pattern-making,  a few simple channel acrobatics, and a series of stacked layer styles. Even the hammered metal background is made out of nothing but Photoshop magic (also known as filters and styles).

Yep, believe it or not, despite its hauntingly industrial flavor, this image is (as least as far as Photoshop is concerned) is:

Try it for yourself with these illustrated instructions, designed for Photoshop CS6 and later, but with advice for how to accomplish it in earlier versions:

(If you’re not a member of dekeOnline, you can become one here to read the entire article.)

Part I: The Hammered Metal Background(first introduced in video form in Deke’s Techniques 006)

1. Create a new blank document.

I know you probably know how to do this, but to officially prove that you can create this effect without the help of any outside documents, start by choosing File > New, and creating an image that’s 1400 pixels wide by 490 tall.

Press the D key to set your colors to their default, then press Option-Delete (Alt-Backspace in Windows) to fill your new canvas with black.

For good measure, right-click in the image window and chose Convert to Smart Object.

2. Apply the Clouds filter.

Start adding random texture by choosing Filter > Render > Clouds. Your random field of white on black (because you set the default colors in Step 1) should fill the screen and look something like this:

3. Continue the chaos by applying the Difference Clouds filter.

You got it, choose Filter > Render > Difference Clouds. This adds another dose of fractal chaos.

4. Apply the Glass filter.

Ironically, to finish the metal effect we’re going to apply glass. Choose Filter > Filter Gallery, then twirl open the Distort options and choose Glass. Set the Distortion to 18 and the Smoothness to 2 in the Glass filter dialog box that appears. Click OK.

5. Add a Pattern Overlay effect.

Back in the Layers panel, click the fx icon at the bottom and choose Pattern Overlay. In the ensuing dialog box, apply the (appropriately named) Rusted Metal pattern by clicking the downward arrow next to the Pattern preview and choosing the swatch from the popup menu (as shown below). If you don’t see Rusted Metal, click the gear icon in the right corner of the popup menu, choose Patterns, and then click Append.

Set the Blend Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 25 percent to apply the pattern with subtlety.

6. Adjust your pattern to taste.

Technically, your background is complete. But if you’d like to change up your pattern you can double-click either the Clouds or Difference Clouds entry in the Layers panel in order to re-randomize your pattern until you find a mix of highlight and shadow that appeals to you. I like this grouping of highlights:

Part II: Create the Metal Cross-Hatch Pattern (If you’re using CS5 or earlier, check out Deke’s Techniques 007 at, because shape layers worked differently before CS6.)

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7. Draw a square shape layer.

The next step is to establish the pattern that’s going to give the letters that awesome cross-hatching. So don’t worry that this doesn’t initially make aesthetic sense; we’re going to turn these layers off after establishing the pattern.

Grab the Rectangle tool from the toolbox, click in the image window, and create a shape that’s 50 x 50 pixels. Click OK.

8. Create the first “hatch.”

Choose the Line tool (it lives under the Rectangle tool in the toolbox, just click and hold until you can choose it). Set the Weight to 12 pixels. Make sure that the default square icon is a square indicating you’ll make a new layer (rather than two stacked squares, which indicates you’ll add to the existing one) as shown below.

Drag diagonally across the square. After you start dragging, you can hold the Shift key to constrain your line to a 45-degree angle. (Don’t do it before, it will change the behavior of the path operations.)

After the line is established, change the Fill color to Black. Yes, you’re right, a “line” is really just a skinny rectangle.

9. Complete the X.

To draw the second “hatch,” click the square icon in the options bar and choose Combine Shapes from the popup menu. The icon will change to a couple of overlapped squares. Drag a perpendicular line across the first. They should both live on the same “Shape 1” layer in the Layers panel when you’re done.

10. Define the pattern.

Command-click (Ctrl-click) on the thumbnail of the the original (white square) Rectangle 1 layer in the Layers panel. Then choose Edit > Define Pattern. Don’t worry if it looks a bit wibbly. In the dialog box, name your pattern “wires” or something equally descriptive, and click OK. Now that the pattern is established, you can turn off the Rectangle 1 and Shape 1 layers by clicking their eyeballs in the Layers panel.

11. Create a type layer and give it a stroke.

Click the hammered background layer to activate it, then choose the Type tool by clicking the T icon in the toolbox. Set the type and size to whatever you like; I used 336-point Myriad Pro for my example at the top and a slightly bigger size for this example, so you clearly don’t need anything fancy. Click and type the message you wish to immortalize in virtual metal.

Then click the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Stroke. In the Layer Style dialog box, set the Size to 10 and the Position to Center. The color should be Black by default.

12. Apply your pattern to the text.

Click Pattern Overlay in the left-hand pane. Then, click the down-pointing arrow next to the Pattern preview, and seek out your newly created “wires” pattern. Set the Scale value to 25 percent and click OK.

13. Create a new white background layer and turn off the metal background temporarily.

For the next step, we’ll temporarily need a pristine white background rather than our delightfully textured one. Click to turn off the hammered background. Press the page icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new layer (doesn’t matter where it currently is.) From the Layer menu, choose New > Background from Layer.

14. Grab the info from any channel to make a selection.

In the Channels panel (it usually hides behind the Layers panel), Command-click (Ctrl-click) any of the channels to load it as a selection (they’ve all got the same info since it’s black-on-white information). The result will be a selection that is the inverse of all the information in the text layer. Choose Select > Inverse to make your selection match that text layer.

15. Create a new layer from those outlines.

Return to the Layers panel, click on the topmost layer (so that the one you’re about to create lands atop that one), and then click the page icon at the bottom of the panel. Press Option-Delete (Alt-Backspace) to fill the selection with the foreground color (which should be black at this point). You can then turn off the original text layer.

16. Add a Bevel & Emboss effect to the new layer.

Set the Fill opacity for the new layer to 0; we only need it to “wear” the effects, not actually be visible. Then click the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Bevel & Emboss. In the Layer Style dialog box, set the Size to 2 pixels, and the Opacity for both Highlights and Shadows to 100 percent as shown below.

17. Add a Drop Shadow.

Click Drop Shadow in the left-hand pane and set the Opacity to 100 percent, with a Distance and Size of 10 pixels each, respectively.

18. Add a pattern effect.

Click Pattern Overlay in the left-hand pane and set the Pattern to our familiar Rusted Metal. Set the Opacity to 50 percent and the Blend Mode to Overlay and click OK. To see the effect (really to see anything at all) turn the Hammered layer back on.

19. Create a new layer to bolster the edges of the letters.

To shore up the edges of the metal text, you’ll need an outline with just the edges of the letters. To make this, Option-click (Alt-click) on the eyeball for the Type layer so that it’s the only one visible. Turn off the eyeball for the Pattern Overlay effect (we don’t need the cross-hatch).

Return to the Channels panel, and Command-click (Ctrl-click) on any of the channels to create a selection. Again, choose Select > Invert so that you basically have a selection that consists of the area represented by the Stroke. In the Layers panel, create a new layer and press Option-Delete (Alt-Background) to fill that selection with Black. Again reduce the Fill opacity to 0.

20. Duplicate the layer styles to the new edges layer.

To emphasize those edges, you’ll want to apply a couple of those layer styles to this new layer. Hold down the Option (Alt) key and drag the fx icon from the previous layer to the new one. Then turn off your new layer’s Pattern Overlay effect, because that’s the one that we don’t need.

And there you have it a “100% Organic” (in as much as it didn’t require any outside-Photoshop data) heavy metal effect created entirely from scratch. Mmmm, homemade metal text.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 271: Tracing Hand-Drawn Art with Uniform Strokes in Illustrator

Previous entry:Feedback Loop: Perspective Grid in Illustrator?


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