Photoshop Text Effect Tutorial: Road Stencil

I’ve been learning a ton of new tips and tricks from following Photoshop text tutorials lately. As we were driving to the grocery store the other day, I looked down at the chipped up, grimy, beat-to-hell turn arrow and text on the road and thought, that’d be a cool thing to create in Photoshop! I looked around for a tutorial, but couldn’t find one. So I made one! Note: this is done in Photoshop CS4; things might be in slightly different places in different versions.

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Here are the elements I scouted around for online. Major thanks to everyone who makes these things available!
Font: Boston Traffic
Pattern 1: Seamless Asphalt Texture
Pattern 2: Whitewashed Blue and Beige Grunge Patterns
Brush: Dust Particles Brush Set
Object: Tire Treads
Object: Left Turn Arrow

First, you’ll want to make a pattern out of the asphalt texture. Open that image file and go to Edit > Define Pattern. Done!

Decide how large you want your image to be. For a lot of the tutorials I’ve been following, I’ve been doing them small—around 400×600 pixels. (Then I don’t have to do any resizing to post them here on the ol’ blog.)

Create your base layer and color it in black. Or whatever solid color you like; we’ll be laying a pattern over the top, so you won’t see that color anymore. Go to your layer styles (that little “fx” option at the bottom of your layers window) and choose “Pattern Overlay.” Select your newly-created asphalt pattern, and scale it so that it has a realistic look. I went down to 25% on this 400×600 sample.

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Why not just use the fill bucket to fill that first layer with the pattern? Unscaled, the gravel in the asphalt looks HUGE. It’s like when you see a miniature boat filmed for a movie; the boat looks accurate, but the water underneath it looks wrong. You want to scale the pattern so that whatever you put over the top of it doesn’t look weirdly out of scale.

Next up, type in your text. I found the font Boston Traffic and loved it immediately; it already has jagged, irregular edges, event though we’ll jack those up even more a little bit later. Fiddle with the font size, distance between lines, and distance between letters until you get a look you like. Here are my settings.

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Once you get the type where you want it, rasterize it. (Right-click on that layer and choose “Rasterize Type”.) We’ll be doing some erasing in a moment, and you can’t do that when it’s still type.

Back to the layer styles we go! Here are the settings, applied to the rasterized type layer:

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The pattern I used in this part is the blue crème #42 from the webtreats collection, but you could use any pattern that just adds an element of dirty grunginess. Adjust the opacity of that pattern to add as much (or as little) grime as you want. I like it pretty grimy, since I’m also going to dirty things up a lot.

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Next, let’s erase away some of the text. Not a lot, just enough to show some wear and tear. This is one of the thousands of reasons I love the dust particle brushes from wegraphics: they’re good for a thousand and one uses. Fire up the eraser (at 100% opacity), pick one of the dust brushes you like, scale it to an appropriate size (for this 400×600, I scaled my brushes to around 700 pixels) and just give it one tap.

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Boom! Pitted and aged.

Now, while you’re erasing, you can also take some nibbles away from the sides of the letters, to give them even more wear and age. No need to go overboard—just make some of the straighter edges not so straight.

Now, let’s add in the tire tread. Open up the tire tread image file and select a tread you like. I picked the fourth one from the left, because it has that gross blobby portion in the bottom half. Select whichever tread you want, copy it over into a new layer, then resize and rotate it so that it’s a good proportion to the text. Change the layer’s style to Linear Burn, and bump the opacity down to about 65%. You can also put a little bit of Gaussian Blur on it, to take away some of the sharper edges. (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur; I went with a radius of 0.8 pixels.)

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Now, the pavement itself looks too clean and new. Create a new layer underneath the text, and go to town with those dust particle brushes. Pick a few shades of dark gray and tap the brushes to put down a splattering of grime. Photoshop also comes with a few spatter brushes, so experiment with those. You can play with the layer styles here too; change the style from Normal to Overlay to Linear Burn and see what you like.

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You can also add in some browns, for oil and dirt and dust and coffee spills. I created a new layer for brown and set the layer style to Overlay, then smeared around three or four shades of brown, some stacked on top of each other.

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For some, it’s done. For others, it just wouldn’t be complete with a little gradient around the outside, to give it a kind of hip Instagram-style filtered look. So here’s that, if you want it. It’s a totally optional step. As shown, I created a new layer over the top of all others, filled it with a radial gradient, black to transparent, reversed so that the black is on the outside.

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I set the layer style to Overlay, and knocked opacity down to 50%. And there you have it, if gradients are your thing! (You could also do that gradient in a dark brown. Or any other color that floats your boat.)

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You can also do the exact same thing with objects, instead of text. Here, I took the standard road sign arrow, chopped a piece out of it to give it that stenciled look, and then applied all of the same settings, layers, and whatnot.

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So there you have it, stenciled road text! Now I’m headed out on the internet to find more tutorials to follow.

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