Here is a low resolution example of what you can do with Displacement Maps that might spark a few more ideas for you. Notice how the stars and stripes conform to the eagle’s feathers. I masked off the beak, eyes and brown feathers.
This is the color photo of the textured background used on the example project.
There are many ways of saving the color version to a black and white PSD file. I copied the original, then pasted it into a new document and desaturated it before saving it with a name like RockWallDisplacementMap.PSD. Many tutorials suggest giving this image a slight Gaussian Blur (Filter>Blur>Gaussian>2pixels). Save the PSD file.
Opened images usually default to a locked background. Double-click the layer to unlock it and give it a new name. I used the Magic Wand to select the gray background on this image, then deleted it to reveal the transparent background checkerboard. I “control-clicked” the model’s layer icon to select it, then copied it to the clipboard.
The model was pasted into the brick wall background, which creates a new Layer. I performed the same steps to add the poster image. It will often be necessary to resize and position images using the Transform tools (Control-Shift-T).
This screen grab shows the three layers used for this job. You can perform the displacement image layer above the background, but I typically make a duplicate of the image layer (model and poster layers in this case) and turn off the underlying layer. This preserves a duplicate in case I want to try different settings.
Before applying the Displacement Map on this project, I added an artistic effect on the model, using the Filter Gallery filter. In this case, I used “Fresco” (Filter>FilterGallery>Artistic >Fresco).
To apply the effect, go to Filter>Distort>Displace. The amounts in the two boxes will vary based on the project’s resolution. 10, 10 is a good starting point. After clicking OK, navigate to the black and white displacement file. Select it and click OK. If the effect is not strong enough, Undo and try a different value.
Once applied, the Displacement Map shifts pixels slightly to allow the top image to conform to the underlying layer. Click the Layer Mode and change it to Soft Light. This is a good starting point. I often change the layer’s opacity to 75% or so while testing the other modes.
For this project, I chose to run the Displacement Map on each element via their own layers. That gave me more control to modify how each one affected the rock wall. Often, individual layers will need some additional adjustments. I added some thin back outlines, using the Layer Effects (FX) tools at the bottom of each layer.

Get creative with Displacement Maps

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Back in the late ’80s, I took a three- or four-day class in Photoshop. At the time, Photoshop didn’t have layers, since we were still using version 2.5. Even then, the course covered a technique using Displacement Maps. Sounds complicated? Not really.

The basics In general, you just need a textured background of some type, such as a wrinkled paper, wall or something similar to start with. A copy of that layer is converted to black and white and saved as a separate file as a .PSD (Photoshop Document). A new layer is added to the original image. The new layer can be a photo, a line of text or a graphic. When the top layer is selected and the Displace filter is applied, the software shifts pixels on that layer to appear to conform to the underlying texture layer. The effect isn’t immediately apparent, but once the layer’s opacity and/or blend mode is adjusted, the results are usually visible and amazing!

So, yes, this can be considered an advanced technique. Give it a try on a few test projects, and you’ll likely see it’s not that difficult. Besides this article, you can do a search on the Internet for “Photoshop Displacement Map” and find a lot of video clips and additional tutorials on the subject. Seeing a project executed as a video in real time can be helpful.


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