How to Create Custom Dirt Typography


Over the last couple of years, I have spent a lot of time trying to be creative with typography, calligraphy, and lettering. Sometimes, I prefer creating classic calligraphy, however, lately I have been working a lot with textures, new elements, and new materials for typography. In this tutorial, I wanted to share the workflow I have developed to create custom typography using a combination of real-world materials, photography, and Photoshop. Let's get started!


You will need the following supplies to complete this tutorial:

1. Set Up

Step 1

Before we begin, you'll need to set up the camera. This means, you need to put the camera in the right place in order to begin with the shooting. You might want to find a place where there's lots of natural daylight.

Set up your scene in a way similar to the image below. Make sure your camera is pointing straight at the artwork—any change in the angle of the lens towards the artwork can affect the final image.


Step 2

Now that the camera is set and you have placed the sheet of paper underneath it, it's time to set up and test your camera settings. I usually shoot in JPG, but if you want to shoot in RAW, go for it! It will give you much more control over the final image.

Note: If you are shooting in JPG, make sure to shoot in the largest or finest quality JPG.

Your lighting conditions might be different to the room I used, but if you can work in a very bright environment, your settings should be fairly close to these:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/15
  • Aperture: F 5.6
  • ISO: 250

Once you get the right settings, take a few photos for testing, and check that your lighting, white balance and focus are all good.


2. Create Artwork and Photography

Step 1

Now that you have everything ready with your camera and it is positioned right above the surface where you will be working, start to sketch your line art on the paper. Try to keep the lines as soft and light as possible—just dark enough for you to see them. Keep in mind that you don't have to draw lettering, you can use this technique on a logo or any other shape.

Once you have your sketch completed and you are satisfied with it, carefully start pouring the powder onto the surface using the cutter. Slowly but surely, form (or sculpt) the lettering, using the cutter, your brushes, and the stylus. This process might take a while, but it is fun!

Once you are done, photograph the finished piece.

3. Import Image and Edit

Step 1

Go to File > Open, then select the photo that you would like to use.

Step 2

Now unlock the image by double-clicking the thumbnail then duplicate the layer and rename it. The duplicated image is a back up of the original just in case something goes wrong while you're editing.

Step 3

Apply an Unsharp Mask filter to the layer called Copy by going to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and entering the following values:

  • Amount: 50%
  • Radius: 2.5 pixels
  • Threshold: 1 level

Step 4

Create a new layer by going to the top menu and navigating to Layer > New > Layer. Name your new layer Clean up.

Step 5

Now, using the Clone Stamp Tool, clean up the design by removing any imperfections around the letters.

Step 6

After you've cleaned up the image, create a Curves Adjustment Layer and set it to a curve similar to the image below. The great thing about a curves adjustment layer is that it doesn't just adjust light and contrast, it also adds sharpness to the image.

Step 7 (Optional)

Create a Hue/Saturation layer just to reduce the colour in the final image.

Step 8

Now you can merge all your changes into one final layer, using the shortcut Command/Ctrl-Shift-Alt-E.


In this tutorial, I showed you how to create custom typography made from dirt or dust, photograph it, and then edit it with Photoshop. This technique can be very useful for a variety of tasks, and can be applied to logos, or basically any type of line art. I hope that you have learned something from this tutorial and can use it to create custom typography of your own.