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How to Create a Rusted Metal Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Rusted metal is one of those natural phenomena that is terribly destructive, yet strangely beautiful at the same time. As iron ore oxidizes it creates brilliant colors, patterns and texture in a surface we normally expect to be smooth and plain. That contrast is part of what makes the substance so attractive for artists and photographers. 

In this tutorial, you will learn how to use some real-life rust textures and the 3D tools in Photoshop to create some wonderfully flaky, crispy, crunchy rusted text without the fear of even getting cut!

1. Grab the Textures

The rust textures for this project are essential to creating the final effect. There's no better way to get the crunchy, crispy, flaky rusted effect than to use actual rust textures. Developing them digitally is possible, but rather time-consuming and rarely looks as good as the real-life counterpart. 

This tutorial uses some high-quality rust textures from Envato Market. But if you are curious about making your own, home-grown rust textures, check out our Quick Tip on how to Create Your Own Rust Brushes From Scratch in Adobe Photoshop.

Step 1

The textures featured here are available for purchase on Envato Market, as Rust Textures.

Rust Texture purchased from envato market

Step 2

Unzip the purchased file and extract the textures. This package has 19 of them, all very high quality. Look through and familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each rust texture.

Look through the available rust textures

2. Create the 3D Elements

The idea is to craft some old, rusted metal text. Big, blocky letters are an ideal fit for this type of effect, plus they are easy to make in Photoshop with the 3D tools.

Step 1

Launch Photoshop and create a new document with File > New. Set the Width and Height both to 1000 pixels. For Background Contents set the option to Other and choose a mid-tone gray.

Create a new document at 1000x1000 with a gray background

Step 2

Add a new layer with Layer > New > Layer (Shift-Control-N) and name it "base". Then go to 3D > New Mesh From Layer > Mesh Preset > Cube Wrap. Photoshop will change to the 3D workspace and turn the blank layer into a white cube.

Step 3

In the 3D panel, select the Cube Wrap object and use the Move Tool (V) to get the 3D transform handles. Use these to scale the cube into a long, flat box that will serve as the base for the text effect.

Scale the box into a base shape

Step 4

Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to add the text. Use a big, bold, blocky typeface. The text shown here uses Kabel Ult BT Ultra.

Add the text using a thick typeface

Step 5

Go to 3D > New 3D Extrusion From Selected Layer and Photoshop will transform the text layer into 3D block letters.

Turn the text into 3D blocks

Step 6

A worn and rusted metal block wouldn't have nice sharp edges—a slight bevel to the edge would be more believable. In the Properties panel, click on the Cap icon to make adjustments to the Bevel settings. Set the Width to 10% and change the Contour to the Half Round preset.

Adjust the bevel settings

Step 7

The letters are currently all together as a single 3D object. In order to manipulate them individually, they need to be split into individual meshes. Go to 3D > Split Extrusion and check the Properties panel to verify that each letter is now a separate mesh.

Split the letters into individual meshes

Step 8

In order for all the 3D objects to interact together, they need to be all in one 3D scene or layer. Go to the Layers panel and Shift-select both the 3D text layer and the 3D cube layer. Then go to 3D > Merge 3D Layers to combine them both into a single 3D layer.

Merge the two 3D layers into a single one

Step 9

Use the Move Tool (V) and click on the Scene layer in the 3D panel to adjust the camera view to get an elevated viewpoint of the base.

Adjust the camera angle

Step 10

Select each letter object in the 3D panel and use the 3D transformation handles to move and rotate each letter into an appealing text arrangement.

position letters as individual objects

Step 11

Trying to align objects from a single viewpoint in 3D space is extremely difficult. Make things easier by using a secondary view. Go to View > Show > 3D Secondary View to get a second view window. Use the two views together to make sure the letters are touching, but not intersecting.

Use the secondary window to assist with positioning

3. Add the Textures

Once the 3D elements are in place, it's time to add some of those wondrously crispy rust textures! This is the stage where the final piece really starts to take shape. It's also the stage with the most creative choices to be made. Experiment with the texture placements and create your own unique rusty look!

Step 1

In the 3D panel, open the Cube Wrap object and select the Cube Material. In the Properties panel, click on the folder icon next to the Diffuse color chip. Select Load Texture from the context menu. Select a rust texture to map to the cube—in this example the 01.jpg rust texture was used. Because this object is a cube wrap, the same texture is applied to all the sides automatically.

Texture the Cube

Step 2

Simply adjusting the color of the surface isn't quite enough, because it will appear too smooth. It needs some physical roughness to it too. Scroll down to the Bump property and click on the folder icon to Load Texture and use the same rust texture as a bump.

use the same texture as a bump map too

Step 3

In the 3D panel, switch to the Materials tab and select the R Front Inflation Material. Use the Properties panel to map a rust texture to both the Diffuse and the Bump. Select the texture you prefer—in this example the 02.jpg texture was used.

map the front face of the R

Step 4

Move on to the R Front Bevel Material and map the same texture to the Diffuse and the Bump properties for that surface too.

add Texture to the Bevel Surface

Step 5

Move on to the R Extrusion Material and map the texture to the Diffuse and Bump there too. The difference with this surface is that the texture looks stretched. So click on the folder icon by the Diffuse chip again and choose Edit UV Properties. Start by increasing the U/X Tile setting to 4. Then adjust the V/Y Tile to 0.57. These settings are just a suggested starting point. Adjust them until the texture appears correctly scaled.

Adjust the UV properties

Step 6

Use the same process to map rust textures to the rest of the letter surfaces. Keep in mind that the Back Bevel and Back Inflation surfaces are likely not seen, so will not require texture mapping.

Texture map the rest of the letters

4. Set the Lighting

After texturing, the lighting is the next step in developing a rendered image. In this scene there's the default environment light, and one other light source used to create the lighting effect.

Step 1

In the 3D panel, select the Infinite Light 1. In the Properties panel, change the Type to Spot and set the light color to a pale yellow.

Change the light to a yellow spot light

Step 2

Use the Move Tool (V) and the 3D transform handles to reposition the light to the far left of the stage. Instead of attempting to rotate the light's angle, use the Point at Origin button in the Properties panel.

position the light far off the left of the stage

Step 3

Engage the Shadow for the light, and set the Softness to 50%. The other spotlight properties can be manipulated using the light manipulator. As you mouse over the handles, the property of that handle will pop up, and then just drag that control to adjust it. Or use the entry boxes in the Properties panel to set the following:

  • Hotspot: 22.5
  • Cone: 36.7
  • Enable the Light Falloff option
  • Inner falloff: 669 px
  • Outer falloff: 1440 px
Set the light properties

Step 4

Now it's time to render! Go to 3D > Render 3D Layer (Alt-Shift-Control-R) and give Photoshop plenty of time to render out the image.

Render out the 3D layer

5. Post-Render Touch-Ups

While the 3D features in Photoshop are quite impressive and work great for creating text effects like this one, don't forget that the real power behind Photoshop is manipulating pixels of a 2D image! It's much faster and easier to make further adjustments to the rendered image with the base tools in Photoshop than it is to continually tweak the 3D settings and re-render.

Step 1

If you are satisfied with the rendered appearance, it's good practice to rasterize the render. This turns the 3D layer into a flat 2D layer that is easier to work with. Just be sure to save the file as a different file name just in case you need to get that 3D layer back!  Go to Layer > Rasterize > 3D.

Step 2

Duplicate the rendered layer with Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J). Then use the Smudge Tool with a Strength of 85% and using the Spatter 24 pixels brush tip. Look closely at the image for hard lines that appear unnatural for well rusted text, and use the Smudge Tool to rough up those edges.

Step 3

Go to File > Place Linked and choose another rust texture to place into the scene. This example shows the file 16.jpg. The texture comes in as a Smart Object. Hold down the Control key while dragging on the corners to adjust the perspective of the texture to match the scene. Then press the Enter key to commit the transformation.

position another texture

Step 4

Change the layer's blending mode to Soft Light. Then control-click the rendered layer to load a selection in that shape. Use the selection as a mask on the texture layer with Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Step 5

Use the same process to add another texture file (like the 11.jpg file shown here), transform it to match the perspective, and add the layer mask. Change the blending mode to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to 25%.

add the 11jpg texture

Step 6

Duplicate the texture 11 layer with Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Alt-Control-N), and delete the mask by dragging it to the trash can in the Layers panel. Change the blending mode to Multiply, and set the Opacity back up to 100%.

duplicate the last texture and set to multiply

Step 7

Add a full black mask to the layer with Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Then use the Brush Tool (B) with a Soft Round tip and white paint to gently paint the darker rust effect back onto the image in select spots so the effect is non-uniform.

Step 8

Change the paint color to black, and use the same brush on the layer masks for the other textures to selectively remove their effects from areas where the texture seems to be overdone. This is a purely subjective step, and the technique invites a lot of personal creative decisions to achieve the final effect.

work the masks of the other texture layers too

6. Final Effects

The image is looking really deliciously rusty at this point. Those letters look almost as if you could cut yourself on them! The next few steps are just to add a final bit of drama to the image for a finishing touch.

Step 1

Create a merged layer at the top of the layer stack by holding down the Alt key while going to Layer > Merge Visible. Then convert that layer to a Smart Object with Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.

Create a merged layer

Step 2

Go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter, and in the Basic tab make the following settings:

  • Contrast: +18
  • Highlights: +38
  • Clarity: +45
Basic settings in the Camera Raw Filter

Switch to the Effects tab, and in the Post Crop Vignetting section, set the Amount to -25. Then press OK to apply the filter.

Step 3

Adding a simulated focal blur is always a nice touch to make a render seem more realistic.

Go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Iris Blur. Set the point of the blur control on the closest point of the letters, like the corner of the upended U. Then drag the blur circle out to be outside the canvas, and set the blur Amount to 22 px.

Add an Iris blur to simulate the focal blur of a camera

Step 4

Add a Photo Filter adjustment layer and use the Cooling Filter (80) setting. The blue tint helps to offset all the warm orange hues in the scene. On the adjustment layer's mask, use the Gradient Tool (G) with a black to white linear gradient to fade the filter effect so it is mostly visible at the back right corner.

Add a photo filter adjustment layer

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer and add two points to the curve, one in the center and one at the left lower intersection. Move both points slightly up and to the left to brighten the image.

add a curves adjustment layer

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

Congrats! You've created some wonderfully flaky rusted text using the 3D tools in Photoshop and some high-quality textures. How did yours turn out? Post your results in the comments below.

Final Effect

Want More?

If you would like to see some more Photoshop tutorials along with some photo-manipulation projects, custom brushes, and even more fun, check out my profile here at Envato Tuts+ for my other tutorials, quick tips, and courses. 

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