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How to Create an Underwater Text Effect in Photoshop

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Water can make for such beautiful, inspiring visuals! In this tutorial, we'll take some text and visually "place it" underwater—creating a wavy text effect, looking down and into the water, with the text visually beneath. 

By the way, if you just want to create awesome Photoshop text effects at the click of a button, have a look at these:

What You'll Need

The followings assets are used within this tutorial:

Now, let's dig right in and start experimenting with some type! 

1. How to Add Text and Texture to a Document

Step 1

Start with a New Document—any size here will do! 

Keep the scope of your project in mind: are you hoping to create something print ready or something for use online? I'm going to work at 850 x 650 for this example, but you might want to work at a higher resolution, if you'd like to print your work.

Once you're happy with your settings, click OK.

New Document Example New Document Example New Document Example

Step 2

Next, Paste your watery background image into your document. In this case, we'll be using this Water Stock Photo from Envato Elements, but you could use any image you like!

This is going to be the water that we'll base our text on. 

Example of Stock Water ImageryExample of Stock Water ImageryExample of Stock Water Imagery

Step 3

Now, let's add the text. Simply type out whatever text you'd like, using the Text Tool, in your font of choice. In the case of this example, I'll be using the font Fibre Vintage

Don't worry about effects or positioning or anything, at this point—just put down the text you'd like first!

I decided to make two different Text Layers. You can make as many as you like. Make the text a dark gray color. 

Example TextExample TextExample Text

Step 4

Next, make your Text Layer (or Layers) into a Smart Object

To do so, select the applicable Layers, Right-Click (on PC) or Control-Click (on Mac) and select Create Smart Object from the drop-down menu.

We'll be applying effects to this Smart Object. We'll be able to more easily preserve and alter the original text this way, if needed.

Creating a Smart ObjectCreating a Smart ObjectCreating a Smart Object

Step 5

Rotate and position the text however you'd like it, against the water. I opted to rotate it a little, so the shot feels a little more natural. 

Rotating and Position the TextRotating and Position the TextRotating and Position the Text

Step 6

Now, set this layer's Blending Mode to Overlay. You'll notice that this changes the text's appearance on the water. 

Setting the Blending Mode to OverlaySetting the Blending Mode to OverlaySetting the Blending Mode to Overlay

2. How to Create an Underwater Effect

Step 1

One of the major goals here is to have the text appear to be affected by the water. We could do this in a number of ways—like using the Warp Tools, Distort Filters... there are plenty of options! However, in this case, let's try out the Displace Filter

First, select the layer with the water background in it. Click on the thumbnail on the layer to select the content (or press Command-A (on Mac) or Control-A (on PC). 

Now, Create a New Document. Paste this image and Save this document. I called my document "displace.psd", but you are welcome to call yours whatever you prefer. 

Displace ImageryDisplace ImageryDisplace Imagery

Step 2

Now, let's go back to our original document. 

Select the layer with our Smart Object. Then, select Filter > Distort > Displace

Displace FilterDisplace FilterDisplace Filter

Step 3

Then, you'll see this popup dialog box. I went with a Horizontal and Vertical Scale of 10, but I would encourage you to experiment with this! I also chose Stretch to Fit, as I'd like the area to be similar to the original background image we've used here. 

When you're happy with your settings, click OK. Remember, if you don't like the result, you can always Undo (Control-Z on PC, Command-Z on Mac) and try out different values. I often like to experiment a few times.

Select your displace.psd file created earlier as the file that the Displace Filter will use to create this effect. 

Displace Pop Up Dialog BoxDisplace Pop Up Dialog BoxDisplace Pop Up Dialog Box

Step 4

And here's what the text looks like with this effect applied. It's getting closer to what we want, but it still looks kind of clear, doesn't it? We'd expect to see some blur here, as the water is between us and the water on the ground.

Let's apply a Gaussian Blur to this Smart Object. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Gaussian BlurGaussian BlurGaussian Blur

Step 5

I went with 2.0 on the radius here, but you may prefer more or less. I'd recommend something that gives it a little bit of a blur, but also stays legible. A lot of blur might look good, but if we can't read the text well, that might defeat our purpose.

Click OK when you're happy with the value you've chosen. Remember, you can also undo and try again, if you change your mind.

Gaussian Blur OptionsGaussian Blur OptionsGaussian Blur Options

3. How to Add the Finishing Touches

Step 1

So, we've got the beginnings of what we'd like to do here—but let's push it forward and do some more with it. 

Personally, I'd like the text to be darker. We have a few options here. 

I Duplicated the Smart Object Layer twice, leaving the Blending Mode on each set to Overlay. The result was just what I was looking for.

Duplicating Text LayersDuplicating Text LayersDuplicating Text Layers

Step 2

However, because we put this type into a Smart Object, we can go back and change it any time we like. Double-click on the thumbnail to open up the Smart Object.

You'll notice that it contains the text as we originally had it in our document. You can make changes here—like the text color or the text itself. Then, when you save it, this will be reflected in our document.

Inside the Smart ObjectInside the Smart ObjectInside the Smart Object

Step 3

On a side note, keep in mind that these changes might have to be accounted for! For example, changing the color might affect the blending modes—if I make the text light pink, I need to adjust for that (since we worked with a color with a dark value originally). 

In that scenario, I'd just drop my extra Overlay layers and set the Smart Object Layer to Color Burn, Opacity 75%. Voila, we have a similar effect. 

Altering the Smart ObjectAltering the Smart ObjectAltering the Smart Object

Step 4

Made any changes that you don't want to keep? Simply undo! Within the Smart Object, make sure to save any changes. 

To wrap up, I'm going back to the original color and Blending Modes we were working with earlier. 

Original Blending Modes and Color ChoicesOriginal Blending Modes and Color ChoicesOriginal Blending Modes and Color Choices

Step 5

Finally, I wanted to do a little adjustment here. I copied the water Background Layer and brought it to the front of my Layers. Then, I set the Blending Mode to Screen, Opacity 20%. I just wanted to lighten things up a little.

However, I recommend experimenting with Blending Modes—check out how it looks with Color Dodge or Color Burn! Experimenting with Blending Modes is a great way to get more familiar with them. 

Duplicated Water Background Set to ScreenDuplicated Water Background Set to ScreenDuplicated Water Background Set to Screen

And Now Our Text Is Underwater!

I hope you enjoyed walking through this text effect with me—and I hope you have a lot of fun experimenting with it and making your own underwater text effect Photoshop creations! Again, there are a lot of different ways to distort your text—want to know how to warp text in Photoshop even further? If you'd like to make even more adjustments, I'd recommend taking a look at Edit > Transform > Warp

Thanks for following along with me! Good luck with your creative projects!

underwater text effect photoshopunderwater text effect photoshopunderwater text effect photoshop

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