Integrating 3D Text into Images with Photoshop

This is a technique you’ll have seen in countless films and TV shows, from Lost to Zombieland: the title text appears as 3D lettering, integrated into the video. To do this with moving images requires either green screen or painstaking use of the Rotoscope feature in After Effects, but for a single image it’s possible to create an equally impressive effect in Photoshop.

Step 1: Select the foreground

To place the text behind the foreground characters, you first need to select them. This is a lot easier since the introduction of Photoshop’s new Select Subject feature (see this post for details). With one click, the skateboarders are selected; make a new layer from them using Ctrl+J / Command+J. The cutout won’t be perfect, but it’s good enough for now.

Step 2: Add your text

Add the text you want on a new layer behind the cutout skateboarders. If it’s a long word, like this one, it helps to choose a condensed font. Because we want a bright word, choose white as the foreground color before creating the text.

Step 3: Into 3D

Use the menu item 3D > New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer to turn the text into a 3D object. You’ll see it extruded into the distance, as seen here.

Step 4: Align the text to the scene

Don’t touch the text object itself, but instead use the three icons in the bottom left of your screen to rotate, pan and slide the whole scene backwards and forwards. This is the big advantage of having the people already cut out: you can see what you’re doing. Some of the text will be hidden behind the people, of course, so arrange it so there’s enough of the word visible so it makes sense.

Step 5: Reduce the extrusion

Photoshop extrudes text objects by a set percentage, which in most cases is far too deep. In the Properties Panel, drag the Extrusion slider so it’s thick enough to be legible but not so thick that it overwhelms the scene. When it’s as you want it, choose 3D > Render 3D Layer.

Step 6: Isolate and copy

Hold Alt/Option as you click on the eye icon next to the extruded text layer, so only that layer is visible. Select All, then make a Merged Copy using Ctrl-Shift-C (Win) / Command-Shift-C (Mac), and then Paste. This makes a pixel copy of the 3D layer, so you can work with it without accidentally moving it (which would mean having to render the scene again).

Step 7: Add a layer mask

Hide the true 3D layer, leaving just the copy visible, and reveal the other layers once more. The original cutout of the skateboarders wasn’t perfect; part of the right man’s hand was missing, and bits of background crept in. So load the cutout layer as a selection by holding Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) and clicking on its thumbnail in the Layers Panel. Then hide that layer, switch to the text layer and use Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection to make a Layer Mask for the text. You can now easily paint in white on the mask to reveal the missing fingers, and in black to hide the unwanted background.

Step 8: Tint the text

The extruded text is too bright, so use Curves, or Levels, to darken it. I’ve also added a little blue and green to this layer so that it matches the background colors.

Step 9: Add a shadow

To make the shadow of the skateboarders, first load them as a selection as in step 7. Make a new layer, pick a dark blue shadow color from the background, and use Option or Alt with the Backspace key to fill the selection with that color. Deselect, and move the shadow to the side so you can see it.

Step 10: Clipping the shadow

Make sure the shadow layer is directly above the extruded text layer, and use Layer > Create Clipping Mask so it shows up only where it overlaps the layer beneath. Reduce the opacity of this layer, and (optionally) use Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to soften it slightly.

Step 11: Adjusting focus

The back of the scene is out of focus, so to make the text really look right we need to match that. Select the text layer and use Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object, then use Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to add about a two pixel blur to the whole layer.

Step 12: Finishing off

Finally, we need to bring the text back into focus at the front – or rather, next to the left hand skateboarder. Switch to the Gradient tool, set to black to white, and drag on the mask that accompanies the Smart Filter from that point to the back of the text. This will gradually fade the effect away, so the text gets more out of focus the more it recedes into the background.

Watch the Video

Check out the video version of this tutorial below.

Posted on: February 19, 2018

Steve Caplin

Steve is a freelance writer, artist and designer, and the author of over a dozen books, including the popular How to Cheat in Photoshop series and the Amazon #1 best-seller Dad Stuff. His training videos can be seen on, Retouch Pro and elsewhere.

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