Look around and you’ll see lots of trends in the world of design: trendy colors, trendy website looks, and trendy fonts, to name a few. One of the “hot” looks in Photoshop-processed photos is the “gritty” look—one that brings out tons of details, almost to the point of being overdone. Needless to say, this isn’t ideal for portraits of high-fashion models, but with the right subject, this look is easy to achieve and very effective.
We’ll also take a peek at a popular look for type: the grungy, roughened look. This technique uses a layer mask and filters, a combination that offers many different possibilities.
STEP 1 Choose Image; Duplicate Layer; Change Blend Mode
Ideally, pick a photo that already has some character: Perhaps the subject has a wrinkled face or lots of facial hair, or maybe the lighting is dramatic. (You could also accentuate the lighting before proceeding with the next steps.) Once your image is open, press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate the Background layer, and then use the blend mode pop-up menu in the Layers panel to change the mode to Hard Light. (Or with the Move tool active, press Shift-Option-H [PC: Shift-Alt-H].)
STEP 2 Apply the High Pass Filter
From the Filter menu, choose Other>High Pass. Change the Radius setting to something in the range of 10–20 pixels. Rather than basing your decision on the filter preview area, look at the image itself, since that will show the effect with the layer in Hard Light mode. Click OK to close the dialog.
STEP 3 Make Composite Layer and Oversharpen
With both the Background layer and Layer 1 visible, press Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E). This will add a new layer (Layer 2) that’s a composite of the two layers. Change this composite layer’s blend mode to Overlay using the pop-up menu in the Layers panel (or press Shift-Option-O [PC: Shift-Alt-O]). With the top layer (Layer 2) active, go to the Filter menu and choose Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. Sharpen using values higher than you normally would—in other words, oversharpen a little. In our example, we used an Amount of 199 with a Radius of 2. Click OK.
STEP 4 Add a Slight Tint
You could actually stop at the last step if you like, but let’s add to the gritty look a little more. Click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Hue/Saturation from the pop-up menu. Click the Colorize checkbox, move the Hue slider to add a warm tint to the image, and click OK. To allow a little bit of the original color to show through, lower the Opacity of the Hue/Saturation layer in the Layers panel to 70–75% (we used 71%).
STEP 5 Add Some Noise
This step is optional, but if you want to really accentuate the gritty look, add some noise. Start by adding a layer by clicking on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Now, choose Edit>Fill and in the dialog, select 50% Gray from the Use field pop-up menu, and click OK. Change this layer’s blend mode to Hard Light and from the Filter menu, choose Noise>Add Noise. In the dialog, use an Amount of less than 10% and check the Uniform and Monochromatic boxes.
STEP 6 Go Beyond Portraits
Just in case it’s not obvious, it’s worth noting that this gritty look can be applied to any photo, not just portraits. Here’s a before and after showing the results of using the same steps.
STEP 1 Add Some Type and Select It
Now let’s create some “gritty” type. Add some text to your document and format it to your liking. (In our example, we’re using Stencil regular at around 160 points and a color of R:136, G:34, and B:14.) After you’ve finished formatting your type, select it by holding down the Command key (PC: Ctrl key) and clicking on the text layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel.
STEP 2 Contract the Selection; Add a Layer Mask
From the Select menu, choose Modify>Contract. Depending on the size of your type (and the resolution of the document itself), enter a value from 1 to 5 (use higher values for thicker fonts and higher resolutions). Then, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask.
STEP 3 Apply Filters to the Layer Mask
With the layer mask active, apply one or more filters to the mask. Here we went to Filter>Filter Gallery and used Accented Edges, Sprayed Strokes, and Spatter from the Brush Strokes set, but of course, you can use any filter that affects the edge of the mask (avoid filters that introduce any texture to the black areas of the mask). To add more than one filter in the Filter Gallery, click on the New Effect Layer icon at the bottom-right of the dialog. Rearranging the order of the filter layers will also alter the effect.
STEP 4 Convert to a Smart Object; Apply More Filters
To add some roughness and texture to the text itself, convert the text layer to a smart object by going to the Filter menu and choosing Convert for Smart Filters. Then, apply one or more filters to the smart object (here we used Smudge Stick from the Artistic set and Texturizer from the Texture set). To edit the layer mask (to affect the edges of the text), double-click on the smart object in the Layers panel to open the original text layer and layer mask in a separate window.