Displacer in Photoshop – use it creativly

Most people think about displacing a text/logo on a pattern, when talking about using the Photoshop displacer. Let’s see where it actually can take us.

You can easily create: Scratches on a photo,  wave/swirls, or displace an image according to a photo. And a lot more!

This tutorial is based on a link, watch it here (or at the bottom at this page).

Examples of usage.

Photoshop displacer image according to pattern

Wrap Photo according to a pattern

How to Photoshop displacer abstract

Abstract stuff

Very complex swirls/twists displacer

Very complex swirls/twists

The written guide

The Photoshop displacer is probably my favorite tool ever in Photoshop. It can be used in so many different situations for creating realistic looks. But it can also be used for in a tremendous different ways to create special effects.

But how does it actually work? Let me show in this example.

Here i have a new Photoshop document, with a model.

Empty photoshop document to show the displacer

The displacer “moves” your current layer, accordingly to the PSD file you select, and off ourse the settings you choose from in your displacer settings.

Example of displacer settings

After you press ok, the displacer will displace/move/wreck the image, according to the a psd file, that you choose after pressing “ok” in the prompt. Photoshop won’t look at the layers in that file, only the stamp visible (what’s actually visible).

To ensure that the file you are displacing with, is always is big as the layer you want to have displaced, you can create the displacement map within the same PSD. So you are displacing your current PSD with the same PSD – might sound weird, but it makes a lot of sense after doing it.

So back to our document with the model – let’s create an example so you can understand how the displacer works.

Empty photoshop document to show the displacer

Create a new layer, and fill that with the neutral grey color – the hex code is #808080 (That’s exactly 50% white and 50% black).

On top of that grey layer, create a black box, a white box and a gradient.

displacement map

So the image above is in the same PSD as the model. Save that PSD! So we an choose the psd, in the state where the grey, white and black is on top.

After saving, hide the grey, white and black. ( So the model is visible again) and choose your layer with the model on. Go to Filter –> Distort –> displace.

I will set the greatest value the displacer accepts (999). After clicking “ok”, choose the psd you just saved, when the grey was visible.

Here is the result of the displacement:

After displaement example

What happened?

Everywhere the grey color was, nothing was displaced. Everywhere the white was, the part of the image was moved left, and everywhere the black was, the image was moved to the right.  shown here:

That’s because the displaer move 0% when a color is 50% grey. (#505050). It moves it 100% when the color i white, 50% when the color is a bright grey. When the color is black, the displacer moves it -100%, is the color a dark grey, it will move it 50%.

Because we know this know, we can create complex displacement maps!

Displace according to a pattern

Let’s create a pattern we can use the displace to displace with. I have a empty document, only with the model on:

Empty photoshop document to show the displacer

To create the displacement map, duplicate by pressing Ctrl+j, and go to levels on the samle layer (ctrl+L) to increase the contrast. Here is my settings:

Levels Photoshop contrast ctrl+l

Next, Go to filter –> Pixilate –> Mosiac, to pixilate the image. My Cel size is 200 – press ok.

how to pixilate with mosiac

Next, create a new layer, and fill that with the neutral grey! (#808080). Set the blend mode to “difference” So we cancel out all the white background, which would cause the displacer to move every pixel 100%.

Blend mode difference photoshop neutral grey

Save the document as it is right now, so we an use it as an displacement map. After saving, hide all the layers we created to make the displacement map. Then select your model (or the desired layer, that should be distorted!)

Go to displace again (filter –> distort –> displace) my settings here is:

Create a swirl

Create the empty document – only with model.

Next, create a new layer with and fill that with a color of neutral grey.

Go to your gradient tool (g) – here is my settings:

gradient tool settings photoshop

Because i have set the mod on difference, i can create multiple gradients on the grey overlay. Here is what i made, and will use as a displacement map:

dispalcement map

Save that, and use this as a displacement map. Result:


The last result isn’t really beautiful. But it shows how powerful the displace can be, one you know how to use it. You could use the same technuqie to create this – all you need is a better dispalceemnt map.


The possibilities with this method is almost endless. I showed you 2 examples, but what can you come up with? Comment on the Youtube video!


Video guide: