I don’t know about you but as a designer, I’ve realized over time how little I was formally taught about programs like Illustrator and Photoshop in college. When it comes to designing, I enjoy keeping things simple and using the trinity of the design industry (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) to do everything. I recently came across a great tutorial (found here) about how to create a realistic looking “grass” effect. I thought it looked incredibly difficult but turns out it’s super simple and once you learn this little technique, your mind will race with the possibilities in how you can apply it to different design projects. The best part? All you’ll need is Photoshop. No fancy 3D programs, no expensive tools, just Photoshop and Illustrator, some stock art and some time.
“Grass Is Always Greener” Tutorial:
THE BACKGROUND – You’ll be building this effect from the back upward. We’re starting with the background. Figure out what size you will want. I used a 800 x 600 px because I plan to use this online in the form of a promo ad. You can do whatever size you’d like.
Create the green radial effect. You’ll want to use a bright green/yellow color (#adbf41) and a more standard green (#328a26). In Photoshop, fill in your background with this gradient. You can play around a bit with how far or wide the gradient is. I pulled the gradient from the tip right corner to the bottom left.
Now we want to add some texture to the background. Find a good texture (a crumpled up paper bag, piece of paper works good) online or use the ones that I used from Bittbox. Pull this texture into Photoshop, change it to grayscale and then back to RGB. Duplicate this layer and add it to your green radial stage.
This layer should now be an entirely new layer on top of the background layer (the radial green layer). Set the grunge layer to overlay mode at an opacity of 70%. Now you should see a green layer that still displays the radial effect but also now looks a bit textured.
You’re not quite done yet with making the background look grunge-like. Duplicate the texture layer 2 or 3 more times. You will notice this makes your overall image a bit darker – and that’s fine. For each of these new layers, change things up a bit. Set the opacity to 20% or 30% – this is a bit of an experiment all about your personal preference. Also, rotate and flip the images differently on each layer. This gives you a very complex looking background that has more depth and complexity.
Finally, duplicate the original background (the radial green one you created at the start of the project) and move it to the top. Set the opacity to about 40%. Why? Because this will make things a bit softer and smoother and will help take care of any noticeable pixelation of the texture background.
To finish up the background you’ll want to darken the edges just a bit. Basically, you’re aiming to create a sort of spotlight on the stage area where your grassy text will be. You can do this two ways – one would be to use the burn tool in Photoshop to darken the edges somewhat. Another would be to create a new layer and with a soft-edged brush tool, use black to create a sort of “frame” around the image. You may want to blur this frame you’ve created a little bit by adding a Gaussian Blur to it (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and setting it to about 32% or so.
Save your work (but don’t merge your layers).
THE GRASSY TEXT – Ok. By now, you’ve created the background and now it’s time for the main attraction: the grassy text. You can do this two different ways. To me, the easiest way would be to do the following in Illustrator which simplifies this process tremendously. The other option is to do this in Photoshop which adds a few more steps to the design process.
You’ll want to obtain a grass image. You can find many on Flickr for free, non-commercial use. I got mine at this particular link. What you’re aiming to do is cut out from this grass image your letters. This is why, unlike the original tutorial, I suggest doing this in Illustrator and exporting the final file as a Photoshop before pulling everything together.
Choose a nice, thick font. I worked with arial but you can do whatever you want. Figure out what you want your text to read. I chose my initials/logo. I recommend using either white or yellow and setting the opacity to low.
Here’s the most time consuming part of the tutorial. You’ll want to take the text (in white or yellow) and make it partly opaque. This is your guide. Now with the pen tool selected, go around the text and go outside the lines. You’re basically picking up sprigs and pieces of the grass background. Your text won’t be clean – it’ll be quite jagged looking and that’s what you want. Depending on how many letters you have, this could take a while. In the end you should have jagged outlines of each letter. Duplicate your text outline. With your grass background, make one text outline a clipping mask. Now you can export this as a Photoshop file with a transparent background. Also, export the other text outline (without the grass background). Make it completely black (not opaque at all).
If you’re using Photoshop to outline the text you will still be using the pen tool but will also have to create and save the path you’ve created. Then you’ll need to invert the selection and copy and paste the grass into a new layer in your main document. It’s a pain. Go the illustrator route and save yourself some headache and annoyance.
Once you’ve created your text outline, you’ll be back to working Photoshop (if you’re not already). Place the jagged-edged grass text onto a new layer in the middle of your green background you created. Now we’re going to add depth to the letters. Click on the layer with your grass text, go to blending options and input the following:
Your image will look similar to this:
It looks cool but we’re about to make it look even better. Now duplicate the layer. Clear the style (right click on the new layer, scroll down and you’ll see “clear style”). We’ll be adding a new set of styles to the layer. Input the following:
Now we’re going to add a shadow to give the text some much needed emphasis. Back when you were outlining the text I told you to duplicate the outline and make it full on black with no opacity. That’s going to be the basis of our shadow. Add that to a new layer placed underneath the two other grass text layers (you want it on the bottom of the text like a real shadow). Move it slightly down or away from the text – this will give your grassy text some real depth and perception. Now add a motion blur to the black outline (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) and set the angle to 45 degrees and the distance to about 30. Set the text to anopacity of about 50%.
Duplicate this shadow layer, moving each downward at an angle to make it look as if your letters are casting a large shadow. With an eraser set to a soft edge and each of these shadow layers set to a different opacity, erase a small part of the edge of each shadow so that it’s not as severe or harsh at the edges. This is a bit of an experiment/play but in the end you should have something that looks like this:
Now, go back and duplicate the original grass text layer that has no effects on it. Move it to he layer above the shadow layers but underneath the two layers with the effects on them. With the eraser tool, erase part of the image but keep most of the edge. What we’re doing now is adding a bit more detail to the illustration and giving the text some height by making it look as if there’s some grass peaking out underneath everything. Move this layer slightly away from the edge but not too much. Use the burn tool to darken the edges.
You will have something that looks similar to this when you’re done:
You’re basically done. Now you decorate it with whatever you’d like. Like in the tutorial I adopted this from, I added some little insects to make this more nature-like. Imagine the possibilities with this tutorial: you could make this all dirt-like and have worms crawling from underneath the text; make it water-based with fish leaping above and swimming underneath; fire-like, make it bodily and add a flesh/muscle texture to make it look like an organ. The possibilities are endless and what’s best is that you can do all of this in Photoshop and Illustrator without having to use any special 3D programs or software. The final result of my work looked like this: