Texture overlays are a great way to add additional depth and dimension to your images. It’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t work with every image. The technique though, has been around long before Photoshop: in the past you might have sandwiched two transparencies (or two negatives) together and printed them as a single image.
What's a texture overlay?
It’s simply an image of some surface with an interesting texture, pattern or colour. In digital terms you add it as an additional layer in your editing program. You can buy packages of texture images from many sources on the internet, or create your own: weathered wood, peeling paint, fabrics such as canvas or burlap, worn leather, carpet, the pattern of burned on grease a well-used roasting pan… the possibilities are endless. A texture overlay cannot be counted on to turn a weak image into a gallery piece, but it can sometimes rescue an image that isn’t quit there, making it into something more interesting.
Getting started with texture overlays
If you have a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, you already have access to a great starter set of textures (if you don’t: Why not? For the price of a couple of lattes a month, you can have the best post-processing software available). In Photoshop CC, go to Help>Browse Add-ons. This will open your browser and take you to the Adobe Add-ons web page. On the right, below the featured Add-ons, enter “Adobe Paper Textures” in the search box.
On the next pages follow the instructions to download and install the “Adobe Paper Textures Pro” add-on. It will install itself into Photoshop automatically.
Back in Photoshop, over on the right, you will find a new item in the Properties panel. Click the blue “fly” icon to access the Paper textures properties sheet.
Like the texture, but prefer to retain the original colours in your image? Select the texture layer and de-saturate it (Image>Adjustment>Desaturate)
Just be sure to select the Texture layer (circled in red above) before you desaturate, or you may desaturate your image as well.
Here are a few examples, starting with the opening image.
The final image reminds of an old wet-plate collodion image from the 1800’s. I liked the effect since I could imagine a photographer shooting this around the turn of the last century would very likely have looked out on this scene much as it appears here.
Finally, the best way to learn to work with textures is to simply pick an image, and play. Have fun!