How to design a grunge styled portrait in Photoshop

How to design a grunge styled portrait in Photoshop

Today we will learn a technique that can be used to create nice portraits with your grunge textures. We will use many selection tools and masks to isolate objects. This is a tutorial for beginners who are approaching to an intermediate level.

Preview of the result:


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Support material:

Step 1

Open the photo of the lady in Photoshop and go to Image>Image size. Switch the width value to 2000px and make sure that “constrain proportions” is checked. We have resized the image because too large and it could be more difficult to find a texture of the same size.

Step 2

With the Lasso tool select the head of the lady and add a layer mask (click on the “add layer mask button” at the bottom of the layer’s window). Layer mask is the best way to isolate an object without lose pixels. This is not a simple argument for Photoshop beginners, and I suggest you to read some articles about this topic that is fundamental if you want to seriously work with Photoshop.

Step 3

Select the lady’s layer (not the mask) and go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold. Put 90 as threshold value. Now you can use the erase tool to eliminate unwanted pixels, or (the better method) select the mask and remove unwanted pixels with a black brush. (When you use layer mask, black eliminate while white restore the image).

Step 4

The aim of this step is to isolate black parts of the image. So make sure to have black as foreground color and go to select>Color range. Set fuzziness to 200 and hit OK.

Step 5

In the Paths window click on the right arrow and select Make Work Path with tolerance 1,0. Now in the layer window create a new layer, grab the pen tool and right click on the canvas>Fill Path. Call this layer “lady black” and hide the other lady’s layer. Voila! White has disappeared. You can also delete the path.

Step 6

Create a new layer and with a black brush start painting over the white parts in the hair of the lady. Also create a new layer, fill it with white and place it below the “lady black” layer.

Step 7

Create a new layer and use splatter brushes to paint around the hair of the lady. This is my result:

Step 8

Paste in the texture. At this point we have to play again with selections and layer mask: with the texture layer selected, ctrl+click on the “lady black” layer to select its pixels. Then shift+ctrl+click on the layers where you’ve painted on with the brushes to select also their pixels. You should obtain something like this:

Step 9

Add a layer mask to the texture layer. Now you can hide all the other layers except the white background.

Step 10

Now we can add a gradient adjustment layer (click on the “create new adjustment layer” at the bottom of the layer window and select “gradient”). You can choose one of the default gradients or create a new one with the colors you prefer. Set the gradient layer to overlay. Finished!


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Howdy! I'm a self taught graphic designer who loves to create amazing stuff using every kind of media. I'm currently living and working in Italy.


(+add yours)
  1. Marvin

    Wow, amazing! Thanks for posting

  2. Awesome brush set, and tutorial! I check back here daily.

  3. Jo

    Great tutorial…thanks for posting this up. I can’t click on ‘make a work path’ though (step 5) because it isnt highlighted/able to be clicked on.. any idea where im going wrong? do i need to change some settings or something? Thankssssss.

    • Hi Jo,
      you have to activate the selection at first (select>color range) and then in the path window you should be able to click on “make work path”

  4. Jo

    oh yeah, if i do that i can click work path. Thankkkks. What options do i have to click on in the colour range window though..cos i now can’t seem to delete the white.. sorry for all the questions.

    • before click on color range set black as foreground color (in this way color range will select only black areas). Later you can click on the mask

      • Jo

        done :)
        although how do you get the gradient at the end to mix under the black image, all i have is a layer of gradient and the layer of the face and dont know how to combine them so the colour comes through the black and creates that effect? Thanks again for your help.

      • Jo you simply have to set the gradient layer to overlay. I forgot to insert this step in the tutorial. Now you have your grunge portrait!

  5. I did my gradient on soft light, I figured there was a step missing.

    This is my result:

  6. Here is my result, i did it on A3 size and i’ll print it soon and add it to my gallery [my room] :D

    Thanks sebastiano!

  7. Oh nice picuture,very work, I did make here, thanks guy

  8. NuKeBoY

    hey this looks very well, i did one too =)

  9. WAUW! This is just a REALLY nice ´tutorial!!!
    Thank you!

  10. BEN


    • Hi Ben,
      I’m planning to launch a series of photoshop tutorials for beginners, so that you can learn the basics and later try to follow more advanced tutorials.
      So stay tuned!

      • BEN

        thanks a lot. appreciate it. i was able to do the fantasy photo manipulation and the elegant text effect but I cant figure this one out. maybe i’ll try one more time.


      • BEN

        where is the paths window? is it next to layer and channels?

      • Yes (windows>paths)

  11. I’m stuck on step 8. When I ctrl + click and then shift+ctrl+click, I still dont have anything selected. Its just showing that I have those layers selected but I see no paths or anything. I cant figure out why. What am I missing here?

    • Hi mate,
      You have to ctrl+click on the layer in the layers window, not on the canvas. Generally layer winow is by default on the right-bottom. Anyway you can go to Window>Layers to make it visible.

      When you ctrl+click on a layer (in the layers window) you select the pixels of what is inside the layer.

      I hope this helps you to go on

    • Tina

      Make sure you click on the Layer Thumbnail, which is the box that shows that preview of your layer beside the layer name. Otherwise if you ctrl+clicked on a layer you’ll just be selecting multiple layers and not their pixels.

  12. Christina

    Great Tutorial! I love grunge effects and this is definitely adding this to my arsenal and will be following your blog. Thanks.

  13. Andi
  14. Brilliant tutorial! I actually found it a lot easier by doing this: in Step 2, make multiple copies of the lassoed and layer-masked layer. Set each layer to overlay, then one at a time adjust the Threshold on each layer so you can emphasise various parts of the face. This works if there isn’t perfect contrast on the original image, as was the case with me. Not sure I can post a link on this, but my take is on Flickr at:

  15. Step8

    IS not clear.
    I dont understand..
    The pixels do not come up.
    Did what you stated to do.. and it still wont come up.

  16. I LOOOOOOVE THIS TUT! Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    Here is my result very very happy with it:

  17. Nice tutorial, but I was a bit confused at times about what to do, probably because I didn’t read carefully enough

    This is my result (I feel like it still needs something more):
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Envy =-.

  18. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this one! I love the result.

  19. Jess Angell

    This is beautiful! I’m a beginning student and just finished a project with your tutorial. Thank you!

  20. Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

    I came across your site as I was looking for some good PS tutorials that I can go over during the summer. You have made my summer very very productive.


  21. ROWer

    can someone help me ? cant do step 8 im selected pixels and did mask on texture layer, but my face is still with texture and hair looks same…. (black)

    • is the texture layer above the face one?

  22. Azi

    uhmmm…i don’t get come after I applied threshold of 90% to my image…it didn’t turned into a pure black and white picture?

    i need help..

    thanks! =)

  23. chad

    NEED help on step 8. Can you word it better? my texture layer is above all the other layers.. is this correct?

    • Yes, texture is on top. When you ctrl+click on the brushes layer you select their pixels (with texture layer still selected). At this point add a mask.

  24. ulises bolivar

    gracias por el tutorial..

  25. arno

    if i selected the layers i cant click on “ädd a mask” What did i wrong ? The layers are in the right order. Can anyone help me

    • Hi arno,
      You have to select a single layer (or a group) if you want to add a layer mask. Anyway I want to inform you that I’m going to publish a tutorial about mask for the “photoshop for beginners” series

  26. roman

    it was great …………………. thank you, really easy to learn from here

  27. Emilia

    I really liked this tutorial, but I used a picture of my cat, and some other texture and brush that I had on my computer. I couldn’t get the select thing on the layer window, so I merged the layers instead and then applied the texture on a layer mask, but inverted, and this is my result:

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Emilia,
      Just seen your work on DA. Great result!

      • Emilia

        Thanks! I’m still thinking on a catch phrase for that image, it will make a great t-shirt. Thanks for sharing the tricks!

  28. Luke

    Awesome tutorial – got some brushes for myself on the way which was cool. But do you remember what texture you used? (Did you pay for it or..?)

  29. ulises

    excelete tutorial

  30. great tutorial. I’ve done my image here

    • Hi sunisa ito,
      Really nice. I’ve noticed you’ve eliminated all the elements of the face but not the eyes, so I suggest you to eliminate the bottom area of the hair so that hair and eyes are aligned at the bottom.

      Anyway nice result ;-)

  31. solaima

    real good stuff waiting to see more

  32. steve

    hi…great tutorial.
    but i do not get how to add the texture i suppose to download it from somewhere.
    sorry i am new to this.

  33. Hi Steve,

    Yes you need to download the texture. You could use one of our resources, a free sample is provided with each pack. Once downloaded the texture, go to open>and select the texture

  34. steve

    thanks for the help!!!

  35. Osvaldo

    Sebastiano: is the re a tut to learn how to create the brushes? they look so great and it will be cool to learn how to do that.

    regards :)

  36. Ron

    Hi.. about Jo’s number 5 step.. what selection do i have to select t activate? Do I have to select the SELECTION or IMAGE? or under it are WHITE, GRAYSCALE, BLACK and QUICKMASK. I’m just new to photoshop.. :) Thanks in advance..

    • Hi Ron, after have selected the black area using the color range tool (stap 4) then you can go on with step 5 to turn the selection into a path (with the pen tool as explained in step 5)

  37. Ron

    hey! Thanks man! you’re so fast.. :) by the way here’s what i came up.. I kind of did some experiment of colors. I also used different brushes that I have downloaded.. :) Great tutorial I’d say.. :)

  38. Lane

    I have adobe photoshop elements 6.0 and i have a tough time with layer masks… I don’t know if the older version even has that option?

    • I really loved ur home and ready to be adopetd!! Love u all! + There were another diy involving a phone charger and it was like a small box witout lid. I think this one is more simple, no box-y thing around. -I still didnt finish that english course i killed language,ok- See u!!

  39. Thank you for great tut. Here is mine work thnx to you:

  40. Chelsea

    Hi I can’t get step 8 for some reason. Once i paste the texture, it does not show the splatter outline, only the outline of the person. And then I select all the layers on the layer window and I try to create the mask like it says, but it won’t let me. What am I doing wrong? Thanks for the tutorial!

  41. Props to Sebastiano! Great and Simple Tut. Will definitely put this under favorites just in case :)

    Check out my rendition and if you have time my other works of art! Woohoo :D

  42. chill
  43. malinda

    thx 4 da tutorial… gre8!!!! bt i cnt get on with da step 8…. how to select da outlines of da layers???/

  44. i like your tutorial so much and i do it thank you

  45. Really nice..!

  46. Thanks man bro!

  47. cool tut!
    here’s what i came up with.

  48. Michael John Shadows

    this is the tutorial to look but certainly in step 5 if I have photoshop windows that I have to give buttons or simply click I click on the path of work and the next step I have to do, thanks for the question

  49. Michael John Shadows

    It is the button to select route of work helps please, thank you

  50. s.maja

    Can you explain Step 7 in more detail?

  51. Dan

    Any advice on using the splatter brushes? I can’t seem to get the desired effect. I have tried different brushes, different sizes, painting, dabbing…to no avail.


    Great tutorial, I am just emerging from beginner to lower level intermediate and this tutorial was SO easy to follow!

    • Sure… Get a good quality brush set. My guess, is that’s probably the trouble. Make sure it is high resolution, with good splatter effects.

  52. shehzad

    hi, i am a newbie and i am facing problem with step 3.. cn u explain how to remove unwanted pixels with a brush???

  53. Sunny Anand

    Sebastiano: It’s really a very interesting n creative tutorial. But actually, there’s a humor part also, in my case!!
    Let me just give you a short story about the humor part!! I just came across your tutorial and I found it really a very artistic n beautiful too. so, I just went through all your steps(it was kinda easy after that…..), and I started searching for specific kind of image, that highlights the beautiful hair of the lady as well as its perspective look, coz I thought it will look great on that kind of images.
    so, I browsed through lots of images, but hardly could any delight me. about 2 hours I spent for lady image and another 3 hours browsing, installing n checking for the exact type of splatter brushes you used!!

    But still I couldn’t find even one…

    at last, once again, being very tired and hopeless, I came to read through your steps, than suddenly I noticed the Support Material!!
    Ohh!! I was really very happy n excited once more and couldn’t control my laughing aloud yet!!
    What a utter waste of time it was!
    all because of my lack of observation!!

    But few things I learned from your this Incredible tutorial, somethings about your personality!!
    you seems to me a very passionate, traditional(coz of your effect and color selection), silent and non-violent(coz of the contrast you put in your color) and a genius creative artist(coz of all the steps you makes so easier for us to follow later)
    Hats of to you!

    And interestingly I did learn one more thing about me!! that….. I’m just your opposite!!
    I’ve gotta improve a lot.

    by the way, Thank you so much for your very beautiful tutorial and just now I completed my work on this and please I request you to just have a glance at my work, so that my all those precious hours should not go waste!!
    And please…… do try give me my feedback’s, it maters to me a lot.

  54. Lois

    It got confusing at some points, but I think that’s due to me being pretty new to Photoshop. Overall great tutorial, I got it done in the end and am very happy with the result!

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