Create an Easy Smoke Type Effect Using the Smudge Tool

Create an Easy Smoke Type Effect Using the Smudge Tool

Recently I was in need of a method to create a quick smoke effect for an ad that included text within the puffs of smoke. I found that the effect could be easily created by using the Smudge Tool in Photoshop to distort the text around the smoke. Let’s take a look at how this can be accomplished.

First up… Here’s a look at what will be creating.

To create the smoke, I’m using a free custom brush that you can download here.

Step 1

Create a new document 800×800 at 72dpi. Start off with a nice subtle textured background. I’m using a pattern from this set, but you can choose any subtle texture you wish. We’re using a texture so that the smoke and type will stand out and look separated from background.

Let’s enhance the background a bit with a little light. With a large soft black brush I painted around the edges on a new layer. Then with an even larger soft white brush, on a new layer, I painted a large dot in the middle, and set this layer’s blend mode to Overlay.

Step 2

Now let’s add some type. I used League Gothic as the type face. Go ahead and rasterize the type layer by (Ctrl+Clicking) the layer and choosing “Rasterize Type” from the pop up menu.

Apply a (Filter | Blur | Gaussian Blur ) with a radius around 2 or 3 to the type.

Reduce the type layer’s opacity to 85%. Now select each letter with the Rectangular Marque Tool (M) and cut and paste them onto new layers. When you’re done you should have a layer for each letter. Now offset the letters similar to what I have done below.

Once you have the letters placed you can merge them back to one layer again, by selecting all of the layers and pressing (Cmd+E).

Step 3

Using the custom brush set we downloaded earlier, choose a brush and ad some smoke to the document on a new layer above the type.

Back to the rasterized type layer…  Choose the Smudge Tool from the Tools Panel.

In the top option bar reduce the Smudge Tool’s strength to 20%. Then begin to paint the edges of the letters in the direction of the smoke swirls. Note that it may take several passes with the brush to bend and shape the stroke the way you want it.

Continue this process, changing the size of your brush, until portions of the letters blend with the smoke swirls.

Even more smudging… I also used a very low opacity Eraser Tool (E) to remove just a little bit of the letters in certain areas to reveal more of the smoke swirls.

Final Adjustment

To give the image a bit more contrast, I added a Levels Adjustment layer above all other layers. I adjusted the levels as follows.

Below is my final composition.


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Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown is a graphic designer who loves working with various media. He combines traditional art styles with a little experimentation and digital flare. Nathan's works have contained everything from ink and paint to leaves and a box of dirt. Everything is fare game when it comes to his approach to art. Nathan lives in Austin, Texas where he has been working as a designer for 10 years.


(+add yours)
  1. Chris

    Very easy and badass lookin’ :D
    I tried something like this last summer but i didn’t end so good like this time. :D
    Maybe because i insisted on the smudge and didn’t erase a bit from the letters.

  2. wow that’s a cool effect!! :)

    • ????????????????????????????????????????????

  3. Chris

    I was wondering, you got great tutorials and you know to explane for everybody.
    Maybe your next tutorial could be about virtual tuning? :D
    That would be great.
    The virtual tuning is not so easy how it looks like. :)

  4. even though it is an easy tutorial the smoke effect is very realistic!

  5. Great and easy effect.
    Something that could be used for a large graphic piece like a wallpaper or flyer.

  6. Tutorial to make smoky effect is really very creative. Smudge Tool of the Photoshop mostly is used for making background things of the photo blurry for giving most important to the foreground image but this type of above effects will possible to make with this tool with your own creativity.

  7. wow , what a nice use of smudge tool….
    thanks for sharing…

  8. Seth Rhea

    This worked out great! Can’t wait to teach my design class the same tutorial…

  9. Used this for my photoshop banner. Great tutorials. Plan on incorporating this into many of my paintings and illustrations!

  10. wow very nice smoke effect

  11. Very easy indeed!! Smoke type effect is using many designer to make different type of impression and I’m glad to learn creating method of smoke effects being here. Thanks a lot mate for remarkable presentation.

  12. Awesome Tutorial! :)

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  16. Viz

    This is the first brush set that I have downloaded. I figured out where to put the file once it is downloaded but I can’t figure out how to access the brush set from the brush palette.

  17. oliver

    hey man could you please do me a design like this but i want it to say different words could you get back to me ASAP please thank you oliver

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  19. SeaQuat

    i used that concept of smudge tool as the steam of hot tea! ;) many many thanks!!! :D

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  21. Ana

    ohhh no, I was doing this lesson and all went great until I came to use smoke brush – it said that it is not compatible with version of photoshop I have – CS4. Is there any other way I can do it. Thanks in advance.


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  32. Susan

    Awesome! This was the first brush I downloaded into PS. It took a bit of detective work on how to use a brush but once I figured it out, I got the “smoke” I wanted. Thank you for the great tutorial. Perhaps this additional info will help someone. Once you download the brush move it into the Photoshop file Presets > Brushes. Make sure you logout and then log back into PS. To find the Smoke Brush, pick the Brush icon on the right bar (can with brushes). I am using CS6. Choose the brush icon on the left bar. The Brush Presets are all lit up. But which ones are the smoke? They are the ones labeled 1024 and 1200. If they aren’t loaded, click on the square icon that looks like a square palette at the bottom of the brush flyout square. The Preset Manager will pop up. Click on Load… and then go find where you put the .ABR brush. I put the brush in the wrong copy of PS so it couldn’t find it originally until I found this preset manager. Hope this gives some clues if you are looking for the brush.
    Thanks again for a really well done tutorial.

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