Blending Images with Displacement Maps in Photoshop Elements

About Displacement Maps


Think of a Displacement Map as a means for blending images. If you have a wrinkled shirt and want to add a graphic to the shirt, you want the placed image to follow the contours, highlights, and shadows of the shirt.


Using the Displacement Map filter you find in the Filter menu at Filter > Distort > Displace you can create effects that appear as though the objects were part of the original photo.


Using the Displacement Map filter you can edit images in many ways like adding zebra stripes to a giraffe, add a tattoo on a face, place graffiti on a textured wall and more. When you finish editing, the image you place on a background looks like it was originally painted on the background and follows the contour and shape of the background image.


To Create a Displacement Map do the following:


Open a File for the Background to use as the Displacement Map.

If you begin with an RGB color image you must first eliminate the color for the file we use as a Displacement Map. Choose Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color.


Blur the image slightly. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Save the file as a new file name in PSD format.



Place an Image for the Foreground Object.


Open your original RGB color image and choose File > Place or drag an object from the Graphics panel to your background image.





Simplify the Layer


If you use a vector graphic you must rasterize the layer. Right click on the top layer to open a context menu. Choose Simplify Layer.


Add the Displacement Map


Be certain the top layer where you placed the graphic image is selected and choose Filter > Distort > Displace to open the Displace dialog box. By default you see the Horizontal and Vertical Scale set to 10. This is a good starting point. Leave the default settings as they are and click OK.



Open your background image


After clicking OK, the Choose a displacement map dialog box opens. Navigate to the grayscale image you created in Step 1, select the file, and click Open.


Blend the Layers


Choose a Blending mode from the Layers drop-down menu. In our example we use Multiply and move the Opacity slider down to about 45%.



You can play with the different blending modes to create the effect you want and make Opacity adjustments as needed.


The result you achieve with the Displace filter is a more realistic blending of the layers so the object doesn’t look artificial and not simply added to a background.


Creating Displacement Maps