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Displacement maps and Photoshop displace filter tutorial

displacement map pose displace filter

How to use the Displace filter and displacement maps in Photoshop CC 2017 2015 CS6 CS5 etc tutorial. You can use PSD files as displacement maps. Access the displacement map PSD files via the filter menu and distort and displace. The displacement maps / displace filter is slightly odd in that it is a two dialog filter where it asks for the scale and stretch to fit etc on one panel and then asks for the file PSD on the next (there is no preview). You can also use the displacement maps with the Photoshop displace filter with the artwork on a layer and then you can apply the displacement and then blend and combine with the original using blending modes. You can also use the displace with smart objects and you can apply multiple displace filters to create all kinds of unique displacing effects. You can also use the Photoshop displace with channels and apply different displacement maps on different channels with different settings. The displacement maps are not cast in stone and they can be modified by using other Photoshop filter effects such as twirls etc. This tutorial shows a number of ways to use the displace filter with displacement maps in Photoshop CC CS6 etc

  1. Filter menu

  2. Distort

  3. Displace

  4. Stretch to fit

  5. Repeat

  6. Scale

  7. OK

  8. Select a file to use in PSD format

PSD files and displacements

displace filter and photoshop displacement maps

The displacement maps are standard PSD files. They can be made from anything, images, type etc but you can also use displacement maps via patterns or textures. You can find ourdisplacement maps (all in PSD format) on this site for all kinds of work such as create awesome linear effects, scratching, text effects and more.


If the file is in PNG format, you can simply open the PNG file and then save it as a PSD file. It should be noted that Affinity Photo requires PNG format so the conversion is in reverse


The key thing about the displacement map is that is PSD and it is loaded via the displace filter found in the distort menu of Photoshop and it can be used once or multiple times.

  1. Open image

  2. Filter menu

  3. Distort

  4. Displace

  5. Horizontal scale

  6. Vertical scale

  7. Displacement map stretch or tile

  8. Undefined area such as wrap or repeat.

  9. OK

  10. Select the file to use for the displacement map

  11. OK


The displace filter is one of those tools that probably works best when applied multiple times. One application of the displacement maps and displace filter can look a little limited, apply it again and the magic really happens and even better, apply the magic with the displace filter combined with other filters such as noise or oil paint and you will see the tool in many new ways.


You can also combine the displacement maps with other resources as well (they are not cast in stone) such as adding addition artworks to the design (perhaps intermixed with effects) such as brush strokes

Displace filter and Photoshop layers

displace filter blending modes displacement maps photoshop

As with many filters, I find that the filters work best with a layer so before you use the filter, simply duplicate the current layer via the layer menu.


Apply the displace filter to that layer and then use the layer menu and the blending modes to blend with the original image such as select blending mode of darken such as in the image on the left.


Also in the image on the right, a circular displacement was used to create a curved cutting displace effect along with the wrap option in the displace filter


Another thing with layers, you can always remove them if you are unhappy with the result instead of the destructive displace filter effect.


Of course, you can also combine the displace filter with other Photoshop filters such as a gaussian blur and oil paint etc.


Literally millions of wonderful images can be created using the layers (and it does not need to be just one layer and one displace filter combined) as on the right


Use displacement maps as smart objects with displace

photoshop displace filter and photoshop smart objects

A key thing for me is that the displace filter can be used with Photoshop smart objects and that means instead of just applying the effect and that is that, you can use it but at the same time you can decide that you don't want it or try different settings and so on. It is a pity that you can't select the displace entry and duplicate and duplicate (so adding 10 or so filter entries), you have to manually create them


  1. Select a layer

  2. Layer and smart objects

  3. Convert

  4. Apply displace filter

  5. Apply another displace filter and so on

  6. Add adjustments to smart objects


You can also combine multiple smart filters with the smart object and also combine those effects with adjustments and layer effects to create a truly awesome effect. You can also bundle the whole thing up in a new smart object and save the result to the CC libraries.


You can also combine the displacement maps for use with the Photoshop displace filter with patterns but central to the whole thing is the PSD file (unless Adobe change their mind with the filter and allow for multiple other sources such as ones from CC libraries and PNG files as well).


Displace filter on color channels

displace filter channels photoshop

The displace filter can be used with color channels, separate color channels.


  1. Channels panel

  2. Select red channel

  3. Filter and distort and displace filter

  4. Settings and select file

  5. Select green channel

  6. Different settings and different file if you wish

  7. Blue channel etc


You can create some very interesting colorful effects with the channels and the displacement maps


Modifying displacement maps

photoshop displacement maps displace filter

You can also open the displacement maps PSD files and apply other effects to them such as blurs etc. If you want to avoid the seams then use masks / selections etc to control the effect on the edge. Or perhaps use brushes on the displacement map and only modify the center of the work.


Another option is to use the edit menu and define pattern. You can then re-size the document, perhaps make it 10 times bigger and then fill that new document with patterns and they will still be seamless. You can then save that new file as a PSD file and use that with the displace filter.


All the PSD files on this site are grayscale, you can always manipulate the image with the full RGB and then use that in the displace filter for additional features (for another tutorial)


  1. Open PSD file

  2. Edit menu

  3. Define pattern

  4. Layer menu in Photoshop

  5. New fill layer

  6. Pattern

  7. Select pattern

  8. Scale to 25%

  9. Flatten

  10. Filter menu

  11. Twirl (or another filter)

  12. File menu

  13. Save as PSD

Displacement maps and scripts

The Photoshop displacement maps / displace filter works well with scripting as you can create scripts with a randomized element, creating effects that match painting. Instead of applying 1, 1 for the scaling, using scripting this can be repeated over and over with subtle changes to the numbers to result in all number of different displacement map end effects.


The Photoshop displacement maps can be used with the displace filter to create abstract artwork in seconds. Use the wrap around option and re-apply the displace filter a number of times to displace the image in numerous ways. As mentioned, you can also create a script to randomize this and multiple displacement maps / displace filter can be used to create abstract art as well as painted effects. They also make wonderful brush strokes in Adobe ® Photoshop ®.


Other tutorials

1. how to use custom shapes to create new displacement maps in Photoshop

2. how to create /define Photoshop patterns

3. how to use Photoshop gradients to create frames / borders

Youtube video tutorials

Youtube video showing the creation of intense lines / oil painting effect in Adobe ® Photoshop ®





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Updated: July 2017