Select Page

Lesson 5 – Editing Your Lettering in Photoshop CC

Welcome to Lesson 5! Congratulations on making it this far! We’ve covered a lot of ground so far and you’ve already done so much: learned about the tools of the trade, different lettering styles, experimented with how a brush pen behaves, created your first word, and have drawn the entire alphabet, uppercase and lowercase!

I’m going to keep you on your toes and change things up a bit now. We’re going to leave our pens and paper behind and see what can be done with one of the most ubiquitous and powerful pieces of software in the design and art world – Adobe Photoshop CC.

Lesson Goal: we’re going to create a piece of lettering art with our brush pens, bring it into Photoshop, remove the background, change the colour, and place it over a photo. Here’s an example of the finished piece we’ll be creating today:

The first thing I want to say is this:

Don’t be intimidated.

Photoshop can seem overwhelmingly intimidating! I remember vividly the first time I used it – all I wanted to do was draw cartoons and there were menus and layers and alien-looking tools everywhere! I accidentally turned a layer off and thought I’d lost my file forever. ?

The problem here is that Photoshop is so powerful, so malleable, that it can be used for almost countless design/art/photography/lettering/movie-making/animating tasks, and its menus and functions reflect this.

Let’s stay calm though, as I have great news for you! This is the secret – we want to use Photoshop for LETTERING! Which means we can ignore 99% of Photoshop’s tools and functions, and focus only on those that matter to us. Woohoo!

However, this lesson does assume some basic understanding of Photoshop – what layers are, how to open and save files, the general theory behind working with images. If you’d like me to create a tutorial starting from the very beginning, covering all the basics of Photoshop and working up let me know in the comments!

Let’s get started.

*     *     *

The first thing to do is to draw a word! Using your new skills in creating shapes with your brush pen, as well as your practice with each letter of the alphabet, choose a moderately short word and draw it with your brush pen. I’ve chosen the word ‘imagine’.

Don’t be discouraged if your word doesn’t come out how you’d like it to the very first time – remember this is drawing a word, not writing it, and it may take a few re-draws until you’re happy with it! I filled 3 pages in my sketchbook with ‘imagines’ before I was happy, tweaking and changing each one as I went!

Great! Now that you have your word, take a photo of it – an iPhone-level camera is perfect. The trick here is to try and get an even balance of light – no shadows cast by your head or your hand holding your phone! Here’s what mine looks like, completely un-edited, it even has my thumb in the corner: The word imagine written on paper Transfer this photo to your computer in whichever way is easiest for you and let’s get this Photoshop show on the road! First things first, let’s get this guy into Photoshop! I’m just going to drag mine directly on top of the Photoshop icon.

We now want to cut out just the lettering part from the photo. For this we’re going to use the Polygonal Lasso tool. Select it either by pressing the (L) key on your keyboard, or clicking this icon in the icon list on the left side of your Photoshop window.

With the Polygonal Lasso tool selected, click a rough outline around your word, making sure to join up your selection with your original starting point.

With your selection still active (the blinking outline around your word), open the Edit menu using the button in the menu at the top of your screen, then click Cut, and finally, open the Edit menu again and click Paste. Alternatively, feel free to use the corresponding Copy and Paste keyboard shortcuts if you prefer!

You’ll notice a second Layer has appeared in Layers panel on the right hand side of your screen. This is a good thing, and we only want to keep one of these layers! Drag the layer that does not have your cut out lettering piece on it (it will most likely be called Background) into the tiny Photoshop rubbish bin icon in the bottom right of your screen:

Great! This is looking good. The next step is to begin removing the actual letters from their paper background.

Click Image > Adjustments > Levels in the top menu. This will bring up the Levels control panel. Move the sliders until the yellow-ness of your paper becomes as white as you can make it. I usually move the far right slider towards the middle, and then the middle slider slightly to the right. This makes your paper pure white, and your brush strokes as dark as possible. This contrast is exactly what we want! Check it out here:

Now that our image is entirely either black or white, we can tell Photoshop to remove anything white so that we’re left with just our brush strokes! Double-click on the thumbnail of your layer in the layers panel. This will open the Layer Style panel. At the bottom of this new panel you’ll see two sliders. Grab the right hand handle of the top slider and slowly slide it to the left, until all the white’s disappeared from your image. Just a small movement is needed here – it won’t take much!

There’s a second step here, to make sure you catch every last bit of distortion and white/grey particles from your photo. Holding the Alt/Option key, click and drag the same slider again – only half of the handle will move this time! Drag this down to about halfway.

We’re almost there!

This has only blended the white background, technically it’s still there, just hidden. So the last step here is to properly remove it.

All you need to do is click the New Layer icon – it’s right next to Photoshop’s rubbish bin icon down the bottom right. You’ll notice an empty new layer appear above your brush strokes layer. Right-click this new layer, and click Merge Down. And that’s it! It will look like nothing has changed, but this step is crucial, especially once we bring in a background image in the next step!

We’re right at the fun stuff now! We have our brush strokes in Photoshop, separated from the paper they were originally drawn on, and ready to be placed over a photo! I’m going to use an image from Unsplash, one of the absolute best websites for royalty-free photography. This is the one I’ve chosen, but get creative here! Choose a photo that matches the word you chose to draw!

Bring your chosen photo into the same Photoshop document your lettering is in either by clicking File > Place Embedded or by dragging it directly in, and make sure to confirm its placement by clicking the tick up the top of your Photoshop window.

You may find that your photo’s layer is on top of your lettering layer, so just click and drag them into the correct order if this is the case.

Last step! We’re going to colour our brush strokes to match the photo we’ve chosen!

Make sure your lettering layer is selected by clicking on it in the layers panel, and then click the tiny ‘fx’ button down near the rubbish bin. On the menu that appears click ‘Color Overlay’. This will bring up the colour panel. Click on the small rectangle of colour and experiment to your heart’s content!

How cool is this! Instant colouring of your brush strokes, doesn’t matter that you originally drew them in black ink! Ahh the magic of Photoshop.

Experiment until you find a colour that works well with your chosen background photo (I’ve gone with a white), and then click OK to confirm.

WOOHOO! You’ve done it! You can now use Photoshop in your lettering process! ?  I’m so excited for you! Feel free to make any final adjustments or movements to each layer, and then this image is ready to be exported and put on Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest – anywhere!

I’d absolutely love to see your creations, so leave them in the comments below! I’ll put mine right here. I’ve added some shadows to my piece – let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to make a lesson on how to do this in the future!




This is only one way to digitally work with your hand lettering. Next lesson we’ll be working with Adobe Illustrator to explore another!


I hope you enjoyed this lesson ? I had so much fun making it. See you in 2 days!


Want 20% off the Lettering Studio: Complete Essentials video course? It’s the next step after these free lessons! 16 modules, covering multiple styles and tools, from paper to Photoshop and Illustrator, and more! The preorder price of $239 ends in: