Use Adobe Photoshop to create a tattoo composite.

Tattoos have existed for centuries and last forever, but fashions change frequently. Before taking a seat at your nearest tattoo parlor, learn how graphic artist Erica Larson uses Adobe Photoshop to apply a virtual tattoo in a few simple steps.

Photo composite showing top of woman’s back with a tattoo of a snake and a rose applied to her right shoulder

Take a quick one-minute look at Larson’s composite technique in the steps below.

Before you start.

Use these sample images or practice with your own.    


Step 1: Prep your image

Start by opening the model photo in Photoshop and move the tattoo art wherever you’d like. In the Layers panel, Larson set the Blend Mode of the tattoo layer to Multiply and reduced the opacity to meld the tattoo onto the model’s shoulder.

Add photoshop tattoo art image as new layer to model image and set blending modes to multiply

Step 2: Clean up

Next, Larson added a layer mask to the tattoo. With the layer mask selected, she used the Brush tool and painted with black to hide those areas of the tattoo that are off the shoulder.

Add Photoshop mask to tattoo layer and brush to hide areas of tattoo that extend off the shoulder

Step 3: Realistic lighting

To create a realistic lighting effect on the tattoo, Larson reduced the brush opacity to 10 percent and painted with black over the part of the image she wanted to highlight.

Lower brush opacity and paint over layer mask to simulate realistic lighting

Step 4: Wrap around

Fitting the tattoo around the model’s contours is key. First, unlink the tattoo image from its mask. Next, click on the tattoo thumbnail to edit the image independently of its mask. To finish, select Edit > Transform > Warp, and drag the grid and handles to warp the tattoo wherever you want.

Use photo warp tools to fit image on to contours of the model’s back and shoulder

Step 5: Blend in

To make the tattoo look as realistic as possible, Larson selected the tattoo layer and chose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. She then adjusted the radius to create a subtle blur.

Before state on the left shows tattoo with no blur, after state on the right shows tattoo with Gaussian Blur filter applied

New skills, new tats?

Experiment with tattoo designs like Larson’s to see how they’ll look on you or your clients—no needle required.

Final photo composite with tattoo art blended on model’s shoulder is placed on an album cover

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Create beautiful images with Photoshop brushes, Content-Aware Fill, and the many tools photographers rely on.

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