Use Adobe Photoshop to create an underwater text effect.

You don’t have to swim upstream to add an underwater effect to your next design. In this short tutorial, see how Adobe Senior Art Director Lidia Lukianova creates a displacement map in Adobe Photoshop to blend vector text for vivid results.

Photo composite where white letters that spell ‘DREAM’ are distorted around and behind bubbles in a water image

Take a one-minute look at Lukianova’s technique in the steps below. 

Before you start.

Use these sample images or practice with your own.    


Step 1: Prep the image

Start by creating a displacement map of the bubbles by applying a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Lukianova desaturated her image and applied a Gaussian Blur before saving the file as a new Photoshop document.

Apply a hue color saturation adjustment layer and Gaussian Blur to water layer in Adobe Photoshop

Step 2: Choose the word

Back in the original water image, Lukianova typed the word DREAM and converted the text layer to a Smart Object.

Add text to spell dream on water image, use Sofia Pro typeface, increase font size, then convert text layer to a Smart Object

Step 3: Start the effect

To form the text around the bubbles, apply the Displace filter (Filter > Distort > Displace) and adjust the settings for your desired effect. Next, when prompted, select the Photoshop document you saved earlier to use as the displacement map.

Select text layer and choose Filter, distort, displace and adjust settings to create distorted text

Step 4: Refine the look

Lukianova duplicated the water layer and moved it to the top layer to distort the bubbles around the letters. She then created a clipping mask (Layers > Make A Clipping Mask) so the water would fit around the shape of the letters. She then set the Blend Mode to Exclusion and reduced the Fill percentage. She finished the look by changing the Blend Mode of the type layer to Luminosity.

Create a Clipping Mask with the duplicated water layer and set Photoshop blending mode to Exclusion, reduce the layer Fill

Keep your creativity flowing.


Use this technique to apply texture to flat images and add depth to your compositions.

Finished photo composite is place as picture against a white wall

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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