Putting an Image into Type

filling type with an image

Last month, we had a total of 11 people ask how to put an image or background texture into typography. It's a popular question and we usually reply via email, so we decided to just do the tutorial for all.

It's really a simple operation -- been around since Photoshop version 2 -- but there are a number of ways to do it depending on what further operations you plan. By the way, this same procedure works in Photoshop Elements as well as in Photoshop 6 to CS.

Clipping Group Method

This is a very simple method utilizing version 7 and CS Clipping Group mechanism. No need to show the Elements version here, the instructions are exactly the same. The reason we like this one is you can change your mind at any time, and change both the type and the image within the type.

Nutshell: The clipping group is an invisible bond between two layers wherein the layer below "clips" the background away from the layer on top. It's as simple as that. They can be grouped or ungrouped. You can easily position the clipped image within the clipping.

Prep the file

In our example here, we actually opened the image file as our work file and set the type layer above the image. This gave us a visual idea of setting up the type. Later though, we'll be shifting the image layer up, on top of the type layer. You can start with a new file though.

Open a new work file and select the Type Tool (T) to set your type. We recommend something fairly fat and heavy to allow enough space to actually see the image within the letters.

Now open the image file and with the Move Tool (V) simply drag the image over into the work file. It will appear there on its own layer. If you want it to arrive there perfectly centered, then hold down the Shift key while dragging. Ideally, the image should be larger than the type you plan to fill.

With that new layer still the active layer,
Select Menu: Layers > Group with Previous
The image will immediately take the shape of the type. You will have "clipped" the background away -- or at least 'hidden' it from view.

Here, we used an image of food, and here you can see the results. Note the layer thumbnail looks indented and shows the tell-tale arrow down to indicate it is "grouped" with the layer below it.

Note also if you select the type layer, you can easily move the type around and position the image with the Move Tool (V)... likewise with the image layer. Sweet. And, if you don't like it or would like to try another image, return to the Layers menu with the image layer active and you'll see the menu item has changed to UnGroup.

The Paste Into Method

Remember that Photoshop has two "paste" modes. Well, actually it has several, but the "Paste Into" is particularly helpful in this kind of situation.
Nutshell: Paste Into simply pastes the copied image "into" the currently active selection. You must have a selection for it to work.

Copy the image to be put into the type.
Open a new work file and select the Type Tool (T) to set your type. Again, something fairly fat and heavy would be appropriate..

With the type layer active, simply get the Move Tool (V) and Command/Click (Ctrl/Click) the type layer, to make the type an active selection, then
Select Menu: Edit > Paste Into.

paste into Presto, the image will be pasted INTO the type. Well, actually not.
Observe in this screen capture that Photoshop has now created a new layer with the pasted-in image along with a layer mask. Sweet.

This time the layers are "linked" by the little chain links which appear between the thumbnails. This locks them together so that any changes occurring to one affects the other. You can click that link to break the relationship and then either is editable. In fact, this new mask can be edited just like any layer mask.

Understanding the thumbnails: This layer now has a Layer Thumbnail and the Layer Mask Thumbnail. Note that either component of this masked layer can be modified simply by clicking on its thumbnail. To modify either simply click on it. In this screen capture we compare both. Notice that the currently Active thumbnail has a double border around it -- a visual clue that it's the selected, active part of the layer for editing.

Cookie Cutter Method

Okay, one last method, the Cookie Cutter. This method has been around as long as digital graphics have been around, and this was the way we put an image into type way back in Photoshop version 2.5.

Nutshell: Any active selection can become a cookie cutter. Delete to empty the selection, Option/Delete (alt/delete) to fill the selection. Simple.

Cmd/Click (Ctrl/Click) the Type Layer to make the type an active selection.
Select the layer with the image you want in the type
Select > Invert the Selection to select the background
Move Tool (V), Delete

You've now 'filled' the type by using the type selection as a cookie cutter to remove the background! The type is now a filled, colored entity with the image composing the pixels on the layer. Move it around, put it on another background if you wish. The only down side here is that it's no longer 'live' type (it's now rastered type) and it's not editable. What you see is what you get.

BONUS ROUND: Variations on the theme...

thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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