How To Add Texture & Overlays In Photoshop (Step By Step)

When your photo feels flat and as if something is missing, you can add textures in Photoshop to spice up the image. This creative technique adds more depth and character to your photos by simply changing the layer blending mode of any texture layer. Beyond textures, you can also consider adding overlays to quickly add new elements to your images, like lighting flares or sparks. So let’s take a look at exactly how to add texture or overlay effects to your images in Photoshop!

Now before you get started, if you are looking for free textures or overlays to use, I recommend trying Freepik, Unsplash, and Vecteezy to start.

How To Apply Texture In Photoshop

Adding texture to an image is easy and only requires a few steps. Once you’ve selected the image and texture you plan to use, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Open An Image In Photoshop

First, you’ll have to add the image you want to use by clicking the Open button at the start screen or by heading to File > Open.

Select your image, and it will appear on the document. 

In the Layers panel, the image layer appears as the Background Layer. Click the lock icon to the right of the layer to unlock the layer, and the name will change to Layer 0.

This gives you full access to edit this layer.

Step 2: Open The Texture As A New Layer

Next, you need to add the texture you’ll use as an overlay on the image. You can do this by dragging the file over from your files and onto the document. It will appear on top of your image.

Because textures come from standard image files, it may help you to rename the layer Texture Layer for clarity. You can rename a layer by double-clicking on its name and typing the new name in the box.

Step 3: Ensure The Texture Is Above The Image In The Layer Stack

The order of stacks in a layer tells Photoshop which layers will appear in what order on the document. This important part of the process ensures the texture will properly blend on top of the image; otherwise, the texture is hidden behind the photo.

If the texture layer is at the bottom of the stack, click on it in the Layers panel and drag it to the top.

This will ensure you can blend the texture seamlessly with the image.

Step 4: Adjust The Size And Positioning Of The Texture

Some texture files might not be the right size, or you may want to move a texture so that it sits on the image in a specific way. So, once you’ve added the texture and moved it on top of your image, you can click and drag to move it around on your document using the Move Tool (V).

Sometimes, the size of the Texture layer isn’t big enough to cover the entire image. This may make the image look strange, as you’ll likely notice the contrast between the areas covered by the Texture and those that aren’t.

You can alter the size by heading to Edit > Transform > Scale and then dragging the toggles along the sides of the layer. You can even drag the Texture so that it goes outside the image’s borders a bit to ensure the entire image is covered by the texture.

Step 5: Change Layer Blending Mode

At the moment, the Texture sits on top of the image preventing the image from being seen. The image will be blocked until we set the layers to blend. To blend the layers, ensure the texture layer is still selected and click the drop-down for Blending Mode.

Here you’ll see the various blending modes available to blend the image with the texture. The blending mode that looks best with your specific project will depend on your image and its colors, contrast, exposure, and textures. 

Usually, the blending modes that work best for adding texture to images are Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Linear Burn, Darker Color, and Overlay. However, feel free to play with the different blending modes to find what works best for you.

For this image, I’ll use Linear Burn, which produces the evenest effect for the particular image I’m working with. Even with this blending mode, the texture on the picture is quite harsh at the moment, but we’ll tone it down in the next step.

Step 6: Adjust The Opacity To Your Liking

Finally, we can adjust the strength of the Texture over the image using the Opacity slider. Next to the Blending Mode drop-down at the top of the Layers Panel, you’ll see an Opacity Slider. You can drag the toggle until the texture appears at your desired strength. You can use this to create a more subtle effect.

You’ll see the image change as you go. With the texture layer’s opacity turned down a bit, the result is the antique effect I was going for.

How To Use Overlays In Photoshop

Applying an overlay to an image in Photoshop is similar to adding texture. Both are technically image overlays, but overlays typically have a black background that you remove from the image to keep only some aspects of the overlay — like light leaks or bokeh. This means there are a few additional steps to consider when adding an overlay to an image.

Step 1: Open An Image In Photoshop

First, open up your image by clicking the Open button or heading to File > Open and selecting the picture from your files.

The image will appear in the document.

You’ll see the image as a locked Background Layer in the layers panel. Click the lock icon to unlock the image and change the layer to Layer 0.

Step 2: Open The Overlay As A New Layer

Now, drag the overlay file from your files to the document. It will sit on top of the image.

Just like adding textures to images, adding overlays requires the overlay layer to sit on top of the image layer in the layer stack. If it isn’t already, click and drag the overlay layer to move it on top of the image layer in the Layers panel.

Step 3: Adjust The Size And Positioning Of The Overlay

Now you can move the overlay layer to the correct position. If you need to adjust the scale of the overlay, you can use the shortcut Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac) to activate the Transform Tool.

Drag the toggles along the border of the overlay until it sits where you’d like over the image. 

Keep in mind only the black background of the overlay will be removed while the other elements will remain, so it may not need to fully cover the image if you’d only like the elements in one area. Just make sure it looks seamless.

Step 4: Change The Blend Mode To Screen

Now, head to the Layers panel, and click the blend mode drop-down at the top of the panel.

Then, select Screen as the blending mode.

This will remove the black in the overlay and keep only the remaining elements — the sparks in the example below. 

Your image has been enhanced by the overlay. If needed, you can adjust the overlay’s opacity or go on to make further edits to your image.

Adding textures and overlays to your photos is a fun way to spice up any edit in Photoshop. Luckily it’s a lot easier to do than how it might appear at first glance!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. You can view my photography portfolio here.

These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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