Create a Funky Retro Wavy Text Effect in Photoshop


This is what we’ll be creating. You can click on the first image to see the full-scale version.


Preview 2


Step 1: Creating the shapes

We are going to start by creating a new 1200px x 1200px document in Adobe Photoshop.

Using the Pen Tool (P), we are going to create an abstract organic shape, something like what I have below. Make sure that you make a Shape layer, and not Paths; you can change this setting via the Options bar.

Change the color (double-click the Color option box to open up color editor dialog box) to a blue color (#017eff). Keep in mind that, for now, we are going to use fully saturated colors, which are at the top right of the color spectrum.

Creating the shapes

Step 2: Adding more shapes

We are going to duplicate the shape layer we just made with Ctrl/Cmd + J.

Change the color to a bright yellow color (#ffd801). Again, pick a color that is at the top right of the color spectrum.

Use Ctrl/Cmd + T (Free Transform) to transform the shape to make it smaller; hold down the Shift key to keep the shape in the same proportion as the original.

Adding more shapes

Step 3: Adding even more shapes

Repeat step 2 twice more. Change the first color to white (#ffffff) and a pink color for the second one (#fe0096) for the second one.

The shapes should be moved around inside one another a little bit to give it more of a natural, organic, floating feel; you can use the Move Tool (V) to move things around.

Adding even more shapes

Step 4: Adding a stroke to the shapes

Before we go any further, we are going to add a stroke around each shape. Click on the Add a layer style icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Then click on Stroke and adjust your settings so you have black (#000000) as your stroke color and 2px as your stroke size. Repeat this for all of the shapes.

Adding a stroke to the shapes

Step 5: Creating the text background

Move the layers we just created into a folder called Shape1. Right-click on the folder and click Duplicate Layer Set. Call the new folder Shape2.

Click on the Shape2 shape folder and then Ctrl/Cmd + T for a Free Transform. Rotate Shape2 until you get something like what I have.

Creating the text background

Step 6: Finishing the text background

Continue duplicating and rotating the shapes until you cover up most of the area of the canvas while keeping the white space in between the shapes. You can also go into Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontally to get the shapes to fit better. The key is to get a flowing feel within the blue negative space as well as with the shapes themselves.

Alternate the same 4 colors in the different shapes so you have more of a random look.

Change the background layer to the blue (#017eff) you picked earlier, sothat you have something like the image below.

Finishing the text background

Step 7: Adding a retro look

We are going to give our background more of an old and retro look. To achieve this look, we are going to use this paper texture from Zen Textures.

Using Ctrl/Cmd + T (Free Transform), shrink the texture so it fits around the image. Make sure the texture is the top layer and lower the opacity to 40%. Now would be a good idea to save your Photoshop document, by the way.

Adding a retro look

Step 8: Merging the layers and adding text

We are going to take all the layers and merge them into one layer. To do this, click on the downward-pointing arrow icon on the top right of the Layers Panel and click on Flatten Image in the menu that appears.

Our shapes should turn into the background image, which is locked. To unlock it, double click on the layer and then rename it to something like Wavy Backgound.

Now we are going to put in some white (#ffffff) text. The font I am using is Bodoni Poster, but you can use whatever font you would like (a bolder font will work the best).

Merging the layers and adding text

Step 9: Masking the text background

Drag the text layer down the Layers Panel so that it is under the wavy background layer.

Click on the Wavy Background layer and go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (Ctrl/Cmd + G). This should mask out our background so that it shows up only where the text is. In your Layers Panel, the masked out image should have a downward arrow, and the text should be underlined.

The benefit of making letters this way is that you can change the text around any way you want and still have the masked image in the background.

Masking the text background

Step 10: Coloring the background

Create a new layer and move it all the way to the bottom. Call it Background and fill it with a blue color like #003547.

Coloring the background

Step 11: Adding a Drop Shadow layer style

Let’s add some effects to the text. Click on the text layer, then click on the Add a layer style icon on the bottom of the Layers Panel and choose on Drop Shadow. Change your settings to what I have below. This subtle background will give our text a little more depth so that it looks like it is sitting on the background.

Adding a Drop Shadow

Step 12: Adding a Bevel and Emboss layer style

Now we are going to open up the Layer Styles dialog box again and apply a Bevel and Emboss layer style. This will give our text a little bit of an edge, giving it a subtle 3D look.

Adding a Bevel and Emboss

Step 13: Adding a Gradient Overlay layer style

Open up the Layer Styles dialog box again and apply a Gradient Overlay layer style. We are using a white to black gradient. This will vary the lightness and darkness of the text and give it a little more realistic look to it.

Adding a Gradient Overlay

Step 14: Adding a Stroke layer style

The last thing we are going to do to the text for now is go into the Layer Styles dialog box again and add a 1px black stroke to the text via a Stroke layer style. This will tie in our text with the shapes in the background, which also have strokes on them.

Adding a Stroke

Step 15: Background darkening

We are going to work on the background now. First, we are going to darken the edges of the canvas to create a shadow.

Create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) and move it just above the background layer in the Layers Panel.

Get the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and change the Feather option (at the top of the screen in the Options Bar) to 100px.

Click and drag a box around the entire canvas and then get the inverse selection with Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + I (which is the same as Select > Inverse).

Fill the area with black (#000000).

Drop the opacity down to 30%.

Your result should look similar to what I have below.

Background darkening

Step 16: Background lightening

We are going to give the background a slight white opacity gradient in the middle of the canvas to give a sense that there is a light source coming directly above.

Choose the Background layer in the Layers Panel, click on the Add a layer style icon, and add a Gradient Overlay layer style. Change it so that it is white on the left side with 100% opacity and white on the right with 0% opacity.

Background lightening

Step 17: Creating an old textured background

Our background is going to have an old textured look. We are going to achieve this look by layering a few textures to get what we want.

First, we need to get the collage texture from Zen Textures.

Use Free Transform (Ctrl/Cmd + T) to fit the texture into place (holding down the Shift key to keep the texture from getting skewed disproportionately).

Move the texture so that it’s just above the Background layer and change the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Change the opacity of the layer to 50%.

Creating an old textured background

Step 18: Adding and processing a paper texture

The next texture we are going to use is the stained paper texture from Zen Textures. Bring the texture into our document and resize it.

Change the Blend Mode of the layer that the texture is in to Multiply.

Now since this makes our art piece too dark, we are going to lighten it with the Curves tool. Use Ctrl/Cmd + M to open up the Curves tool dialog box and create a curve like what I have below.

Adding and processing a paper texture

Step 19: Adding noise

We are going to add some noise to the image to give it an overall older/aged look. Create a new layer and fill it with white (#ffffff).

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and change the amount to 103%, Uniform Distribution, and make sure Monochromatic is checked.

Adding noise

Step 20: Blurring the noise

Change the Blend Mode of the noise layer to Multiply.

Go into Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to 1.0px.

Drop the opacity of this layer to 40%.

Blurring the noise

Step 21: Creating the crease shadow

To finish it up, we are going to create a crease in the background that will frame the top of the text.

Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) with the Feather option at 0px (which is the default, but we changed it earlier on to 100px), create a box marquee selection at the top of the canvas.

Click on the Gradient Tool (G) and make a small black gradient with the darkest part coming from the bottom of the box like I have below.

Creating the crease shadow

Step 22: Creating the crease highlight

Press Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + I to get the inverse selection.

Create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) and add a white gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) so that the brightest part is at the top of the box. The darkest black and brightest white gradients should meet.

Creating the crease highlight

Step 23: Making the crease more subtle

Drop the opacity of the black gradient layer to 50% and the white gradient to 20% so you get a more subtle crease.

Making the crease more subtle

Step 24: Masking out the crease

If you want to make the crease fade away on the right side of the canvas like I have below, click on the empty box on to the left of the two gradient layers in the Layers Panel (this should bring up a chain link icon). Ctrl/Cmd + E will merge the two layers together.

Click on the Add layer mask icon and, using the Brush Tool (B) with a black, 0% hardness brush tip at 20% opacity, start slowly brushing away the crease on the right side until you get something you like.

Masking out the crease


There we have it folks, a technique for creating some funky retro text reminiscent of the 70’s. I hope you liked this tutorial and encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments.


Here’s an alternative version:

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  • Very impressive tutorial.

  • Wow… sleek. Very simple and easy to accomplish. Thanks Tyler

  • Really slick trick there, cant wait to go into Photoshop and try it!

  • very helpful and simple. basic photoshop knowledge required, but i did my copy!! Ill be looking forward to another one.

  • This reaction is exactly what we want the readers of Design Instruct to have, to be excited to fire up your favorite tool and experiment and create, inspired by our tutorials. Thanks for the kind words Robert! I know Ike and I have been pushing it like crack dealers in Baltimore, but I encourage everyone to share their work inspired by tutorials here on Design Instruct in the Flickr group pool. We’d like to have a regular monthly feature here on Design Instruct, showing off our readers’ work.

  • Very thorough tutorial, well done. I love the ending effect. In essence it’s very unique too because every designer will use different colors, shapes, etc.

  • Fantastic tutorial, Ive picked up some tricks from this

  • Really great tutorials on this site, but I miss social bookmark buttons…

  • Kevin, that’s coming really soon (as soon as tomorrow). We had to experiment with the social media button layout to make it fit nicely with the web layout. We’ve come up with a layout now, and we’re just testing it. Thanks for the gentle nudge!

  • Tirath

    Awesome tutorials
    Thanks so much for sharing it
    Your all tutorials are amazing
    keep up good work
    God bless you 🙂

  • Wai

    Done it and added to the Flickr group pool. Learned a few new tricks. Thanks 🙂

  • Great job Wai. I love your color and font selection. What’s that font?

  • Shubhojit

    a very elegant tutorial. thankz a lot

  • Wai

    Thanks. Fonts I used are “Nilland” for the first line and “Nevis” for the second line.

  • @Wai: My eye for fonts is getting rusty! Nevis is a favorite of mine – I even wrote about it on Six Revisions.

  • Nedim

    Cool tutorial. Thanks a lot.

  • Fantastic tutorial! Thanks.

  • Nice tutorial.
    here is my result :
    It’s not as sharp as your though.
    I really need to get better at the pen tool, creating that shape was difficult.

  • I think you did fine Paul! Keep it up!

  • I love this text effect! I love it because it is made from the zero and has a lot of style …looks very pro 🙂 congrats

  • thanks Jacob 🙂

  • Great tutorial. It actually taught me how to use Photoshop, instead of me just copying actions and numbers.

  • bravoo, very great tutorial.

  • kiya brown

    I loved it… Just kidding, I hated it.

  • Easy to follow…nice.

  • ????????!

    ????? ?????!!!

  • Thanks for this tutorial. Really easy to follow with a great end result.

  • This looks like such a great tutorial, Can’t wait to try it.

  • Shane, good thing it’s close to the weekend! I bet you can do a bunch of Design Instruct tutorials over this coming weekend. I challenge you to do at least three tutorials, up for it?

  • RodgerFox

    omg, it’s great <3

  • vanessa

    awesome tutorial…the best of all is that all of those little details like the crease or mixing textures can be use in other things.
    this is my result

    cheers from peru!

  • I love illustrations with paper textures applied on them, they are so fresh and cool! good tutorial!

  • Judith

    fantastic! thanks a lot!

  • awesome post! I always love to read your blog post..
    thanks for sharing..

  • saionixz

    ok,thanks a lot .

  • The end result looks perfect for those into a retro feel. I don’t have a use for it on my sites as I go more of the web 2 gradient look, but this will help many out there looking for this effect.

  • A very clear tutorial. I had a hard time getting the points about this before but now I can really say I know it! You really have a nice chouice and clearly unique ones.

  • Carlita

    Love your tutorials! Always awesome and easy to follow. 🙂

  • Another great tutorial thanks, I was looking to do something in this style for a new client so this helps a lot.
    W 🙂

  • Jennifer

    This really is something I need to do more research into, thanks for the blog post.

  • maureen

    really enjoyed doing this thanks

  • Sudarsan

    Its Really Usefully…..!

  • Anuj saini

    its nice. I learned some important points by this tutorial.

  • Fabio Simons

    Great tutorial easy to follow!

  • thank you so much for your help !! great tutorial and easy to follow…

  • Majo

    Thank u for ur tutorial, i loveee !

  • Looks fantastic, very quick too. Keep them coming!

  • Killer tutorial! Thanks DI!

    I added my result to the Flicker pool. Here it is:

  • nyCe Callueng

    Hey! Thanks for this… really appreciate it^_^
    LOVE IT!!!!

  • Daniela

    The best instructions I’ve ever read. The steps are very well explained.
    Thank you!

  • yania

    Thank you ! tHis tutorial its been very helpfull!

  • Md. Abdul Hannan Mia

    Thanks for this awesome tutorials



  • Fernand

    A magnificent tutorial. Clear steps all the way!

  • Paola

    Hi very thanks with this tuto!! it’s georgeos 🙂 i enjoy it! you are great.
    greetings from Colombia 😛



  • David

    Wow, I’m only a amateur or hobby’s designer, but this tutorial was amazing, thank you very much for the info and the dedication, I think like most of the people in this page, one of the basic ways to learn is review tutorials and agree what you think or what do you like, thank you very much (sorry for the english,if I have any mistake, but I don’t write english very well)

  • David

    Sorry, but greetings fron Chile 🙂

  • Thank you very much for providing a tutorial that is simple to follow and really takes the novice photoshopper into consideration. Some tutorials are frustrating and skip a step or use a program term I’m unfamiliar with, but I am glad this one had pictures to each step so it was precise enough to follow and re-check in case I mistakenly missed something. I got a little confused at the curves step but thankfully the pictures helped sort it out.

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  • This comment by 7alma, according to Google Translate, is in Persian. The translation to English is:

    Really beautiful thank you

  • Mariana

    Amazing tutorial! Very well explained, loved it andI went through so easily , thanks very much, you are fantastic!!!

  • Andreas Loher

    Thanks – learned a lot 🙂

  • Very nice, thank you 🙂