How to Create an Underwater Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop

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


Lidia Lukianova is an artist and designer who likes traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs. iPad illustration is her passion. Learning how to use this tool for working on all kinds or projects, from identity to illustration, lettering, and animation, has been her primary creative focus.  

Before You Start

Use this sample image if you’d like, 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.

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. 

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.

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. After you’ve done that, set the Blend Mode to Exclusion and reduce the Fill percentage. Finish the look by changing the Blend Mode of the type layer to Luminosity.

Keep Your Creativity Flowing

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

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