Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dictionary Print Photoshop Tutorial

As promised, I'm going to show you how to make cool-looking overprinted dictionary (or other text) pages in Photoshop. This eliminates the need to try to feed dictionary pages into your finicky printer. Plus, it means you can use your favorite pages over and over.

You can see some of my own prints in various stores and online ( has a good selection). At first, I was hesitant to do the tutorial, even though a lot of people who know Photoshop probably already know how to do it. I wondered if it would hurt retail sales of my own prints, for example. But finally, I concluded that the DIY audience and the print-buying audience are probably two distinct groups. And of course, there's the fact that the print-buying audience is paying for my work, not for a tutorial. So here we go:

Step 1. Find a photo you want to use, and convert it to black and white. I highly suggest that you do something high contrast, with some white space to avoid a muddy final product. Now is not the time to get all Ansel Adams about things. Go ahead and blow out the highlights and destroy those details in the shadows. It's OK.

Step 2. Find a page of text that you want to use. When I first did these for my home with a printer and actual pages, I used pages from an old dictionary. Then, I dug up some art magazines (circa 1899) I bought years ago at a Paris flea market and started using those.
Once you have chosen your page, scan it at a fairly high resolution. Because I make 27x27" prints, my files end up being huge. If your page is roughly the same size as the print you want to make, you can scan it at 300dpi. If it's smaller, go higher.

Step 3. Open both digital files in Photoshop. You might want to crop your photo to the size you want before you add the text. Then, you are going copy and paste one of your files onto the other. I usually copy the page (select all and then copy) and then paste it over my photo. It will appear as a new layer that completely covers your photo.

 If your file is too large (like mine was), then you can use the transform tool (command-T for Mac users), find a corner (see those lines in the gray area? that's where the little boxes are), hold shift (to make sure you don't skew the perspective) and drag until you get a size that works. Then hit return to apply the transformation.

Step 4. Last step. Already. Make sure that your top layer is active. Now, look in your layers palette and change the blend mode (see where it says "Normal"?) to "multiply."

And magically, you can now see your black and white photo as if it were printed on top of the page.

And that, my friends, is one of the fastest tutorials ever.

UPDATE: And of course, if you want to buy some of the ones I've done in virtually any size print, you can get them at my site for very reasonable prices.