Add Transparent Text to an Image with Photoshop Layer Effects
Learn how easy it is to add transparent text to your image using Photoshop's layer effects! A step-by-step tutorial for Photoshop CC 2020 and earlier.
In this tutorial, I show you an easy way to add transparent text to an image using layer effects in Photoshop. In a previous tutorial, I showed you how to create transparent text using Photoshop's Blending Options. But layer effects can give you more interesting and creative results because there are so many effects to choose from!
The trick to creating transparent text with layer effects is knowing how to make the text itself transparent while keeping your layer effects visible. So once we've added our text to the image, I'll show you how to hide the text without hiding your strokes, drop shadows, glows or any other effects you've applied! Let's see how it works.
I'm using Photoshop 2020 but you can follow along with any recent version. You can get the latest Photoshop version here.
Here's an example of what the transparent text effect will look like. Your result will depend on which layer effects you use:
Let's get started!
Step 1: Open your image
Start by opening your image into Photoshop. I'll use this image from Adobe Stock:
Step 2: Select the Type Tool
To add your text, select the Type Tool from the toolbar:
Step 3: Choose your font
Then in the Options Bar, choose your font. Any font will work, but larger, thicker fonts work best.
I'll keep things simple and go with Arial Black:
Set the type size to 72 pt so we're starting with the largest preset size:
And then choose a color for your type by clicking the color swatch:
Since we'll be making the text transparent, the color doesn't matter. But choose one that's easy to see as you're adding the text to the image. I'll choose white.
Click OK when you're done to close the Color Picker:
Step 4: Add your text
Next, click in the document and add your text. I'll type the word "SUMMER":
To accept it, click the checkmark in the Options Bar:
Step 5: Resize and reposition the text with Free Transform
To resize the text and move it into place, we'll use Photoshop's Free Transform command.
Go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choose Free Transform:
Then to resize the text, click and drag any of the handles. As of Photoshop CC 2019, Free Transform automatically locks the aspect ratio of the text as you drag. But if you're using an earlier version of Photoshop, press and hold the Shift key as you drag to lock the aspect ratio in place.
Here I'm dragging the left and right side handles outward to make the text larger:
Then to reposition the text, click and drag inside the Free Transform box.
I'll drag down to center my text in front of the image:
To accept it and close Free Transform, click the checkmark in the Options Bar:
And in the Layers panel, the text appears on a type layer above the image:
Step 6: Lower the type layer's Fill to 0 percent
So now that we've added the text, how do we make the text transparent? There's two ways to do it. One is by lowering the layer's Opacity value, and the other is by lowering the Fill value. Both options are found in the upper right of the Layers panel:
Layer opacity vs fill
The difference between Opacity and Fill is that Opacity affects both the layer and any layer effects you've applied. So if we lower the Opacity to 0 percent, both the text and the effects will become transparent, which is not what we want.
But the Fill value affects only the layer itself. Or in this case, only the text. It does not affect things like drop shadows, strokes or other effects you've applied to the text.
So to make your text transparent, lower the Fill value down to 0 percent:
With the Fill value lowered, the text disappears:
Step 7: Add a Drop Shadow to the text
Now that our text is transparent, we can use layer effects to reveal the shapes of the letters. For example, let's add a Drop Shadow.
In the Layers panel, click the fx icon at the bottom:
And choose Drop Shadow from the list:
The options for the drop shadow open in Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Angle and Distance
Start by adjusting the Angle and Distance of the shadow:
The easiest way to adjust the Angle and Distance values is to simply click and drag inside the document. And notice that even though the text is transparent, the shadow is still hidden behind it, revealing the letters:
You can also enter specific values in the dialog box. I'll set my Angle to 135 degrees and the Distance to 16 pixels. The values you need will depend on your image:
Use the Opacity slider to adjust the transparency of the drop shadow. I'll darken the shadow by increasing the opacity to 50 percent:
And you can soften the shadow edges by increasing the Size value. I'll increase mine to 16 pixels:
Here's my result so far:
The default drop shadow color is black, but you can change it by clicking the color swatch:
And then choosing a new color, either from the Color Picker or by sampling a color from the image.
I'll click to sample a color from the sand:
And then in the Color Picker, I'll choose a darker, saturated version of that color.
Then I'll click OK to close the Color Picker:
And here's the result. Just by adding a drop shadow, we can already see our transparent text:
Step 8: Add a Stroke around the text
Let's add a couple more effects. Still in the Layer Style dialog box, choose Stroke from the column on the left. We can use a stroke to add a border around the letters:
Choose a color for the stroke by clicking the color swatch:
Then, just like with the drop shadow, choose a new stroke color either from the Color Picker or by sampling a color from the image.
I'll choose something close to white by sampling a color from the brightest part of the sand. Then I'll click OK to close the Color Picker:
The Position option moves your stroke to either inside the edges, outside the edges or centered on the edges of your text. I'll choose Outside:
Then set the width of your stroke by dragging the Size slider. I'll increase the size to 6 pixels:
And here's my transparent text with both the drop shadow and the stroke applied:
Step 9: Add a Gradient Overlay
The third and final effect we'll add is Gradient Overlay. By adding a gradient and then changing the gradient's blend mode, we can increase the contrast of the image inside the text.
Choose Gradient Overlay from the left column:
Step 10: Choose the Black, White gradient
Then choose a gradient by clicking the arrow next to the gradient swatch:
Select the Black, White gradient by double-clicking on its thumbnail.
In Photoshop CC 2020 and later, gradients are grouped into folders. You'll need to twirl open the Basics folder to find the gradient:
The gradient will temporarily block the image from view:
Step 11: Change the gradient's blend mode to Overlay
Then to blend the gradient with the image, change the gradient's blend mode from Normal to Overlay:
And now the contrast of the image inside the text is stronger than the surrounding image:
Turning off the other layer effects
To see the Gradient Overlay effect more clearly, turn off the Stroke and Drop Shadow effects by unchecking them:
And now we see how the contrast is bringing out the letters:
Trying the Soft Light blend mode
If the contrast is too strong, as it is with my image, try the Soft Light blend mode instead:
Soft Light creates a similar but less intense result:
Turning the other effects back on
To turn the Stroke and Drop Shadow back on, click again inside their checkboxes:
Step 12: Close the Layer Style dialog box
At this point, you can try adding other layer effects, or you can accept what you have by clicking OK to close the Layer Style dialog box:
In the Layers panel, the effects we've added to the text appear below the type layer.
You can click the visibility icon beside an effect's name to toggle the effect on and off. Or you can double-click directly on the name to re-open the Layer Style dialog box and edit the effect if needed:
Step 13: Select the text
So we've learned how to create transparent text by lowering the Fill value of the type layer and then adding layer effects. But we can enhance the effect even further by lightening, darkening, or adding a color to the surrounding image. To do that, we first need to select the area around the text.
In the Layers panel, press and hold the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key on your keyboard and click on the type layer's thumbnail:
This loads a selection around the letters:
Step 14: Invert the selection
Then to select everything except the text, invert the selection by going up to the Select menu and choosing Inverse:
Step 15: Select the image layer
Back in the Layers panel, click on your image layer to select it:
Then click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon:
And choose a Solid Color fill layer:
In the Color Picker, choose a color for the fill layer. I'll choose black for now, but I'll show you how to change the color in a moment.
Click OK when you're done:
And the color now fills the areas surrounding the text:
In the Layers panel, the fill layer appears between the image and the type layer.
And the reason that the fill layer is not affecting the image inside the letters is because Photoshop used the selection we made to create a layer mask, as we see in the layer mask thumbnail. The white areas on the mask are where the fill layer is visible, and the black areas are where it is hidden:
Step 16: Lower the opacity of the fill layer
To blend the color with the image, lower the Opacity of the fill layer.
I'll lower mine to 60 percent:
With the opacity lowered, the image shows through the fill layer. And since my fill color is black, it creates a darkening effect:
How to change the color of the fill layer
To try a different color, double-click on the fill layer's color swatch:
And then choose a new color, again from the Color Picker or from the image.
Since I've been sampling colors directly from the image, I'll choose orange by clicking on the back of the chair. Then I'll click OK to close the Color Picker:
Changing the fill layer's blend mode
And since I chose an actual color this time, I'll change the blend mode of the fill layer from Normal to Color:
The Color blend mode restores the original brightness of the image and blends only the color:
Lowering the fill layer's opacity
Finally, I'll reduce the intensity of the color by lowering the Opacity of the fill layer to around 25 percent:
You can toggle the fill layer on and off to compare the effect with the original image by clicking its visibility icon:
And here, with the color now more subtle, is my final result:
And there we have it! That's how to create transparent text with layer effects in Photoshop!
Check out our Photo Effects section for more tutorials.
And don't forget, all of our tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!