How To Transform Type With Smart Objects In Photoshop

Transform Text in Photoshop: Distort and 3D Perspective Effects

Written by Steve Patterson.

In this tutorial, I show you how to transform text with the Distort and Perspective commands in Photoshop! Normally, Photoshop doesn't allow us to use Distort or Perspective with Type layers. But here, I'll show you a simple trick to unlock both commands and keep your text fully editable.

I'm using the latest version of Photoshop CC but any recent version will work. Let's get started!


Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

Adding the text

The first thing we need to do is add some text. Here's an image I've opened in Photoshop to use as a background for my effect. I downloaded this one from Adobe Stock:

The image that the text will be placed in front of. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.
The background image. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

And if we look in the Layers panel, we see that I've also gone ahead and added some text above the image. I'll turn it on by clicking the Type layer's visibility icon:

Turning on the Type layer in the document in Photoshop
Turning on the text.

And here's my text:

Text has been added in front of the image in Photoshop
The text appears in front of the image.

I'm using a font called Orbitron Bold that I downloaded from Adobe Typekit:

The Orbitron Bold font used in the effect.
The font used in the effect.

The Distort and Perspective commands

What I would like to do is give my text more of a 3D look, as if it's tilting back towards the horizon, which means I want to change its perspective. And the easiest way to add perspective is by using Photoshop's Perspective command.

To get to it, I'll go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and I'll choose Transform. This is where we find all of Photoshop's various transformation commands. But notice that, while we can access things like Scale, Rotate, Skew, and even Warp, the two most interesting options—Distort and Perspective—are grayed out:

Photoshop's Distort and Perspective transform options are unavailable.
The Distort and Perspective options are unavailable.

Converting the Type layer

The reason is that Photoshop won't allow us to use Distort or Perspective with a Type layer. So, before I can add a 3D perspective to my text, I first need to convert my Type layer to something else.

Option 1: Rasterizing the text

One thing I could do is rasterize my text, which means converting my type into pixels. And I could do that in the Layers panel by right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) directly on the Type layer:

Right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) on the Type layer in Photoshop
Right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the Type layer.

And then choosing Rasterize Type from the menu:

The Rasterize Type command in Photoshop
The Rasterize Type command.

But here's the problem. If I convert my type into pixels, I lose the ability to edit my text. And, when we apply any sort of transformations to a pixel-based image, we can lose quality. So, rasterizing the type isn't a good choice.

Option 2: Converting the type to a shape

Another option found under the same menu is Convert to Shape:

The Convert to Shape command in Photoshop
The Convert to Shape command.

The benefit that a shape has over pixels is that we can transform a shape as much as we want without any loss in quality. But we'd still have a problem because we'd still lose the ability to edit our text. So, converting it to a shape also isn't the best choice.

Option 3: Converting the type into a smart object

But a third option is to convert our text into a smart object by choosing Convert to Smart Object from the menu:

Converting the Type layer into a Smart Object in Photoshop
Choosing Convert to Smart Object.

Photoshop converts the Type layer into a smart object, and we know that by the smart object icon in the lower right of the thumbnail:

The Type layer has been converted to a smart object in Photoshop
The Type layer is now a smart object.

Smart objects are non-destructive, so we can transform them as much as we want without any loss in quality. And our Type layer is now embedded inside the smart object, which means that we can open the smart object and edit our text whenever we need. But before we learn how to do that, let's look at how to use the Distort and Perspective commands with our smart object.

Related: How to resize images without losing quality

Distort

I'll go back up to the Edit menu and I'll again choose Transform. And this time, all of the transform options, including Distort and Perspective, are available:

Both the Distort and Perspective commands are available
Both Distort and Perspective are available after converting the text to a smart object.

I'll start by choosing Distort:

Choosing the Distort command in Photoshop
Choosing the Distort command.

The Distort command lets us click and drag any of the corner handles around the text independently of each other. We can drag them in any direction to distort the text into different shapes:

Distorting the text in Photoshop using the Distort transform command
In Distort mode, drag the corner handles independently.

Canceling a transformation

That's not really what I want to do though, so I'll cancel the Distort command without making any changes by pressing the Esc key on my keyboard. And now I'm back to the original shape of the text:

The Distort transform command has been canceled.
Press Esc to cancel a transformation.

Perspective

What I want to do is make the text look like it's tilting back towards the horizon, sort of like the scrolling text you see at the beginning of a Star Wars movie. I could do that with the Distort command, but the Perspective command will make it easier.

To select it, I'll go back up to the Edit menu, I'll choose Transform, and then I'll choose Perspective:

Choosing the Perspective transform command in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Transform > Perspective.

Distort vs Perspective

The difference between Distort and Perspective is that in Distort mode, we can drag the corner handles in any direction, and we can drag them separately from each other. In Perspective mode, we still drag the corner handles, but we can only drag them up and down, or left and right, and the handle in the opposite corner will move along with it in the opposite direction.

Notice that if I drag the handle in the top left corner upward, the handle in the bottom left corner moves down:

Dragging a corner handle up in Perspective mode moves the opposite handle down
Dragging a handle up moves the opposite handle down.

I'll undo that by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Undo, or by pressing Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac). This will undo the last step but will still keep me in Perspective mode:

Undoing the last step in Perspective mode in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Undo.

To make the text look like it's tilting backwards, I'll click on the same handle in the top left, but this time, Ill drag it inward towards the right. And because we're in Perspective mode, the opposite handle in the top right moves inward as well:

Tilting the text into a 3D perspective with Photoshop
Dragging a handle to the right moves the opposite handle to the left.

Switching between Transform commands

I also want to stretch the text vertically so it takes up more space along the bottom. To do that, I need to switch from the Perspective command to the Scale command. You can quickly switch between Transform commands by right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) anywhere inside the document and choosing a different option from the list. I'll choose Scale:

Switching from the Perspective transform mode to the Scale command in Photoshop
Switching from Perspective to Scale.

Then I'll click on the bottom handle and I'll drag it downward:

Scaling the text by dragging the bottom center handle downward in Photoshop
Scaling the text by dragging the bottom center handle downward.

Accepting the transformation

To accept it and close out of my Transform command, I'll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac):

The text in Photoshop after applying Perspective and Scale transforms
The text after applying Perspective and Scale transforms.

Related: Learn Photoshop's Free Transform essential skills

Adding effects to the text

Before we look at how to edit the text, I'm going to quickly add a couple of effects.

Changing the blend mode

I'll go back to the Layers panel and I'll change the blend mode of my smart object from Normal to Overlay:

Changing the blend mode of the text to Overlay in Photoshop
Changing the blend mode to Overlay.

This blends the text in with the image:

The text after changing the layer blend mode to Overlay in Photoshop
The text after changing the blend mode to Overlay.

Adding an Outer Glow

Then I'll add a glow to the text by clicking the Layer Styles icon (the fx icon):

Clicking the Layer styles icon to add a glow to the text
Clicking the Layer Styles icon.

And choosing Outer Glow:

Choosing an Outer Glow layer style for the text
Choosing an Outer Glow layer style.

In the Layer Style dialog box, I'll click the color swatch to change the color of the glow:

Changing the color of the outer glow around the text
Clicking the color swatch.

Then I'll move my mouse cursor into the image and I'll click on a green color to select it:

Sampling a color from the image for the Outer Glow
Sampling a color from the image for the Outer Glow.

I'll click OK to close the Color Picker. And then back in the Layer Style dialog box, I'll increase the Size of the glow to 60 px and the Opacity to 50%:

The Outer Glow options for the text in Photoshop
The Outer Glow Options.

I'll click OK to close the dialog box, and here's the result:

How to add Distort and Perspective to text in Photoshop
The text with the Outer Glow applied.

How to edit the text

Finally, to edit your text, open you smart object by double-clicking on its thumbnail in the Layers panel:

Opening the smart object to edit the text in Photoshop
Opening the smart object.

This opens the contents of the smart object (in this case, our text) in a separate document:

The text opens in a separate document
The text opens in a separate document.

And if we look in the Layers panel, we see our Type layer:

The original Type layer is safe inside the smart object
The original Type layer is safe inside the smart object.

Editing the text

Select the Type Tool from the Toolbar:

The original Type layer is safe inside the smart object
Selecting the Type Tool.

Then double-click on the text to highlight it and enter your new text. I'll change mine from "SPACE" to "ALIEN". Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it:

Editing the text inside the smart object in Photoshop
Editing the text inside the smart object.

Related: How to edit smart objects

Saving the change

To have the change appear in the main document, we need to save and close the smart object. Go up to the File menu and choose Save:

Saving the smart object after editing the text in Photoshop
Going to File > Save.

And then go back to the File menu and choose Close:

Closing the smart object after editing the text in Photoshop
Going to File > Close.

And back in the main document, the same effect now appears with the new text:

The same perspective effect after editing the text in Photoshop
The same effect after editing the text.

And there we have it! That's how to add Distort and Perspective effects to your text in Photoshop! Check out our Text Effects sections for more tutorials! And don't forget, all of our Photoshop tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!


Be the first the know when new tutorials are added!