You can drive through just about any small old town and see signs painted on the sides of brick buildings. Cheaper and longer lasting than wooden signs, these relics only fare as well as their media, many fading and chipping in their age. It’s the character of these signs that I was looking for in a recent project.
A few words of warning… First off, this is not a step by step, “lead you by the hand” tutorial. I’ve gotten away from those sort of tutorials, preferring to let the individuals talents and knowledge speak for itself.
Also, this is a guide based on one particular project. In other cases with a similar project I might work in a completely different order and use different techniques.
Depending on countless variables, your project will differ. Your own skills and experience will help determine This is where you step up to the plate and try for your own home run.
The photo I started with features a very old and very worn brick wall, which makes for more of a challenge. With all the patched areas, cracks and chipped bricks, this one took quite a while, around three hours, before I was satisfied. Obviously, with a better cared-for wall, and a more hospitable angle, it would take much less time.
The Font Is Everything
The type style has to work with your project. Try to avoid thin or overly-ornate fonts. Details disappear when you start trying to texture them to match the wall.
Likewise, small or overly thin counters in letters (hollow areas within letters like a,e & 0) should be avoided since they tend to close up when aging type.
Above all, try to find a font that works with its apparent age. An angular, digital-looking font wouldn’t work for a sign that is supposed to be pre-digital. Do a little research if you are in doubt about what typeface to use. Remember that all of these signs were hand painted, so the less branded ones might have flourishes or unusual structures that are unique to the artist.
In this case, I went with a font called “Bou Collegiate” which I found on dafonts.com. It’s a little blocky but rounds out nicely when distressed a little. The smaller type for Russ’s name is just Arial, which I went with because of all the curved letters in his name.
Depending on how direct your view of the wall is, it might require quite a bit of trial and error to get your type the correct size. In this case I eyeballed it and got lucky.
Once it was the size I wanted, I duplicated the layer and rasterized the copy. As a personal preference, I usually make multiple copies of different layers at different stages. In this sort of case, which is mostly experimental, I make a crazy number of layers to be certain I don’t miss anything.
The photo of this wall is angled, but fortunately, bricks are full of straight sides and ninety-degree angles, which makes it MUCH easier to get the correct proportions with type. I used Edit>Transform>Distort and lined the edges of the type up with the angle of the bricks. There’s no hard and fast way to do this, but work on getting it right the first time, otherwise you might run into some issues trying to get all the angles correct after the fact.
I used this rasterized text layer as a base for all the other changes I made, so I kept this original layer and worked with copies. Just turn this original layer off so you don’t grab it by accident.
For the first copy, try setting the layer blending mode to Soft Light. Depending on the color of your type, this may or may not work well. With white type on a medium wall it seems to work pretty well. I duplicated this layer as well to make it show a bit more but kept the layer blending mode at Soft Light for both.
Duplicate one of these layers and set the layer blending mode to Normal so you can work with the color a bit.
You can go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation to play with the color a bit. Here is how I set mine, based on pure white type to start:
This makes for a very ugly layer but don’t worry, we’re only using it to age the type a bit so it won’t be at full opacity.
You can use the Magic Wand tool, or whatever method you prefer, to select all of the letters. Go to Select>Modify>Contract to narrow the selection area. Go to Select>Modify>Feather so you won’t have hard edges when you delete the center of the type (mine was set at 10 pixels). Then Delete. This should leave you with type that fades from that horrible yellow to nothing. Leave the layer blending mode set for Normal but pull back the opacity (in my case, 29%).
At this point I started playing with Motion Blur on a couple of the layers, set almost to vertical with only a slight blur, to give it a bit more of a washed out feel. This works on this particular project since the bricks have a strong vertical texture to them.
I should reemphasize that playing with the process is what really gives it a unique effect. Simply repeating what I’ve done probably won’t give you the same results. Play, play, play. It’s the best way to learn.
Damaging the Type
I shut off all but my background layer copy and my two Soft Light layers so I could see what areas of the brick were the most heavily damaged. On this particular wall, there were quite a number of chips and patched areas so this part of the process took quite a while. I went letter by letter, making selections of the areas I would be deleting. Any place where part of the brick is missing, the mortar is seriously damaged or there are patches would need to be selected.
As I mentioned before, this is what took the longest. I had to weigh the damage against the legibility of the type to make sure none of the letters became unreadable. I toggled between having my original rasterized type layer on and off so I could get a feel for how the letters would look. Since the R in SOLDIERS is such a blocky style and had quite a bit of damage beneath it, I deselected several key areas so it wouldn’t start to look like a P. This is a judgement call and should be done to the individual’s satisfaction.
To try to get every detail perfect is a nightmare, so I started with general, fairly rough selections, then zoomed in and defined my selections a bit better.
I made a path of these selections by going to the Path palette, Make Work Path (leaving the tolerance for .5), then Save Path. I knew I might need to use it on multiple layers with multiple opacities so this was the best way to save the selection.
Play, Play, Play
Rather than giving you a step-by-step of what I did next, I’ll sum it up by saying that I shuffled the layers around into different orders, played with the opacity and Blending modes a bit and generally just experimented until it started to look right to me. No exact science here and nothing I could probably repeat exactly if I did it again, however that’s probably a good thing. It keeps everything unique.
Lots of Erasing
Once things were where I wanted them, I used a few various random-looking brushes in my Eraser Tool, set for low flow and opacity, to delete areas I thought the type would be most worn. I did this on each type layer individually, however I ignored the areas I was planning on deleting with my Path. No reason to add more work for nothing.
The grout lines I went back and forth over multiple times in all the layers. Since the grout lines are pretty straight, I would click on one just outside of my type, hold shift and click on the same grout line on the other side of my type, thereby drawing a faded line through my type. A lot of back and forth and randomly erased points resulted in the following look.
Once I was satisfied with how it looked, I merged my type, then used my Path to make a selection and deleted the larger damaged areas.
I reworked these areas a bit afterwards, blurring areas that were too sharp and doing little nips and tucks to the damaged areas until I was satisfied with the result.
I’m a die-hard perfectionist when it comes to this sort of project and I still wasn’t quite satisfied with how it looked. For one thing, the focus wasn’t sharp on areas of the brick to the far right so why would the letters be sharp? For another, I didn’t quite feel like the brick showed it’s texture enough.
To solve the first problem I simply grabbed my Blur Tool, left it’s Mode at Normal and pulled it’s Strength back to 16%. I went over and over the letters, giving the ones to the farthest left more attention than the others, and went around the edges and counters of each letter until it had the blur I was looking for.
That problem solved, I copied my original background layer, brought the copy all the way to the front and pulled the opacity back to 6%. This helped bring out the texture of the bricks a little more without having to adjust the type layer.
Experience has taught me there is no tried and true method to do everything in Photoshop, you just have to experiment to find the right combination of techniques.
I hope this has been a help to you. Please let me know if you have any additions, comments or know of anything I might have overlooked.