How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop

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How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop

Torn Paper Edge
Text and images © Ian Pullen

In this tutorial, I'll show you a very simple technique for creating a torn paper edge in Photoshop. The final effect is pretty subtle, but it can help to add an extra touch of reality to your images. I should note that while the technique is very basic and is suitable for complete newbies to Photoshop, because it uses a pretty small sized brush, it can be a little time consuming if you're applying the effect to large edge.

To follow along, you'll need to download your own copy of tape_cyan.png which was created in another Photoshop tutorial for How to Create Digital Washi Tape. You can apply this technique to any image element where you want to apply the appearance of torn paper. If you've seen the other tutorial and have downloaded the tape_cyan.png, you may have noticed that I've cut off the rough edges at each end of the tape so that I can show how easy it is to create this whole effect in Photoshop.

This tutorial is quite basic and so can be followed using Photoshop Elements, as well as Photoshop. If you press on to the next page, we'll get started.

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Use The Lasso Tool to Add an Uneven Edge

Use The Lasso Tool to Add an Uneven Edge
Text and images © Ian Pullen
In this first step, we're going to use the Lasso tool to give an uneven edge to the two straight edges of the tape.

Select the Lasso tool from the Tools palette – if it isn't visible, you will need to click and hold the third entry in the palette (starting from the top left and counting from left to right) until a little fly out menu appears, and you can select the Lasso tool from there.

Now place it close to the tape and click and drag to draw a random selection across the tape. Without releasing the mouse button continue drawing the selection outside of the tape until it meets at the start. When you release the mouse button, the selection will complete itself and if you now go to Edit > Clear, the tape that is inside the selection will be deleted. You can now repeat this step at the other end of the tape. When you've done that, go to Select > Deselect to remove the selection from the page.

In the next step, we'll use the Smudge tool to add the appearance of fine paper fibers to the two uneven edges that we have just added.

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Use The Smudge Tool to Add the Appearance of Torn Paper Fibers to the Edge

Use The Smudge Tool to Add the Appearance of Torn Paper Fibers to the Edge
Text and images © Ian Pullen
Now we can add the subtle torn paper edge effect using the Smudge tool set to a size of just one pixel. Because the brush is so small, this step can be time consuming, but the more subtle this effect is, the more effective it will appear when finished.

First up, to make it easier to see what you're doing, we're going to add a white layer behind the tape layer. Holding the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Mac OS X, click the Create a new layer button at the bottom of the Layers palette. This should place a new blank layer underneath the tape layer, but if it has appeared above the tape layer, just click on the new layer and drag it down below the tape. Now go to Edit > Fill and click on the Use drop down and select White, before clicking the OK button.

Next zoom in, either by holding the Ctrl button on Windows or the Command button on OS X and pressing the + key on the keyboard or by going to View > Zoom In. Note that you can zoom out by holding the Ctrl or Command key and pressing the – key. You will want to zoom in quite a ways – I zoomed in 500%.

Now select the Smudge tool from the Tools palette. If it isn't visible, look for either the Blur or Sharpen tool and then click and hold on that to open the fly out menu, from which you can select the Smudge tool.

In the Tool options bar that appears near the top of the screen, click on the brush settings button and set the Size to 1px and the Hardness to 100%. Ensure that the Strength setting is set to 50%. Now you can place your cursor just inside one of the edges of the tape and then click and drag out of the tape. You should see a fine line drawn out of the tape that tapers off quite quickly. You now need to continue painting smudged lines like this at random out of the edge of the tape. It may not look very impressive at this size, but when you zoom out, you will see that this gives a very subtle effect to the edge that is similar to the paper fibers visible from a torn edge of paper.

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Add a Subtle Drop Shadow to Enhance the Appearance of Depth

Add a Subtle Drop Shadow to Enhance the Appearance of Depth
Text and images © Ian Pullen
This final step isn't essential, but it does help to enhance the sensation of depth by adding a very subtle drop shadow to the tape.

Click the bottom layer to ensure that it's active and then click the Create a new layer button. Now hold down the Ctrl key on Windows or Command key on OS X and click on the small icon in the tape layer to create a selection that matches the tape. Now click on the new blank layer and go to Edit > Fill and in the dialog, set the Use drop down to 50% Gray. Before continuing, go to Select > Deselect to remove the selection.

Now go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to one pixel. This has the effect of very gently softening the edge of the gray shape so that it extends very slightly beyond the borders of the tape. There is one last step that needs to be taken because the tape layer is ever so slightly translucent, meaning that the new drop shadow layer is slightly darkening the tape. To resolve this, make a selection of the tape layer as before and, ensuring that the drop shadow layer is active, go to Edit > Clear.

This final step adds a little depth to the tape and will make it look more natural and realistic.

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Your Citation
Pullen, Ian. "How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/make-torn-paper-edge-in-photoshop-1702331. Pullen, Ian. (2017, March 3). How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/make-torn-paper-edge-in-photoshop-1702331 Pullen, Ian. "How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/make-torn-paper-edge-in-photoshop-1702331 (accessed January 18, 2018).