Jack London once said “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” With my needle phobia, the only way I’ll ever get tattooed is with Photoshop. Here’s a tutorial on how to add “an interesting past” to a photo.

Painless Tattoos

Step 1
Open your image, select all and copy. Paste the copied image into a new document, and name the document Displace. (When you copy something to the clipboard and create a new document, Photoshop automatically creates the new document the same size as the clipboard image.) Change the image mode to Grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale.)

Painless Tattoos

Step 2
Run a slight Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). We’ll be running a Displace filter using this image as our displace map, and a too sharp displacement map looks harsh and fake- a little blur takes care of that. Save and close Displace.psd.

Painless Tattoos

Step 3
Place the tattoo artwork- this is an Illustrator file of mine. Size it to the muscle and hit OK to place.

Painless Tattoos

Step 4
With the tattoo layer selected, go to Filter > Distort > Displace. There’s two steps to this filter- first, type in the amount of horizontal and vertical scaling you want Photoshop to perform. I used 5 for this example- your mileage may vary. Next, select the Displace.psd file as your displacement map, and hit OK.

Painless Tattoos

Step 5
For the final step, set the Tattoo layer blending mode to Multiply, and reduce the opacity to show a little of the skin texture. A great way to get “an interesting past”- without the needles.

Painless Tattoos



  1. Jarrett 20 May, 2008 at 22:13 Reply

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. I have used it once to play with and now I ind myself using it again to place a logo on a golf ball. And I must say the same procedure works great! Thank you so much again!

  2. taylor 22 May, 2008 at 09:38 Reply

    hey this worked great although when i set it to multiply, all the white in the picture gets taken out.

  3. Carl 31 May, 2008 at 08:15 Reply

    hey this looks cool, but when i tried it, i got up to the ‘open displace’ file but it didn’t change back to colour. do i do that manually then try it again or is it supposed to be auto?

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