How to Make a Torn Paper Edge in Photoshop

Various photo collection in black, tan, and white

 

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In this tutorial, we'll show you a simple technique for creating a torn paper edge effect in Photoshop. The result is subtle, but it can help to add an extra touch of reality to your images. While the technique is basic and is suitable for complete newbies to Photoshop, because it uses a small-sized brush, it can be a bit time consuming if you're applying the effect to a large edge.

01
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Download the Base Image

Torn Paper Edge
Text and images © Ian Pullen

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. 

This tutorial works for Photoshop Elements as well as Photoshop.

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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

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, click and hold the third entry in the palette (starting from the top left and counting from left to right) until a little flyout menu appears, then select the Lasso tool from there.

Place the Lasso 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.

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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

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, to make it easier to see what you're doing, 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 step should place a new blank layer underneath the tape layer, but if it has appeared above the tape layer, just click the new layer and drag it 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. (Zoom out by holding the Ctrl or Command key and pressing the – key.) Start with a 500 percent zoom.

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 flyout menu, from which you can select the Smudge tool.

In the Tool options bar that appears near the top of the screen, click the Brush Settings button and set the size to 1px and the Hardness to 100%. Ensure that the Strength setting is set to 50%.

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 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 the 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 the small icon in the tape layer to create a selection that matches the tape. Click 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 1 px. This setting gently softens the edge of the gray shape so that it extends very slightly beyond the borders of the tape.

Because the tape layer is ever so slightly translucent, 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.