Apply Tattoos in Photoshop – A Pro’s Step-by-Step Guide

Have you ever wondered what you would look like with a tattoo? You can now test the waters and apply tattoos in Photoshop!

In this photoshop tutorial, you will learn the pro techniques to apply a realistic tattoo to any photo in just 7 steps!

Step 1: Place The Tattoo Graphic

The first step is to place the tattoo into your working Photoshop document.

Go to File and choose Place Embedded.

Select your artwork and click on Place.

This will place your artwork into Photoshop as a Smart Object.

If your document is not a Smart Object, right-click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.

A Smart Object will keep your adjustments editable.

If your artwork has a white background, you can apply a tattoo in Photoshop with a Blending Mode. From the Layers panel, click on the Blending Mode drop-down and choose Multiply.

Step 2: Transform The Tattoo

Next, Press Ctrl T (Windows) or Command T (macOS) to transform. Then use the handles to position, rotate, and scale the tattoo over the arm.

Step 3: Apply a Green Tint Using Selective Color

With time, tattoos could develop a green tint on the darker areas. To create this effect we will use a Selective Color Adjustment Layer which will allow us to change specific colors.

Click on the Clipping Mask icon to make the adjustment layer only affect the tattoo layer below.

From the Properties Panel, select Blacks as the target color and reduce the Magenta to introduce green. You can adjust the Black slider to darken those areas if you like.

Step 4: Apply a Blur To Soften The Edges

Even if your artwork is hand-drawn, you’ll want to blur it a little bit to avoid any sharp edges.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Keep the blur subtle. At around 0.5 pixels or so.

Step 5: Distort The Tattoo Over The Arm with Liquify

To make the tattoo look like it’s really on the skin, we need to distort it to fit the contours of the arm. 

Go to Filter > Liquify, and use the Forward Warp Tool to push and pull the tattoo into place.

You can also use the Bloat or Pinch Tools to create a more realistic crease or bulge on the arm as needed.

Step 6: Apply Highlights & Shadows Over the Tattoo

To apply a realistic tattoo in Photoshop, you need to also apply the highlights and shadows of the arm onto it.

You can use the Blend If sliders for this. They allow you to hide or reveal pixels based on their brightness.

Select the Tattoo Layer. Click on the FX icon from the Layers Panel and choose Blending Options

Drag the Underlying Layer sliders until you have a smooth transition of Shadows and Highlights.

This will give it a more realistic look and make it seem like it’s part of the skin.

Step 7: Apply Skin Texture Over the Tattoo

Finally, we need to apply a skin texture to the tattoo.

This is the final touch that is subtle but makes all the difference.

Make a selection of the tattoo. Hold Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) and click on the tattoo layer thumbnail.

Enable the background and duplicate it by pressing Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS).

Move this duplicated layer to the top of the layer stack.

Apply a High Pass filter by going to Filter > Other > High Pass and selecting a value between 1 to 3 pixels.

Apply the filter as a texture to the tattoo by going to the Blending Mode drop-down and selecting either Overlay or Soft Light.

Use Ctrl Alt G (Windows) or Command Option G (macOS) to create a Clipping Mask.

Apply Tattoos in Photoshop with Multiply

Observe the subtle but realistic effect of the skin texture applied to the tattoo.

And there you have it! You can easily apply a tattoo in Photoshop.

With this technique, you can experiment with different tattoo designs and placements.

So, what are you waiting for? Start creating your own custom tattoos today!

You can share your results on Instagram by tagging @photoshoptrainingchannel and using the hashtag #ptcvids for a chance to be featured!

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Final Image

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