A Simple Smudge Tutorial for Beginners

Good evening everyone! I’m going to start re-releasing my old tutorials on my blog not only to give them a permanent home, but hopefully to give young signature designers some help in developing their craft. If you don’t know much about me, I got my start into the world of graphic design by designing signatures (or tags, as the hip kids call them) for message boards starting back in 2003. So without further ado, here’s a beginner’s tutorial in creating a signature with the smudge tool in Photoshop.

A couple of members on GFX Void, BuBBlez and Sharp2 (w00t w00t, shoutouts!), requested a smudge tutorial. The tag I chose was picked because it’s the easiest to learn the concepts of smudge. And since this is for people new to smudge, its exactly what I’m going for. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂

Starting your Signature Design

Pick your canvas size. I used 450×200. Pick your render and stock. I used a nebula stock I found on google, and an anime render. You can see the two I chose below.

Smudge Tutorial - Stock Image and Render

Go ahead and place your render and stock. Try to choose a stock with a lot of natural flow in it, much like the one I picked. Or if you want to test your skills, try creating your own flow using the smudging tips you’ll learn from this tutorial.

Smudge Tool Basics

Sweet, now we start using the smudge tool. The trick to smudging is to smudge in only one or two major directions. In this case we will be smudging from the lower left corner of our canvas to the upper right. If you notice we‘ll be smudging in the exact direction of the flow of the background. The smudge settings I used are below.

smudge tutorial settings

Here’s an example of how to smudge. The left side shows the correct method to use when trying out this tutorial. The one of the right shows 100% strength, which in my opinion isn’t very aesthetically pleasing.

smudge tutorail

And this is what I have so far. Some designers might be satisfied with placing a border around it and calling it a day, but we’ll be adding a few extra steps to make it look more complete.

smudge signature example

Adding Depth to Your Signature

Now, Duplicate your background layer twice and set the blending mode on both layers to Lighten. Move the two layers above the render to make it seem like the smudge is all around her. If you would like, you can tinker around with the lightness or darkness of your signature by adjusting the Curves. You might notice that I made mine a smidge darker.

If you would like to add a light source to your design, apply the image now (ALT + CTRL + SHIFT + E simultaneously), and go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. The light from my signature is coming from the bottom. Adding a light source gives a signature more depth in theory.


Now this is completely optional: I used a gold bubble c4d (a C4D is slang for a 3D render in case you didn’t know) and set the blending mode to lighten. As with anything you do, erase what you don’t like. I also added a red nebula stock and set that to lighten, too. We should be close to done now. Add your text and border if you feel like you need it. Here is my final product!


You’re Finished! Thanks for reading this graphic design tutorial!

Thank you for trying out my smudge tutorial! Please don’t rip this and or post on your own site without my permission. If you just ask me, chances are I’ll let you post the image version on your site/forum or hell, I’ll even post it myself in most cases. Just ask, don’t steal.

Also, I encourage you to complete my tutorial and post your outcome in the comments! I will edit my post and to display it underneath the tutorial. Thank you again!

A graphic version of my Simple Smudge Tutorial is available on my deviantart, or by clicking the button below.

A Simple Smudge Tutorial

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