How to fake a chalkboard effect in Photoshop


How to Spiff Up Your Hand Lettering in Photoshop
Free Downloadable Chalkboard Backgrounds

Hey look…a new Foolish file!


Hi-Res Chalkboard backgrounds in 3 flavors!
By popular demand we’ve added a set of high-res backgrounds for just a buck ninety-nine. These will work a lot better for anything you intend to print at 8.5×11 and smaller.

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The Tutorial

Every once in a while it’s fun to go off the reservation and display your work with a different look and feel. I’m partial to the nostalgic chalkboard effect but that could also be because I’m old enough to remember actual chalkboards. There I said it. The good news is it’s not brain surgery as long as you have a scanner and a copy of Photoshop.

TIP: To really get that “chalky” effect, I do my original lettering in pencil as opposed to ink.

  1. Save some time and grief by either downloading the free chalkboard background file in the previous post or obtain one of seventeen gagillion stock photos of a chalkboard from, or the stock photo source of your choice. If you do download a stock image, make sure it’s at least 600px wide so you’re not upsizing it to make your final post file.
  2. Create a New file in Photoshop at 612px by 792px (8.5×11 aspect ratio). Set the resolution at 72 dpi, use Grayscale format. Save as a .psd file. I like to name these files something like “chalkboard-base.psd” as I can generate several pieces from this one layered file.

NOTE: Starting with a 72 dpi file just gives you a more manageable file for posting your artwork quickly, but the final product will look pretty bad if you try to print it. If one of your goals is to print your work, start with a .psd file at 300 dpi, and set your scanner to scan at 300 dpi as well.

  1. Open your chalkboard background stock file, Select All, copy the image.

  1. Paste the stock photo onto the chalkboard-base file. Size to fit using Free Transform (Command-T). Try to avoid upsizing, only downsize if necessary. Name the new layer “chalkboard”.
  2. Scan your lettering artwork using a flatbed scanner set at 150dpi, (300 dpi if you intend to print the final product) black and white mode, no image correction and use .jpg file format.

  1. Open your scanned artwork file. You should now have your chalkboard-base file open along with your artwork file. On the artwork file, open the Levels menu (Image > Adjustments > Levels) and adjust the contrast if needed. The Auto Levels button in the dialog box can sometimes do the trick, but make sure you don’t exaggerate the contrast so much it obscures your beautiful, spontaneous line work. You want detail in the darkest and lightest parts of the image.
  2. Clean up smudges and “oogies” (trademarked…thank you) with a cloning tool, brush or healing brush. Need help? See A Beginner’s Guide to Spiffing Up Your Hand Lettering in Photoshop
  3. Use the marquee tool to crop around the work if necessary. Copy the selection.
  4. Open your base file and paste the artwork file. You’ll notice a new layer has just been created. Save As your file as a .psd (layered Photoshop) file.
  5. In your new chalkboard-base.psd file Select the artwork layer and invert the colors by either using Command-I or going to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Your file will now be reversed but you notice a distinct, rectangular border where you made the marquee selection, so with the layer selected change the Blending Mode to Screen. It should look like your work has just plopped itself right on top of a chalkboard.
  6. TIP: If your chalkboard background layer is too “busy” i.e. to many white, distinct scratch marks, they may show through the lettering. To remedy that, try blurring the base file a bit. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and adjust the angle and distance settings until the artwork and base merge convincingly.
  7. When everything looks exactly like you wrote it by hand in a classroom in 1965, go to File > Save for Web & Devices and save your .jpg for posting.TIP:If you’ve created your piece at 300 dpi, you may want to “Save As” a 72 dpi version first to expedite the optimizing process.

82 thoughts on “How to fake a chalkboard effect in Photoshop

  1. Kary

    Perfect–thank you! (except that in 1965 it would have been a green chalkboard, not a black one! Voice of experience talking)

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  3. James

    Thanks for the kind comment. I’m also intrigued by the combination of digital and real-world techniques and plan to keep exploring that realm.

  4. anonymous

    great tutorial … but there is no reason to work with a file less than 300dpi if you can help it…. advising 72dpi will make the file impossible to print w/o pixelation.

  5. James

    Hmmm…I made that caviat within the tutorial for cleaning up hand lettering artwork, but did in fact neglect to include in this one. You’re right to point that out, so thanks! These “chalkboard” tutorials are directed toward an audience who is primarily interested in scanning and posting their work on a community Pinterest board, thus hauling round large files might be an issue for some users prior to optimizing. I’ll make that addition, though.

  6. CJ

    You still have to have the talent to hand draw the designs. Just about anyone that has that ability already knows how to add contrast and invert an image in photoshop to get it to look like chalk. Nothing new here.

  7. James

    Absolutely right. This isn’t at all geared toward professionals, as you appear to be, but simply a couple of curious hand letterers on a Pinterest board, who saw the chalkboard effect and wondered how I did it. Only trying to help those who are new to Photoshop, not boldly go where no one’s gone before. 🙂

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  10. John Bimmerle

    CJ great comment, way to point out the obvious for skilled artists and Photoshop workers. Glad you got your comment in. Not every tutorial is designed for you, sorry James forgot that he needed to post his tutorial for an audience of you.

    James every little tip or idea for things that look cool is helpful to me. I appreciate the tutorial.

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  12. Tabitha

    I really enjoyed this post (and think CJ makes himself sound like a pompous jerk) I am not the best at hand drawing wording – and am just learning to use the several PS programs I have – Thanks for being one of those people willing to share step by step lessons to help others learn and grow… is there by chance some other way to manage the wording without have to create it by hand?

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  14. Laurie

    James, you are so nice about posting responses to comments/corrections! Nice, helpful tutorial. And thanks for making the internet a more cordial place!

  15. TKOwens

    Since I was not born knowing all of the nuances and tricks to PhotoShop, I very much appreciate tutorials like this one. Thank you for taking a charming effect and making it simple enough for any level user of PS to create.

    (CJ, did you know that many artists draw, paint, sculpt and so forth without a single class in Photoshop? Tis true and I will vouch for that.)

  16. James

    Great question. The answer is yes and no. Depends on the project. I would say everything is “based” on existing letterforms, but I mostly take liberties in my hand lettering. Sometimes new letterforms will emerge from experimentation with traditional fonts. I’m grateful that my graphic design and calligraphy training has given me enough grounding in typography to be able to break the rules on occasion. If you’re asking if the work is traced from existing fonts, then no, it’s all created with pencil or pen on paper originally, then scanned. Sometime’s I’ll use a straight edge to make guidelines, but mostly I use the level in my head. Thanks for asking.

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  18. Amy S

    Great tutorial- Thanks! I loved the tip on drawing it in pencil, and also inverting it with a screen blending mode. I typically just make photoshop brushes with my drawings and then apply them in the desired color/ opacity. This was a fun alternative and I’ve been drawing in”faux chalk” all day.

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  20. Kaaren

    CJ Isn’t there always one that has to point out how “knowledgeable” they are. Wow, CJ! You really rock… at being a total JERK! That is for your moment of fame!
    I APPRECIATE the tutorial and wish more people were as open to share their knowledge.

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  23. PTL

    Thank you, James. This is fantastic and exactly what I was looking for. I’m curious: what are your thoughts on creating this effect using a digital pen tablet?
    Doable? Or do you think it’s best with pencil only?


  24. James

    I think this effect is definitely doable using a tablet. You’ll just need to experiment with brushes and settings that produce a chalky texture when reversed. I prefer an old school #2 pencil and real paper for the main artwork because it gives me more fine control but I do use my Wacom for my clean up stages. If you try it, please let me know how it works for you.

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  26. Yael

    One detail to pay attention to is to create your hand lettering using a standard number 2 pencil. You want the pencil texture even when filling in of areas and larger letters, rather than inking it. The pencil will convincingly look like chalk when inverted. You can try experimenting with rougher papers and/or softer pencils.

  27. James

    Sage advice. Definitely pencil over ink to emulate chalk, although I would tend to agree about the #2 pencils. I tried a vast array of drawing pencils of various hardnesses when I started doing this and ended up liking the cheapest, most standard pencil I had on the office supply shelf.

  28. Amanda

    Dear CJ what a curious comment. I know many hands skilled in the art and craft of drawing and 90 % of those people wouldn’t even know how to open a PS document let alone make a chalkboard work of art. Does anyone else taste lemons!? I loved this tutorial. Thanks James.

  29. Karin

    I for one, agree with CJ. He could have left off that last sentence however. This is a great tutorial for those gifted/trained in the skill of hand drawing, but those of us who have a reasonable working knowledge of Photoshop, but no hand drawing skills, were disappointed to find that this was not a tutorial on “how to fake a chalkboard effect in Photoshop”. It was however, a very nice tutorial on “how to turn hand drawn lettering into chalk lettering using Photoshop”.

  30. James

    You’re absolutely right in that the tutorial was originally targeting folks in a Pinterest group whose common interest was hand lettering. The pin ended up being so unintentionally popular that a whole, new and more diverse audience is now looking at it, including folks like you for whom hand lettering isn’t an option. So…I’m in the process of developing another tutorial which provides a way to use machine text in much the same way—still with the goal of emulating a chalkboard but without requiring the hand work. I’ll keep your email handy when it’s posted or you can subscribe and I can let you know that way, if you’re interested.

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  36. Aceroo

    Hello! I was so excited to find this tutorial. I am not very Photoshop savvy and was sure I would be confused, but I followed your instructions and had no problems: until the end. I got stuck on the marquee tool part. Here’s my problem: I can select the section I need and either cut or copy it just fine. But I can’t select it in order to copy it. I was, however, able to drag it onto my chalkboard-base. However, when I do that, it’s super huge! Both my chalkboard-base file and my scanned artwork files are 8.5×11, so I don’t get why when I drag the artwork onto the chalkboard it’s so big! I can’t see how to make it smaller. I did invert it and change the blending mode to screen, and it looks so perfect I can’t believe it! The only problem is it being too big. If you can understand what the heck I mean and know how to fix it, I would be much obliged!! Thanks again for the great tutorial!

  37. James Ketsdever

    It’s not a problem if the scanned artwork is a lot bigger than the chalkboard base. Just use the Transform tool (Edit > Transform) to select the artwork, grab the handles and downsize it to fit the onto the base. Alternatively, make sure you scan your artwork at the same resolution as the base file. Then, provided they’re both 8.5×11, they should be the same size. Hope that helps.

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