Photoshop inset effect on text in combination with clipping mask

20 Sep 2010

Effects, such as drop shadow, inner shadow, gradient overlay etc. can be applied in Photoshop in a simple way via Layer Styles. This is a very easy, and most of all, flexible way. You can easily apply this on text and keep the text editable at all times. One of these effects is the inset effect, which can be created by a combination of a drop shadow and inner shadow. Today I want to share with you how you can apply an inset effect on text, in combination with a background that serves as a clipping mask and have all your text still editable. Let's get started!

Going outer space with the power of inset

The image below could be the end result of today's tutorial. We'll create a background which is much inspired by space, add some subtle inset effect text and we'll have our out of space banner.

The Power of Inset - Use subtly and with caution

It is simple, and powerful, but don't forget, like with any effect it's only a nice effect if used wisely. Which means 'use subtly and with caution'.

Background from outer space

We'll start by creating a new document. Mine is 927 by 420 px, because these dimensions match the layout of the blog perfectly, but you can use any size you like here. Then choose RGB as color mode, and a black background.

Create gradient

To create our space background, we first create a custom gradient. Select the Gradient tool from the toolbox, and then double click the gradient area in the Options bar at the top to active the Gradient Editor.

Photoshop Gradient Editor window

Create a gradient as shown in the image above:

  • The first Color Stop is black with 0% Opacity
  • The second Color Stop, located at 50%, is a very bright lila
  • The third Color Stop, located at 100%, is a bright orange and has 100% Opacity

Draw the gradient

Create a new layer first, then with the Gradient tool still selected, click-drag from the bottom left to the top right, as shown in the image below.

Draw the gradient

The end result should somehow look like the image below.

Space gradient

To finish off and keep things a bit organized, you can give the layer a name like e.g. 'space'.

Create sparkles

Next we'll add some shiny sparkles. To do so we'll need to create a custom brush.

Create brush

Select the Brush tool from the toolbox and go to the Brushes palette. Check the following options from the Brushes Presets:

  • Shape Dynamics
  • Scattering
  • Other Dynamics
  • Smoothing
Bruses Presets - Brush Tip Shape

Select Brush Tip Shape and choose 14 px Diameter, 0% Hardness and 1000% Spacing.

Bruses Presets - Shape Dynamics

Select Shape Dynamics and choose 100% Size Jitter, 57% Minimum Diameter, 0% Angle Jitter and 0% Roundness Jitter.

Bruses Presets - Scattering

Select Scattering and choose 1000% Scatter, 2 as value for Count and 79% Count Jitter.

Bruses Presets - Other Dynamics

Select Other Dynamics and choose 41% Opacity Jitter and 34% Flow Jitter. Now go to the top right corner of the palette and choose New Brush Preset, give the brush a name like e.g. 'sparkles' and click OK.

Apply brush

First create a new layer. You can name it 'sparkles'. Select a very light yellow foreground color. Click the foreground color swatch from the toolbox and choose e.g. R255 G251 B229. With the Brush tool still selected, start drawing sparkles by dragging your mouse around fast and very randomly, just like you would scribble.


The end result should look a bit similar to the image above.

Merge layers

Merge the 'sparkles' layer with the 'space' layer, by selecting the 'sparkles' layer in the Layers palette and then hit Cmd/Ctrl + e (or via Layers > Merge Down). For the next step it's best to temporarily change the background color to white just so you see the result at its best. Click the tiny Foreground and Background Color swatches in the toolbox to reset the fore- and background to its default black and white. Select the background layer, hit Cmd/Ctrl + a to select everything and hit the Backspace key.

Clipping mask

Prepare text

Now we'll create the text that we want the effect on. Here I'm just using the word INSET, but you can of course use any text you like. Select the Horizontal Type tool from the toolbox and type your text.

Prepare text

I have used white as color, but it doesn't matter really which color you use as long as you can read it you are fine. Position your text the way you want it to be and give it the size you want it to have.

Add clipping mask to text

Now go to the Layers palette and drag the layer that holds your text below the layer that has the background, in our case the layer called 'space'. Now go with your cursor right at the horizontal intersection line of both layers and hold down the Option/Alt key. You should see your cursor change into the clipping mask cursor as shown in the image below.

Create clipping mask

After you click the mouse to apply the clipping mask, the result should look like the image below. You have now created a clipping mask on the text of the 'space' layer. The text is still editable which is great as this gives you a lot of flexibility.

Apply clipping mask

To move on to the next step, adding the inset effect, we need to change the background color to something a bit darker than white. I've chosen for R230 G229 B211.

Inset effect

Drop Shadow

Next will add some inset effect to our text using 2 Layer Styles. Select the layer in the Layers palette that holds the text, go to the bottom of the palette and choose Drop Shadow from the layer styles dropdown menu (the 'fx' icon).

Layer Style - Drop Shadow

First, make sure Preview is checked so you see what you're doing. Choose Normal under the Blend Mode options and choose white as color. Then choose an Opacity of 75% and and Angle of 90°. Below choose a Distance of 1 px, 0% Spread and 2 px Size. The smaller the text the lower these values. The Opacity also depends on the color of the background the text sits on. This effect will only work if the text is darker than its background.

Inner Shadow

In the Layer Style window, first check Inner Shadow and then click it to see the options.

Layer Style - Inner Shadow

Choose Multiply as Blend mode, 75% Opacity and 90° Angle. Then choose a Distance of 2 px, 0% Spread and 2 px Size. Again, these values depend a bit on the size of the text, and the Opacity value on how dark the color of the text is. Could be that 75% is way too dark for you. For lighter colors, you need less opacity or the effect will be way too hard.

Repeat and duplicate

In case you have a separate line of text that you want to apply the same background inset effect, you can type your text in a new layer and then duplicate the 'space' layer on top of it. Then alt click on the intersection of both layers to create the clipping mask.

Repeat and duplicate

Final result

End result

So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed this simple Photoshop tutorial and it has created some ideas for your designs or compositions.


  1. 1 Gerrit 20 Sep 2010

    Given the high degree of detailed explanation, this is a great tutorial. Thanks for sharing, Veerle.

  2. 2 Eva 21 Sep 2010

    I love that you are venturing into the Photoshop tutorials realm. Keep them coming :D

  3. 3 Benedikte 24 Sep 2010

    Thanks for the nice tutorial. Learnt something new: the shortcut Alt + selecting the 2 layers for the clipping mask and the cursor change, didn’t know this ... cool!

  4. 4 matthijs 28 Sep 2010

    great tutorial, thnx

  5. 5 Hanna 03 Oct 2010

    Great tuto, I love it. Thanks for sharing.

  6. 6 Veerle Pieters 06 Oct 2010

    Glad you all enjoyed it :)


    I love that you are venturing into the Photoshop tutorials realm. Keep them coming :D

    Thanks :) Will sure do my best to do so.

  7. 7 Miha 08 Oct 2010

    I’ve seen similar tutorials before and I didn’t expect to learn something new, but I did! Clipping masks! Recomposing the layers within the Clipping Mask - a massive time-saver over the destructive approach.

  8. 8 Nathan Nash 16 Oct 2010

    Awesome tutorial, I was able to fully grasp it just from the images alone. Great idea to use the clipping mask for the inset text effect.

  9. 9 D-oNe 28 Oct 2010

    Nice one.. Very well explained for a beginner like me :) and found some new technique…
    It’s simple but the final result is amazing..
    Thanks a ton for sharing this tuts…