How to make a T-Shirt Mockup look real in Photoshop

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If you’re a t-shirt designer, you may have cause to provide t-shirt mockups to your customers and fans.  Making these mockups look genuine can be a challenge because the blank t-shirt photo you’re using has curves and folds. Today, we’re going to show you how you can use Photoshop to make a more realistic presentation of your graphic t-shirt art for display. 

Before and After Photoshop T-Shirt Mockup

The Challenge!

Here is a PSD file with a T-shirt model that has curves and folds with a t-shirt design placed on the chest. As you can see the t-shirt design looks like a pasted file not a screen printed t-shirt design.

Unrealistic T-Shirt Graphic Photo

The Fix!

Have your background image and your design image open in Photoshop. Hide your t-shirt graphic by clicking the “eye” icon next to the layer.

Click on your background (model) image and duplicate by pressing command or control J to duplicate it. With the copy selected, go to Image>Adjustments>Desaturate to change the image to black and white.

Desaturate to Black & White

Then we need to increase the contrast as much as possible. Go to Levels using command or control L.

This is what you will see initially.

Changing Levels in Photoshop

Pull the left slider to the beginning of the largest peak on the left side. Then pull the right slider to the edge of the peak on the right side, click Okay. The result will be a highly contrasting t-shirt image.

Post Level Adjustment

Next we are going to blur the image so the edges will be smoother. We do this by going to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Choosing the right amount of blur may take some trial and error because it will depend on the t-shirt model graphic you use. The goal is to make the t-shirt look silken, no hard edges but not so blurred as to make it indistinguishable. 

Find Gaussian Blur

Post Gaussian Blur Adjustment

Now save this layer as a PSD in a folder or on your desktop with the label of Displacement Map.

You can now hide your gray version of the t-shirt model if you wish by clicking the “eye” icon to the left of the layer.

We’re now going to implement the displacement map we created by working with the original image of the t-shirt graphic, not the gray background or the color background of the model. We’re going to be able to see curves, depressions and the essence of the movement of the t-shirt through our graphic.

Click the “eye” icon again on the original graphic layer to make it visible, with the graphic layer selected, go to Filter>Distort>Displace. 

Filter, Distort, Displace

In most cases, we can leave the settings here at default but you may have a cause to alter these depending on the case. Click okay. 

Now you’ll be prompted to choose the Displacement Map we created earlier. If the results are too extreme or not visible enough, use command or control Z and alter the settings until you get a result you like.

Post Displacement

We now have movement, curves and definition that look a bit more realistic.

Let’s go a few steps further!

Double click on the graphic layer and open up the Layer Style. At the bottom of the layer style box there is a slider for Underlying Layer, hold down the Option or Alt tab and begin separating the arrow. 

Underlying Layer Split

Underlying Layer Split

You can see that this allows for the underlying curves and texture to show through the graphic as well. Adjust this until you find a setting you like. Click okay.

One additional step is to Command or Control click on the graphic layer. The result is the selection of the graphic only. 

Graphic Only Layer Selection

Then click on the black and white t-shirt layer and click Command or Control J.

We’ll get a duplicate of the selection, on this layer. 

Duplicate Layer, Pre-Multiply

From this layer, you can change the blend mode from Normal to Multiply.

Blend Mode Change from Normal to Multiply

Then change the opacity of the result to a percentage you feel makes the final product look realistic.

The final result is a believable but totally artificial rendering of your t-shirt art you can use in your marketing or sales!

Final Result of T-Shirt Modification using Photoshop


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