How to create a glitch effect in Photoshop

How to create a glitch effect in Photoshop

One trend that I’ve started to increasingly see around the internet is a bit of a throwback: a glitch effect! It adds a great robotic, techno feel to the design and pairs well with other trends, like a duotone effect. And the best part? It’s not too difficult to create!

Let’s first start with a little inspiration. Winter Workweek has a subtle glitch effect over their imagery in the background of this project. It certainly adds an air of mystery that leaves you wanting to scroll for more!

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial winter workweek website screenshot

In a more obvious fashion, Blendmodes Studio has applied a glitch effect to their site and used it as a theme to be seen throughout. On this site, they’ve incorporated a sine wave that gives it a another glitch vibe. So if you want to give this one a try, follow along in the tutorial and select sine instead of square. They’ve used this effect both in the background and in a text-hover effect, making for a great, interactive site design.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial blendmodes studio website screenshot

Now that you’ve seen how some other designers are utilizing this trend in various ways, let’s dive in and learn how to create a glitch effect yourself!

Note: This tutorial is part of our 2018 Design Trends course! When you sign up, you’ll get exclusive access to a custom Photoshop action and tutorial to help you use it.

The manual Photoshop method

To create the following effects, make sure your document is in 8bit mode. To do this, select Image > Mode > 8bits Channel.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial convert to 8bit

Open your image and create a smart object

Open your file in Photoshop. (I’ll be using this photo of the Local by Flywheel robot!) To begin, right click your image and select Convert to Smart Object or by selecting Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial convert to smart object

Create a wave

Duplicate that layer by right clicking and selecting Duplicate Layer, so you have an original to go back to. Name that layer “offset” and the other “original.”

 layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial duplicate layer rename

Now, with the “offset” layer selected, choose Filter > Distort > Wave. For this layer, we’re going to create a subtle effect.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial filter distort wave

You can adjust any of these options as you’d like, but for this one, I’m going to set the number of generators to 1. Then, change the Wavelength to minimum 279 and maximum to 695 and the Amplitude to minimum 162 and maximum to 441. I also set the Scale to 3% horizontal and 1% vertical. Make sure your Type is set to Square and toggle on Repeat Edge Pixels under Undefined Areas. Once you have these set, you can click randomize until you see the preview you prefer. You can see more of the adjustments I chose in the image below. This just gives the robot a slight misaligned box effect!

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial wave menu settings

(Optional) Create a more dramatic effect with another wave

Create another wave on the same “offset” layer using these same steps. This time I’m going to change the settings slightly and set the number of generators to 1. Then, change the Wavelength to minimum 301 and maximum to 884 then change the Amplitude to minimum 301 and maximum to 699 I also set the Scale to 2% horizontal and 1% vertical. This gives the robot an even more distorted look.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial wave menu settings

Create a distorted clipping mask

Duplicate your original layer and name it “extras.” In order to see your selections, reorder the layers by bringing “extras” to the top. Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool, select various parts and sizes of your image you would like to distort while holding down the shift key. The key to getting a really great effect is taking selections from all over your image.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial marquee selection

Once you’re happy with your selection, create a mask with the Add layer mask button at the bottom of the layers panel.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial add layer mask

Now, on the extras layer with the image selected (not the mask), add two more waves to the extras layer with Filter > Distort > Wave with similar settings as the step prior.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial wave menu options

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial wave menu options

For a more dramatic effect, unlink the mask from the image. Use the move tool to adjust the location of either the image or mask wherever you like. You can change the effect depending on if you move the mask or the image itself, but when trying to move the image, make sure you’re using the move tool within the masking area.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial unlink mask move

Add advancedblending options

Now apply advanced blending options to both the “extras” layer and the “offset” layer. First, select the “offset” layer. At the bottom of the layers window, click the Add a layer style button that says “fx”. Then, under Blending Options > Advanced Blending, toggle the red (or R) channel off.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial blending options

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial advanced blending options

Repeat this same step for the “extras” layer.

Now that you have the glitch completed, you can toggle the waves on and off to get the exact effect you like.

Bonus: Create 90s tech effects

Looking for more great retro assets? We have 13 free design resources you’ll love!

Create lines effect

Create a new layer with Layer > New Layer and name it “lines.” Fill it with white by clicking Edit > Fill and from the Blending Mode dropdown, select White.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial edit fill

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial fill contents white

Then, select Filter > Filter Gallery. Under the Sketch dropdown, select the Halftone Pattern and adjust it to your desired effect, but for this example I set the size to 1 and contrast set to 30. Set the Pattern Type dropdown says Lines.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial halftone pattern line

If you want to take it a step further, add another filter by clicking New effect layer under the Halftone Pattern effect. Under the Artistic dropdown, select Watercolor with the brush detail set to 14, shadow intensity set to 0, and texture set to 3.  

Note: How you order the effects will change it slightly. When the watercolor effect is above the halftone effect, the image will appear lighter. If the halftone is above the watercolor, the image will appear darker.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial watercolor

Finally, in the layers window, change the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 50%.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial blending mode pverlay opacity 50

Add grain to reduce clarity

To make this effect, create a new layer with Layer > New Layer  and name it “grain.” Fill it with 50% gray by clicking Edit > Fill and use the contents background to select 50% gray.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial edit fill contents 50% gray

Now select Filter > Camera Raw Filter. In this window, you can adjust the settings. Under the Effects panel, I set the Amount to 100, size to 25, and roughness to 50.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial camera raw filter

Finally, in your layers window, set the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 25%.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial blending mode overlay opacity 25

And that’s it – now you have your own glitch effect! Your image should look like it just came out of a 90s computer. How are you going to use this trend? Let us know in the comments below.

layout by flywheel glitch effect photoshop how to tutorial local robot final

Free Photoshop action!

The awesome designers here at Flywheel have created an easy-to-use Photoshop action that applies these steps to the image of your choice with just a couple clicks! To get the free tool and walk through how to use it, sign up for our Design Trends course using the form, or learn more about it here!

Thanks for joining our Design Trends course!

First, download the Photoshop action here.

How to use the Glitch-a-tron

Install the action

Once you’ve downloaded the action, double-click the file to install it. Open the image you’d like to use in Photoshop, and then open the Actions window.

To navigate to the Actions window, select Window > Actions or hold down Shift + F9.

show actions window to create photoshop glitch effect

Once you’ve opened the Actions window, select the image layer you want to apply the glitch effect to.

Select and play the action

Click the drop-down on the “Flywheel – Glitch-a-tron” folder. Now, select “Glitch-a-tron – Select and hit play” and press the triangle play button at the bottom of the window.

play photoshop action to create glitch effect

Adjust the image using the layers

Depending on your desired effect, you can toggle various layers on and off, select and move masks or images, and adjust any other setting you choose.

Note: Depending on the size of your image, you may need to resize or reposition the “extras” mask, as it’s optimized for 1080px by 1920px.

Bonus: Reset your image in a snap

Just in case you want to backtrack, the action automatically creates a screenshot that allows you to go back to your image before the action was applied.

Navigate to the History window by selecting Window > History. Scroll up to the top, and click “Snapshot.” This resets everything so you’re good to go!

photoshop glitch effect action create snapshot

There are so many uses for this nifty, time-saving resource. What projects are you going to use the glitch-a-tron for? Leave your ideas in the comments!

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