Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
This tutorial is an excerpt from a larger set of instruction found in the Tuts+ course Advanced Photo Manipulation: Movie Poster Effects.

This tutorial will deal with one aspect of that larger project, creating custom rust and distress effects. Because when you are stomping around a city in your giant robot suit beating up enormous alien creatures. You can expect to take a few hits. Your mechsuit isn't going to be pristine! 
This tutorial falls under the umbrella of photo manipulation, so we will use photos as our reference to create the custom wear and tear on our metal giant. So download the source Photoshop file and project photos, and follow along as we add grime, grunge, rust and scratches to our massive metal man.
This tutorial uses photos provided by the author and freely available for your own private use. In the sidebar, look for the Download Attachments link, then save the zip file to your system extract the source RustEffects-Starter.psd file along with six texture photos we will be using along the way.
Rusted scratched worn metal textures
Open the RustEffects-starter.psd file. Notice that the file contains only three layers: a background, an accessories layer, and a layer for a very clean metal robot. This figure was constructed using various parts of photographs from metal objects. The assembly looks good, but it lacks realism due to the almost sterile appearance of the metal pieces. By adding in rust, scratches, grime, etc. The figure will appear more believable.
screenshot of starting file with an undamaged giant robot
Open the texture file DSC_0195.jpg  and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a very rough selection around the metal area to include plenty of the rust and other damage. Then go to Edit > Copy.
Selecting a region of damaged metal to use as a texture
Return to the main project file and go to Edit > Paste to deposit the copied texture onto a new layer. Make sure the texture layer is above the Base Robot layer.
New texture layer for the rust texture
Duplicate the texture layer with Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J) and reposition the copy below the original. Then hide the original texture layer by clicking the eyeball icon next to the thumbnail in the Layers panel. Change the Blend Mode of the duplicate layer to allow the texture to blend with the pixels behind it. The texture and background will determine which mode to use. In this case, Overlay is a good choice.
Setting teh texture blending mode to Overlay
Transform the texture layer with Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) to roughly fit over one of the chest plates of the robot. It doesn't need to be an exact fit, but the scale of the texture should be small enough to portray the large scale of the robot.
Scaling the texture layer to fit the robot
Before committing the transformation, right-click the texture and choose Warp from the context menu. Use the warp handles to shape the texture into a curve that matches the topography of the metal piece. When you are satisfied with the shape commit the transform by pressing Enter or clicking the checkmark icon in the options bar.
Warping the texture to match the metal curves
Clip the texture layer to the robot layer by holding down the Alt key while clicking the line between the layers. When done correctly the texture layer's thumbnail will indent and a small down pointing arrow icon will appear next to it. This clipping ensures the texture is only visible over the robot pixels, and not the background.
Clipping the texture to the robot layer
Use the Eraser (E) to further refine where the texture appears. Use a soft edged brush tip on the eraser to lightly remove obvious seams and areas where the texture shouldn't be visible over other metal pieces.
Erase unwnated areas of the texture
Continue the same process of texturing different elements of the robot. Create duplicates of the original layer as many times as needed, using different portions of the texture. Copy in additional texture areas from the other stock photos so there is a good variety to the overall appearance. In our project we used nearly two dozen texture layers. It can be tedious work, but the final effect is worthwhile
Over 20 texture layers to provide a well textured effect
Use the texture shots of small mechanical elements to help add scale and realism to the robot figure. The tighter the detail, the larger the robot will appear.
Layering in textures is an excellent tool for adding wear and details to a surface. Adding in rust and scratch effects take the overall piece to another level. This section of the tutorial details how to create custom rust and scratch brushes from the texture photos and use them to add realistic damage to the metal of our hero robot.
Open the file DSC_0195.JPG and make a rough selection of the scratches near the top of the file. Copy the selection with Edit > Copy (Control-C)
Selecting scratch damage from the texture photo
Create a new document with File > New (Control-N) Photoshop automatically fills in the size of the new file with the dimensions of the copied pixels. Click OK in the New dialogue box. Then paste into the new file with Edit > Paste (Control-V).
New file dialogue box autofills the correct pixel dimensions
Copied scratches pasted into the new file
remove the color information with Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Shift-Control-U). Then open the Levels adjustment with Image > Adjustments > Levels (Control-L). Pull both outside adjustment handles in towards the center to create intense contrast in the texture. The goal is to get the scratches as a bright white against the darker pixels.
Using Levels to increase the contrast in the Scratches texture
Photoshop's brush tips define black areas as positive, and the texture here has them as negative so go to Image > Adjustments > Invert (Control-I) to change the textures so the scratches are black and the metal is light grey.
Inverted texture
Use the Eraser (E) with a soft edges brush tip to remove the hard edges and make a more feathered transition.
Use the Eraser to soften the edges
Go to Select > Color Range and choose the Shadows option from the Select menu. Adjust the Fuzziness and Range sliders until the preview show a good selection of the scratch areas. In our example, we used 38% and 54 respectively. Hit OK to generate the selection.
Use Color Range to isolate the scratches
Copy the select to a new layer with Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J) then the original layer can be deleted.
A good clean file to create a custom scratch brush
Make any further touch-ups with the Eraser Tool ?( to remove and remaining hard edges. Then define a new brush tip by going to Edit > Define Brush Preset and giving the new brush a name.
Return to the main project file. Create a new layer on top of the rest of the texture layers for the scratches. Clip the scratch layer in with the rest. Use the Brush Tool (B) and select the newly created, custom scratch brush. Select a bright gray color and reduce the brush size as needed. Create the scratch effect by single clicks, don't drag the brush as you would a normal brush, this technique works more like a stamp.
Adding scrath effects with the new custom brush
Continue adding scratch effects using a variety of color and sizing of the brush. Right-click to get the Brush Context menu to make use of the rotation widget so all the scratches are not going the same direction.
Adjust the brush rotation with the right click menu
Adding custom rust into the composition uses a very similar process as adding the scratches. Use a source texture photo to create a custom brush, then apply directly to the robot!
Open the file DSC_0782.JPG  and notice the delicious rust coloring and texture along the metal. Especially on the right side.
Source texture photo for rust
The screws along the right are interrupting the texture and need to be removed. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) to create a selection around each screw and go to Edit > Fill. Choose Content Aware from the Fill menu and hit OK to let Photoshop fill in the selection with non-screw texture!
Use Content Aware Fill to remove the screws
Use the Select > Color Range again. Change the Select option to Sampled Colors and sample some of the reddish rust area from the photo. The Fuzziness slider will control how sharp the selection edge ends up. When satisfied with the selection, hit OK.
Use Color Range to select the rust
Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J) to copy the rust selection to a new layer. Hide the background layer and use the Eraser (E) to remove any hard edges from the rust texture.
Copy to a new layer and touch up with the eraser
Create the rust brush by going to Edit > Define Brush Preset.
Define the Rust Brush
Return to the project file and add a new layer for the rust texture. Remember to clip the layer in with the others. Use the new rust brush to add subtle rust effects to the robot. Enhance the effect by using a rusty-red colors and adjusting the layer's Blend Mode. In our example we used #c69d5c and Color Burn.
Adding in the rust texture
The texturing process frequently has a tendency to make the subject darker than intended. This is simply a result of laying so many pixels together, especially when they are primarily dark hued.
Correct this issue by adding a Curves Adjustment Layer and clipping it to the top of the texture layers. Add two control points to the center area of the curve and pull them upwards slightly to brighten up the robot.
A brighter textured robot
Congratulations! You've completed the texturing of the giant, battle weary robot using custom textures, scratch brushes, and rust effects! Hopefully this project helps you realize just how versatile and powerful custom texturing can be when creating realistic photo manipulation projects.
Custom Textured Robot Finished
Did you find this tutorial helpful? Want to learn more tricks and techniques for Photo Manipulation? Keep in mind that this tutorial is just a small portion of the overall project of creating this entire movie poster in the Advanced Photo Manipulation: Movie Poster Effects course.
The 18-video course contains 2.8 hours of detailed, step by step instruction and walks you through the entire process. Starting at sketching and shooting photos, assembling the scenes, adding effects, and finally title treatments.
Movie Poster course promotional shot
Let us know in the comments section if you found this tutorial helpful, or ran into any problems following it. We'd love to see you final project and hope you can apply these techniques to your own work. Cheers!


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