How to Get Realistic Film Grain Using Displacement Mapping

I wrote this article explaining why most film grain effects look fake when applied to digital photos.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial to get realistic film grain in Photoshop. I am using Photoshop CS6, but it should work in any version with the displacement map feature.

1) Open up your image.


*If you are applying this to an image that is already open, make sure that the layers are merged into a single layer.

2) Create a 50% gray layer.


Create a new layer. Layer>New>Layer.

Make sure to set Mode: to “Overlay” and check the box that says “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray). 

Name the layer “Film Grain” and hit “OK”. 

You won’t notice any changes which is what we want since we don’t want the to change the brightness of your original image.

3) Add grain.

Filter>Noise>Add Noise.

We recommend using an amount between 10%-40% depending on how much grain you want. For this example, we will use 40% so that it is easier to see the difference.

Make sure to select “Gaussian” and “Monochromatic”.

4) Blur the grain slightly.


Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur

Set the Radius to 0.5 pixels and hit “OK”

5) Hide the background.


Hide the background image by unchecking the background layer on the lower right in your Layers pane.

You should now only see the film grain layer.

6) Save the image as a PSD.


File>Save as

Make sure the Format is “Photoshop”

Remember where you saved this PSD file because we will need it in an upcoming step.

7) Unhide the background image.


Unhide the background image by re-checking the background layer on the lower right in your Layers pane.

8) Duplicate the background image.


Duplicate the background image by right-clicking on the backround layer and choosing “Duplicate Layer”.

Select that new duplicate layer.

9) Appy the displacement map to the duplicate layer.


Go to Filter>Distort>Displace.

Choose 1 or 2 for the horizontal and vertical scale. We will use 2 for our example so the distortion is more obvious. Experiment and see which one you like.

Select “Stretch to fit” and “Repeat edge pixels”

Hit “OK”

A window will open asking you to choose a file.

10) Select the PSD file you saved in step 6. This is your displacement map.

Hit “Open”

You will notice that certain edges will have a somewhat pixelated look to them. This is exactly what we want. The pixelated distortion is based on the film grain and it’s what gives the look of textured grain.

In this example, I’ve hidden the Film Grain layer and zoomed in so you can see exactly what this is doing.

Without Displacement Map

Without Displacement Map


With Displacement Map

With Displacement Map

11) The final step is to reduce the Film Grain layer to suite your taste. 

Keep in mind that the size of the film grain will not change, just the opacity. To change the size and amount of grain, you will have to decrease the amount in Step 3.

We recommend using 50% opacity for the film grain layer.

In the end you will end up with an image like this.


Final Image with Film Grain Added

Original Image

Original Image

Final Words

The difference between using a displacement map and ONLY applying a film grain layer is subtle, but that makes all the difference in the world. The feeling of texture in the image is not easy to see, but something you can “feel”.

If you found this useful, please leave a comment below.

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A semi-automated action-set is available for purchase on our website.

You can see more examples that show the film grain effect on real photos.

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