How to Get Realistic Scratches in Photoshop

By Filonia LeChat

A scratch on a business photograph may have been cause for panic and a reshoot in the past, but with graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop, scratches are sometimes added in on purpose. You can use Photoshop to fake a scratched image on something you don’t really want to scratch, such as showing how your damage-removal product works on a scratched-up car. You can also add realistic scratches to make a brand-new image look older, as if it’s been through the ringer over the years.

Start Photoshop and open the image on which you wish to use the scratch technique. Click the “File” menu and choose “Save As.” Type a new name or add a date to the end of the existing filename and click “Save.” You can wait to do this at the end of the process, but doing it now will ensure that you don't accidentally overwrite the original image.

Click the “New Layer” icon in the Layers pane (this icon looks like a square with a bent corner at the bottom left). If the Layers pane is not open on your work desk, click the “Window” menu, then click “Layers.” A new Layer 1 is added to the palette, although nothing changes on the image itself.

Double-click the “Color Picker,” the top-left colored box on the bottom of the Tools pane. Choose "white" or your preferred scratch color and click “OK.”

Click the "Paintbrush" icon on the Tools pane. When the paintbrush toolbar opens, click the "Brush Head" menu, second from the left. Scroll through the brush-head designs and choose one of the scratch heads. Various effects are available, from small, faint scratches to long, jagged edges. Slide the “Size” bar to your preferred size. To preview the scratch, hover your mouse over the image without clicking. Adjust the “Size” slider and scratch-head type to your preference.

Click and drag your mouse over the picture. Add as many scratches as desired to the design.

Click the “Filter” menu. Hover over “Noise” and choose “Add Noise” from the fly-out menu. Slide the “Amount” bar to the right to adjust the scratches to make them more apparent or to the left to minimize them. Toggle between the “Uniform” and “Gaussian” radio buttons to experiment with what looks best for your image. Click the “OK” button.

Click the “File” menu. If you already renamed the image in the first step, click the “Save” button. If you haven’t yet renamed the image, click “Save As” and type a new name to prevent overwriting the original. Click the “Save” button.


It may be tempting to apply the "Dust & Scratches" filter in the Noise section of the Filter menu, but this actually removes any bits and particles from the existing image, which is the opposite of what you are trying to do.