Photoshop Retro Text Effect Tutorial {80s Synthwave}

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This retro, Photoshop text effect tutorial takes me back to my youth. Yep, I grew up in the ‘80s, and Synthwave was, well, cool!

Is it making a comeback? Maybe. You’re here, after all!

Creating Synthwave designs is a bit complex. First, you need a background image to set the stage. Then, some text that reflects light in different directions.

For this design, we’re focusing mostly on the text effect. You’ll learn how to add a dual gradient, a gradient stroke, dual-lens flares, and more.

Ready to master the Synthwave text effect? Let’s do it…

Table of Contents

Note: the (above) video tutorial was created with Photoshop beginners in mind. The following step-by-step instructions are for more experienced users.

Step 1: Create a New Document + Add Image

new document

Step one is always the easiest! Create a new Photoshop document with the following settings; 1920 x 1080 @ 300ppi. Set the Background Contents to black.

Step 2: Add Your Text, Align + Style

add text + style

One of the keys to a Synthwave design, as I mentioned previously, is the background. Since we’re focusing more on the text effect, I’ve included a free image you can use for your design.

Once downloaded, locate the file on your operating system, click on it, and drag it over the Photoshop interface. Once you release your mouse button, it will be added as a new layer.

Resize the Image

You may have noticed a blue outline around the image when it was added. Adding a picture like this auto activates the Free Transform Tool for easy access to resizing the image. Thanks, Adobe!

Grab a corner AND hold down your Alt or Option key and drag it out. The image will be resized larger from the center of the canvas. Enlarge until it fills the canvas.

Now, double click on the layer name and rename it to “Synthwave Background Image.”

Add Two Text Layers

Next is adding your text. This will be done with your Text Tool (T). I found two free fonts that we’ll use for this design. The first is called Road Rage. The other is from Google fonts, called Oswald Bold.

Let’s start with the Road Rage font first, with the following settings; 40 for the size and this hexadecimal number for a pink color, #e72de5. Type out the word “Outrun” in all caps.

Hit your Escape key to deactivate the text tool and select your Move Tool (V). Now, we need to align the text. Hold down your Command or Ctrl key and click on the background layer. This selects both layers.

In the tool options, find the two icons labeled as follows; Align horizontal centers + Align vertical centers. After aligning, click anywhere on your canvas to deselect the two layers.

Next, select the text tool again (T), switch the font to Oswald, and set the style to Bold. This time, let’s use a font size of 80, and for the color, I’m using white. Type out “RETRO.”

With your Move Tool (V), center this text below the other text. At this point, I’m not happy with the alignment. Select both text layers, and move it up above the horizon of the Synthwave image.

Style Text

I’d like to add an italic style to the word retro. However, this font does not come with it built-in. We’re going to fake the style by transforming it with our Free Transform Tool; Command or Ctrl + T.

To transform the text;

  1. Hold down your Command or Ctrl key and click + drag the top right corner to the right.
  2. Click inside the tool, and move it back to the left to recenter it.
  3. Hit Enter or Return to style the text and deactivate the tool.

Step 3: Create a Gradient Stroke

create gradient stroke

The moment you’ve been waiting for… creating the retro style! First, we’re going to add a gradient stroke to the word retro. Here’s how;

Hold down your Command or Ctrl key and click on the retro text layers thumbnail icon (to the left of the layer name – the big “T”). This selects all your letters!

Create a new layer by clicking on the appropriate icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Rename the layer “Gradient Stroke.” Next, go to…

Select > Modify > Expand to increase the size of your selection to 8px. Next, let’s fill it in with a color…

Edit > Fill, and any color is fine. Drag this layer below the retro text layer. Finally, deselect via Select > Deselect.

Add the Gradient

To add a Gradient, let’s use our Layer Style options vs. the Gradient tool. Double click on the Gradient Stroke layer to bring up the Layer Style window.

Choose, from the left panel, Gradient Overlay. Navigate to the long, rectangle box and click on it to reveal the Gradient editor. From here, change your colors as follows;

Congrats, you now know how to create a Gradient stroke!

Step 4: Apply 2 Different Gradients to Your Text

two different gradients

Another dilemma is how to add two gradients to one text layer! No worries, I’ll show you how. The secret is cutting a text layer in half and applying the gradient to each half!

Start off by right-clicking on the retro text layer and choosing “Rasterize Type.” Grab your Rectangle Marquee tool (M). Then, make a selection around the word retro and place it, so it cuts (roughly) in half.

Now, cut your text (Command or Ctrl + X) and then past in place with; Edit > Paste Special > Paste in Place. Rename the layers accordingly; Top + Bottom.

Here are the settings for the Gradient;

Another Stroke?

I’d like to add a little more depth to the retro text effect than the Gradient Stroke layer. Select it and activate the Layer Style window. Click on “Stroke.” For the settings;

Step 5: Create Glowing Text

glowing text

Let’s make our text glow! Click on your Outrun text layer to select it. Then, with Command or Ctrl + J, let’s duplicate the layer.

Rename the layer Outrun Glow and move the layer below the other text layer.  Next, right-click on the glow layer and choose Rasterize Type. Next, for the glow…

Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur @ 100px

Make “Retro” Glow

We’re going to make our retro text layer glow too. Before we can do that, we need to duplicate 3 layers; Top, Bottom, and Stroke. Group them, and then duplicate the group.

Rename the group to Retro Glow. Now, right-click on the Retro Glow group and find “Merge Group.” Make sure to move this layer below the Gradient Stroke layer and repeat the steps above for adding the glow.

Step 6: Apply 2 Different Lens Flares

A Synthwave design wouldn’t be complete with not one but two lens flares!

Lens Flare 1

Create a new layer and place it above all the other layers. Rename this layer “Lens Flare 1” and fill it with black.

Filter > Render > Lens Flare

For our first lens flare, let’s select “Movie Prime” and click OK. Although you can see the lens flare, we can’t see the rest of our text effect! It’s an easy fix by blending the layer. Change the Blending Mode to; “Screen.”

See that bright, round flare? It’s not where I’d like it. It should be on one of the letters. Easy to do with the Free Transform tool: Command or Ctrl + T.

I’m going to grab the top left corner and drag up + to the left to make it larger. I’ve placed the flare on the letter “O.”

Lens Flare 2

Repeat the same steps as before for your second lens flare. For this one, I went with the 105mm Prime and repeat the steps as before.

Now What?

This is a fun retro design. Wouldn’t you agree?

In fact, I’d love to see your final retro text design! Share your new skills by joining and posting in our private Facebook group. It’s a great place to share, learn, and grow as a Photoshop user.

Ready to up your Photoshop skills further? If so, check out my premium Photoshop tutorials and or my free Photoshop tutorials.

Looking for more Photoshop text tutorials? Check out this playlist that includes over 20 text effects you can master today!

Like this article? If so, please share!

A 30-year photography pro with a desire to help you achieve your creative vision! Facebook | Youtube

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