Creating Digital Frames and Borders

Digital photography requires a solid workflow, allowing for professional preparing of digital photo files for the web and print. For the Digital Photography Workflow series, we consulted with a number of experienced professional photographers who are also stellar members and frequent contributors to the Digital Darkroom forum, to walk us through their specific photography techniques and tips on post-processing images.

In this article, Jean-Sébastien offers advice on how to create your own digital frames and borders for your photography. The article is enhanced with illustrative figures and screen shots, and includes example images from Jean’s portfolio. Whether you are just entering the world of digital photography and need some tips and advice on how best to post-process your images, or are a seasoned pro, the insights shared here should be helpful with your own digital post-processing techniques.

How to put a digital frame/border on your photos

You will learn in this tutorial how to create your own frames for photos, giving them a grungy look. There are two parts to this process.

  1. Brush Creation
  2. Frame Painting

Level: Intermediate

Tools: adobe_photoshop-cs3-mac or adobe_photoshop-cs3-pc

Part I. Create Brushes


Step 1

Photos of old walls, adhesive tapes, cracks are good candidates for your brushes. The only important thing is to find a texture with a contrasting black element over a white background. You will learn how you can create one from a photo. The black part of the image defines the brush, and the white part is the background.


Step 2

Load your image. It needs to be in Grayscale mode. Go to Image → Mode → Grayscale. If you want to have more control on it, try first to explore the three Red, Green and Blue channels of the image by pressing Control+1 , Control+2 and Control+3. Stop on the one you like most and then convert the image to Grayscale.

Step 3

It is time to clean up unwanted elements from the image. First, crop it to what will be your brush. If the brush is a white element over a black background, go to Image → Adjustments → Invert to make it black on white.


Step 4

Now use Image → Adjustments → Levels to clean up the image. Move the white cursor to the left until most unwanted elements in the background are washed out. Do the same with the black cursor, moving it to the right, until the brush stands out. A final adjustment on the grey cursor will give you finer control.


Step 5

Use the brush to paint in white any remaining element in the background.


Step 6

Your image is now a perfect grungy black brush over a white background. Go to Edit → Define brush preset and give a name to your creation.


Step 7

Your brush is now ready. Open the Brushes palette (Window→Brushes) and try to play with the parameters. Changing the angle helps you tilt the brush in any direction. It’s very useful. In Shape Dynamics, try the Size and Angle Jitter to give variations to your brush. Play with it until you’re satisfied with its look.

Part II. Paint a Frame

Step 1

Open a new image onto which you will add your frame. In this example, let’s create a black frame.


Step 2

Using the selection tool, draw a rectangle that will roughly define the frame.

Step 3

Use Select → Inverse to select the outside of the rectangle (i.e. the frame), rather than the inside of it.


Step 4

Create a new Solid Color Adjustment Layer (Layer → New fill layer → Solid Color). Select the color for the frame. In this example, it will be black.


Step 5

You now have a rectangle black frame above your image. It is time to use your brushes to change its edges. You can paint variations on the mask of your layer: painting in black clears it, while white adds paint to it. Both approaches will work.

Step 6

If you have a horizontal brush and would like to use it vertically, just tilt its angle in the Brush palette.


Step 7

If you want to add more details, you can create another solid color frame below the first one, for instance, in dark grey. Paint again on it to give more variation to your border.


I hope that you have enjoyed this tutorial. Adding a digital frame or border can add a whole new look and feel to your photos.


Jean-Sébastien Monzani is a Swiss and French full-time freelance
photographer and graphic designer. Elegance, simplicity, a strong sense
of composition and emotions are key elements in his work. His images are
often constructed as photo-series—something between fashion
photography and movie storyboards. The sequence of shots usually tells
a little story but each image also works independently. Since he often
tries to convey atmosphere in his photos, he mainly shoots
on-location, almost exclusively in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he lives.

Example Images from Jean’s Gallery

4293749 3449808 3833678

Text ©2008 Jean-Sébastien
. Photos ©2008 Jean-Sébastien Monzani.

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    • Something I've been wanting to do for ages but haven't managed to learn. Thanks for an easy to follow tutorial.
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    • Thank you, Jean-Sébastien for sharing your knowledge. M
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    • Very nice example of a frame of a certain fascinating allure.
      I know quite many types of more or less automatic frames but this one is very peculiar. It remembers me the good old times of polaroid transfer dye manipulations.
      Thank you, Jean-Sébastien for sharing your tutorial and knowledge.
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    • Thank you so much! This morning in my way to work I was wondering how more advanced photographers get to do these frames... And, Voila! I found your article! Thanks a lot! Victor
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    • Thanks for this tutorial. I just followed it and did my first frame. I did a white frame instead (as I saw some of your's has) and then followed your suggestion and added another frame under it in a blue color. I won't say my technique is quite there yet, but I'm going to have fun with this. Merci!
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    • Thanks for the help.The brash way was very usefull.
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    • This is a great tutorial! Thank You! I recently also found tutorials on photo restoration on

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