Glow Effects In Photoshop: Surreptitiously Beautiful

The beauty of Photoshop lies in the surreal transformation of a mundane image into a thing of breath taking beauty. While virtuosos and geniuses can take a figment of their imagination and with the masterly stroke of their brush or the tiny scrape of their mallet can endow a nondescript easel or a block of inanimate marble with life. But Photoshop aids every single person with a flair for imagination into converting their everyday images into something unreal. In this tutorial we will explore the glow effects, which can imbibe a brilliance and luster that will take ordinary images into a realm of extra-ordinary. It gives wondrous and breath taking finishes to images and posters. This small effect in Photoshop is the reason behind the vividness and dreaminess of the wallpapers, posters and websites all over the net. While the effect created is almost magical, it takes a very few steps to achieve it. A little finesse in the steps will make one play with flares, rainbows, electrifying effects and neon trails.

This is how this effect is brought to life. In a few steps we will transform a bland background into an almost magical one.

Step 1

Open a new file ( Ctrl+N ) with transparent background of your desired size.

Step 2

Select the radial gradient tool, as shown in the fig., with appropriate foreground and background color. I have used #802c04 as foreground and #000000 as background color. Apply the gradient. The intention of using these two particular foreground and background colors is to give the image a dull reddish brown centre that fades indistinctively into black.

Step 3

To make the centre of the image more intense duplicate the selected layer (Ctrl+J) and choose the blending mode as ‘Color Dodge’. Among the different modes available on Photoshop, Color Dodge is a blending mode of the lightening one and brings about a distinct and intense centre with a reddish hue.

Step 4

Even with this, there is no texture in the image. Therefore select #ffffff as foreground and #000000 as background color. Make a new layer (Shift+Ctrl+N). Then select Filter→Render→Clouds. Change the blending mode of this layer to ‘Overlay’ and set the ‘Opacity’ to 35%. Then select Filter→Sketch→Chrome with its detail and smoothness kept to its original value of 4 and 7. This gives our image a textured background. It also diminishes the effect of a smooth phasing of the foreground to the background. Because of the cloudy texture, we see a lot of smoky wisps and tendrils gracefully trailing into the black of the surrounding.

Step 5

Make a new layer. Select the Pen Tool (P) and start drawing the curves you want to make glow. Try to keep the curves smooth with few anchor points for better looks. As a word of caution to beginners, the pen tool makes curves naturally and it needs some tinkering around to get used to it.

Step 6

Now select the ‘Brush Tool’ (B) and select a hard but thin brush, preferably of size 3-5. The choice of the brush is very important in the making of a perfect curve pattern. The hard brush is used to clearly define the line, while in the soft brush the outlines would have become smudged.

Step 7

Select any color in your foreground and background and again select the ‘Pen Tool’. Right Click on your canvas and select ‘Stroke Path’. In the Stroke Path window appearing choose ‘Brush’ in the tools from the drop-down menu and check the ‘Simulate Pressure’ option in order to achieve thin lines in the ends and thicker in the middle. This tapering effect lends more credibility to the design and gives it character.

Step 8

Now in order to give the lines the glowing effect right, click on the layer and select ‘Blending Options’. Set the values of the ‘Drop shadow’, ‘Outer Glow’ & ‘Color Overlay’ as shown in the images below. You can also play around with the various values in these options to get varied results according to your taste. The Drop Shadow and Outer Glow options bring about a cool glow to the thin swish of a line. The Drop Shadow accentuates the glow effect. The Color Overlay option brings an intense glow from the centre of the line.

Step 9

Now you can see the lines glowing. After this you can create more curves in different layers using the ‘Pen Tool’ and simply copy and paste the layer effects in those respective layers to get the desired glows. You can also add a few texts to your own taste with similar results. The image is finally beginning to take shape, with all the essential effects already in place. In the next two steps we give the finishing touches to the image.

Step 10

You can add more star like structures by simply creating a new layer and drawing small dots of different sizes in it. And then as in the previous step, simply copy & paste the layer effects. This gives the background an outer space feel as if one is looking into a massive nebula in the universe.

Step 11

To put the final touch to the image, make a new layer. Use the gradient tool and draw a gradient of some light colors. Set the blending mode to ‘Color’ and ‘Opacity’ to 50% in order to get different colur shades in the image. Try giving multiple gradients with different colors to get a cool looking image. This gives it a more natural feel by introducing various hues into the image. When nature flaunts colors in all its magnificence, why shouldn’t we?

In just a few steps, we have seen how a transparent background has been metamorphosed into an image suffused with a inner glow, along with a feel of the unknown. It does not take a genius to envisage these dreamy feel of pictures nowadays, deft handling of the features of Photoshop can give those flashes of artistic imagination in anybody into evoking a other worldly image.


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Hector is a freelance writer, providing high quality services to clients across the globe.