People often associate Photoshop lighting effects with images of speeding cars and the cosmos. But these effects work well in many types of art, as we’ll see in this tutorial.
See also: 83 Best Photoshop tutorials
Here the aim is to take a hand-drawn artwork – Craig has chosen a piece provided by his friend, illustrator Zoe Veness (available in the project files) – and give it an extra dimension using various lighting techniques. You will learn how to seamlessly incorporate glows, flairs and sparkles; the methods covered work equally well with pencil or pen drawings.
As always, do experiment – happy accidents are to be welcomed.
Time to complete
Photoshop and paints
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
Create a new A3 portrait RGB Photoshop document (Craig chose RGB because he finds it generally allows more vibrancy). Start by creating a linear gradient (G) from a cream colour (#f3d7b6) to turquoise (#76bdce).
To give the background some depth, apply some grunge textures. Craig used this set from Lost and Taken (
bit.ly/Nvjp7), but he says you can use any textures with a bit of grain. Position them and build up your canvas, setting the blending mode to Linear Light.
Bring in your central character (or other focal point). To use Zoe’s work, look for Girl.psd in the Project files. Place it in the centre of the canvas and set the blending mode to Multiply. Create a new Levels adjustment layer, checking the Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask tickbox. Increase the contrast using the black and white levels sliders.
Craig wanted to give the drawing a purple tint so that it would fit with the elements to come. This is easily done by creating a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (as before, confine its effect to the illustration layer by checking the clipping mask option). When you’re satisfied with how your illustration is looking, put it and the two adjustment layers into a group named ‘Girl’.
The next few steps are not an exact science, so experiment to develop a look that suits your piece.
Step away from the computer and grab a paintbrush, some paper and watercolour paints. Create random marks and splashes and scan them into Photoshop’s. Use the Lasso tool ( L) to select and copy interesting areas.
Paste in the paint marks and splashes behind the main illustration. Keep adding layers of paint and experiment with blending modes and varying opacities to build up the piece.
Adjust the Hue/Saturation of each layer and use layers masks to create smooth blends of colour and paint.
To start tying the painted areas together with the rest of the canvas Craig added some longer drips. He found some nice textured images in the ‘Decals’ section of
cgtextures.com and positioned them on the canvas. He then changed the blending modes to Linear Light and Screen, adding a layer mask to brush out unwanted areas and edges.
Next we’ll start adding some lighting effects. For the first of these you will need a shiny nebula image (there are some especially good ones at
moonchilde-stock.deviantart.com). Position it so it just covers your illustration; resize and rotate if needed. Change the blending mode to Screen. Add a layer mask and brush away any areas that overpower the illustration.
Create a new layer and select the Elliptical Marquee tool (
M). Hold Shift to draw out a circle and apply a radial gradient involving two bright colours. Set the opacity to 20-30% and vary the blending modes – Craig used four or five different modes here. You want to build depth of different sized circles so hold Alt and drag to duplicate them around the scene.
Now to create an effect reminiscent of a swarm of fireflies. Create a new layer and choose a soft brush. Bring up the Brush panel (
F5) and try experimenting with the size jitter in Shape Dynamics and with Scattering and Smoothing. Brush areas of the canvas varying in size and bright colours. Give some layers outer glows and apply small motion blurs.
A selection of radial gradients will really give the piece that cosmic glow. Create a new layer and at the top of the layer stack. Draw out a radial gradient from solid to transparent and pick a vibrant colour – Craig used a magenta (#d304ff). Set the blending mode to Overlay and position it over the illustration.
Repeat the previous step two more times using other vibrant colours – Craig went for a cyan (#04ffe4) and a yellow (#fade06). Overlap the gradients and group their layers. Duplicate this group and position the copy on the canvas. Experiment and see how the colours affect each other. It’s at times like this that you may stumble across happy accidents that can change the whole design.
Take the lighting effects one stage further by creating a small bokeh effect. In a new layer, draw a small circle with the Elliptical Marquee tool, fill it with white and set its blending mode to Screen. Add a Gaussian blur of around 2px (
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). Duplicate the layer and offset it slightly.
Repeat Step 13, adjusting the opacity and Gaussian blur value for each duplicate. Try to keep the circles clustered in areas you want to highlight, such the hands and hair. Group the circles and duplicate the group around your canvas a few times. This process also works with other shapes; Craig used hexagons, drawn with the Polygon tool (
U), as well.
To achieve the tea-stained effect, use adjustment layers at the top of the layer stack. First, create a blue fill (#002370) and set its blending mode to Exclusion with 50% opacity. Craig tweaked the overall colour with Gradient Map adjustment layers – one violet to orange via green, with an Overlay blending mode and 20% opacity, the other purple to orange, set to Screen at 40%.
The final thing Craig says he does to any piece is add a couple of adjustments to balance all the elements out. Add a Color Balance adjustment layer, pull the shadows towards Cyan (-11), Magenta (-21) and Blue (+21). The midtones are fine, but adjust the highlights towards Yellow (-10). Now check out your glowing goddess.
Welsh designer Craig Minchington lives in Bristol, where he works at Epoch Design. When not at his day job, he tries to get as deep into his personal work as time will allow. His design blog 3myk.com should launch this summer. Craig says he loves Liverpool FC, Michael Bolton and Sir David Attenborough, sometimes at the same time.
Zoe Veness says she is “new to this illustration malarkey”. Based in Bristol, she constantly feels both inspired and overawed by the artistic talent in her city. She claims to like “serene mixed with weird” and “drawing hair, lots of it”.