Master a convincing shattering-glass effect that has dozens of applications with this brilliant technique from Mark Mayers.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
Photoshop’s Glass filter is often overlooked, but when it’s used creatively, it’s capable of creating some powerful and impressive visual effects. The Glass filter works by distorting an image using greyscale information, in a similar way to how bump maps in 3D applications work.
In this tutorial, Mark Mayers reveals how to create a realistic shattering glass effect using displacement maps. You’ll learn how to prepare a suitable image for displacement, and discover how Alpha channels work in conjunction with the Glass filter to distort and push out the hidden lighting and edge detail.
Next, you’ll learn how to add specular highlights and use some custom brushes to really pull off the effect. Once you’ve mastered the Glass filter, there’s nothing stopping you from playing with textures such as wood or stone as displacement maps, giving you a wealth of texturing options to add to your creative arsenal.
Some of the files used in this tutorial can be downloaded for a small cost from iStockphoto, while others are available for free from stock.xchng.
Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later
Time to complete
Files for this tutorial can be downloaded
Create a new A4 Photoshop document, in portrait orientation in RGB and at 300dpi, with the background set to black. Buy the image from iStockphoto at
tinyurl.com/ncjh5d, or use a similar image of your own.
Open the image and drop it into your working file as a new layer, labelling it ‘Face’. Now resize it, position it centrally, and drop it into a group folder labelled ‘FACE’. Next, draw a closed path around the tongue, generate a path-based selection, feather it by two pixels, then use the Burn tool to darken.
Duplicate the ‘Face’ layer, setting blending mode to Soft Light and the opacity to 21%. Name the layer ‘Face soft light’, then add a mask to the folder. Use a large, soft-edged brush on the mask to gently blend the hard edges of the face into the background.
Open a smoke image (you can download the one used here from
tinyurl.com/nmlsvs), and copy-and-paste a rectangular selection above the folder. Resize and position the image at the base of the canvas, then duplicate it, flip it horizontally and move it to the top of the canvas. Merge the two layers, label it ‘Mist’ and drop the opacity to 37%.
Add the ‘Mist’ layer to a new group folder labelled ‘ATMOSPHERE’. With the ‘Mist’ layer targeted and
Alt/Opt held down, click on the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the palette, and select Hue/Saturation from the dropdown menu. Check Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask, click OK and set Saturation to -83 and Lightness to -30.
Now we need to blend the mist into the face: add a mask to the folder and use the same technique as Step 2 to softly blend the mist into the face. If you refer to the finished image, you’ll see the mist is quite subtle, so feel free to adjust the layer’s opacity to taste.
Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer at the top of the stack. First, select the Shadows and set the Red to -21 and the Blue to +12. Then select the Midtones and set the Red to -68 and the Blue to +16. Finally, select the Highlights and set the Red to -25, the Green to +17 and the Blue to +19.
The image is starting to take shape, but it’s a little oversaturated for my liking. Fix this by dropping a Black & White adjustment layer at the top of the stack, selecting the High Contrast Blue filter from the Preset menu. You can now knock back the effect by reducing the adjustment layer’s opacity to 23%.
Download the free broken glass photo we’ve used from stock.xchng at
tinyurl.com/msg779. Open the photo and drag-and-drop it into your document as a new top layer, labelling it ‘Glass’.
Rotate it 90° anti-clockwise, then lower its opacity to around 40% – this will help to resize and position it over the face as shown. Next, draw a series of closed paths around any unwanted glass segments, generate path-based selections and fill with black.
Target your ‘Glass’ layer, select all (
Ctrl/Cmd + A) and copy ( Ctrl/Cmd + C), then switch to your Channels palette and click on the Create New Channel icon.
Paste your selection into the new channel and label it ‘Glass sharp’, then use a small, hard-edged, white brush to clean up all the black pit holes and dirt. Use the Burn tool to accentuate the black shatter lines. Finally, add a Levels adjustment, setting the midpoint to 0.55 and white point to 126.
Duplicate the channel by dragging its thumbnail into the Create New Channel icon, give it a Gaussian Blur of two pixels (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and name it ‘Glass blur’.
Now select Duplicate Channel (it’s at the top right fly-out menu in the Channels palette), then in the next window select New under Document Destination. The channel will now open as a new Photoshop file; this file is what we’ll be using as the displacement map in step 12, so save it to a memorable location as
Disable the visibility of the ‘Glass’ layer, and add an empty layer beneath it. Ensure your new layer is targeted, then go to
Image > Apply Image, and in the next dialogue box ensure Merged is ticked under Layer, and that Normal is selected under Blending.
You now have a composite layer from the remaining visible ones, which you can name ‘Face glass’.
With the new layer targeted, go to
Filter > Distort > Glass (the ‘Glass’ here is a coincidence). In the next window, set the Distortion to 20 and the Smoothness to 5; now click the arrow (next to Texture) to load the file you called Face_glassified.psd. Finally, ensure the Scaling is at 100%, tick the Invert option and hit OK.
Enable the visibility of the ‘Glass’ layer, then set the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 68%. Now make a selection from the ‘Glass sharp’ channel, target the ‘Glass’ layer and go to
Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.
Next, add a Drop Shadow Layer Style, and enter the following settings: blending mode – Normal; swatch – black; opacity – 92%; angle – 155°; distance – 24; spread – 0; size – 8; contour – Cone; antialiased – on. In the Inner Shadow menu enter the following settings: blending mode – Hard Light; swatch – #a8c9d0; opacity – 100; angle – 155; distance – 3; choke – 0; size 8; contour – Linear; Anti-aliased – on.
DA_Glass_brushes.abr from the project files, then add a new layer called ‘Small fragments’ above the ‘Glass’ layer. Set the foreground to white and use the brushes sparingly in a stamping fashion around the main cracks.
Next, set the Magic Wand tool to Contiguous and generate partial white selections from the ‘Glass sharp’ channel. Add a new layer, then use a white, soft-edged brush to paint glass highlights –-- paying close attention to the light source.
Finally, set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay, drop its opacity to 66% and label it ‘Glass highlights’.
Add a top layer and use a black, soft-edged brush to add top and bottom shadow areas, then set the layer to Multiply and the opacity to 45%. Now add a Black & White adjustment layer, selecting the Maximum White preset, then drop the adjustment layer’s opacity to 16%.
Drop the ‘Glass’ layer into a masked folder and blend the bottom areas. Add a couple of layers set to Multiply and Colour to stain the teeth yellow and the eyes red. Create further ‘Highlight’ layers, then add them and the ‘Small fragments’ layers into a ‘HIGHLIGHTS’ group folder.
To finish off, launch Illustrator and open
Graphics.ai from the project files – now copy-and-paste each group as Smart Objects into a ‘GRAPHICS’ folder at the top of the stack.
Freelance illustrator and designer Mark Mayers is based in Cornwall. With over 18 years’ experience, he can recall life before Macs and is a reformed technophobe. He now writes tutorials for leading publishers, and has won awards including MetalFX Designer of the Year 06.