Life & Style tutorial: How to create a stained glass effect

Illuminate your photos with this simple technique for faking stained glass.

Photoshop ships with a filter called Stained Glass, but it’s disappointing to use – it creates facets, and borders these with black leading, but it doesn’t take account of how light interacts with glass, or the glows and diffusion that result.

With a bit of know-how you can create a far more convincing and pleasing result without using this filter at all. In this tutorial, Sam Hampton-Smith shows you how to convert a photo into a piece of stained glass art. You’ll use a couple of filters to create the texture of glass and wood, but you’ll construct most of the effect manually.

This gives you far more control over your work. The technique, once understood, can be applied to any image, although those with bold, clearly separated colours work best.

01. In Photoshop, create a new document measuring 1,600-x-1,200 pixels, with a white background. This size happens to work for the image we’ve chosen to use here, but feel free to choose what works best for your needs and your artwork.

02. Set your background colour to black or dark brown, and your foreground colour to a similarly dark brown. Select Filter > Render > Fibers. Set the Variance to 16 and the Strength to 4.

03. Now we need our mushrooms. You can use a suitable image of your own – images with strong, clearly defined colours work best – or download the one I used here Copy and paste the image into a new layer. Draw a large circular selection with the Marquee tool, covering the toadstools. Add a layer mask with the selection active to create a circular cut-out of the photo. Reposition your toadstool layer at the centre of the composition.

04. Select Filter > Distort > Glass, set the distortion to 3, the smoothness to 4, the texture to Frosting, and the scaling to 166%. You can alter these to suit your own preferences. Once you’re happy, click OK to accept the filter.

05. Add a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer above the toadstool layer. Click OK without making any changes, then Alt/Opt + click between the toadstool and adjustment layer to clip the adjustment to the toadstool layer. Double-click on the adjustment layer to open the Properties box, increase the saturation to +45, and the lightness to +5. Target individual colours using the drop-down menu if desired.

06. Duplicate the toadstool and adjustment layers. Using the Free Transform operation, scale up the lower of the two toadstool layers to provide a thick border. For each of the two toadstool layers choose Layer > Layer Styles > Stroke, and select a black 10-pixel stroke for the lower copy. Select a 16-pixel black stroke for the upper copy.

07. Select the lower toadstool layer and unlink the mask. We want our outer ring to contrast with the main stained glass area. Rotate the image by 180%, duplicate the green parts to cover the red that was visible and fill the upper half with a blue and white cloud texture (Filter > Render > Clouds). Add the glass filter again to re-establish the glassy feel.

08. Grab a 10-pixel brush, with 100% hardness and 100% opacity. Either paint freely onto a new layer, covering the obvious lines around the toadstools, or use the Pen tool to create paths following these contours, then turn the path into a stroke by right-clicking (Cmd/Ctrl + click) on it and choosing Stroke Path. Select Brush for the stroke. Take your time here and try to block out similar areas of colour.

09. On the same layer, click, hold down Shift and click again to draw straight lines with the brush tool. Draw lines segmenting the outer border into smaller segments. The segments needn’t be identical sizes; follow the contours of colour to decide on placement.

10. Select Layer > Layer Style > Bevel and Emboss to add this effect to the leading layer you’ve been working on. Set the highlight colour as grey rather than white, and adjust the depth, opacity and size to suit your preference.

11. Duplicate the lower toadstool layer. On the duplicate, remove the stroke layer style then delete the mask. When Photoshop asks if you want to Apply the Mask before deleting, choose to Apply it. Select Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. Set the method to Zoom, quality to Best and amount to 100. Scale up the layer so that it appears to fill the canvas.

12. Add a new mask to the rays of light layer you’ve just created. Use a radial black-to-white gradient to fill the mask so that the rays disappear towards the edge of the artwork. Add a Gaussian blur filter to the rays themselves at a value of between five and ten pixels.

13. Using the Brush tool set to black, paint into the mask with wedge shapes to match the leading gaps around the outer ring. By painting black, you’re preventing the rays showing in these areas, so try to match your wedge shapes with the contours of the light rays. Blur the mask using a Gaussian blur set to nine pixels.

14. Delete this mask, again choosing to apply it when prompted by Photoshop. Add another mask, and this time use the gradient tool, set to a Linear Gradient from black to white, to fill the mask in order to show the streaks of light only towards the bottom. On the streaks themselves, choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Select 5%, Monochromatic, and Gaussian. Reduce the opacity of the lightrays layer to suit.

15. Add a new layer above the background. Draw a large circular selection encompassing the window and enough space for a frame. Fill the selection with dark brown, then run the Fibers filter again as you did in Step 02. Set the layer’s blending mode to Multiply, 90% transparency. Add both Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow layer styles, choosing the values to suit.

16. Select the background layer, then choose Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. Use a Spotlight, and focus the light on the bottom right corner of the composition. Click OK to see it in situ. If needs be, undo and try again until you get an effect you’re happy with. On both the stained glass layers, add an Outer Glow layer style, set to use a light green. This helps ‘sell’ the glowing light effect.


Light doesn’t bend as such, but if you look at reference images on the Internet you’ll see that where you have a strong light source, it appears to bend around objects, blurring them slightly. Try to use this principle, applying a small Gaussian blur to objects in direct proximity to your light source to help sell the idea of light distorting their appearance.

Who: With over ten years’ experience as a print-based graphic designer and web developer, Scotland-based Hampton-Smith set up his design studio in 2001. As well as being a fulltime designer, he teaches graphics students, regularly writes and illustrates for magazines, and especially enjoys typography.
Software: Adobe CS2 or above
Time to complete: 1 hour
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or are available on the cover CD.

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