Have you ever felt like your Photoshop glow wasn’t shining like it should? Or that there was some lack in the luster of one of your design elements? If so, then today’s tutorial will be of great help. In this article, we’re going to cover a very basic concept that can be applied in countless settings from simple layouts to advanced compositing. When individuals first start off using Photoshop and want to add a glow somewhere, it’s not uncommon for them to head straight for the layer effects > outer glow option. After all, the option name makes it an obvious choice. However, applying a glow in this manner without additional tweaks will result in something rather unimpressive compared to what’s easily possible. Here’s an side by side comparison.
Now with a few simple adjustments, you’ll be able to make your glows look far more realistic and ultimately, impressive. As is always the case with any technique, you can experiment with it to achieve your look of choice. For any glow to work effectively, it’ll have to be on relatively dark background. A basic rule is that there must be contrast in order to maximize a glow effect. To start, make an image that’s 900px X 900px and fill it with a black background. Next create a layer called “circle” and make a medium sized circle filling it with white. After you have your circle, we’ll create a layer called “foundation light” and drag it in between the circle layer and background. Select a large and fully softened-edged brush (800 px setting) and click once or twice in the center of the image. After doing so, you can knock down the opacity to about 40%. This will give you a radial gradient-like effect. The reason we added this light is that the following effects will not work on a completely dark background. So keep in mind that whenever implementing this technique within another environment, it’s important that there be at least some lighting source in the background.
Next, you’ll make a new layer called “glow”, and move it just under the circle layer. Select a brush that’s about 500px with the maximum edge softness, choose a brush color that will serve as the color of your glow (I chose a tealish hue) and click once or twice in the middle of the canvas again. The key here is to set the layer blending mode to “Overlay”. In your journey of enhancing your Photoshop glows, “Overlay” is a most needed friend. You’ll notice that when you change the blending mode from “Normal” to “Overlay” the glow has less of a spread but a more poignant effect.
At this point, it’s not yet the shining ball of radiating luminescence we’re going for. But with a few more simple steps, we’ll be there. Duplicate the “glow” layer (Control – J) and uniformly shrink it about 10% using the transform tool. The new layer should by default be set to the “Overlay” blend mode when the layer is copied. You’ll notice that the glow just got more intense.
Once again, duplicate the latest glow layer. With this new layer selected, apply a Hue / Saturation effect to it by dragging the Hue marker to be 40+ from its original position. This adds some needed color variation to the glow. Sometimes you might look at a glow and assume it’s just “blue” when in fact it’s actually made up of a number of different blue and teal shades. Duplicate this layer as well and expand it to be the full size of the canvas. During this step, you’ll notice the glow amped up its lumens quite a bit. Again, duplicate this latest layer and change its color to white. An easy way to do this is to apply the Hue / Saturation and bring the lightness setting all the way to the right. You’ll now see a whitish ring that you can expand or contract depending on how you want your glow to look.
Lastly, click on the circle layer and apply an outer glow with the settings below: – Note the blending mode is set to “Screen” and the color is a light yellow. This will add a soft aura around your object and give the presentation some extra realism.
I’ll reiterate that this tutorial is more about principles rather than specific rules to follow. With these main principles in place, you can experiment with different sizes, colors and even shapes of your glow. The final composite has some minor enhancements such as a reflection and shadow for the ball, some background textures, and a subtle horizon line. Since this tutorial is intended to focus on the glow technique itself, we won’t cover the process of making these enhancements here.
And there you have it, a glow that actually glows and might even force your viewers to squint just a bit. Now that you’ve learned how to maximize your glow in Photoshop, may your glow in real life be just as bright 🙂