Use custom brushes in Photoshop to create energy and light effects

Use custom brushes in Photoshop to create energy and light effects

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to create from scratch abstract light effects in Photoshop, how to turn them in a custom Photoshop brushes and finally how to use them to add lights and vividness to your images just with few clicks. You will learn some useful techniques related to brushes, and you will understand how they can make your (graphic design) life easier.

This tutorial was inspired by your requests. After published the Energy light effects brushes set, I’ve received via Twitter many requests for writing a tutorial on how to create these effects from scratch. And here I am!


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energy tut

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energy tut

Step 1

Create a new document in Photoshop. Here we will realize the custom abstract brush. The size is 2500×2500 pixels, which is the largest size for a Photoshop brush. Set “Grayscale” as color mode and 300 pixels/inch for the resolution.

Why grayscale as color mode? As you can notice, brushes are all in grayscale tones. When you save a brush, Photoshop saves only black areas and grayscale tones, while white areas are considered as transparent ones. A 50% black is semitransparent once saved as a brush, a 30% is less visible than 50% black and so on. You can modify a brush color only after used it, with blending options.

energy tut

Step 2

Let’s start from a black circle. Use the Ellipse Tool (U) to draw it (hold down shift to maintain constant proportions).

energy tut

Step 3

Right-click on the circle layer (in the layers palette) and select “Blending options”. The first thing to do is to reduce fill opacity to 0%.

energy tut

Then add an inner shadow with no distance and size around 150px. The aim of this step is to give depth to the circle, so it starts looking like a sphere.

energy tut

Step 4

Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and enter a radius around 2 px.

energy tut

Step 5

Add a layer mask, grab a large soft black brush with hardness 0%, and remove the top-left area of the sphere.

energy tut

Step 6

Duplicate the layer a couple of times to make the bottom-right area darker.

energy tut

Create a new layer and move it below the circles ones. Grab a large soft black brush and click once over the center. Then reduce the opacity to around 20%. I had the impression the center of the circle was too light, so in this way we’ve added a subtle fill color. At this point you can select all the circle layers from the layers window and group them (ctrl+G).

energy tut

Step 7

Now we can fill the area inside the energy sphere with abstract effects. The first tool we will use is the wave filter. Create a new layer – above the circles group – and fill it with black using the Paint Bucket tool.

energy tut

Grab a soft white brush and make a spot in the center:

energy tut

Step 8

Go to Filter>Distort>Wave. Just play with the options to distort the white circle. Don’t worry about the black area, we will remove it later.

energy tut

After applied the filter the first time, press ctrl+F a couple of time to apply the same filter again.

energy tut

Step 9

Press ctrl+I to invert image colors, and set the layer blend mode to multiply to eliminate white areas.

energy tut

Step 10

As we made with the circle at the beginning, add a layer mask and use a large soft brush to remove some areas of the abstract effect.

energy tut

Step 11

Repeat the same technique to add more of these effects.

energy tut

Step 12

We can now put in some smoke effects. Create a new layer, grab the Lasso tool (L), set feather to 30px and make a selection as shown below:

energy ut

Make sure to have white and black as foreground and background color and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Then press ctrl+D to deselect.

energy tut

Press ctrl+L to open the levels window and increase contrasts by moving the white and gray arrows a bit to the left:

energy tut

Set the layer to multiply and again use a mask to remove some areas:

energy tut

Step 13

You can add other smoke effects using the same method. Once satisfied with the result, group all the layers and title the group “inside”.

Here is my result:

energy tut

Step 14

We are going to create some floating spots. To do it, we will use some brushes options (well explained in this tutorial: Playing with custom brushes to create magical scenes). Create a new layer, set black as foreground color and grab a round brush of around 25px (hardness 100%). Open the brushes window (Window>Brushes) and enter the following settings:

energy tut

energy tut

energy tut

energy tut

Step 15

Now that all brushes’ options are correctly set up, just paint over the canvas.

energy tut

To give the sensation of movement, apply the Radial blur (Filter>Blur>Radial blur) with a 2px amount.

energy tut

Step 16

The last details we can add are some lightnings. To create lightning brushes is relatively simple. You need to start from a shot. This photo downloaded from stock.xchng is perfect:

Open the image in you main Photoshop document, then press ctrl+I to invert the colors and set the layer blend mode to multiply. Press ctrl+L to open the levels window and move the white arrow to the left until the lightning is completely isolated.

energy tut

Step 17

With this technique, you can extract and add several lightnings, re-size (ctrl+T) and combine them.

The brush is now ready to be saved:

energy tut

Go to Edit>Define Brush Preset… and title it as you prefer.

energy tut

Step 18

Now that the brush is complete, you can use it to embellish your works. Below is an unfinished composition I was working on. Remember that light effects work better on dark backgrounds.

energy tut

Step 19

Create a new layer, select the new brush from the brush library and click once over the canvas. Don’t worry about the position, you can move the brush at any time since we’ve created it on a separate layer.

Where is my new brush? After saved the new brush, you will find it in the brushes library. To open it, simply select the Brush tool (B) and, from the option tool bar, on top, click on the arrow which is near the brush in use. In this way you will open a window where you will find the new brush, below the others.

energy tut

Step 20

If you want the final outcome more luminous, create a new group and switch the blend mode of the group to “color dodge”. Create a layer inside the group, grab a white soft brush and paint over the areas you want to enhance. Then reduce the opacity of the layer till you’re satisfied with the result. We’ve finished, dear friends! Now you can use these techniques to create your own sets of abstract brushes, or you can consider to download ours.

energy tut

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(+add yours)
  1. Great tutorial. its one of the common questions i get asked about ” how to make those light effects”

  2. thanks for sharing these tips..

  3. Tun Naing

    Wow! Great tutorial sure you are great to create image I would like to create but I can’t create boz of I don’t understand about photo shop.
    If you don’t mind,can you help me to create image how to create batter.

    Please help me.

  4. shock

    Now this is how you do a tutorial. Great steps and great detail. You are the man. Please believe that. Thank you very much

  5. G.Sowmathi

    Really great….i was searching for such a stufff….thanq dude

  6. Trib21

    Wow, amazing! In blending in step 3 I am unable to manipulate the angle. I am using CS4. Any ideas?

    • Hi,

      You should be able to change the angle value simply by entering the desired value into the form

  7. well

    can i be your apprentice??? :)

  8. Octavio

    Hi Sebastiano. One question I got after define my brush is how to create my file with my whole set of brushes. Can you help me with this please?


    • Hi Octavio,

      To create your brush set got to Edit>Preset Manager…here you can select the brushes ad save them as an .abr file

      • Octavio

        Thanks buddy :)

  9. wow..this is real amazing tutorial….thanks for sharing….

  10. Another work of your nice work Sebastiano. You still haven’t failed me. Still great in these things.

  11. Barbara

    I can’t get this to work. I’m using CS5. I have to rasterize the shape layer before adding the gaussian blur and then when I try to delete the top part of the sphere as in step 5, the inner shadow bends inward. Is there a step that I’m not doing that I should be? I’d really love to be able to create these effects.


    • Michael

      I’m having the same problem. Don’t know if I missed something or not.

  12. Really wonderful tutorial. I have learn many effect from this tutorial. I think this tutorial help every designer specially beginner.

  13. nice design, thanks.

  14. tensam


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    incredible. It sort of feels that you’re doing any unique trick.

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  16. r

    Thanks For Tut

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