To add realistic-looking lightning or a great magical effect to your artwork, follow this tutorial! The tutorial was created using Photoshop 7.0 for PC. Newer versions may need slightly different steps. It also assumes that you are somewhat familiar with the software. :)

Although following the tutorial exactly will help you replicate the same effect that I created, the best way to learn is to experiment and create your own results!

Let’s begin!

Getting Started: Linear Gradient

Create a new document with a black background. For this tutorial I used the dimensions 1000×1000 at 300dpi.

Create a new layer. Call it “Lightning”. Make sure this is the active layer.

lig01Press D to set the default colors. Select the Gradient tool (G) and be sure Linear Gradient is selected.

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Hold down SHIFT and drag your cursor from the bottom of your canvas to the top.

This should produce a white-to-black gradient with the black portion at the top. If white is at the top, press CTRL+I to invert the gradient.

Rendering Clouds

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Choose Filter > Render > Difference Clouds from the menu.

You may have to try this a few times (press CTRL+F to repeat the filter) in order to get a result that has a few distinct dark bands running through it.

I pressed CTRL+F twice after the initial render to get my results.

 

It’s Lightning!

Press CTRL+I to invert the image, then press CRTL+L to bring up the Levels dialogue box.

Set the middle input value to 0.10. You should see some immediate results.

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To further sharpen the lightning, drag the left-most triangle below the levels diagram to the right until the “cloudiness” around the lightning has darkened out. Don’t overdo it, though! You still want some of that “cloudiness”.

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For my example the corresponding input value of 125 (in the first box) was plenty.

If all you want is white lightning, you’re pretty much finished! Press L for the Polygonal Lasso tool and select bolts that will look good in the picture you are adding them to.

Copy and paste the bolts into their own layer on the destination picture. You’ll probably have to use the Transform tool (CTRL+T) to rotate the lightning to the angle you want. To “hide” the black surrounding your lightning, set the lightning layer’s Blending Mode to Screen.

Colored White Energy

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The lightning created in the last step can be taken further by adding color.

Create a new layer above the Lightning layer and call it Color. Fill it with a color of your choice and change the Blending Mode of this layer to Color.

Now you have white lightning with a colored halo around it!

Choose Layer > Flatten Image from the menu (or use CTRL+E to merge the Color layer with the Lightning layer). Now select the parts of the lightning you want and copy them to the picture you are adding them to, changing the layer’s Blending Mode to Screen to hide the black.

Colored Black Energy

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Black energy is useful for effects on pictures of characters of “dark” or “evil” alignment.

After creating your lightning in Step 3, press CTRL+I to invert the Lightning layer.

Create a new layer above the Lightning layer and call it Color. Fill it with a color of your choice and change the Blending Mode of this layer to Color.

Choose Layer > Flatten Image from the menu (or use CTRL+E to merge the Color layer with the Lightning layer). Now select the parts of the lightning you want and copy them to the picture you are adding them to, changing the layer’s Blending Mode to Multiply to hide the white.