Using the Liquify tool for Photoshop Smoke

After working on the Photoshop smoke tutorials I thought I’d take a minute to expand on using the Liquify tool to create smoke images in Photoshop. I’m writing this post with the assumption that you’ve already tried (or at least read through) one of the smoke tutorials.

The settings of the tools in the Liquify filter will depend on the resolution of your image. For this example, I started with an image size of 825px width, 550px height. The initial smoke lines were painted with a round brush at 60 pixels, hardness 100%.

After you’ve set up your image with layer one (black background) and a painted a smoke line on a layer above that (smoke layer), click on the Liquify tool: Filter > Liquify (Shift+ Ctrl + x).

Here’s where the Liquify Tool magic begins!

liquify-tool-smoke-1Starting with the Bloat tool. For this first round of warping, I chose the Bloat tool with settings seen in the image above. I painted around the outside of the painted lines with the main goal of smoothing-out the original lines I painted. You don’t have to be perfect here, just smooth-out what you started with.  This is the first step of tweaking. You can’t mess-up, just go with it!

Once you’re satisfied, click the Ok button. Then go in the toolbar to Edit > Fade > and specify 50%. Here’s what it looks like so far:

photoshop liquify tool bloat

Bloat Again – Rinse and Repeat

Go back to the Liquify tool and Bloat again. Once you’re content, click Ok and again go in the toolbar to Edit > Fade > and specify 50%. Here’s what it looks like now – you can see the effect becoming more apparent:

Photoshop Liquify Bloat Tool

I included the overlay of the liquify setting as a reminder to keep things looking like they should. The setting can be found within the Liquify tool window at the bottom right side.

Now Twirl it!

At this point I decided to give it the good ole Photoshop Liquify Twirl.

Photoshop liquify tool twirl clockwise

Just like before, once you’re content, click Ok and again go in the toolbar to Edit > Fade > and specify 50%.

This is basically the process of making smoke images in Photoshop. Use the Liquify tool in several steps until you become satisfied with your image. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

For this image, I went back and forth among the Bloat tool and Liquify tools only to accomplish the final image below. It took 7 steps going back and forth using the Liquify tool.

Photoshop Liquify tool to create smoke

As always, feel free to ask questions!

Photoshop Smoke Tutorial: Effect 1, image 2

I’ve refined this method of creating smoke in Photoshop quite a few times recently, so I thought I’d share another tutorial using the same principals and techniques as the previous tutorial, but with a new image. Hopefully you’ll learn something from my discovery curve and repetition.

In this tutorial, learn how to make this:


Step One – Set up your image in Photoshop

You’ll want to start with two (2) layers. The bottom (background) layer should be black for this tutorial. The layer just above that is the layer we’ll begin working with. Name it something like “Smoke paintbrush 1.” On that layer above the background layer, select a brush with a hard edge (100% hardness), and use a color you like. For this tutorial I used a round brush with a diameter of about 50 px at 100% hardness, and chose an orange color.

Now paint a base smoke line/shape. Though everything from here out will based on this, it’s not too important to be precise, as we will soon be warping it beyond recognition.

Here’s what I’m starting with:


Step Two: Liquify – the MAIN process!

The better you become with this step/process, the more realistic your smoke images will become. It’s important to note that this second step is indeed really a process. It envolves a repetition of your artisitic handling. Don’t be discouraged; this is an easy and fun step to learn.

While still on your top layer “Smoke paintbrush 1″ above the black background layer, access the Photoshop Liquify tool, Filters > Liquify (Shft+Ctrl+X). Once you’re within the Liquify tool, start experimenting with the different tools located at the left of the Liquify screen. The main objective here is to distort and warp your lines a little bit. Experiment with the various tools, as they’ll each have a different effect according to the initial line/shape you created in step one.

! Before you “get busy” it’s important to note your settings within the Liquify tool !

photoshop-smoke-ab-liquifyOnce your Liquify tool window is up, notice the settings I’ve applied to the right. Make sure to select  Layer 1, or whatever your base Black background layer is. Mimick the settings I have to the right. Otherwise, your changes within the Liquify tool won’t appear properly when you click on the “Ok” button and apply them.

Mode: Behind
Opacity: 100

Make sure “Show Backdrop” is checked.

Morph your image a bit – not too much – then click “Ok” to apply your changes. Now, before you do anything else, go to the top toolbar in Photoshop and choose Edit > Fade Liquify > and specify 50%. Watch what happens, it should lo0k something like this – effect-wise.


Liquify Again – the MAIN process, Step Two continued!

Like I said at the beginning of Step Two, this really is a process, to be repeated many times. Below is a long procession of images I achieved using each step the Liquify tool and this process in Photoshop to create a smoke image. Basically what you’re doing is taking your  liquified image and re-liquifying it to create a new look; over-and-over, until it is smokey and organic-looking. Only you can be the judge of that.


Photoshop Smoke – the process, continued


Photoshop Smoke – the process, continued. Keep applying the process in Photoshop.


Photoshop Smoke – the process, continued


Making Smoke in Photoshop – the process, continued


Making Smoke in Photoshop – the process, continued


Making Smoke in Photoshop – the process, continued


Photoshop Smoke – finally I think this is realistic smoke – all using the Liquify tool!


Step Three: Dodge, Burn, and Tweak Levels

Once you’re happy with the smoke image you made in Photoshop, you can improve it using the dodge and burn tool, then adjusting the levels.

Using the Burn tool on this image, in the toolbar I  selected a range of: Highlights, Exposure:25%, and focused “burning” around the darker edges of my smoke pattern. Use the dodge tool with the same settings on the brighter sections of your smoke image.

By using these tools in Photoshop, you’re increasing the contrast of your smoke image.



You can go one step further to increase the realism of your smoke creation by adjusting the Levels in Photoshop. To do this, in the top menu bar go to Image > Adjustments > Levels (Ctrl+L). The values here are really dependant on the image you made.

The slider at the far left controls the black levels of your image, the slider at the far right controls the highlights (white) of your image, and the slider/value in the middle controls the middle grey level of your image.

Experiment by adjusting the slider controls on the left, right and middle of the graph. The settings I made resulted in the final image, posted below.


As always, if you have questions or ideas, please leave a comment!

Photoshop Smoke Tutorial: Effect 1

This Photoshop smoke tutorial provides a simple, yet effective approach to creating artistic smoke in Adobe Photoshop. For this tutorial, you need a version of Photoshop that features the Liquify tool. Follow the steps below, and with a little creativity, you’ll be blowing your own smoke in Photoshop!


Step One – Paint

In Photoshop, setup a new blank image with 2 layers – in this example, the background layer is filled with black. Using the brush tool, select a main color you’d like to make your smoke. On the layer above the background, paint a simple abstract shape. It’s not too important to be precise here, as we’ll soon be applying several distortions.


Step Two – Liquify

Time to Liquify! Once you paint your shape, access the Liquify tool by clicking in the menu, Filter > Liquify (or Shift+Ctrl+X).  In Liquify, experiment with your image using the Warp, Twirl, Pucker and Bloat tools. Try different brush sizes and pressure levels to determine the best settings for image.

Once you’ve warped your image a bit, click “Ok” to apply the transformation. Now, before doing anything else, in the menu, go to Edit > Fade (or Shift+Ctrl+F), and change the value to 50%, click “Ok” to apply.


Step Three – Rinse and Repeat

Repeat step two as many times as it takes to get the result you’re looking for. Liquify, apply, Edit > Fade 50%. Don’t get frustrated if you’re not happy with the results. Just repeat the steps and it will come together. Since smoke is “organic” by nature, there’s no way to really mess this up. Just keep your warps smooth and avoid sharp lines and angles.


Step Four – Enhancements

Once you’re satisfied with your “Liquifications,” it’s time to step back and think about tweaking your image to enhance its realism. The Dodge and Burn tool becomes quite effective in helping to create a more 3D look. Try experimenting with the Dodge tool around the edges and lines (with Highlight mode selected) of your image. Using the Burn tool inside the smoke shapes will add depth to your image.


Make your Photoshop smoke look even more spectacular by playing with color.

  1. Duplicate your smoke layer (Ctrl+J).
  2. Adjust Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U).
  3. Add a Layer Mask (Hide all).
  4. Now Paint/Reveal the layer to selectively apply color.

Experiment even further by adjusting the Levels (Ctrl+L) of your image. Move the sliders around, toward each other, etc., and see how the adjustments affect your smoke image (this will be different for each image). Once satisfied, click “Ok” to apply the changes.


The final result: