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!

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