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How to Apply Outer Glow to Layer Styles in Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Intro to Photoshop Layer Styles.
Understanding Inner Shadows in Photoshop
Understanding the Inner Glow Setting in Photoshop

Photoshop layer styles are a popular way to add effects, such as drop shadows and strokes, to layers in a non-destructive way. With the right knowledge and experience, any effect can be achieved. To achieve these effects, however, you need to understand what each setting does and how they can be combined to achieve a certain look. In this series by John Shaver from Design Panoply, we will explain every aspect of Photoshop's layer styles feature and show you how to unlock their potential.

In this article, Part 4: Photoshop Layer Styles Outer Glow, we will explain the settings behind the Outer Glow and how it can be used. Let's take a look!

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel, with this video by Monika Zagrobelna:

Or, to learn how to create a similar neon light text effect, try this tutorial:

The Uses for an Outer Glow

When you hear the name "Outer Glow", you automatically assume that this effect is limited to just that, an Outer Glow. The truth is that there is much more you can do with it than a simple glowing effect.

On top of creating a glowing effect, Outer Glow can also be used to create faux drop shadows as well as adding outer strokes to your designs.

Below, you will see an example of how an Outer Glow can not only make an object look as if it is emitting light, but can also be used to create a shadow effect. Keep in mind that only the Outer Glow settings were changed between the two different looks.

outer glow as shadow

The Layer Styles Inner Shadow Dialog Box

The Outer Glow dialog box is shown below. A few new settings are displayed here that we have not seen before, like Technique, Range, and Jitter.

layer style dialog box

Blend Mode

The Blend Mode allows you to set the blending mode for your Outer Glow. If you are looking to create a glowing effect, Linear Dodge (Add) or Screen are good modes to use. If you want to create an "outer shadow" type effect, Linear Burn or Multiply work well. If you are trying to create an outer stroke (which we will get into in more detail below) then Normal is fine.

If you are unfamiliar with how all the different Blending Modes work, I highly recommend checking out the Blending Is Fun Basix tutorial.

outer glow blend modes

In the following example, you can see that Linear Dodge (Add) will create a more extreme glowing effect, while Screen will affect the Outer Glow in a slightly subtler way.

blend mode difference


The Opacity slider allows you to specify how transparent your Outer Glow will be. A setting of 0% is completely see-through, while 100% is completely opaque.

outer glow opacity

In the following example, you can see that text on the left has a subtle glowing effect, while the one on the right is much more pronounced.

opacity difference


The Noise slider is the same within Outer Glow as in Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow. Increasing the Noise slider will add a bit of noise to your Outer Glow, allowing you to create a type of "glowing dust" effect.

outer glow noise

In the following example, increasing the amount of Noise takes us from a smooth Outer Glow to a "glowing particle" effect.

noise diffference

Color and Gradient

When the corresponding radio button is selected, the Color block allows us to change the color of the Outer Glow, while the same goes for the Gradient radio button. With Gradient selected, you are not limited to a single color, which can help you create very intricate and abstract glowing effects.

outer glow color and gradient

In the following example, setting a single color will give a predictable Outer Glow, while experimenting with different gradients can help us achieve unique effects, like the slight rainbow glow you might see in soap bubbles.

color and gradient difference


The Technique dropdown box gives us two different options for rendering our Outer Glow, Softer and Precise. Softer gives us an Outer Glow that is more organic and natural looking, while Precise fits the shape of the glow more tightly to the original shape of the layer.

outer glow technique

In the following example, you can see the difference between the more organic looking Softer setting and the Precise technique on the right.

precise softer outer glow diffference


The Spread slider changes the falloff of the Outer Glow in a linear fashion, or in other words, how gradually it fades out at the edges.

For a typical Outer Glow, you will normally want to leave this at 0%, but for more intense glows you should increase it, and for outer strokes with hard edges you can set it all the way to 100%.

outer glow spread

In the following example, increasing the spread percentage from 0% to 50% gives the Outer Glow and harder edge.

spread difference


The Size slider is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to increase the size of the Outer Glow in 1 px increments. The higher the Size value is, the bigger the Outer Glow becomes.

outer glow size

In the following example, since the Size of the glow on the left is 2 px, it gives us a more contained glowing effect. Increasing the glow Size to 9 px makes the text seem more radioactive.

size glow difference


The Contour shapes allow you to change the falloff of the Outer Glow in a non-linear fashion. By choosing different curve profiles, you can get the glow to fade out in different ways.

This is really useful when you are trying to achieve special glow or abstract effects.

In addition, the "Anti-aliased" checkbox allows you to improve the quality of the shadow with a very slight drop in performance. The performance hit is negligible, so we recommend always keeping the box checked.

outer glow contour

In the following example, changing the Contour to a "sine wave" shape results in an Outer Glow with more character, which allows us to add special effects to our images.

contour difference


Adjusting the Range is similar to changing the Spread. It allows you to control the falloff of your Outer Glow in almost the same way.

A lower setting gives us a harder glow, while a higher setting gives us a softer one.

outer glow range

In the following example, you can see how changing the Range affects the softness of the Outer Glow.

range difference


While Range is similar to Spread, Jitter is similar to Noise. Noise creates transparency of adjacent pixels using a Normal blend mode, while Jitter adds noise by adjusting the lightness of adjacent pixels in a way that is similar to Overlay.

It is easier to see the difference in action.

outer glow jitter what it does

In the following example, the effect on the left is achieved using the Noise slider, while the one on the right uses the Jitter slider. If you don't see a difference, don't worry. The difference is very subtle most of the time, often so much so that it doesn't matter which you use.

outer glow jitter difference

Saving and Loading Default Settings

You can save and load default settings for each effect in the Layer Styles dialog box. By clicking "Make Default", Photoshop will store whatever settings are currently active as the new default settings for that effect.

By clicking "Reset to Default", Photoshop will then load whatever settings were last saved. This allows you to experiment and simply reload the custom default settings if you want to start over.

saving outer glow settings as preset

One for the Road

Until next time, this free, exclusive layer style and accompanying PSD file will keep the flame of love for layer styles burning bright and help you get better acquainted with Outer Glow.

download outer glow example

Download This Style

Glow Photoshop Actions

Before we start looking at the Outer Glow effect in detail, here are a couple of premium options available on Envato Elements to create professional-looking glow effects quickly and easily:

Glow in the Dark Photoshop Actions

Add stunning glow-in-the-dark effects to your photo using these Photoshop actions. The effects are non-destructive, easy to apply, and fully adjustable. They work on PC and Mac and include full instructions.

Glow in the Dark Photoshop Actions

Fearless Photoshop Action

How does the Fearless Photoshop Action work? You simply fill in your subject with a color and play the action! There's even a full video tutorial to help you. The action has been tested and is working on Photoshop CS4, CS5, CS6, CC, CC 2015.5, and CC 2017+.

Fearless Photoshop Action

Neon Layer Styles

This set contains over 70 layer styles in five categories (Regular, Bright, Soft, Colored, Colored Bright), as well as six sample scenes and 15 backgrounds. Use them for a professional and realistic look of a neon glow!

Neon Layer Styles

Sparklers Animation Photoshop Action

Did you know that it's possible to create an animated glow in Photoshop? This action will add magical sparkles to any lines you draw. You can save the effect as a still image or as a GIF animation.

Sparklers Animation Photoshop Action

Sparkle Photoshop Action

How does the Sparkle Photoshop Action work? You simply brush over the area you want to turn into sparkles and play the Action! The color that you brush will become the color of the sparkles.

Sparkle Photoshop Action

Good Job!

Now you know all about using Outer Glow in Photoshop! If you want to learn more about adding glow effects to your images, try these tutorials:

how to add outer glow to layers
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