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How to Create a Sci-Fi Outer Space Scene With Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Astronomical Graphic Design.
How to Create a Set of Space Icons Using Adobe Illustrator
How to Create a Solar System Planets Icon Pack in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a sci-fi scene with planets, spaceships, and nebulae. You'll learn how to create a space background from scratch, make a planet in a simple way, and combine space elements using blending techniques. You'll also learn how to adjust the contrast and color, create lighting effects, and enhance the depth of field.

Get inspired! Find more Space Graphics on Envato Market and Envato Elements.

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Create a Space Background

Step 1

Make a new 3000 x 2000 px document in Photoshop.

The background color must be black.

Step 2

Press Control-Shift-N to make a New Layer. Activate the Brush Tool (B) with a soft round one, and set the foreground to #8c92ae. Paint around the middle section of the black background.

Change this layer Mode to Hard Light 100%:

paint light

Step 3

Create a New Layer and use a Soft Round Brush with different colors to make spots on the canvas. You can use colors of your taste, but don't forget that we're creating a colorful background, so pick vibrant colors. Here is my choice of colors: #378c6c, #c20707, #cf53c8.

Remember not to fill the whole canvas with colors—we need some space for the dark shade and depth.

paint color

Step 4

On a New Layer, change the foreground to #44595b and use a soft brush to paint on the edges and corners of the canvas.

Change this layer mode to Hard Light 100%:

paint shadows

Step 5

Create a New Layer and press D to set the foreground/background to default (black and white). Use the Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection on the canvas and set the Feather Radius to 60 px.

Go to Filter > Render > Clouds:

render clouds

Change this layer Mode to Color Dodge 100%:

color dodge

Step 6

Use an adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask to make the effect more subtle. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels:

adjust levels

On this Layer Mask, use a Soft Round Brush with black color (soft black brush) to reveal the vibrance on some areas.

mask layer

Step 7

Duplicate the clouds layer and move the duplicated one above the first and the Levels adjustment layer. Go to Filter > Render > Different Clouds:

difference clouds

Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to 35 px:

blur clouds

Step 8

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer set to -58 Red and 54 Blue to change the resulting color a little.

adjust color

Step 9

Time to make some stars. Create a New Layer and change the Foreground Color to #72c6fd. Use a hard brush to paint random stars over the canvas, remembering to vary the brush size:

paint stars

Double-click this layer, choose Outer Glow, and set the color of glow to white:

add glow to stars

Step 10

Create a Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers to change the color of the effect:

adjust curves

Step 11

Open the nebula image. Drag this image into our main canvas using the Move Tool (V) and enlarge it using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).

Change the Mode of this layer to Linear Dodge 100%:

add nebula

Step 12

Add a mask to this layer and use a Soft Black Brush to reduce the effect and make it appear subtle on the existing background:

mask nebula

Step 13

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to alter the nebula effect color a bit:

color balance

Save the result as a JPG file for your future use.

2. How to Add the Space Background

Step 1

Create a new 2200 x 1600 px document and set the background color to black. Open the space background created in the first stage and drag it into this new canvas using the Move Tool.

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to reduce the image opacity, making the middle section more visible than the rest:

import background

Step 2

To make the middle more visible, create a New Layer and use a Soft White Brush to paint on this area. Change this layer Mode to Soft Light 100%:

brighten background

3. How to Add the Planets

Step 1

Open the planet texture. Create a New Layer and use the Clone Tool (S) to remove the four black lines on the image.

planet texture
clone black lines

Step 2

Press Control-Shift-Alt-E to merge the background and the clone layers into a new one. On the merged planet layer, use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to grab a circle. Go to Filter > Distort > Spherize:

grab a circle
spherize filter result

Step 3

Click this selection and choose Layer via Copy. We have the base of the planet on a new transparent layer (I turned off the background, clone and merged layers to help you see the result more clearly).

planet base

Step 4

Drag the planet into our main document and scale it down using Control-T. Place it in the center of the image.

place planet on background

Step 5

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and bring the Saturation value down to -87:

desaturate  planet

Step 6

Use a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness.

On this layer Mask, use a Soft Black Brush to erase the outside section of the planet to bring some light to this, and also leave the shadow in the middle.

darken planet

Step 7

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones settings:

color balance planet

Step 8

Create a New Layer (set as Clipping Mask) and use a soft brush with the color #b68fa4 to paint on some areas around the planet to color it (we've put it on a colorful background). Change this layer Mode to Soft Light 100%.

add lighting to planet

Step 9

Make a New Layer and change the brush color to #b6eadd. Paint on some other areas of the planet with the same purpose, and set the Mode to Soft Light.

add secondary color

Step 10

Add two other planets to the sides of the big one, making them much smaller.

create moons

Step 11

Select these small planet layers and press Control-G to make a Group for them. Change this group mode from Pass Through to Normal 100%. Make a new layer above these planet layers and use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 70–80% to paint shadow in the lower part of the planets.

darken moons

Step 12

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -86.

desaturate moons

Step 13

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the planet's color.

color moons

4. How to Create the Basic Colors and Light

Step 1

We'll be coloring the planets and adding more light to the space. Create a New Layer above the planets group and use a soft brush with the color #b6eadd and  #b68fa4 to paint on the top center of the scene. Change this layer Mode to Soft Light 100%.

add lighting

Step 2

Make a new Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers, and increase the highlight.

On this layer mask, use a Soft Black Brush to reduce the brightness at the bottom of the planets and space as they're hidden from the light. 

brighten space

5. How to Add the Spaceships

Step 1

Open the "spaceships" image. Select three spaceships which have similar poses and add them to the space. Duplicate them and rotate them towards the big planet. The nearer the foreground, the bigger the spaceship. 

add spaceships

Step 2

Make a Group for the spaceship layers and change this group Mode to Normal 100%. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer within this group to desaturate the spaceships to -92.

desaturate ships

Step 3

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to add some cyan/blue to the spaceships.

color ships

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the spaceships.

On this Layer Mask, use a Soft Black Brush to reveal the light on the top of the spaceships because they should be brighter than the bottom:

darken ships

Step 5

Create another Curves adjustment layer to give more light to the top of the spaceships.

Select a soft black brush and paint on the Curves layer mask to maintain the shade of their bottom.

paint highlights

Step 6

Use a New Layer with a soft white brush to paint more highlight for some of the spaceships. Change this layer Mode to Overlay 100%.

enhance highlights

6. How to Add the Asteroids

Step 1

Open the asteroid images. Select different asteroids to put around the big planet, duplicating and transforming them if needed, and make them very much smaller than the planets. Rotate the bright parts of the asteroids towards the light. 

place asteroids

Step 2

Add some asteroids to the bottom left and right corner of the space scene, and make them bigger than the existing ones. Blur them to bring some depth to the scene by applying a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to each of these layers.

add depth

Step 3

Make a Group for all the asteroids layers. Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to match the asteroids' color with the other elements:

adjust color

Step 4

Create a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness:

On this Layer Mask, use a Soft Black Brush to reveal the luminosity on the asteroids:

darken to create shadows

Step 5

Make another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the asteroids.

Use this Layer Mask to maintain the shade of the asteroids, especially the parts which are hidden from the light.

brighten highlights

7. How to Add the Lights and the Light Trails

Step 1

Make a New Layer and take a hard brush with the color #eebde2. Add small dots in order to create the lights on the spaceships. The bigger the spaceship, the bigger the dots. 

paint lights

Step 2

To make a glowing trail we often see in space art, make a new layer and use a soft colored brush (#7b3e51) to create a spot on the canvas. Resize the brush size down and choose a lighter color (#d69e96) to put a spot in the center of the existing one. 

paint light orb

Convert this layer to a Smart Object and use Control-T to change its perspective and make it look like a trail. Place it at the bottom of a spaceship:

shape light or into flame

Step 3

Duplicate it several times and add the trails to other spaceships.

copy paste flame

Step 4

Make a New Layer and set its Mode to Color Dodge 100%. Use a soft brush with the color #eebde2 to paint the lightest part of the trails at the bottom of the spaceships.

add burner

8. How to Make the Final Adjustment

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the whole scene, especially the top center.

Use a Soft Black Brush to erase the sides and the shade on the big planet to create a nice contrast of the final effect.

add final brightness

Congratulations, You're Done!

Thanks for following this tutorial, and I hope you've learned something new from it. Feel free to leave your comments in the box below—I'd love to see them. Enjoy Photoshopping!

How to Create a Sci-Fi Outer Space Scene With Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop Brushes From Envato Elements

Explore and download thousands of amazing assets from Envato Elements for one monthly fee! Check out our brilliant selection of Photoshop Brushes and space backgrounds for out of this world designs!

Space Lights

space lights

Add both stars and rich detailed lens flares to your image all in one go! The Space Lights graphic pack contains four high-res images with varying lens flare angles. 

Space Backgrounds V1

Space Backgrounds 1

Want color and lots of it? These space backgrounds have every color combo you could ask for! They're vibrant and detailed, and you can add fully formed nebulas to your stary sky both quickly and easily.  

Space Backgrounds V2

space backgrounds 2

If you are after a more spread-out nebula effect then this second set of space backgrounds are a dream come true. With multiple premade colors, all vibrant and detailed, they are still easy to edit to create truly infinite color options! 

Space Backgrounds V3

space backgrounds 3

Looking for some out-of-this-world space clouds? Then the third set of these space backgrounds is what you want. These space backgrounds are high resolution and come in multiple different color variations.

Space Watercolor Backgrounds

Space Watercolor Backgrounds

These Space Watercolor Backgrounds merge the truly cosmic with the traditional. Watercolor paints create organic textures and shapes, while still boasting a sky full of stars. Perfect for portraits and landscape shots alike!

Space Photoshop Brushes

Space Photoshop Brushes

Add a few million stars to your sci-fi manipulations with this awesome set of space brushes. This set includes 10 photo-realistic starscape brushes to use in your digital paintings, photo manipulations, and more! Create an awesome starry night with a few clicks of your brush!

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