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How to Create a Smoke Effect Photoshop Action

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Smoke effects can be easy to create when you follow this tutorial on creating a Photoshop portrait action. We'll use smoke brushes in Photoshop to create a unique Photoshop effect. 

What you'll learn in this Photoshop Action tutorial:

  • How to create a Photoshop Action.
  • How to create a smoke effect using Photoshop Brushes.
  • How to rotate a Photoshop Brush.

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

What You Will Need

To create a convincing smoke effect, you'll need special smoke brushes. And, of course, you'll need a photo to work on. Here are the assets I'll be using in this tutorial:

How to Create a Smoke Effect Photoshop Action

Step 1

Open your file. Before we start recording the action, we need to prepare the masks. Create a New Layer and name it Mask 1. Use the collection of smoke brushes to paint white smoke on the man’s back, softly blending him into the background. Feel free to experiment here—there’s no single correct way to do this.

add smoke to blend

Step 2

Create a New Layer and name it Mask 2. Use the smoke brushes again, but this time paint with black. Add smoke coming out of the man’s back, with all the wisps in roughly the same direction. The problem with stamp brushes is that they can’t be rotated, but you can rotate the canvas instead—the effect will be the same! Use a soft eraser or a Layer Mask to blend the smoke with the background.

smoke brush photoshop

Step 3

Create a New Layer and name it Mask 3. Paint with black again, adding some background smoke. Then go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Add some blur and lower the Opacity.

add more smoke
add motion blur
lower the opacity
add background smoke

Step 4

Create a New Layer and name it Mask 4. Paint black clouds of smoke going in the same direction as the previous wisps.

add smoke clouds

Step 5

Merge Mask 2 and Mask 3.

merge layers

Step 6

We can start the action now. Go to the Actions panel and create a new action. Name it Smoke Effect. Hide all the masks.

create new action
hide the masks

Step 7

Duplicate the background layer by pressing Control-J twice. Go to the upper copy, hold Control, and click the thumbnail of Mask 1 to select it. Invert the selection with Control-Shift-I, and add a Layer Mask.

duplicate the background
add layer mask

Step 8

Move to the lower copy, and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. A basic form of smoke effect should already be visible.

add gaussian blur
blur the smoke

Step 9

Duplicate the background layer again and move it to the top. Add Gaussian Blur to it.

add more blur
blur the subject

Step 10

Lower its Opacity to create a dreamy glow effect.

lower opacity of blur
add dreamy glow effect

Step 11

Duplicate the background layer once again and drag it to the top. Lower the Opacity. Press Control-T to transform the layer’s size. In the upper bar, click Maintain Aspect Ratio and set the Width to 150%. Then switch to Relative Positioning and move the layer 100 pixels to the left. Press Enter twice.

resize the layer

Step 12

Add Gaussian Blur to the layer. Then take the selection from Mask 4 and add it as a Layer Mask without inverting.

add more blur
add layer mask
add blurry smoke

Step 13

Create a snapshot of the whole image with Control-Shift-Alt-E. Add Gaussian Blur to it. Then take the selection from the middle mask and add it as a Layer Mask.

more blur
add another layer mask
smoke effect photoshop

Step 14

Stop recording.

stop recording action

You can now add the same smoke effect to any other photo. Just add all the masks and press play!

smoke brush photoshop
photoshop portrait actions
smoke effect photoshop

Smoke Photoshop Actions

If you need different Photoshop effects, here are a couple of Photoshop actions, ready to download from Envato Elements.

Animated Smoke Photoshop Action

With this action, you'll be able to add realistic, animated smoke clouds to your photos! All you need to do is to paint a selection and play the action twice.

Animated Smoke Photoshop Action

Smoke Clouds Photoshop Action

If you want to make your photo more magical, with this set of Photoshop actions you'll be able to produce an effect of colorful smoke clouds surrounding your subject. Choose from 19 color options, and adjust the result as you see fit.

Smoke Clouds Photoshop Action

Smoke Photoshop Action

Or maybe you're interested in creating a ghost-like effect? This action makes your subject look translucent, and the clouds of smoke give it an ethereal look. It's a very artistic effect that you can achieve with a single click.

Smoke Photoshop Action

Smoke Animation Photoshop Action

Here's another animated smoke effect that you can use to give your photos an amazing look in seconds. This smoke effect is very realistic and can also be used as a still image.

Smoke Animation Photoshop Action

Realistic Smoke Overlays

And if you want more control over the whole process, here you can find 10 photo overlays that you can add manually, exactly the way you want. They're very simple to use and give an instant effect!

Realistic Smoke Overlays

Good Job!

Now you know how to create a smoke effect in Photoshop, using the technique of Photoshop actions! If you want to learn more about creating Photoshop portrait actions, try these tutorials as well:

smoke effect photoshop
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