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  1. Design & Illustration
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Design

How to Create a Sparkling Action in Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Learn Adobe Photoshop.
How to Replace a Woman's Lipstick Using Retouching Techniques
How to Create a Glamorous Calavera Portrait in Adobe Photoshop
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial you will learn how to create an amazing magic dust effect. I will try to explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create it, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time.

The effect shown on the left is the one I will show you how to create here in this tutorial. If you would like to create the effect shown on the right quickly and easily, then check out my MagicDust Photoshop Action:

The action final result

What You'll Need

To recreate the design above, you will need the following photo:

1. Let's Get Started

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be between 1500–4000 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
Checking image size and mode

2. Create the Base

Step 1

Now we need to create the base that determines where the magic dust effect will be created. To do that, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Base.

Creating new layer for the base

Step 2

Now choose the Brush Tool (B), pick a soft brush, adjust the size of the brush, and brush over the areas where you want to create the magic dust effect. You can use any color—it doesn't matter.

Creating the base

3. Create the Background Dust

Step 1

Now we are going to create some background dust to go behind the sparkles. First hide the Base layer by clicking on the eye icon next to its thumbnail. Then select the Background layer and go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Background Dust.

Creating new layer for the background dust

Step 2

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches and go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Adding clouds filter

Step 3

Control-click on the Base layer thumbnail to make a selection of that layer, go to Select > Modify > Expand and after that Select > Modify > Feather, and choose the settings below:

Modifying the selection

Step 4

We are going to use this selection now to create a layer mask for the Background Dust layer. So go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Making layer mask to background dust layer using selection

Step 5

Select the layer mask of Background Dust layer, Right-click on it, choose Select and Mask, and enter the settings below:

Selecting and masking background dust layer mask

Step 6

Now we are going to add some style to this layer. Right-click on the layer in the Layers panel and choose Blending Options. Check the Gradient Overlay and choose the settings below:

Adding gradient overlay style to background dust layer
The left color stop has color 410a0a, and the right color stop has color ff7c00.

Step 7

Select the layer mask of the Background Dust layer, Right-click on it, and choose Apply Layer Mask. Change the blending mode of this layer to Color Dodge and drop the opacity to about 31%.

Applying background dust layer mask

4. Create the Glowing Particles

Step 1

Now we are going to create glowing particles. Control-click on the Base layer thumbnail to make a selection of that layer. Select the Background Dust layer and go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and leave the default name Layer 1.

Creating new layer for the glowing particles base

Step 2

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, go to Edit > Fill, and select the following settings:

Filling the selection with foreground color

Step 3

Now press Control-D on your keyboard to deselect. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mezzotint and set the type to Coarse Dots. Alt-click on the Layer 1 eye icon next to its thumbnail, to hide all other layers.

Adding the mezzotint coarse dots filter

Step 4

Go to Select > Color Range and using the Eyedropper Tool, select the white color by clicking on some of the white particles in your photo, and set the Fuzziness to 200. Then go to Select > Select and Mask and choose the following settings:

Selecting the particles using color range

Step 5

Now Right-click on the Layer 1 layer name and choose Delete Layer. Select the Background layer, click on the eye icon to make it visible, and go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 6

To make the particles glow, go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the current layer. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose the settings below.

Adding gaussian blur filter to particles layer

Step 7

Now repeat the previous step twice using the settings below in the order they are shown. So the top screenshot is for the first repeated step, and the bottom screenshot is for the second repeated step.

Adding gaussian blur filter to particles layers

Step 8

Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy two times, so you duplicate Layer 2 copy 3 twice. Now go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and select the settings below. After that, go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy twice again.

Adding gaussian blur filter to particles layer

Step 9

Shift-click on Layer 2 to select all the particles layers, Right-click on any of the selected layers, and choose Merge Layers. Then repeat Step 6 twice using the settings below in the order they are shown. So the top screenshot is for the first repeated step, and the bottom screenshot is for the second repeated step.

Adding gaussian blur filter to the particles layers

Step 10

Shift-click on Layer 2 copy 7 to select all the particles layers, Right-click on any of the selected layers, and choose Merge Layers. Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy twice, so you duplicate this layer twice. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose the settings below.

Adding gaussian blur filter to particles layer

Step 11

Now go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Layer 2 copy 11 layer. Shift-click on Layer 2 copy 9 to select all the particles layers, Right-click on any of the selected layers, and choose Merge Layers. Change the blending mode of this layer to Linear Dodge, and then double click on this layer name and type Particles_1.

Creating particles layer

Step 12

To create more particles, we are going to repeat the process we have used for creating the Particles_1 layer. So if you want more particles, repeat all the steps from Step 1 to Step 11. Repeat these steps as many times as you want, depending on how many particles you would like to create. I have repeated it four more times.

Creating more glowing particles

Step 13

Now select the Background Dust layer and click on its eye icon to make it make it visible. Then drag the layer to the bottom of the Layers panel between the Background and the last particles layer (the Particles_5 layer in my case).

Arranging layers

Step 14

If you would like to transform any of the particles layers, pick the Lasso Tool (L), right click anywhere inside the canvas, and choose Free Transform. Then make the transformations that you want—you can scale particles, rotate etc. You can also use Control to select multiple layers and make multiple transformations at once, as I have done below:

Transforming the glowing particles

5. Make Adjustments

Step 1

Now we are going to add some contrast. Select the Particles_1 layer and reset the swatches by pressing D on your keyboard. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map to create a new gradient map adjustment layer and name it Overall Contrast.

Creating the gradient map adjustment layer

Step 2

Change the blending mode to Overlay and drop the opacity to about 22%.

Changing blending mode and opacity of the contrast layer

Step 3

Now we are going to add saturation. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation to create a new hue/saturation adjustment layer and name it Overall Saturation.

Creating the hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 4

Double click on the Overall Saturation layer thumbnail and enter the following settings:

Changing the settings of hue saturation layer

Step 5

Now we are going to make some brightness adjustments. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels to create a new levels adjustment layer and name it Overall Brightness.

Creating the levels adjustment layer

Step 6

Double click on the Overall Levels layer thumbnail and choose the following settings:

Changing the settings of levels layer

Step 7

Now we will add some sharpening to our photo. Press Control-Alt-Shift-E on your keyboard to make a snapshot. Go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the radius to 2 px.

Adding the high pass filter

Step 8

Double click on this layer name to rename it and type Overall Sharpening. Change the blending mode to Linear Light and drop the Opacity to about 90%.

Changing the blending mode opacity and name of sharpen layer

6. Create the Color Look

Step 1

Now we are going to add a nice color look to our photo. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to create a new curves adjustment layer and name it Color Look.

Creating curves adjustment layer

Step 2

Double click on the Color Look layer thumbnail and enter the following settings:

Changing settings of curves layer

Awesome Work!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! Here is our final result:

Final result

Customize Your Results

You can now customize the final effect; I will give you a few tips:

  • You can repeat the process in section 4, Create the Glowing Particles, to create a lot more glowing particles. Also, don't forget you can transform the particles as in Step 14 in this section.
  • Select the layer Overall Contrast and change its opacity to adjust the contrast.
  • Select the layer Overall Saturation, double-click on its thumbnail, and inside the Properties panel play with the Saturation value to create different results.
  • Select the layer Overall Brightness, double-click on its thumbnail, and change the settings to adjust the brightness.
  • Select the layer Overall Sharpening and change its opacity to adjust the amount of sharpening.
  • Select the Color Look layer, double-click on its thumbnail, and inside the Properties panel change the settings for a different color look.

Here is what I got:

Customized final result

If you would like to create an even more advanced magic dust effect as shown below, using a single click in just a few minutes, then check out my MagicDust Photoshop Action.

Action final result

The action works so that you just brush where you want to create magic dust, play the action, and the action will do everything for you in a few minutes, giving you fully layered and customizable results. The action will also create 33 preset color looks for you. It comes with a detailed video tutorial that demonstrates how to use and customize the look of your action to get the most out of the effect. 

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