Photography: Create a Lightsaber Effect

Intermediate level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop

Introduction to the Force

Have you always felt that the Force is strong with you? Become a true lightsaber master and wield this iconic weapon in the history of film. With this tutorial, you'll learn how to easily develop this image, that you can share on May the 4th, Star Wars Day. For this tutorial you don't need to be an expert on Photoshop, but you should at least know how layer masks work. Leave your fears aside and get ready to become a galactic swordsman.


First steps towards mastering the lightsaber

Before starting to work, it's important that we think of some details for this project (and for any project in general). First, we need to decide the size of the document. In this case, I'll use the same size as the picture I'm going to use. If I need to, I may trim it down, but I don't think we'll have to do that.

Let's see other requirements for any design project. Is it only for web and social media? If so, you'll need to choose the RGB color mode and a resolution of 95 ppi. On the other hand, if you want to print your project, you'll need the CMYK color mode and a resolution of at least 254 ppi.

Don't forget about this to avoid having unexpected issues later on. Besides, you'll be able to see how the final colors will look more accurately. 

Step 1

For starters, open the picture in Photoshop. There are many ways to do this, but I'll tell you the one I often use. Create a new document (Ctrl/Cmd + N) with the same size as the picture you're going to use, or with the size you've decided for your project. I want to use the same size as the picture (4032x3024 px), but I may trim it later on if I need to. Then, to place the image in the artboard, you can either go to File → Place Embedded, or just drag the image to the document. Modify the scale of the image if needed and press Enter when you have it properly placed.


If you wish to use this same picture, you'll find it in the attached files. You can download them here aquí.

Creating the lightsaber

In ancient times, each Jedi Knight had to make their own custom lightsaber according to their fighting style and needs as a knight. Next, we'll see how to make our own lightsaber. Like I say in all of my tutorials, you're free to modify the blade and, more importantly, its color, which determines whether the dark side of the Force is strong with you or not.

Step 1

Select the Rectangle Tool (U). Create a 90x1775 px rectangle with a white fill. To open the Create Rectangle window, just click on the artboard. Don't worry about the color of the lightsaber, because that will be the last thing we'll adjust.


Step 2

Click on the Rectangle Tool (U) and hold the button to see more tools and choose the Ellipse Tool. Create a 90x90 px circle.


Align the upper edge of the rectangle with the center of the circle.


Step 3

Select both elements that we've just created and convert them to smart objects. We could either just merge the layers (Ctrl/Cmd + E), but this would prevent us from editing the elements separately. This is why I prefer to work with smart objects whenever possible, but if you feel more comfortable merging the layers, do so.


Step 4 

Select the lightsaber layer and press Ctrl/Cmd + T to open the Free Transform options. Choose an angle of -29º. Then. place the blade where you think it looks good over the handle. 


Step 5

Create a folder and place the lightsaber layer inside. Now, select that layer and press Ctrl/Cmd + J to create a copy. Hide it by clicking on the eye icon. We'll keep this layer just in case we need it later on, or just to have a copy of the image without any further modifications.


Step 6

Let's start adding effects to the lightsaber to make it look like it's glowing. Select the lightsaber layer and go to Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur… and enter a value of 5,0 px. You might not see any changes for now, but as we apply the effect several times, you'll notice it eventually. 


Step 7

Make a copy of the lightsaber layer that has the 5,0 px gaussian blur effect. Now, repeat the previous step on this new layer: go to Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur… and enter a value of 10,0 px this time.


Notice that, being this a smart layer, it has two effects applied to it: the first 5,0 px gaussian blur and a new 10,0 px one. In other words, you should know that in this second layer you don't just have a 10,0 px gaussian blur, but rather a total 15 px blur.

Step 8

Repeat the previous step: duplicate the top layer and apply a new 15,0 px gaussian blur to it.


Step 9

Repeat this once again, but apply this time a new 20,0 px blur. You'll notice that the effects are being displayed piling up on top of the others. This is one of the advantages of working with smart objects, as this allows us to modify these effects at any moment, thus doing a nondestructive editing of our image. 


With this, we would already have a glowing lightsaber. Next, we're going to work on the color and the reflection of the light that is being emitted from the lightsaber over the rest of the picture. 

The color of our lightsaber

The color of a lightsaber tells a lot about the person who's wielding it. As we fans already know, a red lightsaber means that it's the weapon of a Sith. Generally, lightsabers tend to be blue, green, yellow and even purple, but you're free to choose any color that you wish.

We have everything we need to make a decision. Will it be the light side or the dark side? Let's continue!

Step 1

Create a copy of the lightsaber layer that we left hidden and take it out of the folder. Turn on again the visibility of that layer.


Step 2

Create a new folder and call it "Glow". Place this folder below the Lightsaber folder. Place the copy layer we've just created inside and create a new copy of this layer.


Step 3

Create a Solid Color fill layer. To do this, go to the lower part of the Layers panel, click on the New Adjustment Layer button and choose Solid Color…

It's time to select the color for the lightsaber. In my case, it's going to be red (#ff0000).

Place this layer between the two folders and create a clipping mask that affects only the Glow folder. To do this, hold the Alt key and click between the Solid Color fill layer and the Glow folder.


Step 4

Select the top layer inside the Glow folder and, like we did before, apply a gaussian blur to it (Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur…). We'll need to enter a higher value than the ones we've used before; namely, a 90,0 px blur.


Step 5

Select the second layer of the Glow folder and apply a 750,0 px gaussian blur to it. With this, a part of the wall and the character will get some red color on it due to the lightsaber glow.


The lightsaber is almost done—we would just need to polish the part where the blade overlaps the handle. However, the final result wouldn't look as realistic as if we worked a bit on the lighting of our picture. If you want to take your work to the next level, keep reading and learn how to round off this project like a true professional. 


Lighting up the scene

Let's apply some adjustment layers to give our design the proper ambience according to the lighting that the lightsaber would create. Let's make our project look amazing!

Step 1

Select everything we have so far and place it inside one single folder.


Step 2

Make a selection of your lightsaber master. For this, you can use any selection technique that you want. I'll use the Quick Selection Tool, but this will depend on the picture you're using.


We could use the Refine Edge Brush Tool to polish the selection on the hair area, but I don't think it's necessary given the kind of design we're making.

Step 3

Keep the selection and go to Select → Save Selection… Name it however you want and save the selection just in case we need it later on. 


The selection will be saved as a new channel, which we can see and reuse every time we need it. 


Step 4

Create a Curves adjustment layer. Lower the high and midtones. Apply a layer mask to it with the selection we've previously made (if you hold Alt and click on the mask, you'll make the same selection).


You'll see that both the background and the lightsaber darkened a bit, but the lighting over the lightsaber master didn't change. To tweak this, alternate the use of the Brush Tool (B) and black color with the use of the Gradient Tool (G), and paint over the parts of the image that you want to keep lighted up.


Let me show you the adjustments that I made.


Step 5

Create a new Curves adjustment layer. This time, increase the red light and the general lighting of the scene. Apply it to the lightsaber master. 

Go to the Channels panel and, while holding the Ctrl/Cmd key, click on the selection layer to make the selection again. Return to the Layers panel and create a new Curves adjustment layers. The layer will be created with the mask, but this selection affects the background, so you'll need to invert the layer mask. To do that, click on it and press Ctrl/Cmd + I

Increase the general lighting of the character on the adjustment layer. Then, select the red channel and increase the lighting on it to make the red tones more noticeable on the image. Now, following the same technique as before, use the Brush Tool (B) with black color, as well as the Gradient Tool (G), and paint over those parts of the mask that you want to keep lighted up.


To keep the layers well-organized, create a new folder and place all the Curves adjustment layers that we've created inside.


Step 6

To finish off this project, we need to adjust the lower part of the blade to make it look like it blends perfectly with the handle. Go inside the Lightsaber folder and create a layer mask inside the other Lightsaber folder.


Leave the layer mask selected and remove the lower part of the blade using the Brush Tool (B) with black color. I suggest that you use a brush with low hardness to get a smoother result.


It's done!

Our master of the dark side is ready. Challenge your friends and show everybody in the Projects tab who's the one that can create the coolest and most creative lightsaber. I hope that this tutorial was useful for you. If you have any questions, please write them in the comments section. I'd like you to share how strong is the Force with you, so I can see your results. Young Padawan, see you in my next tutorials here at Tutpad. Oh, I almost forgot... May the Force be with you!


What do you think of this tutorial?


Fight against the dark side of the Force and wield your own lightsaber by learning from scratch all you need to create the weapon that every Force master would long for. Step into the paths of the Force, show us your results and tell us with an image if you're attracted to the light side or the dark side. "[In response to the question 'Is the dark side stronger?'] No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive" —Master Yoda

Tut Details

Intermediate level 30m 146 views