Colorful Smoke Art - Photoshop Tutorial

Starting with a simple black-and-white picture of smoke, you will be making colorful abstract images.

This key to this technique is the Difference blending mode, which I've never had much use for. With a little experimentation, it can yield some very nice color combinations.

  1. Start with this close up of smoke on a black background:

  2. Double-click the background layer to create a new editable layer. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation) and use the following settings to turn the smoke blue:
  3. Right-click the hue/saturation layer and click 'Merge Down' to combine the layer and color.

    Now you should have one layer that looks like this:
  4. Duplicate your layer (Ctrl+J) and set the blending mode of the new layer to 'Difference'. At first, this will turn the image black, but that will soon change. UPDATE: Move the new layer over to the right 50 pixels or so, and colors should appear again.
  5. Add a Hue/Saturation layer to the new layer (like in step 2). Make sure 'Preview' is checked, and move the Hue slider back and forth until you like the result. Here's what I used:

    For this result:
  6. Right click the Hue/Saturation layer and 'Merge Down' (like in step 3). Duplicate your newly merged layer. You should now have 3 layers of smoke and an image like this.
  7. To add some variation, I used a 'Pinch' filter (Filters > Distort > Pinch) on the 3rd layer with this setting:

    Which should produce this:
  8. You can continue to make the image more complex by adding more layers. Let's do one more. Duplicate the 3rd layer. With your new layer, go to Edit > Transform > Distort. Grab each corner handle and pull them outward to make this layer a little wider and differently shaped than the others. Here's roughly how I did it:.

    And enjoy the end result:
  9. It's easy to switch the layers around, try out different blending modes and hue/saturation layers to get a variety of images. Here are a couple variations:

    Try an extra layer with 'Color Dodge' blending mode to get a brighter look:
  10. Let's try one with a different smoke pattern. Start with this beautiful image I found on Flickr. Here is the page it came from: original image. It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.
    Check out the photographer's work here - it's awesome.
  11. Add a hue/saturation layer, then merge it with the smoke layer.

    For this result:
  12. Duplicate this layer and add a hue/saturation layer.

    The 2nd layer should now be purple. Merge it with the hue/saturation layer as we've been doing.
  13. Change the blending mode of the 2nd layer to Difference, then move it a few pixels away from the 1st layer so green and purple are both visible.
  14. Do the same 'duplicate > hue/saturation > merge down > set blending mode to difference' routine one more time to make another layer that is blue. Here are the hue/saturation settings:

    And how your image should look now:
  15. Finally, add a 'Twirl' filter (Filter > Distort > Twirl) to the top blue layer:
  16. And you're done!


What if I want the smoke to

What if I want the smoke to be on a transparent background?


Maaaan, you know there is such thing in the web like search engine, if you don't, go there to understand why this post is bullshit

what about for mac

work on mac?

I cant make a new hue/saturation layer? help?

Great tutorial. Easy to

Great tutorial. Easy to understand unlike some tutorials were the person thinks everyone is an expert pro at Photoshop.


Great technique thanks for this

For step 13. for the second

For step 13. for the second image it says to change the blending mode on the 2nd layer, i have 4 layers total and so far i have everything thats shown i just dont get step 13.


your fucking stupid, you

your fucking stupid, you must have photoshop in order to create these pictures according to the directions. The instructions are simple.

In step 12, after you add

In step 12, after you add the hue/saturation layer, right-click it in the Layers window and select 'Merge Down'. This will combine the 2 layers into 1. Then you duplicate this layer, add a hue/saturation layer and merge it down also, so in total you should have 2 layers. Hope that helps.

Is there any way to make the

Is there any way to make the background a different color?

Yes, after duplicating the

Yes, after duplicating the 1st layer, change it to whatever color/gradient you want. It will change the overall look, so you may need to move layers around or add new ones to get a nice effect.


The 1st is ok, the 2nd one is truly beautiful

thanks for a good tutorial.

thanks for a good tutorial. I changed a couple steps and it looks great.

??? step 5.

Im stuck on step 5. it stays black even though i changed the hue/saturation. =\

I think I left an important

I think I left an important step out. After you duplicate the 1st layer and set the new layer's blending mode to difference, try moving the new layer around, resizing, or distorting it. If that does not produce color, then something is wrong with your layers or blending modes.

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