Photoshop: Abstract Fireworks

2012 is here! Well, it’s still a few days away. Unless you’re reading/watching this at some point in the future. For all I know, it could be 2056. My brain hurts. Let’s make fireworks!

Let’s enter the New Year with an explosion! I spent the last few days trying to come up with a fairly simple way to create fireworks. I think I’ve got something that can give you all a starting point to creating your own. Instead of creating realistic looking fireworks, we’re going to create more of an abstract firework, like you see above. Like many of my designs, we’re going to be using a custom brush and Layer Styles.


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Let’s begin by creating the brush that we’re going to use for the fireworks.

Create a new document with the dimensions 100px x 500px with a transparent background.

When the document is created, grab your Brush Tool and select a standard hard brush, with the Size set to 8.

We’re going to use this brush in just a few moments, but first we need to define the shape of the brush. Grab your Pen Tool from the left, then at the top on your Options Bar, make sure that Paths is selected.

Now create an upsidedown angled L shape. (See the image below if you’re confused).

Once you have the path created, hold down your Alt/Option key, and drag out a curve from the second point. We’re looking for a slight curve at the top of our path. This will help create depth in the sparks.

When your path is all set, right click on it, and choose the Stroke Path option.

Make sure that Brush is the Tool that will be used, and turn Simulate Pressure off, it it isn’t already.

Press OK to create the stroke.

Our brush is complete. To save this brush, head up to Edit > Define Brush Preset, and give it a name. Don’t worry if the preview looks funky.


At this point, if you don’t have an image ready, you’ll want to open one, or create a new document with a black background.

The first thing we need to do, is customize the brush we just made. Grabbing your Brush Tool again, look for your new brush at the bottom of your brush picker.

When it’s selected, set the Size at 175px. We created it a touch large incase you want to create larger fireworks in the future.

Now, if your Brush Panel is not open on the right, head up to Window > Brush. Let’s go through some of the settings we’re going to customize. Starting in the Brush Tip Shape section, as long as the Size is at 175px, the only other option we’re going to change is the Spacing. Set that at 20%.

Next, let’s hop into Shape Dynamics. There are two settings we’re going to focus on. The Size Jitter should be set at 100% to ensure that we have variation in the sparks, and the Angle Control should be set to Direction towards the bottom. This will allow the sparks to change direction around the circular path, which we’ll be creating in a moment.

Next is Scattering. Make sure that Both Axes is turned off, and then set the Scatter value at 130%. Down below, set the Count value at 2, and the Count Jitter at 100%.

Venturing into the Texture section, we want to find and select the Rusted Metal texture from the dropdown. Adding a texture to our brush will stray away from the solid looking brush strokes, which won’t look very appealing. When the texture is set, set the Scale at 100%, the Mode to Subtract, and the Depth at 100%.

The last option we’re going to enable, will be Transfer, which on older versions of Photoshop, may be called Other Dynamics. This will mix up the Opacity of each stroke. Set the Opacity Jitter and the Flow Jitter both to 100%.

Our brush is now ready to go, but there are a few things we need to do before we can use it. If you want to save this brush for future use, click on the dropdown at the top right corner of this panel, and choose New Brush Preset.

Now to avoid messing up your image, make sure to create a new layer before you do anything else. Now, grab your Ellipse Tool from the Tools Bar. We need to create a few paths for the brush to follow. Again, make sure that Path is selected at the top.

Now draw out a nice sized path. Make sure to hold down your Shift key to create a perfect circle. It should be about the size of your 175px brush. You can press B to switch back to your brush, then press U to go back to your Ellipse Tool. If you need to, you can use the Command/CTRL + T shortcut key to scale your path.

When your first path is created, we’re going to create 2 more. Using multiple paths will not only help fill in the whole circle, but it will create depth as well. With the Ellipse Tool still active, draw out two more circles. One should be slightly smaller than the first, then the second should be quite a bit smaller than the second. Your paths should almost look like a dart board.

When the three paths are ready to go, right click on either of them, and choose Stroke Path. Once again, make sure that Brush is selected. If all previous steps were followed, you should have a neat explosion type effect.

Layer Styles

Let’s start with the Gradient Overlay. Before hopping into the Gradient Editor, make sure to change the Style to Radial.

As for the gradient itself, we’re going to be using 3 colors. The far left color will act as the initial explosion, which is typically a red or orange color. The far right color will be set at a dark blue, to fade out the edges of our explosion. Then we need one more color in the middle. Clicking right below the gradient bar will allow us to set a new color. Pop it around the 50% mark. For this color, I chose to use a brighter blue. Of course, these colors can change to whatever color you want for your fireworks.

When you accept the new gradient, you may notice that it’s not perfectly centered. Moving your mouse overtop of your firework, you can actually drag the gradient around. Place the orange area right in the middle of the explosion.

The next Layer Style we’re going to add will be an Inner Glow. This will give some life to our fireworks.

Now that the insides are glowing, we need to add an Outer Glow as well.

The final Layer Style we’re going to add is an Inner Shadow. This one is optional. It’ll help fade out the edges a bit more.

The Layer Styles are complete. To add an extra glow to the middle of our explosion, you might want to grab a soft brush, and add a single spot in the middle.

We’re going to add two more elements to this design. Smoke and sparkles.


For the smoke, start by creating a new layer, then grab your Elliptical Marquee Tool from the Tools Bar. Drag out an Ellipse that’s slightly larger than your fireworks.

When that’s set, set your foreground color to a slightly desaturated blue. I used #3d63a0. We don’t want the smoke to be too vibrant. When that’s done, head up to Filter > Render > Clouds.

At this point, it needs smoothing out. In your Layers Panel, add a Layer Mask using the Add Layer Mask button () at the bottom. Now, with your Brush Tool active, choose a nice large, soft brush.

Paint around the edges of this layer. This will hide and soften out the edges of the smoke layer.

When you’re happy with the shape, change the Blend Mode of this layer to Screen, decrease the Opacity to around 40%, and drag the layer behind the fireworks layer.

One more layer to go! Let’s add some sparkles. Make sure to create another new layer, this time, above your fireworks layer. Grab your Brush Tool one more time, and if you’re Brush Panel is not still visible, activate it again under the Window menu.

Under Brush Tip Shape, decrease the Size to 9, and increase the Spacing to 300%.

Now in Shape Dynamics, make sure Size Jitter is at 100%.

And finally, under Scattering, turn on Both Axes, crank the Scatter to 1000%, and decrease the Count to 1.

From here, set your foreground color to white, then brush on top and around the fireworks. This will scatter some white dots around the design.

When you’re happy with the amount of dots, we need to add some glow to them. Instead of going through more Layer Styles, we’re just going to use the same Styles that we used on our fireworks. In your Layers Panel, right click on the fireworks layer, and choose Copy Layer Style.

Now right click on your new layer containing the dots, and Paste Layer Style. If you’re happy with the way it looks, you can leave it be. I chose to decrease the Opacity to around 50% to blend it in slightly.

And that’s that! Again, we aren’t going for a 100% realistic look, but more towards an abstract look for these fireworks. Hopefully this gives you a starting point for your own designs.