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Abstract Dust And Spray Effect

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to create colorful abstract spray effect for use in your graphics. This has become quite a trendy technique recently, and can be accomplished fairly easily.

This technique has been made quite popular by digital artists around online communities such as deviantArt and Flickr, but my favorite example of this effect would have to be N.Design Studio’s use of it directly on their website. Nick, the owner of said site, has put together a nice guide himself on some of his techniques, but today I’d like to elaborate a bit more on the Spray Effect.

Where to use this effect

This is a great post-effect for your compositions, so you’ll probably want to use it towards the completion of your works.

For this demonstration, I’ve prepared a Photoshop Document (1.35 Mb) that you may choose to use to practice this technique on.

Spray Effect Original Demo Composition

This effect generally looks best when it takes on the appearance of emerging from behind an object. We are going to have the spray come out from behind the cloud in our example. If you’re following along in the Photoshop Document provided above, you’ll want to work in new layers under the “Cloud” layer, but above the background.

Setting up the Brush

The spray effect does not require you to go out and download any new Brushes, but we will need to adjust some of the brush options to get the right effect. You’ll want to be using a nice soft brush (the standard brush set to 0% hardness, and a large size works well), and you’re going to want to set the Brush mode to Dissolve (The Brush mode is located in the options bar. This is not the blending mode in the layers panel.) Also, set your brush’s Opacity to something around 50% (The Lower the opacity, the less dust/spray you’ll get).

Setting up the Brush

Playing with Color

When using this effect, it is important to select colors that are bright, and vibrant with color. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, and you’ll ultimately have to pick colors that work with the rest of your composition, but as rule of thumb, colors that work best include white, yellow, magenta, purple, cyan, pink, etc. Generally anything with a high luminance level will work well.

There are cases when dark colors can work, but I’ll leave that up to you for experimenting.

For starters, lets select a Foreground Color of White, and get to the brushing!

The Technique in Action

Starting in a layer underneath your object of choice (In our case, the cloud layer), start brushing with single clicks around the edges of the foreground object.

Start by brushing just along the edges of your foreground object

At this point, the specks don’t seem much like spray at all, but more like extraneous pixels floating about. To fix this, we are going to resize this layer. Go to Edit > Transform > Scale, or Ctrl + T, and then make the layer smaller by dragging the corner selection nodes inward (hold shift to keep constrained proportions). Resizing to 80% of the original layer size should be sufficient.

Resize the spray layer to 80% of the original size

Resizing the layer gives the effect of varying brightness and size of the individual pixels which were very uniform before.

Fading the Specks Away

I find that this effect looks nicer when the spray seems to fade out rather than just disappear along a rounded edge. To do this, grab your Eraser tool from the toolbar, and set up a nice large soft brush (0% hardness, 100-300px).

Erase some of the dust so that it seems to have varying volume in different parts of the layer, and also try to have it fade out the spray as it gets close to the edge.

Erase parts of the Spray with a soft large brush

Blending the Spray

Sometimes, changing the blending mode of a spray layer will greatly alter the effect of the spray. Blending modes like Overlay, Linear Dodge, Color Dodge, and Screen seem to work best in most cases.

Furthermore, by Duplicating and Erasing Parts of each of the duplicated layers can also make for some excellent effects.

Duplicated the Spray Layers, and playing with the blending Modes gives off different effects

New Layer > Repeat

You know everything you need to know now to create some great spray effects! All you need to do now is repeat the steps shown above several times with new layers (With different color sprays of course), and blend all of the different spray layers together until you get the desired result.

Completed Spray Effect

Additional Tips

  • To make some dust particles appear more sharp than others, brush over some spray with the Sharpening tool.
  • Add in some Large Specks every now and then with a small brush (not set to Dissolve).
  • Don’t spray TOO MUCH! Just enough in some areas to make the effect noticeable. Too much and the whole effect might be lost.

68 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    mrSilkie (-3 Points) January 25, 2011 at 8:44 am

    This isn’t dust, these are sparkles, dust is loose pieces of brown soil, not pink and purple.

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    Ronald Aaron Willis (1 Point) January 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    This is a relevent tutorial even today. Thanks for the post

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    Jaka Zulham (1 Point) August 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

    nice effek… I like it, thank’s

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงใหม่ฟรี (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 1:06 am

    thanks for sharing. So mush123

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    thanks for sharing. So mush116

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    โค้ดเพลงhi5 (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 1:13 am

    thanks for sharing. So mush111

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุดเดือนนี้ (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

    great i never seen before.

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    Byron (2 Points) January 4, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Buena técnica. Muchas gracias :)

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Heather (1 Point) July 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I really like this tutorial. I understood it perfectly. I don’t see others that do not. But I would think that they dont know any of the basics of photoshop, hence why you didn’t go far into detail like they expect. Can’t do that for all tutorials. Got to draw the line somewhere. Everything is not handed out a platter. If people are having problems understanding the terms that were used – then they seriously need to read about ALL the basics of photoshop and then try the tutorial again. And again, very nice tutorial – I love this style of design :D

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (1 Point) May 8, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Wow awesome dust effect! great job man

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    CgBaran Tuts (1 Point) April 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Simple and good thanks great tutorial

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    free3dart (1 Point) April 4, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    cleanly explained, really cool

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  13. Add point Subtract point

    Great tutorial great site. Yeah how do you do the nice swirls and spirals they look great.

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    well jack, if you can`t follow that tutorial, i don`t think you`re very bright. David explains WAY TOO CLEARLY! and you shouldn`t be saying things like ¨crappy¨, your critics should be constructive, not destructive, like ¨i had problems here and there¨ or ¨can you be more clear about this or that?¨

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    gfxfree (1 Point) March 3, 2009 at 3:56 am

    nice tut and best effort thank u pal

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    Jack Causevic (1 Point) February 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I always tell the truth, This has to be one of the most crappiest tutorials I’ve ever read, people are saying ‘It’s good for beginners’, Well no it’s not.

    Doesn’t even go into detail, please make sure YOU can follow your tut before posting it.

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    G4HQ Forums – GFX / SOTW / TuTs and more (1 Point) August 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Very nice tuts! Thanks!

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    Milica (1 Point) July 23, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    All of the tutorials here are very helpful, I’m glad I found this site. I like how everything is explained very detailed and you can also do it yourself by following the steps. It makes it a lot easier to remember.

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Anson (1 Point) July 8, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    This is my favorite tutorial site for Photoshop. Not only are the tutorials very well laid out and easy to understand, but the person writing them has great talent, and inspires me to try new things!

    That’s great that these are free, but I’d love to purchase a textbook of these to carry around with me!

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Website Design (1 Point) June 14, 2008 at 5:50 am

    I learn something new today! thanks!

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  21. Add point Subtract point

    @ Gabriel – It sounds to me like you set your layer blending mode to “Dissolve” rather than your Brush Mode as suggested in the article. Either way works, but like you mentioned, you’re way will require an additional step of merging your dissolve layer onto a blank “Normal” layer.

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    Gabriel -Sphere (1 Point) May 15, 2008 at 1:36 am

    When I used this tutorial, I resized the layer down to 70%-80%, accepted the transform, but the pixels did not soften, since the layer is still dissolve and will only display hard pixels in that mode. I think a tiny step was left out.
    To get this to work I created a new empty layer under the dissolve layer, merged the dissolve layer down onto it (Layer–>Merge down). Then I transformed that layer and the pixels were successfully softened slightly.

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Paul Walker (1 Point) May 11, 2008 at 1:52 am

    I’ve started using a different method with CS3. I make a layer with the dissolve blend mode, and then pant on in normally with different colours. Then I put it in a smart layer and set the blend mode to overlay or screen or whatever. Then I run a slight gaussian blur on it.

    This has the advantage of being easily adjustable. (like, say, adjusting the opacity of the dissolve to lessen the amount of spray)

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    D-Marr (1 Point) May 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Hey david how do you make the cool lines in the back round in the pic shown above…e-mail me back at dillyrocker@msn.com

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Vita (1 Point) May 3, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Another great tutorial. Thank you.

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    Website Design (1 Point) May 2, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Simple but Very USeful! Thanks

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    James Peotto (1 Point) February 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    pretty sweet tutorial, I really like how it pops the image you provided. Plus, on a side note, i really love the logo for this site… so simple yet effective and versitile. Keep the tutorials coming.

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Steve Mathis (1 Point) January 1, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Yea rarely do I find a use for the dissolve feature but this is definitely a useful technique.

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  29. Add point Subtract point

    fairly easy but still some basic stuff

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    cruddpuppet (1 Point) December 15, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    This is a nice effect. I always thought people used splatter brushes when doing something to this effect; I could never find a proper use for the dissolve feature.

    Another great guide.

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  31. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Matt,

    This is a great effect for wallpapers. I’ve made a nice Tutorial9 Wallpapers that I may upload with this effect.

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  32. Add point Subtract point

    Really nice tutorial will definitely be using this on a wallpaper I may be making soon :)

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  33. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks mate!

    In my opinion, this is the easiest way to accomplish the effect. You could also use radial gradients set to dissolve for the same effect (and by doing so, create multi-color sprays), but with a brush, you get some idea of where you are going to be brushing.

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    Good tutorial for tip many beginners want to know, without giving them the easiest way.

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