Anything Photoshop or Photography

Create Realistic Planets

I was looking through some of my old magazines and I came across an old article in Photoshop Creative Issue No. 5 called “Create Space!” They had created this beautiful looking planet so I just had to try it out. My results are shown below.

I used another tutorial called “Creating Planet Rings” for the ring effect and the starfield and space object brushes are from Obsidian Dawn’s Space Brush set. This image took quite a while to complete so I began thinking about how this could be done easier. First, I will recreate the steps using just the magazine instructions for the planet (since I am not sure this issue is still available). Afterwards, I will show you how to get the same effect with the Planet brushes I created using this image. It only takes a few minutes!

THE LONG WAY – Actual Steps

STARFIELD:  First create a New Document which will eventually be your final image so make sure it is set to the size you which to make. Create a black background layer and on a New Layer, use some of Obsidian Dawn’s Space brushes to create the stars. I used the color c2d0d8, a light gray-blue,  for my objects. Put each of the objects on its own layer so it can be repositioned easily and the opacity may be adjusted individually. You may eventually need to add a Layer Mask to the starfield layer to get rid of any interfering dots in the body or rings of your planet, and the opacity may need to be reduced on this layer if the stars appear too bright.

PLANET:  This looks hard but it actually is pretty simple:

  1. First find a texture that you think may create a nice look. In this case, I used a free texture from Mayang Texture called concrete_with_stones_4060445.jpg. Open this image up in Photoshop.
  2. With Elliptical Marquee Tool, create a circle (hold SHIFT and ALT keys to center and make a circle while dragging) to just fit the inside the edges of the texture. Now CTRL+J to copy the selection to a New Layer and name “Texture.”
  3. With selection still active (if not, CTRL+click on the layer thumbnail), go to Filter -> Distort -> Spherize and set to 100%. Repeat this filter a few times to get an effect you like for your planet terrain.
  4. Fill your background layer with black and and copy your Texture layer three times (CTRL+J).
  5. On Texture 1 copy, fill with a blue (may want to change this color later to get a better effect) and name the layer “Color.”
  6. On Texture 1 copy 2, fill the circle with black (CTRL+click the thumbnail and ALT+Backspace to fill with black), name it “Shading.” Texture 1 copy 3 name “Atmosphere.”
  7. Highlight the Atmosphere Layer and set to Screen Blend Mode. Create a Layer Style (double click on name to bring up Style dialog) and select first:  Inner Shadow changing just these settings — Mode (Screen), Color (light cyan – I used b5d2e3), Global Light Angle (8 degrees), and adjust Distance and Size sliders to the right to get the color effect on the planet you like; Outer Glow — Mode (Screen), Color (Light Cyan), Size to create halo effect or atmosphere (120); and Inner Glow — Mode (Screen), Color (Light Cyan), and Size (120).   Now create a New Layer underneath and merge the Atmosphere layer down (highlight both layers and press CTRL+E to merge) – this applies (gets rid of the layer styles which you do not need anymore).
  8. Highlight layer called Shading and move it above the Atmosphere layer. With Move Tool, drag darkened disk up to the right so it masks the top-right third of the Atmosphere layer. Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur and set Radius to 95 pixels. Go to the Texture shape layer (be sure to use only this layer) and CTRL+click on thumbnail to create circle selection; then with the Shading layer highlighted, go to Select -> Inverse (SHIFT+CTRL+II) and then press BACKSPACE to remove shading from starfield. CTRL+D to deselect.
  9. Highlight Atmosphere layer and add a Layer Mask. With a soft brush set to 10-20% opacity and gently remove most of the remaining glow on the top and left side of the planet. See photo above for guidance. When done, right click on Layer Mask and select Apply Mask.
  10. Drag Texture layer above Color Layer and set blend mode to Screen. Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation and select Saturation and move to bring some of the color back into the planet. Reduce opacity of layer to 33% and duplicate the layer two more times. Free Transform (CTRL+T) and select Rotate on the two duplicate layers you just created to adjust some of the detail on the planet. Highlight all three Texture layers and CTRL+E to merge together.
  11. Duplicate the Texture layer. On copy go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels and pull black and white tabs towards the middle – try to create a hard cloud effect. Free Transform (CTRL+T) and Rotate to get a good effect. Rename this layer to “Clouds.” Rename the Texture layer to “Land.” Reduce the Shading layer opacity to 95% so more texture shows through.
  12. Duplicate the Land Layer. Go to Filter -> Stylize -> Emboss and set the Angle to (-15), Amount to 1, and Amount 500%.  Name this layer “Highlights” and duplicate layer and name it “Shadows.”
  13. On Highlight layer go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels and input 145/1.00/210 and set layer to Linear Dodge blend mode at 50% opacity. On Shadow layer go to Levels and input 87/1.00/111 and set layer to Multiply blend mode at 70% opacity. The Clouds layer may need to be brightened a bit now – go to Levels or Image -> Adjustments -> Brightness/Contrast.

All the steps above do not have to be done exactly as listed – sometimes I did not Free Transform three times if I already liked the effect or sometimes I went back to adjust my colors. This is just a basic guideline on how to create a relatively realistic planet.

Your planet is done!

RINGS: Now I followed the “Creating Planet Rings” tutorial to create the ring for this planet. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Create a New Document and fill with black. Set your Foreground color to Black and Background to White. Go to Filter -> Render -> Clouds. If you do not like the way the pattern looks, run the filter again until you like it.
  2. Go to Filter -> Distort -> Twirl and set to 999 – then apply the filter about three times to get a clean twirl look.
  3. With a Layer Mask, clear out inside and outside the twirl to create a ringed circle. When happy with the result, right click on Layer Mask thumbnail and Apply Layer Mask.
  4. Go to Edit -> Transform -> Scale and flatten ring as much as you want.
  5. Go to Filter -> Noise -> Add Noise and set to 15% and Gaussian. To get rid of the colored dots, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation and set Saturation to (-100).
  6. Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels and move center tab to right (0.32). The go to Image -> Adjustments ->Hue/Saturation and click colorize. Choose a color. Set layer to Screen blend mode so black parts become invisible.

MOONS:  These are just like small planets only they do not need atmospheres or textures on their bodies.

  1. Create a small circle on a New Layer and fill with a light color.
  2. Duplicate layer and fill circle with black – with Move Tool drag to create shading cut out. May need to adjust the opacity of the color layer if it appears to bright in your sky.

The final stage is to copy your planet, ring and moon into the Starfield document. Now clean up any starfield stars that may show up in the wrong places, add a Layer Mask to ring layer (if needed) to hide overlapping areas, and place your moonlet. I actually lightened the ring in the darker area behind the planet to try and give a more realistic look.

Here’s another image using similar steps to the first image but I have also supplied the brushes for the planet in the download.


In this case two colors were used for the rings – just click on the layer and with the Free Transform Scale (CTRL+T and right click to select Scale) to make the rings fit, then erase if they enter into the planet. The texture for this planet can also be found in my Planet brushes. I used BittBox’s Grunge Ice Texture 3 for the red planet. As an update to this tutorial, Photoshop Creative Magazine just came out with an article in their latest US edition (Issue 74) called “Create a Spacescape” that uses similar techniques to that above.  Definitely a good reference.

THE SHORT WAY  – Planet Brushes

Download for my Planet Brushes

Now that you can know how all the space images were created, here are those same images using brushes made from the major components above.

Here are the steps to create the planet images as brush images very quickly:

    1. Create your starfield as discussed above.
    2. Set Foreground color to b5d2e3.
    3. Add a New Layer and select the SJ-Basic Planet Brush brush. Click once.
    4. Next create a New Layer and select the SJ-Texture for Planet brush. Click once.
    5. Create another new layer and change Foreground color to white. Use the same brush and click once on top of the texture layer you just created. Add a layer mask and use a black brush set to 50% opacity and lighten up area inside the planet so it is not too bright – you still want a fairly white rim around the edge.
    6. Go back to the light blue color and use the SJ-Graduated Light Ring brush. Click once and adjust layer opacity to get the right effect.
    7. Add galaxies using Obsidian Dawn’s brushes. Select SJ-Moonlet brush to add a small moon circling the planet and then change the color to black and click once more to add shading.

Try experimenting by stacking the planet texture brush strokes in different colors on individual layers – then change the blend modes and opacity, or add layer masks and only let a small amount of color show through. Also, use the Blender brush I included in the download for a soft blend of the the colors or to adjust the atmosphere of the planet. You can some very unique planets this way.

That’s it!


Here is another example of an image that was created just using brushes. Some of the brushes used are: my planet brushes that can be downloaded above, my lens flare brushes (for the sun in the upper corner) that were created in the blog “How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text” and can be downloaded here, Obsidian Dawn’s Space-Starfield2 and Comet1 brushes, Hawkmont’s Moon8 brush, and qzma’s Realistic Planets and Star Field Brush-Frozen Planet. I created the face following my blog on creating Photoshop brushes linked above.

I feel that following the long planet tutorial at the beginning does give the best planet results but it is a rather time-consuming process. The brushes can give the same feel quickly if you need to fill a certain look in an image or need it for a background. For just plugging in realistic images of our solar system in the sky, then download Obsidian Dawn’s Planet brushes – these are absolutely wonderful. They would be perfect for that full or partial moon that is missing from your image. Also, here is a Life Photos Gallery link to “NASA Envisions Alien Worlds” that shows what others are envisioning for this type of art. I hope this has inspired you to try a couple quick, out-of-this-world images for a real change of pace…..Digital Lady Syd

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One response

  1. That’s so cool!

    06/24/2016 at 7:17 am

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