Making planets in Photoshop is one of the few things I can say I’ve figured out how to do fairly well, quickly, and easily. In this tutorial I will show you exactly the steps I take to make a planet using only a photo of some kind of texture as a starting point. I’m not saying this way might be the best or most efficient but its a process I’ve figured out over the years that has given me results that I need and has suited me well.
There is lots of room for deviation from this initial way of doing things. Feel free to mess around with effects and stuff as you go along. This tutorial is meant to teach you some techniques I’ve picked up so you can apply these to other things you may create in the future. Below you’ll find a link to a texture you can use so you can follow along with me. Or you can use a photo of your own texture too.
Just so you’re clear, this is what you’ll be creating.
Ok now lets begin!
01. Setting Up The Page
So the first thing we’re going to do is drop in the image into Photoshop. You can do that by clicking and dragging the image right onto the Photoshop icon.
Once you do that, your canvas should look something like this.
You’ll notice the canvas looks a bit rectangular. What we need this to be is a square. So the next thing we’re going to do is crop the canvas to be a perfect square with the texture covering the whole art board.
To do this, go up to Image > Canvas Size to bring up trimming options.
Or press opt + cmd + C on Mac or ctrl + alt + C on PC.
You should then see that the canvas is set to 3264(w) x 2448(h).
Now we need this to be equally the same size on all four sides so in order to do that, we must take the smallest size, which in this case is the height, and apply it to the width. So select the width and plug in 2448 and hit OK.
Your page should now look like this.
Last thing we’ll do is convert this layer to a background. To do that, go to your layers panel and right click on the layer Background and select Layer from Background.
02. Creating The Sphere
Now that we have the layer set as a free layer, next thing to do is give this texture a spherical shape.
So what you need to do is go up to the top menu and select Filter > Distort > Spherize
You should get this little modal window. Since we want this to be a full sphere shape, make sure the amount is set to 100% and the Model is set to Normal. Once your sphere looks like this one, go ahead and hit OK.
Cool, so now we have ourselves a spherized texture but we have all this excess flat texture around it on each corner. What we now need to do is clip this layer to an ellipse shape layer. I’ll explain what layer clipping is shortly but for now we need to set up the ellipse.
If you go to your tools you should see this near the bottom right. These are your layer shapes. By default its usually set to the rectangle tool but if you click and hold on the icon, you get this little click menu with the other kinds of shapes. Go to the third one down and select the Ellipse Tool. Another way to select any of these tools is by pressing U on your keyboard to select the Rectangle Tool. You can then hold down shift + U to toggle through them.
One of the most important things in design is to get your alignments right. If you’re working on something that is dependent upon having to be proportionately aligned, then the Rulers will become one of your best friends. To access it, go up to your top menu and select View > Rulers or by pressing command + R on Mac and ctrl + R on PC.
You should now see two rulers on your page. One on the left and top of your canvas frame. The cool thing about Rulers is that they let you create either vertical or horizontal guides for yourself that allow you to align stuff to them or to, as the name implies, use them as guides for your design.
Lets start with making a vertical guide. But before we do, lets first make sure that Snapping is turned on. Go up to View > Snap and make sure it has a little check mark on it. If it doesn’t, click on it to turn it on.
To create a guide, you’ll need to first place your cursor over the left ruler.
Then you’re going to click + hold + drag out to the right.
Keep holding it and drag it out to right around the center of the canvas. Since Snapping is turned on, keep moving around the center of the canvas until the guide sticks. Once it sticks, let go of the cursor.
You should now have a light green line going through the center of the canvas.
Now that we have our vertical guide set up, we need to make a horizontal center guide.
So click on the top ruler and drag down to the middle of the page again until it sticks. Then let go of the cursor.
Before we move on, we need to make one more vertical guide that we’ll be using as a snap point when you create the ellipse.
So click and drag on the left ruler and drag it out to the far right edge of the canvas and let go when it sticks.
After your guides have been set up, we need to start setting up the ellipse tool. You should still have the ellipse tool selected. if not, just refer above to get it back.
Once you have your ellipse tool, go up near the top of the page just under the top menu but above the ruler. You should see some options and a little button with a gear on it. Click on it and this little menu should open up. There a few options here but we need to set this to create a perfectly proportional ellipse from the center. So make these settings are selected.
Once thats set up, place your cursor right in the dead-center of the canvas where the two guides intersect.
Click and start dragging down to the bottom right corner.
Don’t let go until the cursor snaps to the right most guide. (Note that the height and width of the ellipse matches the height and width of the document size we messed with earlier.)
Once you let go, your page should look something like this. If your ellipse is black or any other color, it doesn’t matter. We won’t be needing the color on the sphere at all anyway.
So now if you take a look at your Layers panel, your layers should look something like this. We need to move the Ellipse 1 layer below Layer 0 in order to create a clipping mask by clipping Layer 0 to the Ellipse 1 layer.
What layer clipping does is it non-destructively trims a layer and its pixels to the the shape or pixels of the layer its clipping to. Which, in this case, has to be the layer underneath it. So what we will be doing is clipping the round part of our texture, which is in the center, to the shape of the Ellipse layer, which is also aligned to the center.
First, click and hold the Ellipse 1 layer and drag it underneath Layer 0.
Your layers panel should now look like this.
Next thing we’ll do is set the top texture layer to clip to the shape of the Ellipse layer. To do this, move your cursor in between the two layers and hold down the opt key until your cursor turns to this.
Once you get that cursor, click and the texture layer should now be clipped to the Ellipse layer.
You should now have something like this.
03. Adjusting The Background
So now we have something that should kind of start looking like a planet. The next few steps should start to make this planet come to life.
Next thing we’re going to do is just give a bit more breathing room to the canvas. If you look over at your tools panel, you should see this funny looking tool named the Crop tool. Click on it to select it. You can also access it by pressing C on your keyboard.
Once selected, if you look over to the top of the page, you’ll notice a few setting have now showed up. We want to keep the square shape of the canvas so click into this drop down and select 1 x 1 (Square)
You should now see the canvas has a grid over it with some handles on every corner.
Click on one of those corners and just drag it out away from the canvas. It doesn’t matter what size you choose here. Just something bigger than the canvas’ current size.
Now that the canvas is bigger, Lets go in add a black background to this. If you go over to your layers panel, you’ll notice at the very bottom there are some buttons, click on the 2nd from the right. That button is the Create a New Layer button.
You should now have a new layer at the top named Layer 1
Next thing we need do is move it to the very bottom. So click and drag the layer to the bottom.
Now we need to grab the Paint Bucket tool. So go over to your Tools panel and select the Paint Bucket, or by hitting G or shift + G to toggle between the Paint Bucket and Gradient tools.
Once you made sure you selected the Paint Bucket tool, go the the bottom of the Tool panel and you’ll notice two overlapping boxes filled with color. These are called color swatches. We need the swatch in front to be filled with black. The easiest way to do this is to press D on your keyboard. This automatically defaults your colors to black and white. Alternatively, if black and white was already there, except the other way around, you could just hit X to exchange the swatches. Try it out.
So once we have black set as our foreground color, make sure you still have Layer 1 selected. With the Paint Bucket still active, click into the background and your page should now looks something like this.
04. Layer Adjustments
Ok so this is where we start to get into some organization of layers. First thing we’ll do is select the Ellipse layer and the texture layer. To do this, click on the Ellipse layer.
While the Ellipse layer is selected, hold down the shift key and click on the texture layer.
Once you have both layers selected, you’re going to group these layers together by hitting command + G on Mac or ctrl + G on PC.
Next we’re going to rename this group. So double click into where it says Group 1 and name this group planet
Now we’re going to apply a layer mask to this group. To do this, open up the group you just created and find your texture layer. Click on it and hold down the option key while clicking on its thumbnail.
At this point your page should look something like this.
Now that you have the shape of the Ellipse layer loaded up, click on the group layer you created named planet to select it. Now go down to the bottom of your layers panel and look near the left side find the Layer Mask button. Click on it.
Your layer group should now look like this.
Next thing we’re going to do is duplicate your Ellipse layer by clicking on it to select it.
Then, while holding down the option key, click and hold the layer and drag it up right above your texture layer.
Your page should now look like this.
So now while still selected on the new Ellipse layer you just created, go right above on the right where it says Fill .
Change that value to 0%
Your page should pretty much look the same as it did before this step.
05. Adding The Atmosphere
Next thing we are going to do is add in the atmosphere. To do this, double-click on your top Ellipse layer and you should get a pop-up menu on your screen. Find the option Inner Glow on the left side and click into it. Click that little color box under Structure and change the HEX color to #53a0e7. Then, change the rest of the settings to match these.
Once you made your edits, click OK. Then look over to you layers panel and select the top group layer named planet and double-click on it.
You should now see the same pop-up box as before. Instead this time we’ll be clicking on Outer Glow. In the same fashion as before, click on the little color box and change the HEX color to #267075. Now go and make sure all these settings match yours.
Your planet should now be looking like this.
06. Directional Lighting
At this point, most of the hard work is already done. This is where the fun starts to happen. In this step we’re going to start adding in some directional lighting to make the planet look more believable.
First thing we’ll do is load up the selection of the layer mask on the planet group. If you remember, we need to click on the layer then option click on the layer’s thumbnail in the layers panel.
Next thing we’ll do is select the Gradient tool. So go to your tools panel and if you remember when we used the Paint Bucket tool, if you click and hold the icon the gradient tool should reveal itself. The other way to access it is by pressing shift + G until you toggle through to the gradient tool.
Once selected, make sure that your foreground color is set to black by looking down at your color swatches.
Next thing is to set up the way the gradient will generate. We need to make it go from black to transparent. To open up the gradient options, at the top left of your page you should see this box with a default gradient that goes from black to white.
Click on it and a pop-up box should now be on your screen. By default the gradient tool is set to Foreground to Background. We need this to be Foreground to Transparent so click the second gradient box to the left and click OK.
Now that that is set up, we need to convert the planet group into a Smart Object so applying the gradient to it will much cleaner. First close the group.
Then to the right of the layer, right click and this menu should pop-up. Click on Convert to Smart Object.
Your group should now be a layer on its own.
Next thing we’ll do is load up the selection of the planet to create a new layer mask. So hold down option and click on the thumbnail to load the selection.
Then click on the Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers panel.
Now we need to load the selection of the new layer mask so hold down option and click the thumbnail of the Layer Mask.
The reason we need to do this is to keep the gradient we are going to make within the confines of the round selection we made.
So make sure you still have the gradient tool selected and that your current layer selection is on the thumbnail of the Layer Mask. Make sure you see the white corners on the Layer Mask. If they’re not there, just click on the thumbnail of the layer mask.
With those selections in mind, go up to the top left of the planet and click + drag down to the bottom right of the planet. You should see a line through the planet as you do this.
Once you let go, you should get something like this.
If you choose to do so, you can repeat this a few more times but its really up to you.
07. Adjusting Color
Here is where we start to bring this planet to life (or not) and give it some color. To start, we are going to open up the Smart Object we created earlier by double-clicking on the layer thumbnail.
You should now see something like this.
So the first thing we’ll do is to start by adding some layer adjustments to it. So open up your Adjustments panel and click on the Gradient icon on the bottom right.
So now we want to edit the gradient a bit more that we did last time around. So click into the big gradient box and you should get the same pop-up you got last time.
I have a few custom gradients I like to work with, feel free to mess around and make your own colors to fit how you want your planet to look.
Now once you’ve got your planet colored to your liking, we’re going to now move the adjustment layer that was just created into the planet group.
Next thing is to mess with the Curves. So open up your Adjustments panel and select the third icon from the left and adjust the settings to your liking or match these.
Next we can mess with the Hue/Saturation a bit. Go to the Adjustments panel again and select the first icon on the second row. And again, feel free to mess with the settings yourself or match these.
08. Moving Layer Styles
Now we are going to do some shifting around of layer styles. Since the layer styles are currently on two separate layers, we are going to move them to one layer, copy them, remove them from that layer, then paste them onto another layer.
It’s pretty easy to do this. First you’ll notice that under the Ellipse layer it says Inner Glow.
What we are going to do is click on that name and drag it up to the top planet group.
Now both of layer styles should be on one single layer.
Now we want to copy this layer style so right click on the right side of the layer name and select Copy Layer Style.
Now once you’ve copied it, right click the layer again and this time, click Clear Layer Style.
Last thing you need to do is update everything we just did here by saving. So hit command + S on Mac or ctrl + S on PC to save.
09. Extract The Atmosphere
Now switch back to your previous document and load up the selection of the planet by option + clicking on the layer thumbnail.
Now we want to create a new layer by going down to the very bottom and clicking the Create A New Layer button.
With this new layer, we want to fill it with a color. Doesn’t matter what color you pick. So grab your Paint Bucket tool and click inside the circle to fill it with color.
Once your layer is filled with color, right click to the right of the layer name and click on Paste Layer Style.
Then set the fill of the layer to 0%
Your planet should now look like this!
10. Atmospheric Intensity
Now we are nearing the end! We just need to make a few more minor adjustments and you’ll have yourself a sweet planet of your own.
The next thing we need to do is tone down some of the effects of the atmosphere. At this point they look a bit too intense so we are going to mess with the layer effects a bit.
So now double click on the new Ellipse layer to open up the layer effects window. Click on the Inner Glow tab and adjust your settings to be a bit less intense. Feel free to match mine as well.
Then click on the Outer Glow tab and adjust your setting for this as well.
11. Adjust Atmospheric Lighting
If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back because that means you understood what I was trying to say throughout the whole tutorial!
The final step is to do something you already did before. We are going to group these layers and add a layer mask and a black to transparent gradient.
So start by clicking on the top Ellipse layer then hold down shift and click on the planet layer.
Then group them by hitting command + G on Mac or ctrl + G on PC. Then rename the group to planet (FINAL)
Next thing we’re going to do is load the selection of the top Ellipse layer. So open up the group and option + click on the layer thumbnail.
Once thats loaded up, go up to the top menu and make your way to Select > Modify > Expand…
Then change the pixel value to 100.
Your select should now be 100 pixels more all around.
Once thats done, make sure you’re still selected on the top group layer planet (FINAL)
Then go to hit G to select the gradient tool. Make sure its still set to black foreground to transparent. place your mouse in the center of the planet where the guides meet. Then click and drag out to the bottom right corner.
and….BOOM! You’ve just made your own planet in Photoshop!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. This was my first ever so I hope it made sense. If you get stuck at any point, feel free to comment here and I’ll try to help you out.