Learn to Create Amazing Sparkle Effects & Overlays in Photoshop

Photography 15/03/2022 5 min read

Adding sparkle effects to your still images is a fantastic way to highlight the beauty in a shot while adding depth and context. Sparkle effects create a feeling of celebration, adding a magical touch to your compositions. In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to add sparkle effects to individual elements and how to create a stunning sparkle overlay for your compositions. Let’s jump into Photoshop and find out how.

Part 1: Create a Sparkle Effect in Photoshop

Adding single sparkles to elements in your image can help draw the audience’s focus to an area of your photo. The sparkle emphasizes any shiny object or light source, such as jewelry, candles, and even a subject’s eyes.

Step 1: Create the Brush

While we will be showing you how to create a Sparkle Brush, you can use these steps to make any brush type you like.

  1. Create a New Project, 1200×1200 pixels, with a white background.
  2. Click on the New Layer icon, then select the Elliptical Marquee tool.
  3. Change the Color to Black.
  4. Create a thin Oval shape in the center of your canvas; right-click > Fill > Foreground with Color. Click anywhere on your screen to remove the marquee boundary.
  5. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, then set the Angle to 90 and increase the Distance to stretch your blur, ensuring it is still within the canvas.
  6. In the Layers panel, drag the layer to the New Layer icon to duplicate it.
  7. With the duplicated layer selected, go to Edit > Transform > Rotate 90º Clockwise.
  8. With the top layer selected, go to  Layer > Merge Down. Reposition your star so it sits in the center of the canvas.
  9. Duplicate the layer and hit Cmd+T or Ctrl+T on your keyboard to access the Free Transform tools.
  10. Grab the corner of your shape box and while holding Shift, rotate the star 90º.
  11. Next, hold Alt and drag the corner of the shape box to decrease the size to about 50%.
  12. Select the top layer and go to Layer > Merge Down.
  13. Click on the Filter menu followed by Blur > Gaussian Blur, then change the Blur Amount to 7.
  14. Finally, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset, then give your new brush a name, and hit OK.

Step 2: Use the Sparkle Brush

Now you have created your sparkle Brush, you can use it as any other Photoshop Brush Preset.

  1. Open your photo in Photoshop, and add a New Layer.
  2. Select your Sparkle Brush tool from the Brush menu.
  3. Go to Window > Brush Settings to open up the brush controls.
  4. Adjust the Scale of the brush to suit your image, and click on the screen to add a sparkle.
  5. When you have added your sparkle, double-click on the layer in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style controls and select Outer Glow. Play around with the Glow settings to see what works best for your composition.
  6. Next, select Gradient Overlay from the Layer Style options, then choose the Rainbow option to create a prism effect, and adjust the Opacity to suit your image.
  7. Hit Cmd+T or Ctrl+T on your keyboard to access the Free Transform controls and rotate, position, and scale your sparkle as needed.

Part 2: Sparkle Overlay Effect in Photoshop

The sparkle overlay effect is fantastic for creating a feeling of magic and wonder in your compositions. Whatsmore, once you’ve built the sparkle overlay, you can copy it to your other photos with a couple of clicks.

Step 1: Create a Sparkle Layer

The first step is to create the base layer for the sparkle; you must get this part right, as everything else to create this effect duplicates this first layer.

  1. Open up your image in Photoshop, then create a New Layer. Make the photo invisible for now.
  2. Grab the Paint Bucket tool and fill the new layer with Black.
  3. Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise, then set the Amount to 100% and Distribution to Uniform and check the Monochromatic box.
  4. In the Adjustment Layers panel, click the Curves icon: drag both ends of the Curves line to the highest point of the background graph, creating a vertical line in the box.
  5. Go to the Noise layer and choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur; play around with the Radius setting until you have a starry sky look.
  6. Select the Curves layer and click Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E or Cmd+Shift+Alt+E to create a Duplicated merged layer. Do this a second time, so you have 2 versions, and hide all of the layers except the top one.
  7. Press Cmd+T or Ctrl+T and increase the layer’s size to create large flecks of white.
  8. Go to the Channels tab, hold Cmd+click, or Ctrl+click any layers.
  9. Go back to the Layers tab, create a New Layer, and Fill it with White color.
  10. Delete the bottom of the 2 layers, and you’ll see the black background has been removed. Name this layer Sparkles 1.

Step 2: Make the Big Sparkle

In this step, we will add some big particles, creating the confetti effect that covers the image.

  1. Duplicate the Sparkle 1 layer and go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, then adjust the settings to smudge and blur your sparkles subtly.
  2. Duplicate Sparkles 2, and go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, then adjust the settings to add blurriness.
  3. Adjust the Opacity of Sparkles 3 to create a halo effect around your other layers.
  4. Duplicate Sparkles 3, and adjust the Angle of the Motion Blur effect, so the smudges are in the opposite direction.
  5. Hold Shift, select all sparkle layers, and hit Cmd+J or Ctrl+J to create a group.
  6. With the group selected in the Layers panel, click the Mask option at the bottom and go to Filter > Render > Clouds.
  7. Duplicate the group, right-click and choose Merge Group.
  8. Right-click the Layer Mask and select Apply.
  9. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and adjust the Radius to create a glow around your particles.

Step 3: Create Smaller Sparkles

Smaller sparkles are a great way of adding depth to the effect and the impression that your particles are at different distances from the camera.

  1. Make the second merged layer visible again, and increase the size of the particles.
  2. Go to the Channels tab, hold Cmd+clic, or Ctrl+click any of the layers.
  3. In the Layers tab, create a New Layer and fill it with white, then remove the layer with the black background.
  4. Hold the Alt key, then drag the Layer Mask from Sparkles 1 to your small sparkles layer.
  5. Go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur, then play around with the Brightness and Threshold settings to create a look you like.
  6. Duplicate the layer and increase the size by approximately 400% to create a soft bokeh style.

Step 4: Add Overlay to Photos

Your photo has been in the background the whole time, but now it’s time to integrate the sparkle effects into the image.

  1. Make your photo visible in the Layers panel.
  2. Add a New Layer, then fill it with black and move the layer to just above your photo.
  3. Add a New Layer Mask to the black layer, and using a large soft brush, draw in the center of the black layer to create a vignette.
  4. Play around with the Opacity of your layers until you’re happy with the look.

Not all images will suit sparkle effects, but for the right project, the fun, glittering particles can help grab your audience’s attention. Whether it’s to celebrate a festive occasion or highlight the glam in your shot, this effect is sure to add a magical touch. Check out these excellent downloads if you want to learn more about sparkle effects in videos.