Create a Realistic Space Scene from Scratch with Photoshop

Create a Realistic Space Scene from Scratch with Photoshop

In this intermediate-to-advanced-level design tutorial, we are going to create a stunning space scene that has realistic-looking planets, stars, and lighting effects using a few innovative Photoshop techniques and some textures.

Final result

This tutorial can have two variations, check out both versions below. Remember to click on the image to see the full-scale images of them. The planets’ reflections will be fully adjustable depending on how you want to set up your scene. At the end, we will look at a few quick ways to give the image a completely different look.

Version 1

Version 1

Version 2

Version 2

Let’s get started!

Getting started: what you will need

1 To start, let’s go and grab our rust texture from Zen Textures and open it up in Photoshop.

Getting started

Creating the large planet

2 We are going to start off by creating our large planet. So, choose the Elliptical Marquee Tool in the Tools Panel and create a circle (holding down Shift to keep a perfect circle) that fills up as much of the area as possible without going off the edges of the document.

3 We want to put that area beneath the circular marquee selection onto a new layer. Press Ctrl + J to duplicate the selection; this should automatically put the selected area onto a new layer.

Creating the large planet

4 We can go ahead and hide the original texture layer (click on the layer visibility icon on the left of the layer – it looks like an eye). Now, duplicate the circle layer we just made by pressing Ctrl + J. Go to Filters > Sketch > Bas Relief and use the settings that I have below – this will give us more of a planet texture.

Creating the large planet

5 Ctrl + click on the circle texture layer to select it. Go to Filter > Distort > Spherize and change the amount to 100%.

6 Add the Spherize filter to the layer we just added the Bas Relief filter to as well.

7 Move the texture layer above the Bas Relief layer and change the texture layer’s Blend Mode to Overlay.

Creating the large planet

8 Now, we want our planet to have a little more contrast to it and we want it to be darker. Go into the Image > Adjustments > Levels (Ctrl + L) and adjust the Levels as I have it below.

Creating the large planet

9 Change our Background layer to black (#000000) before we go any further.

10 We are now going to merge the two layers of our planet. To do this, Ctrl + click to select both layers, then click on the Link layers icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel to link both layers. Then, select the top layer and choose Layer > Merge Down or simply press Ctrl + E to merge them together into one layer.

11 Now, we want to create a new group to put our planet in. Click on the Create new group icon (it looks like a folder) at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Once you create the group, drag your planet layer into it.

Creating the large planet

Adding an Outer Glow and Inner Glow layer style

12 Now that we have our planet in our group, we are going to add some layer styles to the to it.

13 Start by clicking the Add a layer style icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel and choosing on Outer Glow. Change your settings as I have them below (the color used is #3EB9F9).

14 Now, add an Inner Glow layer style with the settings I have below using the same color as the Outer Glow layer style above (#3EB9F9).

Adding an Outer Glow and Inner Glow layer style

Adding a layer mask

15 Click on the planet group to make it the active layerl, and then click on the Add layer mask icon (bottom of the Layers Panel). Inside the planet group, Ctrl + click on the planet layer to get a marquee selection around it and then fill the mask layer we just created with black (#000000) using Edit > Fill (Shift + F5). You should have ended up with just the Outer Glow layer style showing through.

Adding an Outer Glow and Inner Glow layer style

Giving the planet a glowing edge

16 To give our planet a glowing edge on one side, we want to move the mask. To do this we are going to click on the mask, then click on the Link layer icon in between the layer and the mask to unlink them. We can now move the mask layer using the Move Tool (V) without moving everything else.

Giving the planet a glowing edge

17 Lets go and give our mask a blur so there isn’t such a defined line. Click on the mask layer, and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Change the blur’s Radius option to 50px.

Giving the planet a glowing edge

18 The planet looks pretty good but we want to get rid of the rust color and give it more of a "blue-ish" look to blend it in with the glow. To do this we are going to click on the planet layer and open up the Hue/Saturation Image Adjustment dialog box by pressing Ctrl + U; alternatively, you can get to the Hue/Saturation Image Adjustment dialog box by choosing Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.

Giving the planet a glowing edge

Here is what our planet should look like now.

Giving the planet a glowing edge

Setting up the space scene

19 Now that we have finished our first planet, we can create a new document (Ctrl + N) in Photoshop to set up our scene. I’ll create my new document with the canvas dimensions set at 1680px by 1050px.

20 Fill the background of the new Photoshop document with black (#000000) and bring in the planet. First, link the planet group and the mask together by Ctrl + clicking on them in the layers and clicking on the Link layers icon (or right-click and choose Link layers). Then, drag the layers into the new Photoshop document; this will duplicate the layers into the new document. I reduced the size of the planet to about 95% for a better fit which you can do using Edit > Transform > Scale (but do what you think looks best).

Adding some stars

21 We are going to add some stars in our background. So first, create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N) and place it below the planet group.

22 Go to Filter > Noise> Add Noise. Make sure that the Monochromatic option is checked and the Amount option is at about 30%.

Setting up the space scene

23 To get less white noise and more of a star look, we are going to adjust the Levels by going to Image > Adjustment > Levels (Ctrl + L) and changing the levels so they are something like what I have below. This will give us a higher contrast and make a lot of the noise go away.

Setting up the space scene

24 We don’t want the stars to go in front of the black part of our planet, so add a layer mask to the stars layer. Ctrl + click on the planet layer to create a marquee selection around it, switch to the newly added layer mask, and then fill the selection with black (#000000) on the mask using Edit > Fill (Shift + F5).

Setting up the space scene

Giving the scene some realistic textures

25 To get more of a spacey feel, we are going to go and grab the grunge paper texture from Zen Textures. Open the texture in Photoshop and bring it into our canvas.

26 Use the Free Transform Tool (Ctrl + T) to rotate and resize the texture so that it fits the canvas. Remember to hold down Shift when you are resizing the texture to maintain the proportions of the texture image.

27 Once we have the texture sized, we want to invert the texture image’s color using Image > Adjustments > Invert (Ctrl + I). Then we are going to open up our Levels dialog box (Ctrl + L) to lower the amount of white in the texture. Drop the Opacity of this layer to somewhere around 45% for now.

Giving the scene some realistic textures

28 Repeat Step 24 (adding a layer mask) to get rid of the star texture that is in front of the planet.

Adding a light source

29 We’ll leave the texture as it is for now and we’ll add a light source coming from just behind the planet. To start, create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N), and bring it up the Layers Panel so it is at the top of all the layers. Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool, create a rough star-like shape, something like I have below.

Adding a light source

30 Go into Filter > Blur > Radial Blur and change the Amount option to 100 and press OK to apply the filter. This isn’t quite going to do what we want it to, so we want to apply the filter again. We can do this easily by pressing Ctrl + F, which reapplies the most recent filter you’ve used, in this case the Radial Blur filter.

31 Now we want to go to Filter >Blur > Gaussian Blur with the Radius option set to 20px.

Adding a light source

32 We want to duplicate the white area layer (Ctrl + J) and rotate the duplicated layer using the Free Transform option (Ctrl + T) until you get something like what I have below.

Adding a light source

33 Select one of the white light source layers–the one that is lowest in the Layer Panel–and add a Color Overlay to it by clicking on the Add a layer style icon at the bottom of the Layer Panel and choosing Color Overlay. Use a light blue color (#3EB9F9). You can use the Free Transform Tool to adjust the size and angle of this layer. Also, consider adjusting the Opacity option of the Color Overlay to one that suits your tastes. I brought the sides of mine in and moved it behind the planet a little more. After you’re satisfied with the light source, move these two layers under the planet.

Adding a light source

Using a Lens Flare filter

34 We are going to add a Lens Flare. To do this, we need to create a new layer, fill it with black (#000000) using Edit > Fill (Shift + F5), and then bring it to the top of all the layers.

35 Hide that newly created black layer temporarily (click on the Eye icon beside it, which toggles the layer’s visibility) so that we can set up some Guides for determining where the Lens Flare will be placed.

36 Bring a Guide from the top ruler and the left ruler (press Ctrl + R to show and hide the rulers) so it makes sort of a crosshair at the middle of our glare. You can toggle your Guide’s visibility by pressing Ctrl + ;. Setting up guides allows us to precisely place the Lens Flare.

Using a Lens Flare filter

37 Toggle the visibility of the black layer back on, and go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Try to line up the lens flare so that it is right at the intersecting point of the Guides we set up.

38 So that our lens flare matches the rest of our image, let’s adjust the Hue/Saturation. Press Ctrl+ U to open the Hue/Saturation dialog box and adjust the color of the Lens Flare using the settings below.

Using a Lens Flare filter

Create a smaller planet

39 Now, we are going to create a smaller planet. Repeat Step 2 – 18 with a smaller circle. Since you’re already familiar with the process of creating a planet by now, why don’t you play around with the settings and options to experiment with different effects and textures? Also, don’t forget to add the planet to the star and star texture masks that we did in Step 15 so that the stars aren’t coming through.

40 When you’re done creating the smaller planet, place it into our space scene Photoshop canvas.

Create a smaller planet

Adding some "space dust"

41 Now that we have both our planets, we are going to add some "space dust". To start, choose your Lasso Tool from the Tools Panel and change the Feather option (in the Options Bar) to 100px.

42 Draw an organic, cloud-like shape in the middle of the two planets. It doesn’t have to be perfect and if you have any sharp corners, the 100px feather will smoothen them out.

Adding some "space dust"

43 Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N) behind everything except the stars and background texture. Set your foreground color to black (#000000) and background color to white (#FFFFFF) then go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

44 Add a Gradient Overlay layer style by double-clicking on the newly created layer to open up the Layer Style dialog box and then checking the Gradient Overlay box. Create a cool blue color gradient with various hues and adjust your settings like I have below.

Adding some "space dust"

45 We are going to add a layer mask (click on the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel) to the cloud layer because if you have some of the clouds showing in front of either one of the planets, we want to get rid of it.

46 Choose the Brush Tool (B) from the Tools Panel, and then using a black (#000000) foreground color, start painting away the parts of the clouds that we don’t want.

Adding some "space dust"

Adding a light reflection

47 Now we are going to add some reflection from the light onto our planets; let’s start with the smaller one. Ctrl + click on the small planet layer to create a marquee selection around it.

48 Create a new layer at the top of the small planet group and fill it with a light blue color using Edit > Fill (Shift + F5); use a color that’s something like #88D6FC. Since our group already has the mask, the blue fill will be applied to it as well. Drop the opacity of this new layer down to 40%.

Adding a light reflection

49 To get a bright highlight, we’re going to recreate the marquee selection on the small planet by Ctrl + clicking on the layer. Then create another layer (Ctrl + Shift + N).

50 Choose the Brush Tool (B) again with the Diameter option set to about 100px, Opacity option 20%, and Hardness option to 0%. Start painting in the front part of the planet that is facing the light source with a white color (#FFFFFF). You should get something like what I have below, something pretty subtle, but still noticeable.

Adding a light reflection

51 We are going to start giving our big planet a reflection as well. So first, like in the preceeding steps, we are going to create a new layer in the big planet group and fill with a blue color (#88D6FC) or something similar. Drop the opacity down of this layer to 70%.

Adding a light reflection

52 Lets get rid of some of the blue reflection because the light reflection is going to be right around the light source. To do this, we are going to add a layer mask.

53 After adding the layer mask, set your foreground color to white (#FFFFFF) and background color to black (#000000). Now choose on the Gradient Tool (G) and set the gradient type option to Reflected Gradient (second to last gradient option). Click and drag the gradient from the middle of the light source down to the bottom of the canvas. This should get rid of the blue tint that is on the top and bottom of the big planet.

Adding a light reflection

54 Just as with the other planet, we are going to make a white area where the largest amount of highlight will be. Ctrl + click on the planet and create a new layer. Start painting with our same sized brush as in Step 50. Your reflections should look something like what I have below where it doesn’t go too far around the planet and is brighter at the light source than the smaller planet.

Adding a light reflection

Some final adjustments and details

55 I didn’t really like the lens flare as I continued to work on the scene, so I adjusted it to get something a little better and more visible. The brightness of the new Lens Flare is set at 80% and at 105mm Prime instead of the 50-300mm Zoom that it was at before.

Some final adjustments and details

56 I’m going to go back to the background texture for the stars. Now that we have it in with everything else, Drop the opacity down to 30%. Using the mask that has already been applied to our background star texture, start painting away with our 20% opacity brush the "white-ish" areas at the bottom left because they look a little out of place. I’m not going to get rid of the areas completely, just dropping the opacity of them down some.

Some final adjustments and details

57 Now, we are going to put in some brighter stars to make the background pop a little bit. Create a new layer above the star texture layer and choose the Brush Tool (B) in the Tools Panel. Change the settings of the brush so that the Opacity option is at 100%, the brush’s Diameter is at about 5px, and the Hardness is at 0%.

58 Place a few dots/stars around the document in between the planets using white (#FFFFFF) as your foreground color.

Some final adjustments and details

59 Now, we are going to add some layer styles to the stars. First, add an Outer Glow layer style. Adjust the settings something as I have them below, using the color #3EB9F9. This will give our stars a nice subtle glow.

Some final adjustments and details

60 Nest, we’ll add an Inner Glow layer style. This will give our stars a blue tint, while still maintaining the white center to give them a bright glowing look.

61 Drop the opacity of the layer down to 70% to blend them into the background a little. We don’t want them to look unnaturally bright or stand out too much.

Some final adjustments and details

62 Now, let’s add a Photo Filter adjustment layer to make everything the same tone/color so it all blends well. Click on the Create a new fill or adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel (it’s usually the fourth icon from the left) and choose Photo Filter. You can play around with the different filters until you get something you like. I used a Cooling Filter with the Density option set at 21%.

Some final adjustments and details

Alternate final result (Version 2)

63 You may want the scene to have an aged, retro look. To do this, we need to hide the Photo Filter adjustment layer temporarily (click on the eye icon to toggle the layer’s visibility off). Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer using the same method as adding a Photo Filter adjustment layer. Drop the Saturation option down to -50. Now go into our Photo Filter adjustment layer and change the Filter option to Sepia.

Alternate final result (Version 2)

We’re done!

So there we have it, a planet made from just textures and Photoshop with two possible outcomes.

Version 1

Version 1

Version 2

Version 2

Share your own work on Flickr

Play around with it a bit more, and share your work with us by uploading it onto the Six Revisions User Group on Flickr!

Download the source file

You can download the source file of this tutorial below.

Related Content

About the Author

Tyler Denis is a part-time freelance designer from Ashland, New Hampshire. He is also the creator/writer of the design blog Denis Designs/blog, a website dedicated to bringing quality tutorials and inspiration. You can follow him on Twitter or at his personal site, Denis Designs.

This was published on Sep 23, 2009


John Campbell Sep 23 2009

Awesome! One of my very first images I ever made in Photoshop was a space scene. Not only is the final image fantastic but there are some really great techniques used in this tutorial as well.

Edwin Sep 23 2009

Awesome tutorial!

quasar Sep 23 2009

great work, thanks

sarjit Sep 24 2009

its nice tutorial

zeemiDesign Sep 24 2009

This is really, really, really amazing!
One of the nicest photoshop tutorials I have seen in quite some time!

Ohh Tyler this is a great tutorial very straight forward to follow and the final visual is awesome. Using the rust texture for the Earth’s surface is a stroke of genius. Well done mate thanks for sharing.

Luminors Sep 24 2009

awwww can’t wait to try this one! have to finish another tuts first, this one will be next on my list lol

amaya Sep 24 2009

Great tutorial. Cant wait to try it out.

Carsten Knobloch Sep 24 2009

Tanks 4 sharing with us!

Maha Qd Sep 24 2009

very nice tut and useful tips ^_^
thanx alot

Chet Garrison Sep 24 2009

This is a great tutorial! A lot of design tricks that will come in handy on numerous projects… nice! Thanks Tyler.

kevinsturf Sep 24 2009

wow amazing tutorial, love the outcome mostly the second version

I’m going insane here, how do we do step 9???

Angela Sep 24 2009

Great tutorial! Thanks Tyler.

Denise Flesch Sep 24 2009

Loved it!
thanks for sharing!

Chirs Sep 24 2009

This tutorial was suppose to be from scratch. Using a texture image doesn’t cut it for me. I want to see it being created in only photoshop without any outside assets.

Alexandros Sep 24 2009

Amazing! Thank you for sharing such a great tutorial!!

Noa Liberator Sep 24 2009

that was awesome! I did one of my own:

So, whenever I spherize per your instructions I end up with a terribly misshapen blob that in no way resembles a sphere

Josh L Sep 24 2009


Ditto, when I saw the image for this post, my first thought was “can’t wait to see how he made that cloud texture from scratch.”

This is not from scratch.

lens flare kills it.

Jacob Gube Sep 25 2009

@Noa Liberator: Pretty cool, Include it in our Six Revisions User Group on Flickr if possible!

Johnson Koh Sep 25 2009

It is amazing that only 2 photos are used to create the entire scene. Great work!

Web 2.0 Sep 25 2009

Perfect, great work :)

Krensada Sep 25 2009

Greg martin was probably an influence here. And great use of Lens flare. even though lens flare is something trying to be avoided in such pictures it helps make the picture feel like a photographer came by that place in space and took a snap shot.

Nice tut Tyler!

Keep up with your good work…

Jack Rugile Oct 03 2009

Excellent tutorial! I had a lot of fun with this one and was pleased with the results. I added mine to the Six Revisions Flickr group if you would like to check out my result.

Thanks Tyler!

Jacob Gube Oct 04 2009

@Jack Rugile: Well done! I left a comment on your post in the Six Revisions Flickr group.

Chris Porter Oct 06 2009

Well done! I love this tutorial. I think you can use this for a nice album cover that kind of resembles something by Kid Cudi or similar.

Fantastic tutorial – this is the first one of this sort of Photoshop tutorial I’ve tried, and I was really chuffed with the result. Thanks!

I end up with an oval shape when using the Spherize filter.
Could not follow tutorial because of it. What am I missing here?

i also ended up with an oval shape using the spherize filter, why is that?

Arvid Nov 03 2009


i need help, at Step 4 I didn’t become a white planet. Why?
Can anyone help me? The Planet looks very bad!


Andrew Dec 22 2009

I’m up to step 38, but I don’t get the lens bit… It just isn’t working. help?

Andrew Dec 23 2009

I couldn’t get the stars thing working so I used this (I still used your background though) I

Ben Stokes Dec 30 2009

I must say this tutorial is great . . It is nice to see people sharing so much on this site.

Ludger Frings Jan 02 2010

Perfect tutorial :)
I got Ps 2 Weeks ago and i’m not good at all…
but my version of it is pretty cool :D
Sry for my bad english.

Ludger <- German

awesome tutorial! here’s my version ;

Step 37… ummm… a lens flare over a solid black background does not allow the space/planet stuff to show through. Have we left out a step in this tutorial??

Step 37 UPDATE: The lens flare applied to a black background in Step 37 will display correctly if you set the lens flare layer to Screen mode.

Denece Feb 12 2010

I have elements. :(

syafiqzaimi Feb 25 2010

thanks for the tutorial… I like it!!!

rosy lee Mar 09 2010

thanks for your tutorial , i really like it! very nice

Medic Mar 19 2010

Great tutorial – will be working on this over the weekend

Xzontar Apr 01 2010

@Denece, I have Photoshop Elements 5 and everything is still doable. Sometimes things are in a different place, or have a slightly different name. I don’t remember if there was anything that elements didn’t have for this tutorial, but if there was there was a work-around. (‘Because I managed to finish every step)

As for the tutorial itself, very well done. It has helped me a great deal, thank you.

im having problems with the layer mask at part 15. i select the circle area by Ctrl clicking the thumbnail of the planet i have so far but when i try to fill it black it just fills the whole page and im not sure what im doing wrong

TheGatekeeper Jul 28 2010

To answer all the questions about why the spherize filter is giving an oval shaped blob instead of an actual sphere, first try cutting down the canvas so that it matches the size of the circles. This worked for me. In Fireworks this is called “Fit Canvas” but in Photoshop follow the directions below.

Image > Trim… then choose “Based on Transparent Pixels” and Trim Away everything (Top, Bottom, Left, Right).

TheGatekeeper Jul 28 2010

In addition to my previous comment:

22) You cannot add noise to a blank layer.

23) If the document was not created in RGB, then adjusting the levels will not look like what you have.

24) Simply Ctrl+clicking a layer does not create a marquee around it. The Direct Selection tool must be selected.

30) Select “Zoom” not “Spin” in the radial blur options. Spin makes it look like a circle with extremely feathered edges.

37) (per Stan) You have to select “Screen” mode to remove the black background

Obviously some of these you are probably rolling your eyes and saying “Well duh.” While the tutorial was great, it was these steps which held me up due to lack of detail.

cTron Aug 02 2010

I have a problem on step 17 when blurring the shadow layer mask. The edge isn’t blurry and is still a very distinct line. I’ve tried several different pixel settings and adding multiple blurs but I can’t seem to get it to blend nicely.

cTron Aug 28 2010

I figured out my problem with the shadow layer a while back.

Lochlin Aug 30 2010

Heyy Mate Great Tutorial.
Would you mind if I used it for a school project?

Eamon Jan 06 2011

when you spherize make sure you hit ctrl + the layer.

in doing this you should have the marching ants selection going around your sphere, then go sphereize and it should keep that blob inside the selection made :) Great tutorial, whenever i save a picture with noise or anything it comes up weird after it’s saved. help?

Ma. Erlinda C. Aguillon Jan 13 2011

Hi! I always like space scene! I like your instructions, they are very easy to follow. I will make my own version.Thanks again.I’m new in photoshop.

Jimmy Tran Feb 03 2011

This looks great! I’m going to try it out! I’m going to try making a few of a big planet from a plain on a planet too. I just need to figure out how to make grass.

Jimmy Tran Feb 03 2011

I’ve tried it and I don’t understand how to get the Space Scene set up correctly. Do I got to File>Place… or do I do something else to get the planet group in the new space scene?

I am stuck on section 12, 13, 14 how do you add an outer glow with nothing in the layer. Am I missing something here? I am sort of new to Photoshop so talk to me like a dummy.

Thanks for any help.

Hanish Bhardwaj Mar 16 2011


This was a cool tutorial. I did mess it up a bit the first time round. But on second attempt finished it. I did have a problem with the cloud. Mine looked as though it was stuck on, instead of vapourish so just messed around with it. I did make the smaller planet red, may have gone a bit overboard with the light reflection. But it has definitely taught me some new stuff and given me ideas for space related pictures.

Awesome tutorial. Thanks for taking the time!

karim Oct 05 2011

thank you master

Santhosh Oct 16 2011

I was thinking that I would require some 3D softwares to create such images, but this tutorial is an eye opener..! Thanks so much!

Victor Nov 08 2011

Great tutorial, thank you for sharing. I’m not new to photoshop, so the instructions where easy to follow. I made the smaller planet brown/orange instead of blue, just to try and I think it worked out pretty good.

keith McNeill Jun 14 2012

Great tutorial, although the smaller planet phase should be the same as the larger one as the sun is a point source and not between them. Just mirror image the smaller one.

Brian B May 28 2013

Stuck at 15-16. I add the layer mask to the layer group ( which only contains 1 layer at this point), then command click on planet layer to select, fill black. THEN when I try to unlink the mask and move it, the previously showing texture of planet/glow is all black now. Did I miss something? New photoshop guy , stuck :(

This comment section is closed. Please contact us if you have important new information about this post.