Do your images need that magical touch of sparkles and glitter? Are you looking for an easy way to add a bit of flair to your shots? You’re in the right place.
In this article, I explain everything you need to know to create a sparkle effect in Photoshop. I show you how to make the sparkles, how to add a glow to them, and how to save them as overlays and brushes (so you can use them whenever you like!).
Ready to create some stunning sparkles? Let’s do this!
What is a sparkle effect in Photoshop?
A sparkle effect features one or more twinkly points of light, which can range from highly realistic to cartoonish and cutesy.
You can use the sparkle effect to add a twinkle to someone’s smile or eyes; you might also add a sparkle to a diamond or metallic object. Another popular edit is to add a starburst to lights or the sun.
The sparkle effect is also a great way to add some magic to your images. Whether your goal is to turn a branch into a magic wand or to add a magical light to an open book, this effect will help you out!
How to create a sparkle effect in Photoshop: step by step
There are two ways to apply a sparkle effect in Photoshop.
First, you can use an overlay, which is a quick way to add many sparkles across the entire image or to a specific area (like the top half of the composition, for example).
Second, you can create a brush. This allows you to apply one or more sparkles in a controlled way. You’ll have to add them manually each and every time you want to produce the effect, though.
Below, I explain how to work with both methods. The one you use is your choice!
Method 1: Create a sparkle overlay
An overlay is a layer that you can apply to any picture. Once you’ve created your sparkle overlay, you can quickly and easily add the effect to your files.
Step 1: Set up your document
Start by creating a new document. It can be any size, though since the point of an overlay is to have an asset you can use on any file, pick a size that roughly matches the dimensions of your photos.
Choose black as the background color, and click Create.
Step 2: Turn the background layer into a Smart Object
Smart Objects allow you to modify filters (known as Smart Filters) after they’ve been applied. The sparkle effect does require a filter, so it’s good practice to start by turning your layer into a Smart Object before you get started creating.
To do this, simply right-click on your background layer and select Convert to Smart Object in the menu.
Step 3: Add some noise
Select Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Once the dialog box appears, use the slider to determine how dense you want the noise to be. Since you turned the layer into a Smart Object, you’ll be able to come back and adjust it, so don’t worry too much about getting it exactly right.
Make sure you have the noise set to Uniform and Monochromatic. Then click OK.
Step 4: Adjust using Levels
Now it’s time to modify the noise. Start by adding a Levels adjustment layer (select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels).
In the Levels histogram, use the handles to adjust the contrast. It’s generally good to make some of the noise disappear by deepening the blacks.
You can also try moving the midtones to the right and the highlights to the left. There isn’t a specific formula; just experiment and see what you can come up with. Since you’re working on a layer, you can always modify the Levels adjustment later if there’s something you don’t like.
Step 5: Add a Sponge filter
You’ll need to further modify the effect with a Sponge filter. Go to Filters>Filter Gallery>Sponge, and use the sliders to adjust the effect to your liking. Click OK.
Step 6: Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer
Next, you’ll want to make adjustments using a Brightness/Contrast layer. Go ahead and select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness/Contrast.
You can use the same values I use (shown in the image above), but it’s better that you move the sliders until you like how the file looks.
Step 7: Create a new merged layer
At this point, you have created the basic sparkles, and in a moment, I’ll show you how to add a glow effect. Note that, if you want your overlay to have more or fewer sparkles, this is the time to go back to the Noise filter and make adjustments. You can also modify your adjustment layers to achieve slightly different looks.
Once you’re satisfied, create a new layer that contains your existing sparkles. You can press Shift+Alt/Opt+Ctrl/Cmd+E, or you can add a new blank layer and select Image>Apply Image, choose Merge, and click OK.
Step 8: Remove the background and add some motion blur
I’d recommend turning off the visibility of the other layers so you’re only viewing your merged (topmost) layer. Use the Color Range tool (Select>Color Range) to select the black portions of the file, then press the backspace key to delete it.
Now you should only see the sparkles. Duplicate the layer by dragging it to the Plus sign at the bottom of the Layer panel. Then choose Filter>Blur>Motion Blur.
In the dialog box, choose the direction of the blur and the distance. (Experimentation can be helpful here, or you can use the settings displayed in the image above). If you’re struggling to see the effect, you can add a Solid Color adjustment layer underneath your sparkle layers.
Repeat the previous step a few more times, changing the direction and distance of the blur as you go. The idea is to ensure that each sparkle glows in a star shape.
Step 9: Finish up and save the overlay
Merge the Sparkle layers together and delete all the other layers. Make sure you save it as PNG; otherwise, it will save with a white background and the sparkles will be lost.
And that’s it! Now you have an overlay that you can use to apply sparkles to any photo.
Method 2: Create a sparkle brush
Another way to create a sparkle effect is with a brush – which, once created, can be used to paint sparkles onto anything you like.
Note that, in order to create a sparkle brush, you’ll need to follow Steps 1-7 in Method 1 (above). Then continue:
Step 1: Select a few sparkles
From your existing overlay, choose a cluster of sparkles that you like. You can use a single sparkle, but using a cluster will help you create multiple brushes with zero extra effort, so it’s more efficient.
Select your sparkle cluster using the Lasso tool. Then copy it onto a new document.
Step 2: Add the glow
Duplicate your main layer and add motion blur (see Step 8, above). You will do this four times, taking care to change the direction of the blur to create a starburst effect.
Feel free to experiment with different levels and directions of blur!
Step 3: Invert the layer
Next, merge all the sparkle layers by selecting Layers>Flatten Image.
Then choose Image>Adjustments>Invert. Instead of seeing a black background with white sparkles, you should see a white background with black sparkles:
Step 4: Save the brush
At this point, you have a sparkle brush, which you can save by selecting Edit>Define Brush Preset. In the dialog box, type a name for your brush, then click OK.
But you can save additional brush tips by making different selections. For example, you can select just two sparkles and save the selection as another preset. Then you can select three sparkles and save the selection again. (This is why I recommended you use a cluster of sparkles! Now you’ll have a bunch of sparkle brushes to choose from.)
Step 5: Modify the brush properties
You’ve created a brush tip, so if you apply a single click to an image, you’ll get a sparkle. But if you apply a brush stroke to an image, it’ll hardly look like many sparkles – just a smudge!
To get a better effect, you must change the properties of the brush. In the Brush Settings panel, start by going to Shape Dynamics. Choose Control>Fade if you use a mouse or Control>Pen Pressure if you use a tablet.
Now drag the Minimum Diameter slider until you like how the brush looks. (You can see a preview at the bottom of the panel, or you can try out the brush on the canvas.)
Go to Scattering in the Brush Settings panel. Here, check the Both Axes option and move the various sliders until you’re satisfied with the results.
Once you like the effect, save it as a brush preset by going to the hamburger menu and choosing New Brush Preset.
That’s it! Every time you open a photo or a document, you’ll have these brushes available to create a sparkle effect in Photoshop.
Sparkle effect step-by-step example
In this section, I explain how you can add the sparkle effect in Photoshop using the tools you’ve built. Before we dive in, make sure you’ve opened the image to which you’d like to apply the effect; for this example, I’m using a photo of a candle.
Step 1: Choose the right color
First, choose the color of your sparkles by clicking on the swatches to open the color picker. You can choose any color you like, though I’m going to sample the yellow from the candle flame:
Step 2: Grab your brush
Add a new blank layer by selecting Layer>New>Layer. This is where you’ll paint the sparkles.
Activate the Brush tool; you can either press the letter B on your keyboard or click on the Brush icon in the toolbox. Choose the sparkle brush you created previously, and adjust the size until you have a result you like.
Step 3: Paint on your sparkles
Now you can add your sparkles! I wanted to create a sparkle trail that went around the candle, so I painted on the layer with my yellow brush, then I used a layer mask to hide part of the trail (that way, the trail appears to pass behind the candle):
Step 4: Add your sparkle overlay
You don’t have to stop there – you can add the sparkle overlay you created, too! Just g to File>Place Embedded. Then select the PNG file you created and apply it to the image.
Make sure to adjust it to fit the picture using the Free Transform tool.
For a more authentic final result, I’ve added a graded layer mask so the effect fades toward the top. I’ve also added a color clipping mask to match the yellow color from the first sparkles:
How to create a sparkle effect in Photoshop: final words
I hope you had fun adding a magical touch to your images with a sparkle effect! Yes, there are a lot of steps involved, no matter the approach you use – but the good thing is that you only have to do it once. Once you’ve created your overlay or your brush, all you have to do is apply the effect to your image and customize it as needed.
So enjoy working with your overlays and brushes. Make some magical edits!
Now over to you:
How do you plan to use the sparkle effect? Share your thoughts in the comments below!