How To Create A Realistic Lightsaber In Photoshop

How To Create A Realistic Lightsaber In Photoshop

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year or so, you probably have noticed that the force is awakening! After a wait that has spanned a generation, Star Wars fans are finally getting a sequel to the saga that started in the seventies! With the arrival of Star Wars come hordes of its most endearing fans dressing up as their favorite Jedi or Sith heroes! Which means an awful lot of opportunity for photoshoots, but there is one problem. Those dull, plastic, toy, lightsabers just don't have the same epic feel that will do the rest of the costume justice. Luckily creating a lightstaber blade in Photoshop using visual effects is quite easy!

Important note: All pixel measurements and attributes throughout the tutorial such as blurs and glows need to be adjusted based on the size of your document. In the example the numbers are for creating a lightsaber that is about 1800px tall.

Step 1

In the document your wish to create the lightsaber blade in drag two guides onto the screen to represent the width of the lightsaber blade. Don't worry about being too precise as you can always resize the blade later. Also don't fret about perspective or angle at this point, to start we will create a flat blade that can later be manipulated and distorted to match the angle of the scene.

Note: if you do not have rulers on the sides of your document to drag guides from hit cmd-r (control-r on windows) to make them appear.

Step 2

Activate your Rectangular Marquee tool and drag a small box between the two guides. You are only really doing this to measure the distance between those two guides and can hit cmd-d (control-d on windows) to remove the selection once you are done. Make sure to take a note of that distance, though, as it is important. In my case it is 64px. 

Note: If you are creating a horizontal lightsaber make sure to record the horizontal measurement and not the vertical one!

Step 3

Next, select the vector Rectangle Tool. Make sure that it has a white fill with no stroke. Set the radius to the width of your lightsaber blade that you measured in the previous step. Then simply drag out a rectangle to fill the area between the two guides. If your radius is correct there will be a perfectly round tip to each end of your rectangle.

Step 5

Right click on the vector layer and select "Rasterize Layer" to covert it from being a vector graphic to pixels that we can manipulate with blurring. And yes, before you rush to the comments to tell me, I'm aware that you can blur vector smart objects, but for the sake of creating a lightsaber blade a rasterized image makes things simpler and easier.

Step 6

Grab your rectangular marquee tool again and select one of the ends of your lightsaber. Hit delete/backspace to remove the tip so that only one end is rounded. Hit cmd-d (control-d on windows) to remove the selection when you are done. You can also clear the guides at this point, you won't need them again.

Step 7

Apply a very slight Gaussian Blur to the layer so that the edge isn't quite as perfect. Shapes that were once vector images tend to look too sharp in photos as even the sharpest lenses will have a bit of softness to them. This blur should just be enough to soften the edge but be careful not to blur so much that the blade edge appears out of focus.

Step 8

Hit cmd-j (control-j on windows) to duplicate your lightsaber layer. Name the bottom layer "Blade" to represent the blade of the lightsaber and the top layer "Glow" to represent the glow from the lightsaber on the scene around it.

Step 9

Double click on the "Blade" layer to bring up its layer style. Add an outer glow and set it to similar settings to the example below. Remember that the pixel measurements may be different for you if you are creating a lightsaber that is a different resolution.

Step 10

Select the "Glow" and apply a fairly aggressive Gaussian Blur to it. The Blur should be just big enough to "wash out" the red glow that you created in the previous step. Don't fret about the color being washed out, the goal is to create the ambient spread that will be used to cast the lightsaber glow on the area around it. 


Step 11

Set the "Fill" of your "Glow" Layer to 0% then double click on the layer to apply and outer glow to it as well. This glow is slightly different than the previous glow so be mindful of the different settings. Namely it is bigger, has a blend mode of soft light, has lower opacity, and uses a round contour to make the glow bulge outwards.

Step 12

Your lightsaber should be looking pretty close to complete now but one final touch to make it look a bit more realistic is to apply a Motion Blur to the "Blade" layer to give the blade a sense that it is shimmering. The angle should be close to perpendicular to the direction of the blade, however, I like to offset it by just a smidgen to give more of an "organic" feel.

You're Done!

Your lightsaber is now complete! Group the layers and use the transform tool to place it into the right position in your final image. Make sure the ambient glow of the lightsaber in mind, especially in dark scenes and remember that the blade will reflect in any shiny surfaces. Also, don't forget to come back and share some of your epic Star Wars photos in the comments below! I can't wait to see what you come up with! May the Force be with you!

Bonus Tips!

  • The Path Blur tool is fantastic for creating a lightsaber in motion.
  • Do NOT merge the two layers into either a smart object or a single raster layer. This will ruin the soft light effect of the "Glow" layer.
  • By using the distort Transform Tool and a plastic lightsaber blade in the source photo you can easily match the perspective of the blade to look realistic within the scene.
  • If you would prefer the blade tip to be a smidgen sharper just use the Transform tool to stretch the blade.
  • To create the more "jagged" look of Kylo Ren's saber simply add jagged white streaks to the blade before Step 7 to emulate the turbulent, fragmented look of Kylo's blade.
  • You can also use this this technique along with more aggressive motion blur to create blaster shots zipping through the frame.
  • I created the more "dramatic" look of the final image by using the "Render Lighting Effects" filter to create more dramatic lightning.


Ryan Cooper's picture

Ryan is an mildly maniacal portrait/cosplay photographer from glorious Vancouver, Canada.

Log in or register to post comments

Screw photoshop, I want to make a realistic light saber in my garage.

Be careful what you wish for.

The Force was too strong... I had no choice. My skills are amateur at best but I gave it a go..

Being from Toronto, I approve of this composite. (it IS a composite, right?)

Vader's rolling through the 6!

the empire is still out on whether it's a composite or not...haha

for realistic look, look up exponential glow!
Not lame glow effects from photoshop are linear falloff , just wrong.

thats true, but i didnt manage to find anything photoshop related.
can you provide some more info, so i can google more?

only thing i could find was this

Some strange filters in the store.


really ? you guys are just to bored.....

Lightsaber long exposure, anyone? ;-)

Very neat, how much of that is composited?

Thanks! Most of it is composited. One shot for the dunes and sky, another for the Jedi, and then the lightsaber and Imperial Walkers were added in.

I never liked the clean saber look. Making them a little more rough always feels more like a surge of energy.

An Image I shot for the Battlefront release last month.

Hope the critics are not too bad on my one ^^