Creating Smoke In Photoshop From Scratch


Using Photoshop and a specific technique, it’s rather easy to create something that looks like smoke or fog—from scratch. It’s not as good as actual smoke photographed on a black background, but it’s much easier to come by. Here’s the trick…



Draw a doodle. Preferrably keep the doodle in its own layer with a black background beneath.



Use the Liquify tool to distort the doodle. Liquify resides in the Filter > Liquify... menu. Using the various “forward warp”, “twirl” and “pucker” tools residing in the menu to the left, you distort the doodle as if you were fingerpainting.


Once you’ve applied the liquify transformation, select Edit > Fade Liquify.... In the dialog box that appears, set the opacity to 50% and apply.


Now repeat the process until you’re satisfied:

  1. Liquify
  2. Fade Liquify to 50%

smoke09 smoke10

If you enjoyed this tutorial, you might also enjoy my Creating Microworlds in Photoshop tutorial.

75 responses to “Creating Smoke In Photoshop From Scratch”

  1. lm says:

    Nice trick. I love tutorials. All this time reading your blog I had a slight hope that you will publish some. (Especially in Flash :D).

  2. Joen says:

    Well now I have the time, so maybe!

  3. Nicole says:

    Interesting tutorial!

    One way to make the smoke look more realistic would be to use Liquify to create large and small swirls and eddies in the layers to recreate the turbulence inherent to actual smoke.

    (Sorry. I’m getting my PhD by doing work on turbulence, so I’m compelled to mention these sorts of things.)

  4. Joen says:

    One way to make the smoke look more realistic would be to use Liquify to create large and small swirls and eddies in the layers to recreate the turbulence inherent to actual smoke.

    That’s exactly right.

    The thing is, this technique is scalable in the way that if take the time necessary to create great detail, you’ll get much more realistic results. The screenshots shown here are pretty basic and quick.

  5. Ade says:

    Pretty Neat… I believe actions in PS can also be applied to this.

  6. Joen says:

    I believe actions in PS can also be applied to this.

    Maybe. The thing is, each “liquify” process requires a different distortion for the results to be good. You may need actual Photoshop scripting if you plan to automate it.

  7. Bilal says:

    Awesome! Thanks a lot for this. =)

  8. […] Joen published a tutorial on how to create smoke in Photoshop. […]

  9. […] how to smoke A nice little tutorial on how to create smoke in Photoshop. __________________ Rense (editing allowed) [5D][20D][EFS […]

  10. […] Nice little tutorial on creating some decent smoke effects in photoshop, by drawing only one line. Simple, effective, brilliant. […]

  11. Ta4ka says:

    I love a good photoshop tutorial. Thx dude.

  12. Primoz Vovk says:

    Realy nice tutorial, and this is one of the best tricks i saw. Thanks a lot mate!

  13. Teresa B says:

    Wow, that’s pretty cool! Thank you for sharing.

  14. Shiva Varshovi says:

    intresting tutorial!!

    I can’t believe that the smoke came out of the doodle!!

  15. Jennifer says:

    Awesome. Nice trick, will try it soon.

    Not only is this digg worthy.. it’s stumble worthy :).

    ^ How I came by it

  16. amir says:

    cool, ill try it now…. it is indeed digg n’ stumble worthy

  17. Debra says:

    Definitely a nice tutorial and very quick and to the point. I’ll have to save this one to give it a try here in the next few days… thanks for sharing this!

  18. Anthony says:

    yeah, lot more stumblers out there than I thought, great tutorial, it’ll be good for class.

  19. very cool trick. I will def be trying it out.

  20. Vermin Empire says:

    Add me to that list of stumblers. Nice effect!

  21. […] absolutely awful. However as a designer it may be necessary at times to recreate it. And lucky me, Joen of Noscope has just the way to do so in a very fun […]

  22. Debs says:

    That was pretty cool. I think I will try it.

  23. changeable fate says:

    not only is it stumble- and digg-worthy, i’d say it is also, (insert shameless self-promotion), tumblr-worthy. thanks for the tip and in such a concisely written way. lovely.

  24. Nice technique, thanks. I’ll have to practice this…

  25. P. K. says:

    Another Stumbler here. Nice one dude.


    are you all blind?! this is a terrible example of photoshop ability. WHOEVER MADE THIS NEEDS TO BE SPLASHED WITH HOLY WATER AND STABBED THROUGH THE HEART WITH A STAKE!!!! that is all…goodbye.

  27. stumbler says:

    XD stumble rocks, another one here.

  28. j.w. says:

    Whawhowhoa! Sorry, don’t mind me, just stummbling through. (Freaking artsy-fartsy…)

  29. Dave says:

    That’s very useful sir. I enjoyed this. Found you from stumbleupon.

  30. mo says:

    brilliant .. just brilliant !

  31. quothi says:

    Thanks for that. I am doing an animation based on the word “fire” at the moment, and the smoke trick is obviously very useful.

  32. J. Devon Mintuck says:

    Great! What a great way to “make some smoke” Or fog. I didn’t know it seems so easy. I thought that one had to go through a lot more just to get some smoke.

  33. nice shortcut methods !!

    like it

    cheers !

  34. Aldrine Einsteen says:

    Hi there,

    wonderful idea

    cheers and cheerio

  35. PapaPhreaky says:

    niice werk cap’n. helluh-uh useful.

  36. Niki says:

    Very pretty! Found it useful, thanks.

  37. Someone says:

    This is so ratical I know I spelt it wrong

  38. Wasp says:

    Great and easy way to create some smoke..

    Love it!!

    (Stumble send me here)

  39. Scottie says:

    Found your through stumble upon and really enjoyed this tutorial. I will definitely use it again in the future!

  40. wightgirl says:

    Flippin’ marvelous.

  41. Dunceiam says:

    Love the effect. Cheers.

  42. I will use this - thank you says:

    An excellent method of enhancing the crap resuls of ‘nearly made it’ smoke shots

  43. Derek says:

    definately diggworthy!!!

    great smoke tutorial

  44. Io says:

    Very cool!

  45. {Oblivion?} says:

    I don’t use whatever digg is…. but I do Stumble… and its certainly worthy of a ‘like’ on stumble.

  46. thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful…

  47. Very informative and useful. I have to try this soon.


  48. Eric says:

    Thanks, you made my day! Just what I was looking for.

  49. zeus709 says:

    This is without a doubt one of the best and most natural looking Smoke effects I’ve found in my searches.

    The effect is just what I’ve been looking for.

    This tutorial ROCKS

  50. Jake says:

    These is a very helpful tutorial indeed… Great work! Thanks for the resource.

  51. dan says:

    brilliant (come on arsenal)

  52. Great technique, will certainly be using this on my next website design. Stumbled it! -thumbs up!

  53. DavyX says:

    SIMLPY BRILLIANT.Thanks a lot….this will be invaluable.

  54. penu says:

    Got to tell you that this tutorial is the sh@t

  55. hayatbebek says:

    Greats work 😉 Thank you.

  56. sen says:

    Doesn’t look like smoke to me. Looks like a cloudy photoshop scribble.
    Nice try though. You could probably get it to look more like actual smoke with those techniques if you did more by hand rather than letting the program do it.

  57. Great tutorial! Wish I would have found it two days ago for a project I was working on.

  58. Nice tutorial to create smoke using Liquify technique in photoshop. Overall nice post Joen, keep it up….

  59. Marco says:

    Excellent, I used it to make “smell smokes” on a cartoon with food in it :)

  60. Ahh what the heck, here’s one more, just because it’s so flippin’ cool and easy.

  61. A very simple way to make smoke in photoshop – – Awesome! /via @Eckstatic

  62. A very simple way to make smoke in photoshop – – Awesome! /via @Eckstatic /via @MadysonDesigns @myen

  63. RT @madysondesigns: A very simple way to make smoke in photoshop – – Awesome! /via @Eckstatic

  64. RT @madysondesigns: A very simple way to make smoke in photoshop – – Awesome! /via @Eckstatic

  65. Cool: RT @MadysonDesigns: A very simple way to make smoke in photoshop – – Awesome! /via @Eckstatic

  66. “Creating Smoke In Photoshop From Scratch”

  67. RT @Richbugger: “Creating Smoke In Photoshop From Scratch”

  68. Working on a movie poster to match my DVD cover for the book #InfiniteJest. Working with smoke; a nice tut: