Interstellar Scenes, Part 2: How to Create Planets in Photoshop

The basics of creating a planet in Photoshop using nothing but the native filters.

The Planet

  1. Select the Ellipse tool (U) and create a circle roughly 200x200px or bigger. Name this layer "Planet"

  2. In the Layers panel, right-click on the Planet layer, and select Convert to Smart Object1.

  3. In the Layers panel, ctrl/cmd+click the Planet layer to select the non-transparent portions of the layer.

  4. With the selection still active, go to Filters > Render > Clouds

  5. Use Gradient Map (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map) to colorize the sphere to give it landmasses and oceans.

  6. Ctrl/CMD+Click Planet layer. Go to Filters > Noise > Add Noise, and use these settings: 3%, Uniform, Monochromatic: Checked

  7. Go to Filters > Blur > Box Blur. Set to 1 and click OK.

  8. Ctrl/CMD+Click to merge Gradient Map into Planet layer, or select both layers to create a Smart Layer.

Clouds

  1. Ctrl/CMD+Click on your existing planet layer, and then create a new layer.

  2. Goto Select > Modify > Expand, and enter 5. Right-click on selection, and select Feather. Change amount to 10.

  3. Fill area with clouds (Filter > Clouds). Use Levels to increase contrast between black and white areas.

  4. Spherize this layer (Filter > Distort > Spherize)/ With selection still active, apply a guassian blur of 2 to 5px.

  5. Set layer's blend-mode to "Screen"

  6. Make sure that the selection is still active, and then Ctrl/CMD+C to make a copy.

    1. Click on the Layer Mask icon in the Layers windows to create the mask.
    2. Go to the Channels tab (if this tab isn’t available, go to Window > Channels to make it available) and enable the layer’s Mask channel. Everything should turn red.
    3. Ctrl/CMD+V to paste your copy into the layer mask. Turn off the Mask channel.
    4. Your planet should look similar to the example

Example Planet with Clouds
Example Planet with Clouds

Suggestions

  • For added depth, create a new layer with the same size selection, but use the Fibers filter instead.

  • Use Levels to increase contrast between light and dark areas.

  • With selection still active, apply a guassian blur of 2 to 5px.

  • Apply Spherize to this layer as well. Set layer's blend-mode to "Screen"

  • Rotate this layer until the clouds are at an angle. Move this layer below the first clouds layer.

Example Planet with Clouds—second layer
Example Planet with Clouds—second layer

Atmosphere

  1. Create a new layer and label it “Atmosphere”.

  2. Ctrl+click on the planet layer. Goto Select > Modify > Expand, and enter 20. Right-click on selection, and select Feather. Change amount to 40.

  3. Select the atmosphere layer, and then goto Edit > Fill and select color. Use the color picker to select the dominant color from your planet. Click OK.

  4. Set the layer's blend-mode to Overlay. Leave Fill at 100%.

  5. Make a new copy of the atmosphere layer, and move it behind the main planet layer. Set this layer's blendmode to Normal.

Example Planet with Atmosphere
Example Planet with Atmosphere

Almost done. You can stop here, or continue on.

Planet Shadow

Place all layers into a group. Label this group "Planet" With the group layer selected, select Layer Styles > Inner Shadow. Use these settings:

Blend Mode: Multiply
Opacity: 100%
Angle: -45
Distance: 110px
Choke: 0%
Size: 250px

Example Planet with Shadow
Example Planet with Shadow

Pro tip: You can play with the opacity and angle by clicking and dragging your mouse on the shadow. This can only be done while the layer style window is open.

Additional Tips

Newer versions of Photoshop CC only

Add an additional Inner Shadow style. Turn off global lighting.

Planet with Light Side
Planet with Light Side

Use these settings:

Blend Mode: Screen
Opacity: 100%
Angle: 135
Distance: 110px
Choke: 0%
Size: 250px

Pro tip: Like with the Planet Shadow, you can play with the opacity and angle by clicking and dragging your mouse on the shadow. This can only be done while the layer style window is open.

Planet with Light Side 2
Planet with Light Side

Inner Shadow 1 (dark layer)

Angle: -39
Distance: 323px

Inner Shadow 2 (light layer)

Blend Mode: Linear Light

Coming Soon: Interstellar Scenes, Part 3: Building Stellar Closeups


  1. Useful feature in Photoshop since CS3. Allows for greater control, and non-destructive editing techniques. 

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