2D Tutorial: Lighting Effects


Ok so I thought I’d post this under Game Art Design.
Since I use it when creating concepts, and texturing.

Why use lighting effects? I always asked myself that…I never really grasped its true power until I figured out its ability to use alpha channels to prelight height maps. I still think having a good understanding of lighting, and painting is essential but this little trick I picked up along the way really helps build a good foundation to start with.

First, scan, or draw the outline of your 2D drawing, and import it into Photoshop.

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Set its layer to multiply, and using the “wand” tool select the area outside of the outer line and “inverse” that marque select. If done correctly you should have the silohuotte of the drawing in a marque. Create a new layer and on that layer inside the selection fill that area with a mid grey tone.

Now using the “dodge” tool, set it to “midtones” at about 15% and paint out the height of your object. In otherwords, wherever the object is closest to you make it lighter than what is farther away. My teacher in college used to call this “rendering” and/or “contrasting” whatever the term just do not paint in the lighting. Think of it like a bump map.

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With the initial painting done. (if you have deselected the layer just Ctrl+click on the painted layer that will auto create a marque around the silohuotte) Go into “Channels” and create a new layer under “Channels”. It will by default be named “Alpha 1”. Copy/Paste the painted layer you made into the Channel layer “Alpha 1”.

Now go back to the layers section, select the layer you painted on and go to: filters>rendering>lighting effects. At the bottom of this menu where it says “texture channel” select “Alpha 1”. Setup the lights to your liking. If done correctly you should have the beginnings of a very nicely lit object. I suggest using at least 2 spotlights one facing the object and the other back lighting it.
Select “ok” once you are happy with the results…and VOILA! Your layer should now have placed the lighting to that later.

The layer might appear a bit bumpy depending on how well you initially painted the map. If that’s the case I just use Smart Blur. It is under "filter>blur>smartblur.
Using the threshold, and a tiny bit of the smudge tool I get a nice smoothed appearance.

I hope this helps anyone out there…this is the least I could do seeing as all the many many tutorials I’ve read on cgtalk have helped my workflow and skillset improve by leaps and bounds.

Best of luck


ok some more tweaks, and the the almighty “Variations”.



ah modeling_man, I’ve been playing around with lighting in photoshop also and it’s a very valuable tool once I figured out what can be done with it. Nice to see you put up a nice tutorial on it, thanks.


Thank you for this great tutorial. Photoshop can be a bugger when it comes to certain things, customized lighting included.


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