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by Wendi Elizabeth Martha Scarth


Night Trails
Adobe Photoshop


Create Neon Light Trails
Suitable for Adobe Photoshop CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5, CS6 & CC
Skill Level - Intermediate

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This lesson demonstrates how to create neon light trails. To work along exactly, you are welcome to download the start image Here.  Unzip the file and open the image onto Photoshop’s workspace.

Understanding Layers
Understanding Blending Modes
Create Thin Light Trails Using The Pen Tool
Understand The Workspace And Palettes

Undo and Navigation Steps
Two ways of undoing steps are from the top menu, Edit then Step Backwards.
Alternatively, click a previous snapshot in the History Palette.

Navigate (zoom in and pan) your image using the Navigator Palette,
or the Zoom Tool.

Activate The Hand Tool by tapping the Spacebar, keeping the Spacebar pressed, pan your image in the usual way.

Open your start image onto Photoshop’s workspace, then extend its grey workspace by dragging out one of its corners.

Press your D key, then press your X key. Your Foreground Colour will now be White.

Now, create a new Transparent Layer above the Background Layer, by left-clicking the following Create a new layer icon, and rename the Layer, something like Light Trail (or Beam).

Now, from the Toolbar, activate the Gradient Tool. And set the following attributes into its Options bar. Ensure Reflected Gradient is current, and double-left-click to highlight the Foreground to Transparent gradient swatch.

Working on the Light Trail layer, left-click, and drag out a short gradient line, in the direction of the vertical arrow - illustrated below.

The length of your gradient line dictates the light beam’s width. Therefore, for a wider, or a thinner light beam - apply your gradient line in a shorter, or a longer stroke.

As soon as you release your mouse button, a thin white gradient will be applied.

Now, (working on the Light Trail layer), from the top menu, choose Edit then choose Transform then choose Perspective. A large Vector Transformation Bounding Box will then surround your light beam.

To give an impression of perspective, left-click and drag the following square node, downwards, as illustrated by the arrow.

This creates a vanishing point perspective. When you are happy with the outcome, press your Enter/Return key to effect the change.

Press Ctrl then T to activate the Free Transform command, and your light beam will again be isolated with a vector transformation bounding box. Now, utilising the vector handles, swivel and rotate your light beam so it appears to be emanating from the centre of your image.

Then press your Enter/Return Key to commit the change. If you feel your light beam needs it, activate the Perspective command, just as you did back in
Chapter 5, and manipulate/improve your beam’s perspective.

For precision, work between the Free Transform and the Perspective Commands.

Reposition your light beam with the Move Tool.

When you are happy with your light beam’s position, you are ready for the next step.

Now, to fade the beam, from the top menu, choose Filter then choose Blur then choose Gaussian Blur. In the subsequent dialogue box, set a Blur Radius of around 4 pixels, then click OK.


settings are dependent on your image’s Resolution (size), and the blur you are

Now, duplicate the Light Beam layer by left-clicking and dragging its layer over the Create a New Layer icon, (
Chapter 3). Then separate the Light Beams utilising the Move Tool.


Utilising the Free Transform command, rotate and reposition both light beams, until you are happy with their final positions.

Duplicate a Light Beam’s layer to create more beams.

If you find a beam has been severely cut, as illustrated here.

Press Ctrl then T, and stretch the Transformation Bounding Box; this elongates your light beam.

When you are happy with your number of beams, and their positions, it is time to apply the colour. To apply the same colour to all beams, press Ctrl then left-click to highlight your Light Beam Layers. Then right-click, and choose Merge Layers from the drop-down list.


If you want to have different coloured beams, don’t merge the layers, and apply colour to each beam, independently.

From the top menu, choose Image then choose Adjustments then choose Channel
. In the subsequent dialogue box, play with the Red, Green and Blue Output Channels to create the colour you like. Then click OK.


You can further effect your Light Beams by altering the Beams’
Layer Opacity, or Blending Modes. Experiment with different filters and settings to see how they effect the final result.


Thin Light Beams (Pen Tool)
The thin light trails (at the top of this lesson), were created by drawing a single straight Path using the
Pen Tool: then Stroking the Path with colour using the Paint Brush Tool, as illustrated below. 

To create thinner light trails, activate The Pen Tool.

And ensure Paths Mode is active.

Then create a New Layer, and name it something like Thin Trails.

And apply a single Path to your image, as illustrated below.

Now, from the Layers Palette, ensure you can see the Paths tab; (top menu, then Window - then click a tick before Paths). Then open the Path’s drop-down list by clicking the tiny black arrow highlighted below-left. Then from the subsequent drop-down list, click Save Path - as illustrated below-right.


From the subsequent Save Path dialogue box, enter a name for your Path, then click OK.


Now, bring up the Swatches Palette - (Window then click a tick before Swatches). Then click a Stoke Colour of your choice, and click OK to the subsequent Colour Swatch Name dialogue box.

Then from the Toolbar, activate the Brush Tool.

And enter the following settings into the Options Bar. (For personal Stroke results, experiment with the Opacity, Size and Hardness settings).

Now, from the foot of the Paths Palette, click the following Stroke path with brush tab.

Repeatedly clicking Stroke path with brush tab builds up your Stroke’s colour.

Congratulations, your Path has now been stroked with your choice of colour. To finish, continue drawing single Paths with the Pen Tool (onto their own Layers), and Stroking them with your choice of colour. After they have been applied, your thinner Light Trails can be deformed using the Free Transform Command, and partially erased, or thinned out, using the Eraser Tool.

To hide the Path, deactivate the Path Layer by left-clicking outside the Layer, as illustrated below.


Your Light Trails can be dragged onto another image using the Move Tool.

When you are happy with your work: from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Flatten Image. 

Congratulations, your Light Trails Conversion is complete
and is ready to save.

Wendi E M Scarth.
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