An image of a sky filled with lightning, created using Photoshop.


How to create a lightning brush in Adobe Photoshop.

Make lightning in a flash with custom brushes and tools.

Lightning from your fingertips.

When you can’t bring the thunder for a real storm photoshoot, you can still invite dozens of different lightning strikes onto your Photoshop canvases. From realistic to stylized, create the exact lightning effect you want with brushes and other effects. 

An image of a lake at night. The sky is filled with lightning.

Make realistic lightning.

Real lightning is one of the most difficult effects to capture in a photograph. But with a few tools and adjustment layers, you can turn a photo of lightning into a lightning bolt brush. Then use it like a stamp to add realistic thunderbolts to any image. 

Photoshop brushes used to add a lightning effect on a picture of a dark, cloudy sky.

Explore endless brush customization.

Photoshop brushes are incredibly versatile tools — you can adjust color, opacity, and other elements of your lightning brush to get the exact electric spark you need. Even find and install custom lightning Photoshop brushes made by other creators online. 

A cartoon image of a hand holding a lightning bolt.

Play with cartoon lightning.

For a stylized lightning bolt instead of a realistic one, don’t start with a photo. Simply draw a black lightning bolt on a white background using the Brush or Pen tools. Then, save it as a brush by selecting Edit › Define Brush Preset — and use it to suit all your illustrative wishes. 

Dodge tool used to add a lighten effect to an image of a dark sky lit up with lightning.

Pivot to light(en)ing effects.

Photoshop also has many lightening tools to help you improve the overall lighting of your work. Try out the Dodge tool to paint on a bit of light to subtly brighten the area around your thunderbolts.

How to create a lightning brush.

Follow these steps to create a lightning brush you can use like a stamp to paint the skies. 

1. Open it:

Find an actual picture of lightning that works for what you’re trying to create. It helps if it’s high resolution on a stark background, like a night sky. 

2. Map it:

Click Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer in the Layers panel, and select the Gradient Map option. Make sure this new layer sits on top of your original background layer and your colors are set to black on white. This will turn your image to grayscale. You want your lightning bolt black and the background white. If your lightning is white, check the Reverse box in the Properties panel. 

3. Level it:

Time to fine-tune the gradient levels so the image is more starkly black and white. Click Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer in the Layers panel again and select Levels. In the panel that appears above, adjust the sliders until the sky and backgrounds are as white as possible and your lightning bolt is well defined. 

4. Paint it:

When you create your brush, all the dark areas will become the brush tip. So if there are areas of shadow or darkness in your image that are not part of your bolt, it’s time to paint over them. First, click the plus icon to create a new layer and position it right above your original background layer. Then select black as your color and use the Brush tool to paint away what you don’t want. Even though your brush is black, it will show up as white since your gradient map is automatically swapping dark and light.

5. Brush it:

Now that you’ve isolated your black thunderbolt, it’s time to make it into a brush. Keep both the Brush tool and the original lightning image’s layer selected, navigate to Edit › Define Brush Preset, and voila, you have a lightning brush. Name it and use it in any project going forward, adjusting it as needed to be any size, color, or opacity.

Tools for making your lightning brush look authentic.

A lightning brush is a powerful tool, but your journey doesn’t end there. You’ll need to do some photo manipulations afterward to make sure the lightning looks authentic in context. Try these features and tools to clean up your image. 

A layer mask used to perform targeted editing on a photo of lightning.

Layer masks.

With layer masks, you can fine-tune or conceal different areas of your image nondestructively. For example, use targeted editing with layer masks to brighten or intensify the colors only in the area around your lightning bolts while leaving the rest of the image’s colors unaltered. 

A soft brush used to adjust an image of lightning in the sky.

Soft brushes.

A soft brush is one that is lighter around the edges, making it perfect for layering different colors or light effects, which you’ll need to affect the area surrounding your lightning — it can look strange if you have a flash of lightning with no light around it. Adjust the relative hardness and softness of brushes in the Brush Preset picker. 

Outer Glow effect applied to an image of cartoon lightning.

Blending options.

For quick alterations to how your lightning is showing up, look no further than Layer › Layer Style › Blending Options. Use these to change how a layer of lightning bolts on it blends with the layers beneath it. Try options like Inner Glow or Outer Glow to manifest the cosmic aura of a lightning strike.     

Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Learn more Photoshop wizardry.

When you’re working in Photoshop, your limit is your imagination. Try some of these tutorials to unlock your creativity. 

A landscape photo.

Improve your landscapes.

Landscape photography can be tough to learn — it requires the perfect alignment of lighting and position. Make it easier with these helpful tips.


Make the best landscape

A photo of a person. The background has been replaced with a leafy green background.

Change the background in a snap.

Don’t like the background you have in a photo? Removing a background is as easy as using a few selection tools in Photoshop.


Change a Photoshop background

An example of an image with a neon effect.

Make striking neon lights.

Neon effects are useful to know when you’re working on your lightning effects, and they have other uses as well.


Create a neon effect

An illustration of a firefighter standing in front of a fiery scene.

Draw forth fire and flame.

You’ve harnessed one element, now try another — fire. Unleash your inner pyromaniac with these drawing tips.


Draw fire and flames

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