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Create Swirls & Whirls in Photoshop

We’ve just created an A5 flyer/leaflet for celebrity magician, Michael Gee; one of the key elements of this design is the ‘magical’ light energy whirls and swirls around Michael’s image. We wanted this to flow naturally and look like it had some motion in it. After all, it’s not a naturally occurring thing, so making it look authentic was paramount. Here’s how we did it.

create swirls whirls photoshop

To achieve this effect with smooth curves, we will be using an iMac and the pen tool in Photoshop. Create a new layer, create two points with the pen tool and then right-click in the middle of these points and add an anchor point

photoshop pen tool add anchor point

Now drag each point for the anchor point to each side, this will create a flowing curve to the left and the right, changing the straight line created by the pen tool into a swirl…

drag photoshop anchor points

Now do the same again – add another point with the pen tool

create whirls in photoshop

And create more swirls and whirls – you should now start to see the spring-like effect developing…

how to create swirl effect in photoshop

We’ll stop here for the benefit of this tutorial; when you do yours, make sure that the ‘joins’ have no bend or kink in them and everything flows smoothly.

Now click on paths (in your Layers/Paths/Channels box) and click on the work path you’ve just created and name and save it – this enables you to go back and use it again later or make adjustments.

Select a brush with a nice blurred edge (try around 21 as a size for a start – you can experiment here) then using the pen tool, right-click over a point and select stroke path

pen tool stroke path

Make sure brush is selected and tick simulate pressure in the resulting pop-up box, this will ensure that you get that free-flowing fade effect at the beginning and end of your swirly pattern…

pen tool stroke path simulate pressure

The result should look something like this – if you’re not happy, go back and choose a more appropriate colour and/or a smaller brush size…

pen tool stroke path simulate pressure2

Go into paths again and deselect (click in a blank area) your saved path to hide it.

Double click on your layer to bring up the layer style box and here you can mess around with the color overlay and outer glow settings. For this example, I decided yellow was too unnatural and harsh, so I changed the colour in color overlay to off-white and added a subtle turquoise outer glow, changing the blend mode to normal.

I’ve also moved the layer to cover the leg (you might want to think about this at the start!) and added a drop shadow

photoshop pen tool layer style

Now select a blurred eraser tool – the blur helps to avoid harsh lines and keep a natural glow at the edges – and decide how you want the whirl or swirl to wrap around your object and carefully erase selected areas…

create swirl effect in photoshop

Your final result should look something like this…

swirl whirl effect in photoshop

…and here’s our finished design for our magician, Michael Gee.

michael gee magician flyer

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