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How to Light Up a Christmas Tree in Photoshop
December 20, 2022

How to Light Up a Christmas Tree in Photoshop

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What’s more festive than Christmas tree lights? Let’s show you how to light up a tree using Photoshop.

With the holiday season creeping up on us, it’s time to make everything look more festive. Whether you want to send Christmas cards by email, text your friends and family, or just jazz up your website, a picture of a decked-out Christmas tree always does the trick.

But if your image lacks the holiday spirit, don’t worry. We’re here to show you how to add colorful lights to a Christmas tree with the help of Photoshop. Once you’re finished, it will look just as good as the real thing, and maybe even better. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Pick Your Christmas Tree Picture

For the purpose of this tutorial, we’re using a royalty-free image of a pine tree from Unsplash. We’re going to show the difference between a completely bare tree, and one with lights on. However, you can use this effect on a tree that already has decorations on it to make it even more Christmassy.

The important thing to remember is to find a high-quality image. Since the lights are quite small, they won’t show up well if you use a small image. But anything above 2000 pixels should work, whether you took the picture yourself, or use one from a photo stock website.

You can also upscale a small image without losing its quality.

Step 2: Create a Custom Brush for the Lights

To add lights to the tree, you need to create a custom brush in Photoshop. First, open your image in Photoshop, and then create a new layer on top of it with the button at the bottom of the Layers menu.

Follow these steps to create the brush:

  1. Pick the Brush tool and go to Window > Brush Settings to bring up the menu.
  2. Under the tab Brush Tip Shape​​​​​​, pick the first regular one.
  3. Change the size to match your picture. If the tree is far away, the lights will be smaller. If it’s close, you want them bigger.
  4. At the bottom of this window, move the Spacing slider to anything between 80% – 120%. This is to imitate lights scattered on a string.
  5. Move to the Scattering tab. Set it between 30% – 40% and tick off Both Axes.
  6. Move on to the Color Dynamics. This tab is to ensure that Photoshop uses two colors, to make the lights more cheerful. To do that, move the slider for Foreground/Background Jitter to 100% and keep all the other elements at 0%. Also, make sure to tick Apply Per Tip.
  7. Pick the colors that you want for the lights. Do that with the color picker on the bottom-left side of the screen. Change the foreground and background, and make sure to pick the brightest colors for those. Pastel or gray tones won’t work well for the lights.

Now that the brush is ready, it’s time to get creative. If you enjoyed this step, see our more detailed guide on how to create custom brushes in Photoshop.

Step 3: Draw the Lights on the Tree

Now that the brush is ready, it’s time to create the lights. Hide the brush menu and make sure you have the right brush size. If not, you can use [ or ] to make it bigger or smaller.

You can draw freehand, and drag the cursor on the tree to make it look like the lights are draped around. But if you’re not sure about your skills, you can draw straight lines in a zigzag shape from top to bottom, and add a curve to them to make them look more natural.

To draw a straight line, press Shift and click once for the beginning of the line, and once for the end. The software will complete a straight line in between.

After you finish the zigzag pattern, navigate to the Move tool. Click on one of the boxes, on the border of the lights, but don’t drag them. This will reveal the sizing menu. There, select Switch between free transform and warp modes. It’s the button that has an arch on it.

Now you can drag the dots on the image to warp the zigzag and make it look more like draped lights. Press V when you’re done.

Step 4: Make the Lights Twinkle

The last stage is to make the dots look more like lights. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Double-click Layer 1, and navigate to the Inner Glow tab.
  2. Put the Blend Mode as Normal.
  3. Bring the Opacity to 100%.
  4. Change the color to light yellow, for a warm glow.
  5. Next to Source​​​​​​, click on Center.
  6. Bring the Size down to zero.
  7. In the Contour, pick Gaussian.
  8. Tick on Anti-aliased.
  9. The Range can be anything between 30% to 100%, depending on how bright you want the lights to shine.

Once you’re done with all of these settings, click OK. The last thing to do is to play around with the blending of this layer, to make it look more natural.

Click on the layer, and where it says Normal, open the drop-down menu. Go over the different modes to see which one you like the best.

We picked Linear Dodge, as it fits with the aesthetic of the tree, and makes it look quite icy. But you can play around and see what works best with your image. You can also reduce the Fill of the layer from 100% to make it blend even better.

Below, you can see the before and after of our Christmas tree lights creation.

Light Up Your Christmas Tree With Photoshop

After reading this guide, you should now be able to add lights to any Christmas tree picture. At least virtually.

While we gave you specific instructions for every step, this is just to make the process easier. Once you get the hang of it, you can play around with all the Photoshop settings to get the results that you like the most.

In addition, you can use this method to add lights to images other than trees. You can add it to the front of houses, on cars, or even just around festive greeting card text.


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