Filter > Render > Flame

An Adobe Photoshop often forgotten filter

Fire is a very popular digital substance these days. There are photo art actions that will set any subject on fire. There are photos of fire carefully extracted and served as PNG files to graphic artists. And there are well-known paint programs and 3rd party filters, such as Alien Skin’s Eye Candy, that offer their renditions of fire and flame. However, Photoshop itself has been offering a way to render flames since at least CC 2014. It is no longer available as a scripted pattern fill (Edit> Fill), but now solely resides in the Render menu, along with Trees, Frames, Clouds, Lighting, and more. Many of us tend to forget that the Flame filter even exists. The other day  I remembered it when I wanted a few flames for an art journal page, and decided to reacquaint myself, so I created a simple image to walk through the process and share with you—just in case, like me, you tend to forget how something works when you go a long time without using it.

To use the Flame filter in Photoshop, you first need to create a path. The Pen tool is the obvious method for drawing a path, but for those of you who find the Pen tool intimidating, you can also use a Shape drawn with the Path setting in the Options bar. The main limitation to using a Shape is that it’s always a closed path that encloses empty space, even if a very narrow empty space. It will still generate flames, but it won’t look the same as a flame drawn with the Pen tool. However, that’s not only not always bad, but using a shape is also a quick way to produce an image if you want a burning heart (or house or. . . ).

Flames created with Shape and Pen tool paths
Although the Flame filter requires a path to operate on, you can create a path using a custom Shape layer in Path mode, (left), a basic shape such as Line (middle, or create a path with the Pen tool (right). The Direct Selection tool is used to modify both Shapes and Pen tool paths.
Adding the first layer of flames
Several open paths on the same path layer were used to generate these flames using One Flame Along Path as the Flame Type. Only one slider is in play in this mode on the Basic tab, but you can choose a custom color. Paths shown were stroked with a magenta Pencil on a separate layer for visibility in the screen shot only and were not visible in the final image.

Once you’ve drawn your path (multiple paths can reside on the same layer), it’s a good idea to save your path layer by double-clicking on it and naming it. You’ll probably want to be able to return to it to adjust or use for another flame. Next, create a new, empty layer—the filter always returns pixels and won’t run as a Smart Filter, so protect your image from a destructive operation. With the path active in the Paths panel (you can see the path in the document window), and the empty layer targeted, choose Filter> Render> Flame. . . . In the dialog, experiment with the different settings in the Flame Type list and their sliders to see what looks best. You can also select a custom color for your flames.

New Flame type rendered to image file
After adding in the background (a paper from Holliewood of Mischief Circus), and modifying the logs with a style and overlay, two horizontal, wavy paths on a single path layer created the small ember flames using Multiple Flames One Direction for the Type.
Initial image with 2 separate renders
After rendering both types of flames, this image using the default color provides a start to further exploration of the filter’s capabilities.

Once you have constructed a flame type that you think is very close to what you want, you can choose the Advanced tab to modify the results even more. Most of the settings here are subtle, although some can make a significant difference in the result. For this demonstration, I only used the Basic tab, which in many cases is all you’ll need. Click OK to render the flame(s). Now you can deselect the path in the Paths panel and create another path, or several more paths, on separate layers, to complete the image of your object on fire. For my example, I rendered different flame layers using different paths, and used custom colors, blend modes, and opacity. Where necessary, I modified the paths while looking at the rendered flames on a layer, then turned off the layer, created a new one, and re-ran the filter. I also used Free Transform on rendered flame layers to help them fit the image better.

Two renders of one flame type with different settings
The Flame type Multiple Flames One Direction makes use of several sliders to determine the length of the flames, their width, and their spacing. Shown above is the result of rendering the same flame type two separate times, but using slightly different settings, custom color, blend modes and layer opacity.
Last version shown with and without the paths that created them
Multiple paths (shown top), along with rendering flames with custom color and settings, as well as adding in blend modes and layer opacity produced the image at bottom.

With its decent preview and straightforward sliders, Flame does a pretty good job for anyone who doesn’t need to add lots of flames to everything. If you want greater realism or an organic feel to your flames, building up your fire from multiple flame layers can get you closer than you might expect. But if you want a stylized graphic, this filter has got that covered, too. For occasional use, if you’re willing to toy with the sliders and adjust the paths, I think you’ll find it adequate for most purposes, without forcing you to think you have to spend a lot of money on 3rd party solutions.

"Daily Planner" series for Democrace with Flame render
Several designers—Rucolla, Lynne Anzelc, ViVa, and more—were used to create this “Daily Planner” art journal piece as part of a series for Democracy. The fire engulfing “Free and Fair Elections” was created very quickly in Adobe Photoshop CC with the Flame filter.

Adobe Comp

A new free mobile app for CC subscribers

Adobe recently released its first version of Adobe Comp, a mobile app that lets you “doodle” layouts as easily as, well, doodling. I’m sure they had in mind professional designers who are creating brochures, advertisements, etc., but I can’t see any reason those of us who create  photos albums, art journals, and scrap pages won’t find it just as useful. After all, we’re doing exactly the same thing—placing pictures and text on our pages to tell a story. And Adobe Comp is free! You only need an iPad2 or better, and a Creative Cloud subscription. It can be either the Photography Plan for Lightroom and Photoshop, or the full CC.

(Once they nail down the basic features for the iPad version, I’ve no doubt they’ll be bringing it to other devices, just as they have begun to with Lightroom Mobile.)

So how do we, the digital scrappers, grunge art compositors, art journalists, or family album creators, make use of Adobe Comp? First, remember this app is intended to make it easy to jot down an idea for a page anywhere you happen to be—waiting for the kids’ karate class to end, sitting in a doctor’s office, having coffee at Starbucks, or curled up on your couch relaxing. You don’t always want to haul around the laptop, but the iPad can go almost anywhere, and it’s a lot easier to use than a dirty napkin or the back of a receipt, along with the pen that’s drying up. The layout doesn’t have to be complete—it can be an idea for a cluster or photo layout, or simply denote areas for imagery and other areas for journaling. How finished is up to you.

Drawing Mode displaying gestures
In Drawing Mode, sketching these shapes with your finger will be translated to clean shapes or text by the app. The X on the far left of the screen toggles between drawing mode and editing mode.

Adobe Comp comes with basic geometric shapes, text, a bit of styling for headings or borders, etc., even color, but you have to bring in any complex imagery such as photos, flowers, or flourishes. You can do this by using the Creative Cloud Library feature that Photoshop and many other apps include (Window> Libraries). If you haven’t tried creating a library for yourself, you’re in for a treat. They’re super simple to use, only requiring enough space in your Creative Cloud account to store them.

I used some custom shapes that Photoshop ships with. After drawing one in a blank document and with the layer still targeted, I clicked on the Add Image button in the Library panel. I could also add the swatch color for the shape at the same time. The shape in the library is named after the layer name, but you can rename it by double-clicking on the name in the library. Adobe automatically synced my library to the Creative Cloud.

Custom library filled with custom shapes
Making your own Creative Cloud library gives you access to a variety of assets in desktop and mobile apps.

However, you don’t have to use a library. You can also import any images that are on your iPad or in your one of your Creative Cloud Files. Of course, using photos instead of basic shapes will take up a lot of space in your CC account, and/or on your iPad. But a photo can be the inspiration for the artwork, so if it makes it easier to envision the finished piece, you shouldn’t hesitate to use one.

Image Import Options
Choose a custom library or import imagery from several locations. Icons on editing mode toolbar—left to right: Vectors panel, Text panel, Images panel, Upload panel , Settings (mainly for page size), Toggle toolbar on or off.
Type formatting panel
Format your type in this panel, choosing font, style, size, alignment, etc., just as if you were in a full desktop app. Icons available in editing mode change according to the element selected—left to right: Color (or Image), Style, Type (or Crop), Layer order, Duplicate, Delete.

Once you’re done, you can send the file to Photoshop (or InDesign or Illustrator) and, if your computer is running, Adobe will launch the designated app and open the file in it. If your computer isn’t running, your file will stay in the Cloud until you next start it up. The transfer keeps all your layers intact. I should add that if you have two computers on one CC account, both computers will get a copy of your Comp document. Yeah, that could be better, but you don’t have to save it on both computers if you don’t want to.

Send to Photoshop and Layers panel
If you choose to send to Photoshop, your layout will open in the desktop version with layers intact and layer masks added where needed to retain the appearance. You can still edit everything. Adobe Comp keeps the files fully editable in InDesign or Illustrator, as well.

If you don’t have an internet connection, you can still use Comp, including using any library you’ve already synced with it. Sending the file to your computer will have to wait, and you won’t be able to access any files in your Creative Cloud account while you’re working, which makes having a library synced with Comp even more valuable.  But basically, you’re good to go even without the Internet.

I haven’t gone into detail on all of the features. Between touch gestures and included elements for your layout, this app goes beyond doodling on envelopes and napkins, yet remains as direct and easy. Whether or not you’re making a living as a designer, Adobe Comp can also help you design pages for your art journal, your 365 day project, or your family album. It takes only a very little time to learn, it’s portable, and did I mention it’s also free for CC subscribers?

Finished layout template for a family album page
This template took virtually no time to create in Adobe Comp using a custom library along with placeholders, basic vector, and type—all included with the app.

The Hunt for Brushes

Creating custom brush sets for easy retrieval

A couple of friends and I are taking the online Photoshop Artistry Fine Art Grunge course, and brushes are often used to help us create this style of image. These brushes are mostly what traditional artists call stamps. You don’t drag with the brush to paint, but simply click in place on your image. Photoshop ships with some, and you can find such brushes everywhere on the web.

The course provides us with quite a few brushes, and one friend was having trouble installing and finding her brushes, even though she’s used Photoshop for several years. As I walked her through the process of loading and accessing her brushes, I thought again that, yes, it is very confusing to have so many panels and proxies that use brushes, all needed for different tasks at one time or another. Perhaps I’ll take each panel in turn one of these days, trying to explain it all. No doubt I’ll learn even more myself by attempting to make sense of it. I think it just grew organically and was never part of anyone’s 5-year plan.

Too many brush panels
All these panels are used for working with brushes. The Brush Presets panel shows the last-used brushes right below the Size slider, which does make it easy to find a brush you just used.

But this time I want to talk about finding those brush sets bought or found on the web, and now we have to try to recognize them in the Brush Presets panel (or one of its proxies). They all get thrown into one “drawer,” one right after the other with no separation, no means of identifying them if the teeny Thumbnail preview isn’t good enough (and it’s not), or if you can’t remember what “Sample19” or “Grunge3” looks like in use when you’re in List view (and I never can). Everything about the Brush Presets panel, except for the nifty last-used section,  discourages us from experimenting by making it so hard to find anything we liked ever again.

Views of Brush Preset panel
Whether you use the List view or the Thumbnail view, it’s often difficult to identify what brush you’re choosing.

So when my friend said, “There are too many brushes to find anything,” I not only sympathized because I can never find anything either, I also tried to think of what we could do to help ourselves—at least until hopefully Adobe addresses this problem. Anything to encourage us to use the brushes in our scrapping, our art journaling, our fine art grungy fantasy creations. What sprang to mind involved more work than I wanted to do, but isn’t that often the way? I’ve created custom sets for Layer Styles and Swatches before, and I keep them separate in their respective panels by adding a White swatch at the beginning of every palette, or the No Style style at the beginning of every set of Styles. That way I know at a glance where one set stops and another begins, and I have my favorite glitter styles separate from my favorite metal styles or my favorite shadow styles.

Stlyles panel organized
Inserting a No Style between Style sets makes it more obvious when one type of style ends and another begins

I’ve never done this with brushes for the silly reason that there isn’t a No Brush brush—but, I remembered, there is a ‘No’ symbol in the Custom Shape Symbols library that ships with Photoshop. I can make a brush from any shape; all I have to do is create the shape in a document, say 300 pixels square, and then save it as a brush (Edit> Define Brush Preset). Pop into the Preset Manager (yes, it shouldn’t have to be this involved), and save that new brush as its own brush set—so that’s what I did.

Brush made from Shape
A custom Shape can be saved as a Brush
Preset Manager panel
Brush sets (which can consist of a single brush) are saved via the Preset Manager panel

Now any time I want to create a custom brush set, I first load the ‘No’ brush preset, then add the brushes I want to be in the set. I name the ‘No’ brush something descriptive to identify the set, and save them altogether with my descriptive name. And if I want all the brushes that Anna Aspnes, for example, put into her “DifferentStrokes7” set, I can first load the ‘No’ brush into the Brush Presets panel, then her complete set, and I can still tell the set apart from any other brushes I’ve loaded without having to save it altogether first.

Organized Brush Preset panel
With the No symbol separating custom brush sets, I can find the type of brush I want to use more easily.

Now I not only can find the brushes I want in the Brush Presets panel more quickly, I don’t have to slow down my computer keeping so many loaded.  I simply had to spend some TV watching time creating my favorite custom sets. For this image from a Photoshop Fine Art Grunge challenge assignment, I was better able to locate the splatter , grunge, and edge brushes I wanted, and the project was a lot less frustrating to complete.

PS Artistry Grunge Image
Created for the Photoshop Artistry course, I used several brushes  in “To Every Season,” and my head didn’t explode trying to find a splatter brush when I wanted one.