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.

Chipped Crystal

Celebrating another family treasure

Continuing with my new series of still life images that incorporate at least one family “treasure,” I created another bouquet still life with a water glass that used to be my Grandmother’s. She had two like this. I suppose she had one special glass each for herself and my grandfather, who died when my mother was still a very young girl. This one is chipped and I have never drunk from it, but it’s so precious to me, I’ll never willingly part with it.

We grandkids got jelly glasses for our  “crystal.” Growing up, I thought everyone drank either from jelly glasses or the “free with fill-up” glasses that ensured your parents would go back week after week to the same gas station in order to collect enough for each person in the family. It seemed everyone back then got their everyday glasses when they bought jelly or gas. No going to Pier 1 or Crate & Barrel so long as there was a way to get serviceable glasses free.

We got a lot of other things the same way. I don’t think my mother ever bought an iron or toaster with cash—she paid with Green Stamps. Almost every retail store gave out Green Stamps; the amount you got depended upon how much you had spent. We all pasted them into books and then redeemed them for something special. It was a lot more fun than using coupons. Green Stamps were a kind of savings account that always meant getting a treat for the house eventually. When my mother died, I found she still had Green Stamps in her wallet, even though I doubt Green Stamps had been used anywhere in decades. But to throw them out was to throw out money—my mom, the optimist, could hope that some day Green Stamps would enjoy a comeback. So of course, I still have them. One of these days, I’ll have to make a scrap art page with them.

Image of Green Stamps
Instead of cutting coupons, we pasted Green Stamps into booklets and redeemed them for common household items.

For this still life, I photographed the water glass on its side. I had learned that an empty glass tipped over symbolizes the transience of material things, as does so much else in Vanitas paintings, which have always been a favorite genre. To use the glass, I needed to extract it and decided to create a path with the Pen tool. I don’t use the Pen tool often in Photoshop since there are so many good ways to make quick selections. However, it’s worth learning to use that tool for times when the colors and tones of subject and background are close and the shape is reasonably simple. After I had a tight-fitting path, I converted it to a selection and jumped the shape (Cmd/Ctrl-J) to its own layer.

2 ways to turn a path into a selection
Convert a path to a selection either through the Paths panel menu, using Make A Selection, or by clicking on the dotted circle icon at the bottom of the panel.

I wanted the goblet to be partially transparent against whatever I put in the still life, so I added a layer mask and used a brush with low opacity to partially mask much of the glass. I usually paint at 100% opacity and then use the Masks section in the Properties panel to reduce the Density setting, but in this case, I didn’t want the same amount of transparency over the entire glass. I also just wanted to hint at glass since I planned to use Topaz’s Impression filter to make it look even more like a painting.

Thumbnails for the goblet and layer mask
You can use a mask painted with a brush set to low opacity to create partial transparency in a glass.

I worked with lighting and texture until I had a painting I thought was suitably vintage, made a flattened duplicate of the layered PSD file, expanded the canvas a bit (because I didn’t think ahead enough on this project) and added the frame. Now, even if an earthquake or a bit of carelessness destroys Gram’s glass, I have the still life painting preserving my memories.

The final image
The final image: credits go to the usual suspects, including Lorie Davison, Booland, Valentina, G&T Designs, Paprika, Feli, and many, many more, along with Adobe Photoshop, of course.