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.

Restoring Trudie Ann – Part 2

Using the Venerable Dust & Scratches Filter (PS and PSE)

This old snapshot of Trudie Ann has already spent a long life tossed in a box with other photos, been dragged around the continent, and stored without care in many different climates. All things considered, it’s remarkably free from serious damage, despite having a lot of fine scratches and a fair number of dust spots. However, I don’t really want to spend hours spotting and healing the entire image using small brushes if I can help it.

Designed before the digital camera became king, the now-ancient Dust and Scratches filter (Filter> Noise> Dust & Scratches) helps speed up cleaning scans that aren’t in pristine condition. The trouble with that filter is it doesn’t know if a light spot surrounded by darker pixels is unwanted or critical detail. High contrast details, such as dappled light in trees or catchlights in eyes, often get muddied by this filter. It’s quick and easy to use, but it will just as quickly ruin an image as rescue it. Still, it was useful back then, and it can be useful today if we know when and how to use it.

Image of D&S damage in high contrast areas
Even when using low settings, D&S will damage fine details in high contrast areas. Masks help bring back fine details.

Today’s methods for using the D&S filter are easier than they used to be before Healing brushes, the Patch tool, and Smart Filters. For instance, I often used to run D&S at amounts that got rid of most of the spots and scratches, create a Snapshot in the History panel, then step back in History to right before I ran the filter. I targeted the Snapshot I’d just made and used the History brush at a small size to paint the filter back into the image just where I wanted it, essentially attempting to hand paint out each and every spot or scratch without blurring the rest of the image. It was still faster for smallish spots and scratches than using the Clone Stamp tool everywhere (and I felt pretty cool finding a use for Snapshots in the new History panel).

Today instead, I run a very modest amount of the D&S filter on a Smart Object layer, then use the Smart Filter mask that is automatically created to mask the areas where the filter has been too destructive. Or, conversely, if there’s little to clean and a lot of detail to protect, I’ll invert the Smart Filter mask (Cmd/Ctrl-I) and paint with white where I want to apply the filter to the image. I always protect the eyes, even when there’s a spot there. I only remove the smaller spots, which are usually the most numerous, and switch to healing and patching to clean up the rest.

Dust & Scratches dialog
Very low Radius and Threshold settings are used when cleaning old scans.

Because running Dust & Scratches on an image softens the entire image, and can  require a lot of hand painting on masks to bring back lost edges and detail, I typically use it on images like Trudie Ann, which are already very grainy and lacking in sharp edges and contrast. I don’t mind softening the grain, and I can keep the need for masking to a minimum. If I see it’s going to take a lot of work to preserve my image’s quality, I’d rather go ahead and use the healing and patching tools, along with the Clone Stamp if needed, than start with anything as destructive as the D&S filter.

How much image quality you can stand to see degraded by the filter, of course, depends upon how much time you have to spend retouching it. Dust & Scratches is quick if the image is going to be used at a fairly small size, and once you sharpen the image, it might look just fine. Sometimes an image isn’t worth spending hours on, but that doesn’t mean we want to (or can) simply throw it away,  so we compromise and no one gets hurt in the process.

To run the Dust & Scratches filter, I focus on an area that has a lot of little specks, and I don’t worry about scratches or large spots. With Threshold at 0, I move the Radius slider up just a few pixels. If I am not getting rid of the little spots by 3-4 pixels, I will usually give up on the filter. The Threshold slider lets me bring some texture back to the image,  but it won’t overcome an obvious loss of detail, and once it has removed blur from too high a Radius setting, you’ll see terrible artifacts. (An idea for creating a weird texture, perhaps?)

Results when running D&S at a high Radius
When the Radius is high enough to smooth over large blemishes, the Threshold setting can’t bring back good detail and grain.

Once I see most of the small spots disappear, I bring up the Threshold slider until I see the spots start to become easily visible again, and then move it back down by one or two levels. This time I’m compromising between concealing the spots and retaining enough grain and texture the image doesn’t become plastic and unnatural, which almost always leaves me with some hand work left to do. But thanks to Dust & Scratches, not as much as when I started.