How I Created a Neon Sign in Photoshop

At the beginning of the year, I worked on a client job for York Fashion week with local agency NIMA and videographer Beetroot Box. The brief was to create a teaser campaign for the upcoming event.

Like every job, it had its challenges and problems to solve. The biggest challenge for the brief was creating a neon background light from scratch.  If you have never tried this before, here is how I did it.

Here is the straight out of camera image. Because we pre-planned everything, we knew the model had to be lit from behind with gelled lights. Two strip lights were used with a red gel, and in front, we had a large softbox, gelled with a contrasting blue to fill the shadows. I wanted to fill the frame with as much of the model as I could and planned to extend the canvas in Photoshop.

Once the images were in Photoshop, my first move was the extension of the canvas. I did this by selecting the empty part of the background with the marquee tool, duplicating it, and then finally using free transform to stretch it out. I repeated this on the other side of the image and for all the models.

The blue in the areas lit by the fill light was not as strong as I wished. So, with a color balance adjustment layer, I added a little more blue into the fill.

Next, it was time to create the Neon sign. We had talked about finding a sign, but we wanted the neon to relate to the event. Eventually, I had the idea of using the York fashion week logo. Having used many light effects in Photoshop before, I knew I could mimic the light effect. I requested a PSD of the logo for me to use, which NIMA sent over.

Once I had the PSD, I pulled it into the image and used a layer mask to mask the file under the model. I used the pen tool to create the selection of the model. I then used FX layer styles and added an outer glow to the text. This was a good baseline for the glowing sign.

Neon signs are lit using tubes, so I knew I would need some glowing hotspots in the text to mimic the Neon look. With a brush, I painted the hard light inner hotspot lines using the color dodge blend mode. I then added some extra glow around the sign with a brush. I sampled the color of the sign and then painted around it on low opacity with a screen blend mode.

We are trying to mimic real life, and in reality, the glow of the sign would also wrap around our model. So again, I sampled the color of the text and then painted on a blank layer above the model on a linear dodge blend mode. This meant I was painting over the model on a low opacity, making it look like the light was bleeding over them.

Once the light was looking realistic enough with some small masking adjustments, I then did a little dodge and burn on the model to bring out some detail, though far less than I usually would.

Finally, to finish off the image, I added some vignette with a curves adjustment, locally painting it in to focus our eyes away from the edges and then added some high-pass sharpening.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments! 

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5 Comments

David Butterell's picture

Very nice walkthrough and result. Love it. I’ve photographed the same model a few times and hope to be involved in York Fashion Week this year.

Clinton Lofthouse's picture

Andy is a top bloke, one of the best.

Dustin Michelson's picture

Thanks for this! It would be great to see Fstoppers publish more content like this. It's really helpful to have just enough detail for someone with PS experience to follow along, without getting buried in the minutia of each specific step.

I miss the internet days when walkthroughs were more common than a youtube video, where I have to sift through a rambling 3:00 intro, a couple sponsored product plugs and ads, just to find out that the content isn't exactly what I was hoping.

Clinton Lofthouse's picture

Thanks, Dustin, really appreciate the comments. I have a few walkthroughs on my Youtube that are similar to this one.

Vincent Morretino's picture

I look forward to watching them!