How to make a Quasar, by Shawn Q.

Photoshop shortcuts that are used in this tutorial:

Ctrl-I – (Inverts Colors)
Ctrl-F – (Redo applied Filter)
Ctrl-T – (Free Transform)
Ctrl-U – (Change Hue)
Ctrl-E – (Merge current Layer with the Layer beneath it)


After spending a while making star fields, nebulae, planets, and other things in outer space, I ran across a puzzle figuring out how to make a realistic looking quasar.

It's my objective to spread the final recipe I was able to come up with in hopes others might benefit out there from the experience.

I do this mainly to give back to all the kind people who've made perfect tutorials on making things in Photoshop.


My original mission was to remake this quasar in photoshop:

The image came Originally from here:


Lets get started first by creating a new file, and making it a 1:1 ratio. I use either 1600x1600 or 2000x2000, but, use your own preference if you wish.


Use a Transparent Background for this project.:

Now if you haven’t done this before, you may be interested in a prelude tutorial before moving on to the Quasar tutorial.


There’s two processes: First a Starfield, then the Quasar.


The reason behind making the starfield first, whether or not you’ll even use the starfield, is that the Quasar has to appear compiled of stars and gases in a way. You only technically need to do this once, and then you can save this starfield to make Quasars with in the future if you so desire.


Otherwise, if you’re not willing to learn how to make the starfield, you can steal this starfield from me – but, you’ll be missing a great deal of elements to making space scenes:

If you’re down with making your Own starfield, and willing to explore other aspects of space scene making, start here:

A realistic starfield tutorial written by Greg Martin:

Be sure to stop by Greg's gallery too at

I highly recommend you complete his tutorial, down to the part with the extra details. Greg's tutorial will give you a certainty towards your artistic abilities with this Quasar tutorial.

When you’re done with that fine tutorial, save the field for later use. I chose “Quasar Base" as my file name.

To begin making the Quasar:

Add a fully black layer underneath your completed (and flattened) starfield. Label the upper layer “Starfield" naturally if not done already.

Select the Starfield Layer. Press Ctrl-U to change the color. Check the Colorize box, and slide the bars until you like the color. I chose a purplish color, but this is where you will choose your new Quasar’s base color:

With the Starfield Layer still selected, press CTRL-I to Invert the colors.

Select the Whitest Color Range by choosing Select/Color Range.

Now press Delete 2 or 3 times:

Use a masking tool to deselect the selection, then press Ctrl-I to return the color to normal.

This is the rough stuff now, by using Ctrl-C (copy) and Ctrl-V (paste) - take approximately 12 to 15 separate, but practically equal sized horizontal strips of the starfield, then paste each strip into it's own layer (total of 12 to15 layers of separate strips).

Now hide the Starfield layer.

You should end up with something similar to this:

Next, simply take each strip layer, move it so it appears centered, and rotate them.

Note: Rotation is simple, take 180 degrees, and divide by number Layers to get the amount of angle increase per layer.

To do this right, hold the Shift key while using the arrow to Move the first strip to the center (use your best judgement), then hit Ctrl-T, and locate the Angle box on top. Put in 12 degrees (for my example, since I have 15 strips, 180 degress divided by 15 = 12 degrees). Then click on the strip, hit Enter to complete the transform. Go to the next strips layer, move it, press Ctrl-T, put in 24 degrees (for my example again only), then click the strip, hit Enter. Repeat this process until all strip layers are done.

To make things easier for you, I've broken the angles down already:

For 12 Layers use these degrees in order: 15,30,45,60,75,90,105,120,135,150,165,180

For 13 Layers use these degrees in order: 14,28,42,56,70,84,98,112,126,140,154,168,182

For 14 Layers use these degrees in order: 13,26,39,52,65,78,91,104,117,130,144,157,170,183

For 15 Layers use these degrees in order: 12,24,36,48,60,72,84,96,108,120,132,144,156,168,180

It should look like this by the time you’re done:

Just keep in mind, this doesn't have to look absolutely perfect. If there's gaps in the strips, use the gaps, they actually can sometimes be helpful.

Next, go to the top layer, and Press Ctrl-E on each Layer (except the background black layer and hidden starfield layer) until all the strips share the same layer. Now use the Filters/Distort/Twirl tool at -100 Percent, press OK. This twirl still is ugly, so you’ll want to press Ctrl-F to redo the Twirl Filter.

You should have something like this:

For mine, I chose to use Ctrl-T (free transform) and Squish the Height (the H box on top) of the quasar to about 35% - pressed Enter, then used Ctrl-T to free transform again and rotated -20 degrees. This amount of squish/rotation is entirely up to you. Some may actually prefer to utilize simple 3D tools to rotate this quasar to make it far more eye catching. I know that Kais Power Tools for photoshop has a Projector filter that does this, for example.

Yet, just using the squish/rotation, I came up with this:

Name this layer “Disk"

Next, Duplicate this Layer (just in case), call it “Disk Backup" and hide this duplicate.

So far we’ve got a pretty ugly looking quasar, but this is still the base stages of the quasar.

For the middle of the Quasar:

We’ll create a new Layer, and use the Paint Bucket with an abnormal layer of color, preferably the opposite of the color of the Quasar. For my example, I chose a putrid looking green:

Next, use Filters/Render/Lens Flare – use 160% with the 105mm Prime. Also, move the Crosshairs in the preview so it’s as close to the center as possible. Press OK, and you should have something that looks like this:

Take the brighter part (about 50% of the size of the outer bright circle) with the circle masking tool while holding the shift key to maintain a perfect circle. When ready, press Ctrl-X (cut) / and Ctrl-V (paste) which will put the clipped bright circle into it’s own new layer.

Delete the colored layer beneath this, we’ll no longer need it.

Select the bright circle layer, name this layer “Middle Ball" – then press Ctrl-T, Resize and Move the new layer to appear like an Eye Pupil in the middle of the Quasar like shown:

Use Ctrl-U to change Hue to desired color/brightness, I chose an orangy/yellow:

This, however, is an ugly ball. Next, use Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur – and set it to 23 pixels. Press OK. Now the ball has a soft edge:

With the magic wand tool, select outside this bright ball, then click Select/Inverse to invert the selection. Then choose Select/Transform Selection, and use the same boxes on top to change to 85% Width and 85% Height. Hit the Enter key to confirm your changes.

Then create a new Layer, call this layer “Disk Light" - and fill this selection with your Odd color, (putrid green for my example) Then use Ctrl-T and drop height to about 25%, and rotate with -20 degrees (for my example). This again will have to be yours to decide, but basically this will serve as the clip and glow for our ball, so it should follow the shape of the disk.

Do not deselect the Ellipse, if you’ve done so, use the Magic Wand and select it again.

Next, use the polygon lasso mask tool (hold mouse button over Lasso tool if you can’t see the polygon version…) and, while Holding down the Shift key, catch as much of the ball from the upper left as possible. The trick is to first draw a line that cuts the odd colored ellipse in half, and motion around the rest of the ball:

Then choose Select/Inverse - Select the “Middle Ball" layer, press Delete:

Then select Putrid Green disk layer and click the Odd ellipse with the Magic Wand. Hit Ctrl-T, then Increase width and height to 150% - and move this Layer underneath the “Middle Ball" layer.

If deselected, use the magic wand again and select the odd ellipse again.

Fill the ellipse with a Gradient paint - use black to white, spherical type, and make the selection of paint so that your first click is in the center, and your second click is at the edge of the main disk:

Deselect the ellipse. Then Ctrl-I to invert, and set Layer mode to Color Dodge. Now choose Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur, and set to 23 pixels. Hit OK, then press Ctrl-F, and Ctrl-F again to make it much softer looking:

Make a new layer above the “Middle Ball", and call it "Gases".

The Gases:

If you haven’t gotten this texture from Greg Martin's previously linked Starfield tutorial, grab this image:

Copy the image, go to photoshop, click File / New, press OK, and paste the image into this new document. Choose Edit / Define Pattern, and name it something you’ll remember.

Here comes the artists true work. Use a Soft Brush, at about 100 pixels, and choose a maximum color that’s somewhere lower than the hue of your middle ball’s color. For mine, I chose a very bright orangy-yellow color. Set the Opacity to about 20%. Then choose the Brushes tab on top, click Texture on the left, and pop the texture you just defined into the settings on the right.

Change Layer mode to Linear Dodge or Screen. Now go ahead and Brush the Dust all over the disk by following the newly Lightened part of the disk, make a fluffy donut that hugs the ball, trying not to exceed twice the width of the ball in distance around the disk:

After making a mess, I found it convenient to change master opacity for the Layer to 70%, but that’s up to you:

If you’re still not satisfied with the way the gases look, hit Ctrl-U, and w/ Colorize Checked set the desired hue, and try Saturation = 100, Lightness = 0. Play with the settings until you have the hue perfectly to your liking:

Next Go to the “Disk" Layer. This is where we may need the Backup disk, but make sure it stays hidden unless truly you need it.

Choose the Eraser tool, opacity = 20%, use a Soft Brush of about 40 pixels at first.

Take your time and wipe Each leg of the of the disk so the edges are generally not discernable.

I recommend you step down the brush size to 20 pixels eventually, zoom in, and make sure the edges are clean.

Here’s a before shot:

After a short while erasing, you'll have a magnificient disk:

For the Particle Jetstream:

Make a new layer on the very top called “Jetstream Up"

With polygon lasso, highlight a thin rectangular selection following the wide part of the disk as shown:

Choose Select/Transform selection, rotate at 90 degrees, and move to center the stream so it's perpendicular to the disk:

Using the exact same texture as before, the brush tool with opacity set to 20% with a brush size of about 20 to 40 pixels, and I recommend to use a golden yellow. With the rectangular selection still there, go nuts, make a mess so it appears there's golden clouds in the rectangle:

When you have a mess, use Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur to somewhere within 2 to 7 pixels. Press OK. Then use your eraser tool with opacity at 20%, and 20-40 pixels wide, and wipe the beam in zig zags to make a fliudous look to the yellow clouds. Then deselect the mask, and completely wipe all edges:

Another method of doing this process is to use Filters / Render / Clouds, hit Ctrl-F until you have the pattern you desire, hit Ctrl-U to change the Hue to gold, and then start erasing, etc. Most of the effects boil down to you as the artist, there’s plenty of tools to use.

To give a bit more dramatic effect, I used the magic wand to select outside the jetstream, then chose Select / Inverse, and used Filters/Noise/Add Noise with setting of about 16%, Gaussian, Monochromatic. Then I used the Blur tool to shapen up the noise.

Lastly, while in the jetstream layer, with polygon lasso, go ear to ear on the wide part of the disk (basically slicing it in half with the lasso) then motion down to select the bottom half of the jetstream:

Press Ctrl-X, and Ctrl-V, and use your eye to line it back up the way it should look.

Move this layer under the Disk layer, call it “Jetstream Down".
Select this Jetstream Down layer, then go to Image - Adjust / Brightness-contrast, and set brightness at -75, press OK. You should have something like this:

With both up and down layers, erase any bits of the jetstream that are on the inner part of
the center ball, but leave the glowing edge part of the ball untouched for the Jetstream Up layer:

Use the eraser at will to reduce the particles in both jetstreams, make sure the down stream is less visible as it reaches the middle ball.

Lastly, on the middle ball layer, lightly wipe the bottom edge with the same Eraser so it's fluid and not crisp:

Finally, flatten your image from top down using Ctrl-E, choose Select / Color range, select your outside black portion, and press delete once or twice. Then Show the Starfield layer, and use the eraser tool w/ 20% opacity to blend the quasar into the starfield. Also, if you feel the starfield is too reflective of the color of the Quasar, you can always go to Edit / Rotate on the starfield layer and simply flip the field, or you can just copy/paste your quasar into the scene of your choice. I chose to do the latter, by pasting it onto the original quasar starfield base:

That’s a shot Before I touched it up.


As you can tell, this is where your final touch ups come in bigtime, but after enough blending with Eraser/Blur tools you’ll have a pretty good quasar scene:

Feel free to click that and take it to experiment with. Should be at 1600x1200 resolution.

Note that the stars that appear behind the swirls help the appearance in some places, so try making a hidden duplicate of the quasar, and try deleting a bunch of spots with the 20% opacity eraser, you’ll like the results.

That’s a wrap until next time. Be sure to experiment with this recipe at will, the more you experiment the better you can resolve what you want to make in this universe.