Advanced Particle Effects

Step 1 - Creating the Particle Emmiter

Open a new document and fill the background with “Black.” Next, create a new layer, and with the “Ellipse Selection Tool” and foreground set to “White,” create an abstract shape. This will be your “particle emmiter.”
Step 2 - Creating the Particle Trail

Create a New Layer (layer > new > layer). Select the “Brush” tool and open the Brushes Panel (window > brushes). Now we will set the size and dynamics of our first set of particles. Here is where I encourage you to play around with the settings to get the desired effect. The trick is to create a scatter trail where the particles start out big then disperse away.
Here are the settings I used:
Brush Tip Shape: (Hardness: 100%, Roundness: 100%, Spacing: 1%)
Shape Dynamics: (Size Jitter: 100%)
Scatter: (Both Axes, Scatter: 1000%)
Use the “Diameter Slider” under “Brush Tip Shape” to change the size of the particles.
Step 3 - Add A Color Base

Create a new layer under your particle layers and, with a soft brush, paint in the colors that you’d like your particles to glow. I find that it works best with lighter and brighter tones. Neatness isn’t a factor here, it will all play out in the end.
Step 4 - Masking the Color Base

4a. Load the selection of your particle layers by “Ctrl+Clicking” on the thumbnail of the first one in the Layers Panel, then “Shift+Ctrl+Clicking” on each subsequent layer.

4b. Now with the selections loaded and the Color Base layer active, click on the “Add Vector Mask” button at the bottom of the Layers Panel. The color base should be masked behind your particles and you should now see a thumbnail image of the layer mask beside the thumbnail image of the color base in the Layers Panel.
Step 5 - Adding Glow and Glow Color

For each of your particle layers, go to Layer > Layer Style > Outer Glow. Layer Styles are non-destructive so we can always go back and change the settings later. The important thing to do here is to set the Outer Glow “Blend Mode” to “Overlay,” and set the color to “White.” At this time you might also want to set the intensity and amount of glow by changing the “Spread” and “Size” settings as well (remember you can always go back and change it).
Next, click on the “Layer Mask” thumbnail in the color base layer to activate it. Now go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Immediately you should see your particle effect come to life. What this does is it blurs the layer mask to allow more color to come through. I used a setting of “4,” but you can adjust to your heart’s content.
Step 6 - Adding a Head Lamp

Create a new layer above your color base layer. Next, pick the “Gradient” tool and use the “Foreground to Transparent” preset. Go into the “Gradient Editor” and click the foreground color slider and change its position to “25%.” Exit the editor, pick a color that pleases you (can be changed later) and make a “Radial Gradient” over the head of your particle emitter.
Now with that layer still active, go to Layer > Layer Style > Color Overlay. Change the color to “White” and blend mode to “Overlay.” At this point, there are a number of things you can do. You can change the color of the head lamp by hitting “Ctrl+U” which will bring up the Hue/Saturation and change the sliders. You can also play with the layer’s “Fill Percentage” in the layers panel. This will tone the effect down. Also, the “Opacity” setting in the “Color Overlay” will change how it looks as well. Play with these three settings in tandem to get a desired effect.
Step 7 - Smudging, Erasing, and More Particles

7a. Duplicate the head lamp layer and pick the smudge tool. Pick a soft brush at around 50% strength, and make it around the size of the particle emitter. Smudge the head lamp along your particle trail. Adjust the Fill Percentage and use the eraser tool to erase any strong highlights.

7b. Duplicate the layer from “step 7a” and change its blending mode to “Dissolve.” Use a combination of the Eraser tool and Fill Percentage to tone the effect down.
Step 8 - Smudge Emitter and Add Background Color

8a. Pick the Smudge Tool with a soft brush and size it to the same size as your particle emitter. Turn the strength down and smudge out the particle emitter to give it a motion blur effect. (At this point I also played with the Fill Percentage on the Head Lamp layer)
Tip: Duplicate the emitter layer and hide the original to save a fresh copy in case you mess up. The History feature only goes so far back =)

8b. Create a layer above your background layer and fill it with some color.
Download Example File

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