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Easily turn simple line art into stunning stained glass

Added on Saturday 13th of May 2006 01:24 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Creating a stained glass piece is a time consuming, involved art form, and perfecting the craft takes years. But with a looming deadline, and a desire for tinted windows, you simply don’t have that much time. In this technique, we’ll show you how to easily simulate the look of stained glass in Photoshop—without the fuss.


To simulate the stained glass look in Photoshop, we’ll:

     Show you how to choose art that will work best with this technique.

     Describe how to separate your art into the different layers necessary to perform this technique.

     Explain how to create the illusion of glass, and colorize it to suit your tastes.

     Describe how to transform your lines into “lead came” for an authentic stained glass look.



Over the centuries, artisans have toiled to perfect the craft of stained glass for display in cathedrals and aristocratic houses. It’s an art form that simply hasn’t gone out of style, as many people adorn their own homes with the same. When you don’t have the time to invest in perfecting your own skills with glass, look no further than Photoshop to fulfill your stained glass needs. We’ll show you how—with a simple piece of line art—you can simulate the look of stained glass, as we have in Figure A.




The old fashioned way

To create a traditional stained glass piece, you first begin with a design to use as a template. Then, you use the template as a guide to cut the colored glass. Finally, you arrange the glass pieces and fuse the sections together using lead came—which is basically lead with trace materials for extra strength— or copper foil.

While it sounds pretty easy, it’s actually an involved and time-consuming process. However,, it’s much easier to do in Photoshop, which we’ll show you. Then, you’ll be able to use your new creation in various projects, such as advertisements, photographic enhancements, or print and web publications.


Types of glass

Stained glass comes in a variety of textures, colors, and opacities, all of which affect the look of the final piece. And a piece can certainly have more than one type of glass, giving it a more complex look. A few of the primary types of glass include:

        Cathedral glass. Cathedral glass is transparent, and usually applied as a single color. As its name applies, it’s the type of glass commonly found in ancient cathedrals. Textures are generally applied to cathedral glass.

        Opalescent glass. Opalescent glass is semi-opaque and generally has a milky appearance. While it can be applied as a solid color, it’s often applied in multiple colors with streaks and swirls.

        Translucent Glass. Translucent glass diffuses the light so you don’t see detail beyond the glass. It’s often the type of glass used in stained glass lamps.

        Streaky Glass. Streaky glass is created from mixing two or more colors together, creating an added dimension to the piece. Generally opalescent glass is used to create streaky glass.

        Wispy Glass. Wispy glass is similar to streaky glass, however, it’s generally created from one opalescent glass color and one cathedral glass color


It starts with a template

Just as traditional stained glass artisans begin with a template, so will we. Black and white line art offers the best results, since as all the lines will be the leading, and everything that is white will be stained glass. Any of the following will make a great starting point for your stained glass:

        A hand-drawn sketch (scanned in).

        Clip art converted to black and white.

        One of Photoshop’s custom shapes.

To illustrate this technique, we’ve modified one of Photoshop’s custom shapes. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file window.psd. Then, launch Photoshop and open the file.


Note: We modified the custom shape to give it a more defined edge so you wouldn’t have to. However, if you have a design with heavy black forms and too few lines, see our companion article “Give your black and white art the outline it’s missing” for an easy way to salvage an image for this technique.


Separate the art

In the next step we need to separate the sections of the image that are intended to be glass from the portions that are to be leading.


To set up the layers:

1.       Double-click on the Background layer and rename it Shapes.

2.      Duplicate the Shapes layer and rename the new layer Leading.

3.      Select the Magic Wand tool magic_wand from the toolbox and deselect the Contiguous check box on the tool options bar.

4.      Click in an area of white in the Leading layer to select all the white within the image.

5.      Press [delete] ([Backspace] in Windows) to remove the white pixels. Toggle the visibility off for the Shapes layer for a better view of the Leading layer, which should look like ours in Figure B.


6.      Create a new layer and name it Glass. Position this layer in between the Shapes and Leading layers. Your layers palette should look like ours in Figure C.

7.      Press [command]D ([Ctrl]D in Windows) to deselect everything.



To create the glass:

1.       Press D to set the foreground and background colors to their default black and white.

2.      Choose Filter > Render > Clouds.

3.      Select Filter > Noise > Add Noise to display the Add Noise dialog box.

4.      Enter 10 in the Amount text box, select the Gaussian option button, select the Monochromatic check box, and click OK.

5.      Choose Filter > Blur > Motion Blur to display the Motion Blur dialog box.

6.      Enter 30 in the Angle text box and 10 in the Distance text box; click OK. Your image should look like ours in Figure D.

7.      Select Filter > Distort > Glass to display the Glass dialog box.

8.      Enter 5 in the Distortion text box and 3 in the Smoothness text box. Choose Frosted from the Texture pop-up menu and scale it at 100%; click OK for the results shown in Figure E. Alternatively, you can adjust these settings to your liking and click OK.




Color the glass

Now our design has the look of glass, but the color is pretty dingy. So the next part of the technique is to add the color. We’ll make selections from our Shapes layer, and then go back to the Glass layer to colorize the sections.


To make a selection:

1.       Turn on the visibility for the Shapes layer and select the layer to make it active.



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