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Quick Tip: Create a Simple Sunburst Element

posted by Matt Ward on Aug 6, 2009.

Quick Tip: Learn how to make your own version of the popular sunburst effect in Photoshop in 5 simple steps. This is a really easy effect that can spice up your designs. But please, use it sparingly!

Today’s Quick Tip is going to deal with what might be one of the most popular element in contemporary design – the infamous sunburst. You can literally see this design element almost anywhere, like in this valentine themed vector from crestock.com.

This Valentine themed vector uses the sunburst effect

This Valentine themed vector uses the sunburst effect

This element is so prevalent that you must have seen it used before, and an argument could be made that it is perhaps, a bit overused. However, be that as it may, we are going to place all discussions of whether or not the element has been bludgeoned to death, and focus instead on how it’s made.

I know a few people who use downloaded brushes to achieve this effect, and that’s a more than reasonable way to do it, but what if you wanted to make your own sunburst? Maybe you want a few different rays, or want to vary the width of the rays. This Quick Tip will show you how.

Step 1

For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to make a sunburst with 10 rays, all of equal size. To start, open up Photoshop and create a new document with the following settings.

Create a new document with these settings

Create a new document with these settings

We’re actually going to expand the document to a complete 1000px x 1000px square, but for this method, we want to start with only 50px in width.

Step 2

Now, select black as your foreground colour and press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill the canvas.

Start with a single black stripe

Start with a single black stripe

This gives us a nice and simple stripe – the perfect starting point for our sunburst. Press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to select the entire contents of the canvas and Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to copy the black bar to the clipboard.

Step 3

We are now going to create a pattern of 10 vertical stripes. First, select Image » Canvas Size from the menu. Set your unit type to pixels and increase the width to 150px. Also, make sure that your alignment is set to left-center, as show here:

Use the Canvas Size tool to increase the size of the canvas

Use the Canvas Size tool to increase the size of the canvas

The left hand alignment is important, since it will add an extra 100px onto the right hand side of the canvas. Of course, if you’re feeling rebellious, you can always work backwards and align everything to the right. Because we English speaking Westerners tend to read from left to right, I just naturally tend to do everything that way. Regardless, the result should look something like this:

Increase the width of the document by 100px

Increase the width of the document by 100px

Step 4

Now, press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to paste a copy of our original black bar into the document. It should be pasted as a new layer. Using the Move Tool, drag the new black bar to the right. It should snap nicely into place, giving you two black bars and one white bar, all of equal size.

From 1 strop to 2

From 1 strop to 2

Repeat steps 3 and 4, increasing the width of the document by 100px each time and creating a new black bar. Once you reach 950px, increase the canvas size by another 50px to complete the square.


10 vertical black stripes

Step 5

Now, flatten your layers (Layers » Flatten Image). This will compress all of your layers into a single image. We need to do this in order to apply the final filter, which will complete our sunburst effect.

Next, select Filter » Distort » Polar Coordinates from the menu. In the filter dialogue box, make sure that you select the Rectangle to Polar option (though feel free to preview the Polar to Rectangle option too, though doesn’t give us what were are looking for).

Use the Polar Coordinates filter

Use the Polar Coordinates filter

Press okay and we’re done. We now have a 1000px x 1000px sunburst with 10 equal sized rays.

The final product

The final product

From here, you can do any number of things. You can transform the ray into a brush, or you can export it to Illustrator and trace it into a cool vector element. You could also isolate the black rays by using any one of a number of techniques to knock out the white.

So there you have it. Feel free to experiment with this technique. You could try creating more rays (the Valentine vector above used 36), or varying the width of the rays, to create a really unique looking sunburst. Playing with this technique can really yield some really interesting results, and will help you get a better understanding of the Polar Coordinates filter.

Hope you found this Quick Tip useful. Happy tinkering.

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About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Mar 27, 2012

Hannah says:

And here I was, thinking I’d never learn to create anything so complicated! The filter sure made that easy, thanks for the tutorial!

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