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Tutorial: Rays of Light (behind text)

Written by · Created on Oct 07, 2006, last updated about 13 years ago CC BY-NC License


I bet you all know this effect where cool rays of light can be seen behind some text. In this tutorial I'll show you how to make such an explosion. This effect is also very often used by gaming companies.

Tutorial details

  1. 1

    - New file: 900 × 900px. Black Background.
    - add three text-layers: “The” “ULTIMATE” “Source”.
    - Take a very bold font, that gives us a better look.
    - “The” and “Source” should have a size of 35, “ULTIMATE” has a size of 55px.
    - Move the 3 text-layers together (as seen on the picture below).

  2. 2

    Merge these 3 layers. To do this select (in the layers-dialog) the text-layer thats on top of all the text-layers. Right-mouse-click and choose “Merge Down”. Repeat once.

    Now the whole text should be on a single layer.
    Move the Text to the very center of the picture. To do this you can either use the Alignement-Tool or just use guides. Go to Image / Guides / New Guide: Choose horizontal: 450px – then click OK, same again with a vertical guide. Move the text-layers “M” (from the “ultiMate”) to the point where the guides are crossing.

    Go to View / Show guides (Deselect).

    Now go to Layer / Layer to Image Size. Duplicate this layer. Now merge the layer thats above the Background-layer down with the Background-layer.

    Name that text-layer “Source” and the Background-layer “Strahlen” (which is the german word for “rays”).

    Click the Eye-Icon for the “Source”-layer in the layers-dialog to make it invisible. After this long step your layers should look like this:

  3. 3

    - Make sure that the “Strahlen”-Ebene is active.
    - Go to Filter / Distorts / Polar coordinates and take the values from the picture below.

  4. 4

    Go to Image / Transform / Rotate 90° clockwise

  5. 5

    Go to Filter / Distorts / Wind and choose the options from the picture below.

  6. 6

    Repeat the filter once but now choose “Left” as direction, the other options remain unchanged.

    Go to Image / Transform / Rotate 90° counter-clockwise. After that apply the polar-coordinates filter again. Click the “To Polar”-option. The text should look like this now.

  7. 7

    Choose the Rectangle-Select-Tool and draw a selection around the rays.

    - Select / Invert.
    - Choose black as FG-color.
    - After that: Edit / Fill FG-color.
    - Select / None.

  8. 8

    The rays look pretty bad… To change this go to Filter / Blur / Motion Blur and choose the values from the image below:

  9. 9

    Click the Source-layer in the layers-dialog and choose “Alpha to Selection”. Create a new layer, name it “Glühen” (german word for glow). Activate the created layer.

    - Select / Grow: 2px
    - Fill the selection with white.
    - Press CTRL+SHIFT+A to deactivate the selection
    - Filter / Blur / Gaussian: 10px
    - Choose “Screen” as layermode (you can find the layer modes dropdown-menu in the layers-dialog above the transparency-control.

  10. 10

    - Move this layer between “Source” and “Strahlen”, in case it is not already there.
    - Click the Eye-Icon of the “Source”-layer to make it visible. Go to Colors / Invert. (in Gimp 2.2 this option is under Layer / Colors / Invert).

  11. 11

    Choose the “Strahlen”-layer and go to (Layer /) Colors / Color Balance

    For a blue shine take these values:
    Shadow 0 | +30 | +40
    Midtones: -70 | -35 | +30
    Highlights:-85 | -25 | -50

    For a gold shine:
    Shadows 100 | +50 | -50
    Midtones: +70 | -30 | -100
    Highlights: +20 | 0 | -50

    Done ;)

    Tip: If you want your rays to shine even more, duplicate the “strahlen”-layer, blur it with gaussian blur and set the layers mode to “Screen”.


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over 4 years ago

Hi there, would this method work with creating light beams shining through cracks? Shining at different angles as if the lights was emanating from a singular source.

almost 7 years ago

Cool effect,
So i scripted it.

devvv member for over 17 years devvv 1475 comments
about 11 years ago

you're welcome!

about 11 years ago

Thanks for the great tutorial...

erroneus member for almost 12 years erroneus 2 comments
almost 12 years ago

It takes some practice but I got the idea and how to make it work. Pretty neat ideas in the process. The trick about getting the M to be in the middle was easiest for me when I zoomed in on the M and then used the move tool to align the middle of the M with 450 in the ruler. Otherwise, depending on your font, it's a lot of hit or miss.

I used GiMP 2.8.0 as an experiment in usage. Not entirely enthused with it yet. Also, the numbers presented in the tutorial did not quite match in my version of GiMP, but once again, making adjustments, it worked out just fine.

almost 12 years ago

After step 6, my Text was cut off at the both side and out of the circle. So when I fill the background with black, there is a gap and Text lost.
After step 7, my rays are very short in-spite of choosing the same value as you said.
After step 8 with bur effect, rays are now oriented to only right hand side and looks too low, not like yours bright rays. I liked it too much and I need this. Thanks for a great tut but if you could give a video tut!!

about 12 years ago

When I do this with GIMP 2.6 the area that was within the inverted area when i painted the background black comes out a wierd tone of color where as everything ourside that square we are told to make around the text in Step 7 comes out correctly

over 12 years ago

wow, this is absolutely brilliant! :D just in case the shine is too bright, you can go to colors/brightness-contrast and adjust it to where you like it. :D

Cold Salsero
almost 13 years ago

If I want the green shine, what are the values that I have to use?

over 13 years ago

If i don't learn this , I wouldn't know what it is.

Soldier02 member for over 13 years Soldier02 33 comments
over 13 years ago

Matt changed the type and edit it and then changed it once again.

over 14 years ago

i would really like is someone can please make me one blue that say "TEAM OV3RDOSE" because i cant download gimp and its a bit of a problem because my team need a 300x200 image can anyone help

almost 15 years ago

I noticed on your #8 under Parameter, your angle is at 45, mine is at 10 and won't let me change it. Any idea how I do?

almost 15 years ago

Even though you've heard this all throughout this post, this is freaken awesome. Mind boggling - true craft.

almost 15 years ago

Thanks so much! I love learning new GIMP techniques. Keep posting!


about 15 years ago

Great tutorial, Just need to add the font name due to the blur not being as powerful as your example. Even with motion blur higher.

about 15 years ago

Great tutorial. Thank you. I already have a use for it.

about 15 years ago

anyone know if there is a plugin for this? to automatically do this?

if there's not someone should make one

about 15 years ago

Great tutorial! However, the new Gimp is slightly off from your figures.

1. Motion blur needs to be 100+ to achieve an effect like your examples (which is so cool btw)

2. Too much values on highlights makes the shines slightly saturated but those values are a good start to experiment on more shines and glows.

Overall, this is one of the best tutorials! 10/10!

over 15 years ago

great Tut. :D
But is there a way to do this to the render ??

over 15 years ago

Torbjorn-> Hello, yeah i tried using a bigger value but it doesnt work as good as his, for some reason the middle rays dont look as big :(

Torbjorn member for over 15 years Torbjorn 4 comments
over 15 years ago

Try using a larger value for the motion blur.

over 15 years ago

Yeah... something is missing on step 8-9... your rays suddenly look really big and spread out! but great tutorial nd really nice effect :)

over 15 years ago

I really appreciate your guide.
But probably something is missing on the step 9. Could you show us how to make the rays so big and spread out as yours.

over 15 years ago

that was amazing.I couldn't find one problem with it if I tried. Perfect.

over 15 years ago

god damn, i hate it :D

over 15 years ago

Great tutorial, i like it very much, i tried adding different effects from motion blurring, and finally i got this :)

Free Image Hosting at


Matt member for over 15 years Matt 2 comments
over 15 years ago

I see the cause of confusion. Really simple actually. It is that it says:
Click the Source-layer in the layers-dialog
Where it should say:
Click the "Source" layer in the layers-dialog...

That makes it clear which layer is meant. As it is now, it is unclear whether the original layer or the layer named that is named "Source".

Torbjorn member for over 15 years Torbjorn 4 comments
over 15 years ago

Matt, you missed the first part of the step, immediately after the number 9. There it says to (right-)click the source layer and choose "Alpha to selection", and then creating a new layer, before proceeding with the steps listed.

Matt member for over 15 years Matt 2 comments
over 15 years ago

I'm having trouble following step 9. It says to grow the selection. However, the previous time anything about a selection was mentioned it said to select none. As it stands, the meaning of step nine appears to be: Fill with white, then blur this white area. Blur something that is white? I think that this step should be clarified to eliminate the possibility of confusion.

eNeRgy member for almost 16 years eNeRgy 1 comment
almost 16 years ago

Kann mir das jemand in Deutscher Sprache erklären???

Wäre nett..
Good bye

almost 16 years ago

Thank you.

devvv member for over 17 years devvv 1475 comments
almost 16 years ago

yes, you can. the license says that you have to add the linkt to the original tutorial and also please drop a note to the authors name (in this case this is me ;)) thank you!

almost 16 years ago

Hello! I have a question: Can i translate this tutorial for polish forum about GIMP - In a tutorial will be added link to this page and the author's nick. If you answer my question, i will be happy.
PS. Sorry for my not good english.

about 16 years ago

Va donc apprendre l'anglais, t'en reviendras pas de tout ce que tu loupais (y'a sérieusement trop de bouffons).

about 16 years ago

Very nice tut.

about 16 years ago

SWEET! This is probably the best gimp tutorial I've found! Easy to follow...conversions from German to English...and uses the current verison of GIMP. Keep up the good work!

about 16 years ago


stingerman member for about 16 years stingerman 1 comment
about 16 years ago glow is not as big and spread out as yours. I used a different font and different words. Could that be it? I think your step 9 looks a lot "bigger". I also did another strahlen layer. I like the effect, good job.

devvv member for over 17 years devvv 1475 comments
about 16 years ago

where is the problem? please specify

ice rose
about 16 years ago

*cry* i can't get it to work!!! my pic looks horrible, nothing at all like the display!!!

about 16 years ago

you could try changing the position of the motion blur by 1-10 pixels on the X and Y axis, that would give you 100 variants, use those to make the gif? Not sure if that would actually work but I think its worth a try...

over 16 years ago

Does anyone know how to animate this?

over 16 years ago

lawl naab :p

over 16 years ago

good work,

over 16 years ago

amazing effect... i will use it on my website

over 16 years ago

I LOVE this.Now I can show off to my

over 16 years ago

very nice !, I love the effect , thank you

almost 17 years ago

Thanks Very Helpful

almost 17 years ago

very clever! Thank you

almost 17 years ago

superbe mais vous pouvez faire un site en francais aussi :) ( il faut en faire profiter les autres :p )