If you love abstract luminescent line wallpaper (and we certainly do), read on to see how you can make your own custom wallpaper with exactly the kind of lines, colors, and perfect level of luminosity you crave.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

While our (and likely your) primary motivation is to make a cool custom wallpaper for our desktop computer–and that’s reason enough in itself–following along with the tutorial has a secondary benefit. The pen tool is a really handy and powerful little tool in Photoshop that, for many people, is hardly used. We’re going to use it extensively in a low-stakes environment, which is a perfect way to learn its nuances.

What Do I Need?

The only thing you need for this tutorial is a copy of Adobe Photoshop. We don’t need a base image, reference image, or anything but Photoshop itself; we’ll be creating the entire image from scratch within the application.

We’re using Adobe Photoshop CS6, but the techniques outlined in the tutorial should work just fine on older editions of Photoshop as they rely on tools present in the application for several generations.

Creating the Base Image

Let’s create out base image. First, decide on the size you want–we opted for a standard 1920×1080 wallpaper size. Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to paint the background solid black. You can experiment with different background colors later, but by far the best shows-off-the-luminescent-lines color is black.

In addition to sizing and color the base image, it is very useful to use temporary guide lines to (at minimum) mark the center of the vertical and horizontal space. Turn on the rulers if they aren’t on already by navigating to View -> Rulers or pressing CTRL+R. Drag a guide off the horizontal and vertical ruler to the center of the image (960 and 540 pixels, respectively, if you’re working on a 1920×1080 image).

Creating the Paths

Paths are a nifty little feature in Photoshop that allow you to create what initially appears to be a wire-frame/line-drawing-like object. The paths you create are literal paths that will be followed by the tool you use to create your visual effects.

We’re going to harness the power of the Pen, a path-based tool, to create beautifully curved lines, which we will then manipulate with the Brush tool. Before we proceed, let us forewarn you that if you’ve never used the Pen tool before, it can be a rather frustrating tool to get the hang of. The best way to get a firm handle on it is to simply play with it. Don’t be afraid to create a path, fiddle with it, and then delete it once you have a better idea of what you’d like to do.

Select the Pen Tool (P) and double check that it is set to Path:

To create a simple curved line that passes completely from the left border of the image across to the right border, we’re going to click the Pen Tool on the horizontal guide line just beyond the left border and pull downwards to create our first point. After creating that first point (which will now look like a vertical line with three points on it), move over to the right hand side of the image and repeat the same step: click on the horizontal guide line, pull down gently, and release the mouse button.

We’ve drawn arrows over the screenshot below to indicate where we dragged the mouse:

This process creates a single graceful S curve across the entire image. Press the ESC key to release yourself from the current path and create a new one. Repeat the exact same process but varying your start and end point slightly on the left and right sides. While you can create the paths for your light lines any way you wish. We’re aiming for an image that looks like a bundle of them converging slightly in the center as they pass through the frame.

After you’ve created a dozen or so paths, your image should look something like this:

Those path lines will serve as the framework for the brush strokes we’ll apply in the next step.

Applying the Brush Strokes

The paths we previously created look pretty bare. You get an inkling of how the wallpaper will look, but it lacks fullness. We’re going to rectify that now by applying the Brush Tool over the the path.

First, we need to set our brush parameters. Select the Brush Tool (B). The size of the brush head you select will determine the size of the strokes overlaid onto the path. A very small brush size (1-5 pixels) will create very delicate spidery lines. Upwards of 15 pixels will create fatter cable-like lines. We opted for an 10 pixel brush head. In addition, you want to set the brush color to pure white.

Create a new layer (CTRL+SHIFT+N) and title it “Brush Stroke 1”.  Once you’ve selected your brush size and created the layer, select the Pen Tool (P) again.

Right click anywhere on the canvas and select “Stroke Path…” When the dialog box pops up, make sure you switch the tool selection to “Brush” and check “Simulate Pressure”. Click OK. The thin lines of the path will now be filled out with the brush strokes like so:

In order to give the brush strokes a more luminous look, we are going to blur them slightly. With the “Brush Stroke 1” layer selected, navigate to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur.

You can blur as little as 1.0 pixel and as high as 10.0 pixels depending on the size of your original brush strokes and achieve pleasing results. We like just a hint of blur, so we opted for 2.0.

Once you have the results you want, select the Magic Wand Tool (W). Select one of your lines (since they intersect and they’re all on the same layer, you just need to pick a spot in the middle) using the Magic Wand tool. Your results should look like this:

In order to ensure that we don’t have jagged and ugly edges in the next step, we need to tweak our selection slightly. Click on “Refine Edge” on the upper toolbar after making your Magic Wand selection. Within the Refine Edge menu, look in the Adjust Edge section for Feather:

Adjust the Feather value while watching the preview. You want a nice smooth well blended edge between your selection and the surrounding area. We used a value of 4.0 for our image. Click OK. Retain the selection for the next phase of the tutorial.

Coloring the Lines

Create a new layered named “Color”. On this layer, you can paint any color you want, in any fashion you want, over your light lines. You can hand paint different sections, you can apply a gradient, or you can combine the two. We’re going to heavily modify and adjust the layer, so don’t worry about completely covering up your previous work.

Rather than manually paint our colors on, we set a rainbow gradient from one side to the other using the Gradient tool like so:

Once the colors look the way you’d like, select the “Color” layer and adjust the opacity of the layer. We dialed ours back to 50% for the following effect:

That’s it! At this point we can save it, add more lines if we wish, fade the color, or otherwise tweak the image, but the results as they stand now are definitely desktop ready.

Have a tip or trick to add to this tutorial? Want to see us make a different kind of wallpaper? Sound off in the comments below.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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