If you had told me a week ago that I could easily turn this gorgeous image we took of a Sikh bride into a digital art masterpiece, I would have laughed at you. Why?  Because despite my ability to utilize the tools necessary to edit people in Photoshop, I have never been able to paint or draw.  I’ve always admired abstract art, but it wasn’t possible for me to create it…that is, until now.  In this article, we’ll teach you how to get the swirl effect in Photoshop to create interesting, beautiful abstract artwork.

Pure Emotions Photography

We turned that gorgeous bride into this abstract art after using a combination of filters in Photoshop.

Pure Emotions Photography

How to Get the Swirl Effect Photoshop

The swirl effect in Photoshop is on fire, especially if you’re a member of the Photoshop and Lightroom group on Facebook. Hundreds upon hundreds of images have been shared on social media this week featuring the techniques that create a swirl.  Some will say that this technology has always been there and that it’s not new.  While this may be true, the trend worthiness of it certainly is, as most had never heard of it or knew how to create one.  They are addictive and super easy to do. The possibilities are limitless.

I created a video tutorial that shows step-by-step how I’ve created some of my own swirl effect Photoshop after just a couple of days of practicing them.  To play along with me while you’re watching the video, go ahead and open any photograph you’ve ever taken into Photoshop.

Step by Step Instructions on How To Swirl in Photoshop

1.) Open any image in Photoshop

2.) With your background layer selected, go to Filter – Pixelate – Mezzotint. Make sure your mode is set to “Medium Lines.” Press OK.

3.) With your background layer still selected, go to Filter – Blur – Radial Blur.  Amount (100) – Blur Method (zoom) – Quality (best). Press OK.

4.) Repeat step 3 as many times as you like.  I usually like to run it about 3 times.

5.) Duplicate your background layer.  Keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD J. This will create a duplicate layer called “Layer 1” right above your background layer.

6.) Select your background layer.  Then go to Filter – Distort – Twirl.  In the Angle number box, you want to put in a positive value number.  Let’s put in 80 for now.  Press OK. You can always try different ones the more you experiment.

7.) Select Layer 1 above your background layer.  Then go to Filter – Distort – Twirl.  In the Angle number box, you want to put in a negative value number this time.  Let’s put in -80 for now.

8.) With Layer 1 selected, we want to change the blending mode of this layer. In your layers palette, right above Layer 1, you will see the word “normal.” Click on that and it will expand a variety of choices.  Depending on the colors and exposure in your image, will depend on which blending mode works best here. Click through the various options until you find the one you like the best on your image. I like Darken, Multiply, Lighten, Exclusion and Difference modes for Twirl art. But choose what works best for you.

9.) Flatten your image. You can stop here or work on it some more.

10.) To see more advanced tips on taking what you’ve just created to the next level, watch the video directly above this step-by-step guide. Have fun!

Sample Swirl Effect Photoshop I Created

Here are some Photoshop swirls created using the step by step methods shown above as well as some more advanced techniques featured in the video tutorial.

Pure Emotions Photography
Pure Emotions Photography
Pure Emotions Photography
Pure Emotions Photography
Pure Emotions Photography

Submissions From the Twirls Contest

Since I personally learned about Twirls through the Photoshop and Lightroom group on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to run a contest on the group allowing members to vote for their absolute favorite image to be included in this article.  I had over 300 submissions and narrowed it down to these 30 images and then opened the vote to the community.

1.) Anne Hughes 2.) Daniele Giordano 3.) Doug Kessler 4.) Fernando Sanin 5.) James Leason 6.) Rick Magnell 7.) Julie Pals 8.) Joni MacArthur 9.) Jolyne Harris 10.) Jim Mallard 11.) Jerre Stead 12.) Robert Sutschek 13.) Karyn Veltman 14.) Adam Young 15.) Paul Scearce 16.) Peter Divers 17.) Kaegan Wright 18.) Rosie Hall 19.) Pj Marr 20.) Clayton Robinson 21.) Jessica Wadsworth 22.) Rachael Kashner 23.) Jostein Vedvik 24.) Jody Seidler 25.) Sam Young 26.) Kim Ekstrom 27.) Marcy Pivin 28.) Nancy Lariviere 29.) Matt Crace 30.) Susan Wiles

Winning Image – With 70 votes, Kim Ekstrom’s image took 1st place

Kim Ekstrom

2nd Place  –  64 votes

Daniele Giordano

 Other Standout Twirls

After I ran the contest, I saw how much the Photoshop swirls were growing over the course of the next 24 hours as people learned more about using their blending modes and other methods to create more advanced, unique swirls.  These honorable mentions stood out to me!

Donna-Dee Williams
Donna-Dee Williams
Andres Acosta
(Top Left) Jostein Vedvik (Top Right) Jason Smith (Bottom) Susan Wiles

I am a bit biased to Adam Young’s work.  He has created several Photoshop swirl effect images utilizing additional tools in Photoshop such as Liquify to create unique facial structures in his twirls.  He was entry number 14 in our voting contest, but this image really stood out to me as well.  I am blown away by what this guy has been able to create!  Pretty wicked!

Adam Young

How We Can Utilize This Twirling Trend

Many are asking, “Is this a fad or is it profitable?” The truth is that it depends on your ability to think outside of the box and market it. How can you tie it into your brand or do you even want to? Perhaps you just want to create art and hang it on the walls of your own home or do it for fun and leave them as digital files on your hard drive.

Digital Abstracts can be used and sold for stock imagery, used on business cards, as a background for a website, as a screensaver or hung as wall art. Or what if you wanted to use both the original image plus the abstract together somehow? These Double Float Metal Prints from Bay Photo would be a gorgeous way to incorporate both pieces together!  You’re only limited by your imagination in both creating these Twirls as well as using them in your business if you so choose!

[REWIND: World Class Photographers & Digital Artists Take You Through The Creative Process]

Peter Divers

My Thoughts on Swirl effect in Photoshop

I believe that the swirl effect in Photoshop will stick with some people, like myself, who have always felt incapable of creating something like this using canvas and paint but longed to do so.  I see this as a way for me to express myself through how a piece makes me feel.  Some of my clients would most likely love these, especially used in the double float mount metal prints with the original image on top.  I have connections with several doctors’ offices that I haven’t been able to put any of my work up in because their specialty is Sports Medicine or Counseling. My wedding, maternity and baby imagery would look out of place in their offices.  But, this abstract art could be hung in any of those locations.  I am dialing my contacts first thing Monday morning.

Will this be a fad to some people? Yes.  But as for me, I think it’s amazing because I finally get to do something I’ve always wanted to do. If you want to share your twirls with other people who also are obsessed with them, join the new Facebook group, Twirl On! that was created just for twirling. Have fun and share your thoughts in the comment box.  If you have a favorite from the contest, tell us what image you would have picked to win.