Make Retro Sun Rays in Photoshop

Retro Sun Rays


In this tutorial, we will be making a retro sun rays graphic, which is perfect for projects that require a vintage look and some added background interest. It's a fairly easy graphic to make, which will have me using the pen tool, adding color, duplicating layers, arranging shapes, and adding a gradient. We'll be using Photoshop CS6, but you might be able to follow along with an older version that you're familiar with.

To get started, we will launch Photoshop. You can do the same then continue through each of the steps to follow along.

Make A New Document

Make A New Document - screenshot


To make a new document, choose File > New. Type in the name, Sun Rays and also width and height of 6 x 6 inches. Keep the remaining default settings as they are and select OK.

Add Guides

Add Guides screenshot


Choose View > Rulers. Then drag a guide from the top ruler and place it 2 1/4 inches down from the top edge of the canvas. Drag another guide from the side ruler and place it 2 1/4 inches in from the left edge of the canvas.

Make a Triangle

Make a Triangle - screenshot


You could just choose the Polygon tool in the tools panel, indicate 3 for the number of sides in the Options bar at the top, then click on the canvas and drag. But that would make the triangle too uniform and we want it to be longer than wider. So we will make our triangle another way.

Choose View > Zoom In. Then select the Pen tool in the Tools panel, select at the point where our two guides intersect, select the guide where it extends off the canvas, select a little below that, and again select where the guides intersect. This will give you a triangle that looks like a single sun ray.

Add Color

Add Color screenshot


In the Options bar, select the small arrow in the corner of the Fill box, then on the pastel yellow-orange color swatch. This will automatically fill the triangle with that color. Then choose View > Zoom out.

Duplicate Layer

Duplicate Layer screenshot


To open the Layers panel, choose Window > Layers. Then right-click on the Shape 1 layer, to the right of its name, and choose Duplicate Layer. A window will appear that allows you to either keep the default name of the duplicated layer or rename it. Type in, Shape 2 to rename it and select OK.

Flip Shape

Flip Shape screenshot


With Shape 2 highlighted in the Layers panel, choose Edit > Transform Path > Flip Horizontal.

Move Shape

Move Shape screenshot


Select the Move tool in the Tools panel, then select and drag the flipped shape to the left until it seems to reflect the other in a mirror-like way.

Rotate Shape

Rotate Shape screenshot


In the same way as before, duplicate a layer. Name this one, Shape 3 and select OK. Next, choose Edit > Transform Path > Rotate. Select and drag outside the bounding box to rotate the shape, then select and drag within the bounding box to position the shape. Once in position, press return.

Space Apart Shapes

Space Apart Shapes screenshot


Just as before, duplicate a layer and rotate the shape, then do so again and again until you have enough shapes to fill the canvas with triangles, leaving space in-between them. Since the spacing doesn't have to be perfect, just eyeball each into position.

To be sure that all the triangles are where they should be, select the canvas with the Zoom tool, where the two guides intersect. If a triangle is out of place, select and drag with the Move tool to reposition the shape. To Zoom back out, choose View > Fit on Screen. Close the Layers panel by choosing Window > Layers.

Transform Shapes

Because some of the sun rays don't extend off the canvas, stretch them. To do so, select a triangle that's too short, choose Edit > Free Transform Path, click and drag the side of the bounding box that is closest to the edge of the canvas until it extends past the edge, then press enter or return. Do this for each triangle that needs extending.

Create a New Layer

Create a New Layer screenshot


Because you no longer need your guides, choose View > Clear Guides.

You now need to make a new layer that sits just above the Background layer in the Layers panel, since whatever layer is above another in the Layers panel sits in front of it on the canvas, and the next step will require such an arrangement. So select the Background layer then on the Create a New Layer button, then double-click on the new layer's name and type in the new name, color.

Make a Square

Make a Square screenshot


Because the design has too much contrast in value, cover the white with a color that is similar to the pastel yellow-orange. Do so by drawing a large square that covers the entire canvas, select the Rectangle tool in the Tools panel, then select just outside the canvas in the upper left corner and drag to just outside the canvas in the lower right. In the Options bar, choose a light yellow-orange color for the fill, because it's close in value to the pastel yellow-orange.

Make a Gradient

Make a Gradient screenshot


To make a gradient that sits on top of everything else, you need to select the layer at the top in the Layers panel, then on the Create New Layer button. Also, double-click on the name of the layer then type in, Gradient. Now, to make the gradient, use the Rectangle tool to create a square that runs off the edges of the canvas, and change the Solid Color fill to a Gradient fill. Next, change the style of the gradient to Radial and rotate it to -135 degrees. Select the Opacity Stop on the far left and change the opacity to 0, which will make it transparent. Then select the Opacity Stop on the far right and change the opacity to 45, to make it semitransparent.

Choose File > Save and you're done. You now have a graphic ready for use in any project that calls for sun rays.