Sidetracked for a Day: Making Planets

I guess I am easily distracted by geeky stuff.  Yesterday I needed a fake / fantasy planet for a piece of art I am working on.  So I thought I would just go find something open-source-ish someone else has done.  That would have been the obvious 60-second solution.

But then I saw this site, which apparently is one for enthusiasts of - you guessed it - making planet and space art.  So I thought I would play around with it.  About 6 hours on the computer later, I have a planet and a lot of tools to make more, and actually had a surprising amount of fun doing it.  First, the planet, click to enlarge:

The image you get when you click on it is only about a quarter of the full resolution of 5000x5000 of the original.

This is all done in Photoshop, faking the 3D and lighting effects, though there are tutorials and that same site discussing how to do this even better using 3D rendering.  To make this, I started with a planet map using this tutorial.  The land image I used as a texture seed is here.  The final map looks like this (again I had to cut the resolution by 75% from the original 8000x4000).

The above was a bit dark so I ended up stacking two on top of each other with the top set to blend mode "screen" and this really made it pop.  The cloud map I used a portion of is apparently a favorite among planet illustrators -- you can find it here.  Again, here it is but reduced in size:

From these last two we select a large circle (of the same size from each) and spherize them in Photoshop.

Here it is before the atmosphere and shadow effects, which are layered on and can be adjusted after the fact

Then, follow the second half of this tutorial when he talks about atmosphere and shadows to get the final result.

And the shadow can go the other way as well:

If anyone is really interested, I can send you the photoshop file with all the layers so you can see how it works.  Update:  The files are huge, about 500MB each, in part because I leave copies of all the resources I use in hidden layers.  But here they are, one for the flat map and one for the planet: test.psd  and here:


  1. Frank Waleczak:


  2. hanmeng:

    I believe you need a license to create your own planet. The authorities should be contacting you shortly.

  3. Roy:

    Your planet will have very strong winds.

  4. Andrew:

    Haha, "for enthusiasts of space art". This right here. This is why I love the internet.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Peter:

    Now if you could only get the mice to build the full size version for you.

  6. caseyboy:

    Six hours huh?

    Can you cause your planet to heat up??

    I understand the sister website can be used to build your own "missing link".

  7. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    As far as the darkness or lightness of an image, it's a lot easier to adjust that with "levels". It's the more general form of adjusting the brightness and contrast on an image.

  8. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master:

    >>> "I believe you need a license to create your own planet. The authorities should be contacting you shortly."

    As a god, you don't need a license from mere mortals. Not even Federal ephtards.

  9. Mad Rocket Scientist:

    Do you have a copy of Bryce?

  10. SuperMike:

    It's more fun than art, but you might enjoy the Kerbal Space Program.