How I make Spinning Propellers in Photoshop

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: May 28, 2020

Category: Tutorial

Having been asked more than a few times, I thought that for this post I’d show my step by step process in Photoshop for how I make the spinning propeller effect.

Before diving into it though one thing to mention is that when initially building the models I purposely leave out the propellers and prefer to add them in entirely using Photoshop as opposed to adding some kind of spin effect to the actual model…if that makes sense.

Step 1

I start by creating a new document in Photoshop. This document I make 3000px x 3000px, a resolution of 300ppi and with a white background.

Step 2

Once open in Photoshop I add a new blank layer and then with a black foreground colour I grab the Custom Shape Tool (U) and choose a triangular shape.

In the Options Bar at the top of the screen I set the Custom Shape Tool to Pixels.

Step 3

For this step by step I’m going to show how I create propellors where there are 3 blades (not sure if that’s what you call them but you know what I mean). This choise of how many blades I add isn’t a creative choice but is decided by looking at pictures of that actual aircraft / model and seeing what was used (if there’s 2 blades draw out 2, if there’s 4 blades draw out 4 and so on…)

Step 4

Having drawn out one triangle (blade) I then press CTRL (Windows) / CMD (Mac) and the letter J to duplicate that layer (blade) and then whilst holding down the Shift key, using the Move Tool (V) I drag it upwards.

I then press CTRL (Windows) / CMD (Mac) and the letter T to bring up Free Transform and then Right Click on the duplicated shape and choose Flip Vertical.

Step 5

With the Free Transform controls still visible I positioned my cursor outside of them and then can click and drag to rotate the angle of the triangle (blade) and then use the Move Tool (V) to make sure I keep it in the correct position.

Step 6

For the 3rd blade I hold down the CTRL (Windows) / CMD (Mac) key and press the letter J to duplicate the blade I have just changed thr angle of.

Then I hold down the CTRL (Windows) / CMD (Mac) key and press T to bring up the Free Transform controls. I then right click within the controls and choose Flip Horizontal.

I then choose the Move Tool (V) and drag this blade into place.

Step 7

Now that I have all the blades I want I then turn off the Background Layer by clicking on its eye icon.

Next I create a merged / stamp layer at the top of the layer stack by holding down SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (Windows) / SHIFT + CMD + OPTION + E (Mac).

Once I have this I then turn off all other layers leaving the merged layer we have just created as the only one that is visible.

Note: The reason for this is so that when we first create the merged layer, by turning off the Background layer it means that our props will have transparency all around them so that when we eventually add the props onto our aircraft we can see through and around them. 

At this point you may also want to rotate the propellers, especially if the aircraft you’re adding them onto has more than one, so as to avoid them looking identical. To do this you would simply hold down the CTRL (Windows) / CMD (Mac) key and press T to get the Free Transform, and then position your cursor outside of the Free Transform controls, then click and drag to rotate.

Step 8

Go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Spin Blur

Once inside the Spin Blur all we need to do is to drag the control points outside the boundary of our props and maintain them in a circular shape.

How much of a psinning effect you want is controlled by dragging the Blur Angle slider left and right.


Note: Before diving into the SPin Blur you may want to turn your Merged / Stamp Layer into a Smart Object so that you can change the Spin Blur settings later if you wish. This isn’t essential but is more a case of ‘best practice’.

Step 9

Once you’re happy with how much Spin Blur you’ve added, Click OK to jump back into the Photoshop workspace.

Now that you’ve made your props and given them a spinning effect, when it comes to adding them onto your aircraft picture, depending on the angle of the aircraft you may have to change the angle of the props to match.

Ordinarily to do this, at this point I simply drag the props into my aircraft picture and resize them using Free Transform.

To match the angle of the aircraft I go to Edit > Transform > Perspective and then click and drag on the control points to change the perspective of the props.

This I do with a combination of using the Scale to continually resize and reshape as I do so.

Step 10

The final steps for me is to lower the Opacity of the Props layer to the point it just ‘looks right’ to me and then once they are in the correct position I simply add a Layer Mask to the Props layer and use a black brush to paint away the Props from the centre / nose piece where they are held in place on the aircraft.

And that’s all there is to it.

Of course this is just a little technique I came up with whilst having fun making these Aircraft Painting effect pictures during Lockdown and maybe in time I’ll figure out another way of creating spinning props. For now though it seems to do the trick for me.


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  1. Callum

    Hi Glyn,

    You wouldn’t believe, how long I’ve been trying to do this!!

    But when you explain the process of how you doit, it makes so much sense!

    Thankyou very much for sharing your time and knowledge with us all.

    • Glyn Dewis

      Hi Callum

      Great to hear that this post is useful in some way.

      Thanks for looking in.

      Best to you


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