Custom Brushes in Photoshop
If there was one skill or capability in Photoshop that could be considered to be at the very foundation of most Photoshop techniques, it would be the ability to use any brush shape that you want. Since this was integrated into Photoshop many versions ago, digital artists have had the capability to create high quality custom brushes in Photoshop from scratch. You use brushes to create effects, to blend and composite images, for retouching images, and much more. Today, you will learn how to create custom brushes in Photoshop to use in your projects.
Custom Brushes in Photoshop: Shapes
Create a new document in Photoshop. Make it any size that you want, but keep in mind that the setup will determine the outcome. To create high quality custom brushes in Photoshop, you have to start out large and at a decent resolution. This is especially true if you are creating your brush for the purpose of a print design.
There are several ways that you can go with this. The first one I will demonstrate is using shapes. You can create your own shapes in Photoshop. Select the Rectangle Tool and create a square.
In the shape options, you can choose to combine, and subtract front shapes, etc. Once You are finished, you can combine the shapes into one, or leave them all selected. Then go to Edit> Define Brush Preset. You can now created a basic custom brush.
Custom Brushes in Photoshop: Smart Objects
The great thing about Photoshop CS6 is that now you can define brush presets from smart objects. You can copy shapes or vectors created in Illustrator and paste them as smart objects, or you can use the File>Place command in order to have Photoshop automatically place it as a smart object. Then, just like before, you simply go to Edit> Define Brush Presets.
I created a vector of a watch , pasted it as a smart object, defined it as a brush, and after tweaking the way that the brush actually works (which I will show you in the next steps) I was able to quickly create multiple copies of the watch and paint it at random angles using the brush I created.
Custom Brushes in Photoshop: Using Images
You can create a custom brush from almost anything, and this even includes images. You can take your own photos, or if you know of free photography sites, you can create brushes derives from those images. The sample image shown below can be downloaded here. Remember to work with large images, because you can always scale your brush down, but scaling it up will make the brush lose quality, unless it is a shape.
You could theoretically create a brush from the entire images, but in this case, we will isolate one cloud and create a brush from that. Select the Lasso tool and make a loose selection around the top center cloud. Hit Command/Ctrl + J to paste a copy of the selection on its own layer. Hide the main cloud image so that just the isolated cloud is showing. The way that brushes work is that anything that is white won’t show up in the brush, but any value that is darker than pure white all the way through the blackest black will be your brush.
Our cloud is white, so we need to invert the cloud so that it is grey and black, and the background is light. I inverted it while it was still in color, which is fine, but you can see the result below. Then, use levels to bring the background to white, or erase the background altogether. Use the Magic Wand Tool with Contiguous unchecked and select the part that you wish to remove. Use the Refine Edge dialog box to refine your selection, removing the background from around the cloud. Next, we will need to make the image black and white.
To keep the rest of the image editable(in case you want to go back and select other clouds), use a Black & White Adjustment layer above the cloud and then merge the two, leaving your main cloud image in full color below.
Next, make a selection around the cloud. It doesn’t have to be anything special or perfect, just make sure you get all of the cloud in it. Then, just like before, go to Edit> Define Brush Preset and name your brush.
When the brush is created, it is placed at the bottom of your current brush set. Just scroll down and click on it to make it active. If we create a new document and fill the background with blue, we can create a new layer and paint with white to create a cloud with our custom brush.
Custom Brushes in Photoshop: Changing A Brush’s Behavior
Not only can you create a custom brush from any image, shape, or smart object, but you can also change how it behaves when you paint with it, by using the Brush Panel to alter how it behaves. If you remember the image with the watches from earlier, they were scattered and tilted in a seemingly random manner. This is easy to achieve with the Brush Panel and its settings. This comes in handy and I use it often to create randomized and more natural-looking effects.
Make sure your brush is selected and bring up the Brush Panel. This is where you can determine the size, shape and spacing of your brush, its angle, how far each instance of the brush is scattered, opacity jitter, and much more. Here is a quick rundown of the major settings and what they do.
Brush Tip Shape
Brush Tip Shape allows you to control the base angle of your brush and using the circle and dots, you can make the brush thinner or leave it as-is. Spacing will determine how far apart each instance of the brush is following along the path of your brush stroke.
Shape dynamics has a big impact on your brush, because you can determine the size jitter, which means that when you paint a brush stroke, each instance of your brush will vary in size. You can set the minimum diameter of your brush here as well, so that it doesn’t go below a certain size. Angle Jitter makes the brush tilt at random angles, depending on how high you make this setting. If you use a tablet, such as a Wacom Tablet, you can control how these react to pen pressure.
Scattering makes the instances of your brush spread apart vertically. You can also set this to scatter on both the x and y axis, but often this isn’t necessary. Count increases the number of instances that are included within the scattered brush stroke. This can create dense scattered effects. Count Jitter will vary how many instances there are, so there will be some dense areas and some areas that are sparse.
Texture allows you to combine a texture preset with your brush. You can increase the size of the texture, its brightness, and its contrast. You can also determine the blend mode used for the combination.
Dual brush can lead to some interesting effects. You basically combine your existing brush with one from your selection of other brushes. This is the section where you determine the size, spacing and scatter for the brush that you are adding to the mix.
Color dynamics is very important if you are painting with color. Foreground/background jitter handles how much each instance of your brush jumps back and forth between the foreground and background colors that are active. Hue Jitter will keep the color in the same color, but will change the hue depending on how high you set this. Saturation Jitter will jump around with varying degrees of saturation for your chosen color. For example, if you chose blue, then one time you might get a bright blue, and the next instance might be a muted blue. Brightness Jitter will alternate between light and dark versions of your brush instance.
Transfer is another important setting. Despite the odd name, this section controls the opacity and flow jitter of your custom brush. You can determine the opacity range of each instance of your brush to vary between faded and crisp effects. Flow will give you some interesting effects when combined with wetness jitter and mix jitter. This is something you will have to play around with.
Once you are done, you can save your custom brush as a preset for later, or so you can use it on other devices if you have multiple computers.
It is amazing what you can accomplish using custom brushes. Many designers and digital artists rely on custom brushes in Photoshop to create spectacular effects. Some rely on them for masking or retouching, but whatever the case is, they are extremely handy. The right brush can produce unique and amazing results. What is your favorite custom brush set? Do you create your own custom brushes in Photoshop? Share your experiences in the comments section below.