Creating Brushes

Creating Brushes

When you first start creating your own custom brushes, keep it simple. Because so many options are available in the Brushes palette, starting out can be a bit overwhelming. If you start simply, you discover which brush setting affects a particular aspect of the brush appearance. Otherwise, you may add so many options that you don’t know which setting does what.

Because Photoshop never does anything by halves, you can actually create brushes in two ways:

  • Select an existing brush in the Brushes palette, and then modify its appearance with the various brush settings.

  • Create a brush by selecting pixels in the image window and then using this selection to create a new brush. The selected pixels could be anything from a colorful speckled area to an actual image, like a duck or shoe.

Using the Brushes palette

The first thing that you should do when creating a custom brush with the Brushes palette is select Brush Presets in the brush settings area, and then choose a brush tip from the list as shown in Figure.

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Figure: Select a brush preset in the Brushes palette.

The next step is to change the settings of the brush that you selected to meet your needs by using any of the brush settings available in the Brushes palette.

In this section, I run through each available brush setting. You can select and set as many or as few brush settings as you want. For those of you using a

tablet and pressure-sensitive stylus, I highlight these settings in each section. When you’re finished creating your custom brush, turn to the section “Saving Presets and Libraries,” later in this technique, to save your brush.


You may have noticed the tiny padlocks next to each brush setting in the Brushes palettes. (See Figure.) When a padlock is selected, it locks those particular brush settings, freezing them so that they can’t be changed by mistake.

Figure: Click the tiny padlock to freeze brush settings.

Brush Tip Shape

Use the Brush Tip Shape settings to select the brush’s diameter, angle, hardness, and spacing, as shown in Figure. Figure shows the effects of these settings.

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Figure: The Brush Tip Shape settings are used to set brush diameter and spacing.
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Figure: A: 0% Hardness, 100% Roundness, 25% Spacing. B: 100% Hardness, 50% Roundness, 25% Spacing. C: 100% Hardness, 100% Roundness, 125% Spacing.

Make the most of the following Brush Tip Shape settings:

  • Change brush width by moving the Diameter slider. Moving the slider to the left makes the brush tip smaller, and moving the slider to the right makes it bigger.

  • The brush that you selected might be directional: for instance, a leaf leaning to the right. Select the Flip X check box to flip the brush tip horizontally (this would make the leaf lean to the left), and select the Flip Y check box to flip the brush tip vertically (this would flip the leaf upside down).

  • Adjust Roundness to make the brush tip shape elliptical. A setting of 100% is round. The lower the percentage, the shorter and fatter the brush tip becomes.

  • If your Roundness setting is less than 100%, you can enter a percentage in the Angle text box to slant the brush tip. You can also change the brush Angle by dragging the arrowhead in the circle to the right of Angle and Roundness.

  • Soften the edges of the brush tip by adjusting the Hardness setting. The lower the setting, the softer the brush.

  • Use the Spacing setting to determine how often a drop of paint falls from your brush tip. When you stroke with a brush tip that’s set to a lower percentage, a solid line is created. Higher percentages spread out the paint drops, making dotted lines.

Shape Dynamics

Shape Dynamics are used to vary the width, angle, and roundness during a brush stroke. In the Brushes palette, click the name Shape Dynamics (not the check box) to view the settings shown in Figure.

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Figure: Shape Dynamics are used to vary the width and shape of a brush stroke.

Notice how the Shape Dynamics settings are divided into three areas: Size Jitter, Angle Jitter, and Roundness Jitter. Jitter refers to how randomly these settings are applied during a brush stroke. For instance, 0% Size Jitter doesn’t change the size of the brush during a stroke, but 100% Size Jitter allows random size changes during a stroke.

Each setting also includes a Control drop-down list. Control sets how the random effect is manipulated. All of these effects have the following Control settings:

  • Fade: This option sets how a stroke fades out from the start of the stroke to the end of the stroke.

  • Pen Pressure, Pen Tilt, and Stylus Wheel: These three options are for use with a pressure-sensitive tablet and pen.

Take a look at Figure to see the Shape Dynamics settings in action. The stroke labeled A is the base stroke. Stroke B adds the Size Jitter option, stroke C adds the Angle Jitter option to stroke B, and stroke D adds Roundness Jitter to stroke C.

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Figure: A: 90% Hardness, 120% Spacing, 0% Size Jitter. B: 75% Size Jitter, 10% Minimum Diameter. C: 75% Angle Jitter. D: 100% Roundness Jitter, 1% Minimum Roundness.

Here’s the scoop on the Jitter bug:

  • Use the Size Jitter slider to set how randomly the brush tip size changes during a stroke. A setting of 0% allows for no change, and a 100% setting allows for the maximum amount of random change.

  • If your brush tip is set to less than 100% roundness on the Brush Tip Shape panel, you can use the Angle Jitter slider to set how randomly the angle of the brush tip changes during a stroke. The higher the setting, the more angle changes occur.

  • Use the Roundness Jitter slider to set how much the roundness of the brush tip changes during a stroke. A higher setting makes for more variation.


Scattering sets how a brush mark is placed during a stroke. The higher the Scatter setting, the more marks spread away from the stroke’s path. Figure shows the Scattering options available in the Brushes palette. Figure shows the Scattering brush effect in action.

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Figure: Use the Scattering brush settings to splatter the paint around the brush stroke.
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Figure: A: 0% Scatter. B: 150% Scatter. C: 150% Scatter with Both Axes checked.

The following list is your guide to Scattering nirvana:

  • Move the Scatter slider to set how widely brush marks are placed around the path of a stroke. The higher the setting, the farther the brush marks are from the stroke.

  • Use the Count option to set how many brush marks occur as a stroke is made (based on the Spacing setting selected on the Brush Tip Shape panel). The Count Jitter setting randomizes the Count option setting.

  • Both the Scatter and Count settings include a Control drop-down list. Control sets how the effect is manipulated. The Control settings are:

    • Fade: This option sets how a stroke fades out from the start of the stroke to the end of the stroke.

    • Pen Pressure, Pen Tilt, and Stylus Wheel: These three options are for use with a pressure sensitive tablet and pen.


The Texture brush settings can be used in two ways: to create the effect of painting on a textured surface such as burlap or rice paper, or to add a special textured effect that makes your brush strokes stand out. Figure shows the Texture settings in the Brushes dialog box. Figure shows a few textured strokes.

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Figure: The Texture brush settings changes the surface quality of your strokes.
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Figure: A: Original stroke, no texture. B: Metal Landscape pattern applied. C: Herringbone 2 pattern applied.

Add some texture to your world with the following options:

  • Click the Pattern Picker to select a pattern for the texture.

  • Use the Scale slider to set how large the pattern is. The higher the percentage, the larger the pattern.

  • Choose blending mode from the Mode drop-down list to set how the stroke colors blend with the colors already present in the image. (For more about blending modes, turn to Technique 17.)

  • Select the Texture Each Tip check box to set how the selected blending mode mixes the brush colors throughout the stroke.

Dual Brush

The Dual Brush setting combines two brush tips to create a new, combination brush tip. Figure shows the Dual Brush options.

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Figure: By using the Dual Brush settings, you can stroke with two brush tips at the same time.

Use the following steps to create a combination brush tip:

  1. Use the brush tip picker at the right of the Brushes palette to select a second brush tip, as shown in Figure.

  2. Select a blending mode from the Mode drop-down list.

    This sets how the two brush tips blend together.

  3. Move the Diameter slider to set the width of the second brush tip.

  4. Move the Spacing slider to set how far apart each second brush tip dab is when you stroke with the combination brush.

  5. Use the Scatter slider to set how far the second brush tip’s mark spreads within the area of the first brush tip.

  6. Move the Count slider to set how many of the second brush’s marks are made based on the Spacing setting for the first brush.

    Take a look at Figure to see two examples of combination brush tips.

    Click To expand
    Figure: A: First brush selected. B: Grass brush added to A, 0% Scatter. C: Fuzzball brush added to A, 150% Scatter.

Color Dynamics

Color Dynamics are really fabulous: They set how the color of the brush tip changes as you stroke with it. So instead of creating a stroke that’s just bright red, for instance, that stroke could change from bright red to pink to burgundy, or even further through the color spectrum to include an entire rainbow of colors. Figure shows the Color Dynamics options in the Brushes palette.

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Figure: Use the Color Dynamics settings to change your strokes from mono-color to multicolor.

Before selecting Color Dynamics settings, you need to select the Foreground and Background colors that you want to use as the basis for the color change as you stroke. So, click the Foreground and Background color squares in the Toolbox and use the Color Picker to select colors.

For dynamic color, set the following options:

  • Move the Foreground/Background Jitter slider to set how much variation exists between the Foreground and Background colors. The Control drop-down list is used to set how the effect is manipulated.

  • Use the Hue Jitter, Saturation Jitter, and Brightness Jitter sliders to set how far the color can vary from the Foreground and Background colors. Lower settings keep the colors within the Foreground and Background color’s tonal range. Higher settings move the colors farther from the original tonal range.

  • Move the Purity slider to change the saturation of the color. A higher setting adds more saturation.

Figure shows two brush strokes. The first stroke, A, uses just one color (the Foreground color). The second stroke, B, has Color Dynamics settings applied with two colors (the Foreground and Background colors).

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Figure: A: Original stroke without Color Dynamics applied. B: Stroke with 100% Foreground/Background Jitter applied.

Other Dynamics

Use the Other Dynamics settings to select Opacity Jitter and Flow Jitter. Opacity Jitter sets how much the opacity changes during a stroke. Flow Jitter sets how the amount of paint applied during a stroke changes. Both of these settings are based on the Opacity and Flow settings selected in the Options bar for the tool that you’re using.

Noise, Wet Edges, Airbrush, Smoothing, Protect Texture

The rest of the brush settings in the Brushes palette add special effects or limitations to your strokes.

  • Noise adds a grainy quality to strokes. This setting works best with brush tips that have softer edges (that is, they have a lower Hardness setting).

  • Select Wet Edges to give the brush stroke a watercolor appearance.

  • The Airbrush option works just like the Airbrush button on the Options bar. With this option selected, the paint pumps from the brush tip, letting it build up. This works especially well if you hold the mouse in one position.

  • Smoothing evens out the rough spots of your strokes.

  • Select Protect Texture if you’re painting textured lines and you want the lines to match. With this option selected, Photoshop restricts brush stroke textures, keeping them consistent from one brushstroke to the next.

Using an image

You can also create brush tips by using any selected pixels in the image window. This could be a spray of dots that might imitate a real-life stipple brush or an image such as a duck. Here’s how:

  1. Choose File>New to create a new Photoshop image with a white background.

    Alternatively, open the image that you want to use for a new brush tip and skip to Step 5.

  2. Select the Brush tool from the Toolbox and select a brush tip from the Brushes palette.

    You can use any of the brush settings described in the section “Using the Brushes palette,” earlier in this chapter, to customize the brush tip.

  3. Click once with the mouse in the image window.

    A single brush dab appears in the image window, as shown in Figure.

    Figure: A single click of the mouse creates a dab that can be used to create a brush tip.

  4. Apply any filters or commands to the brush dab to create the brush tip texture that you’re looking for.

    Figure shows the same dab from 23-17 after the Poster Edges and Water Color filters have been applied.

    Figure: The modified brush dab.

  5. Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the area of the image window that you want to use for the new brush tip.

  6. Choose Edit>Define Brush Preset or choose New Brush Preset from the Brush Preset picker’s menu.

  7. Enter a name for the brush in the Brush Name dialog box shown in Figure, and then click OK.

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    Figure: Enter a name for your custom brush.

    The new tip shape appears at the bottom of the Brush Preset picker list. If you want to permanently save the brush tip, see the following section.

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