Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tutorial: Custom Brushes/Stamps in Photoshop

Here's What You Will Need:
- Paper that can withstand wet media
(I use Bristol Board - I don't recommend watercolour paper because the texture will get in the way - you want a smooth surface)

- Cup of clean water
- Brushes of various sizes/textures
- Black or dark-coloured India Ink / Acrylic Paint / Gouache / etc
(you don't need all of these, just one or two - something that dries quickly!)
- Various fun things / found objects - think feathers, sponges, tissue paper, paper towels, anything that might make a fun texture, etc.
- Adobe Photoshop & Scanner

So, we've got our supplies all set up. 
Start making marks and have fun with it!
Organic, loose textures are usually best - for example, dip your brush in your india ink and flick it onto the paper. Or lay down your paper towel, wet it with water, and lay ink over top and let dry. Or stamp with a dry/wet sponge. The point is to be free and messy ;)

Make sure you leave white space around each mark!
Here's an example of mine: 

Once your marks have dried
(I did about 6 pages worth), 
scan them in at 600 dpi.
Scanners usually default to 300 dpi - this will not be large enough; just go in and change it before scanning. 600 dpi is extremely important - you will want to create large custom brushes, so the higher the dpi, the larger the brush will be!

Bring your file into Photoshop. Adjust Levels. 
(Image > Adjustments > Levels)
Adjust the white and black so that no paper texture shows.

Zoom in. Lasso the texture you want to make into a brush. Copy it.

Then, create a New Document. 
I do 8.5x11" at 300 dpi.

Cropping is important,  
because you don't want a ton of whitespace around your brush. It will be hard for you to tell where it hits on the page when you go to use it.

Then go to Edit > Define Brush Preset 
(this is making it into a brush)
See that little number below the brush thumbnail? 
That's the largest you can scale the brush up to. You can always scale down, but if you scale up beyond that number, your brush will appear pixelated. This is why we scanned at 600dpi. If we had scanned at 300dpi, this brush could only go up to roughly 690px. Too small!

Now we're ready to use our new brush!
Make a new document. Select your brush tool.
Go up to the brush size/type icon to change your brush. Scroll down - there is your custom brush!
Gorgeous! We're so happy, we have custom brushes! 
Go and repeat this process with your other textures. 
Once you get the hang of it, it goes really quickly!

(Just a small note: if you are making brushes and wanting to transfer them to another computer, save to a thumb drive or CD. To open on another machine, go to Edit > Preset Manager; Load > Select .abr brush file. Voila!)

Here is an assignment I did for my Computer Illustration Class using my custom brushes:
{ art (c) erin mcmanness 2012 }

Thanks for reading this tutorial, lovely birds! 
Hope it was helpful & enjoyable :)
Any questions? Comment away ~!


  1. Very helpful, thoroughly enjoyable. Beautiful work.
    Just stopping by from the Etsy Blog Team.

  2. I really and truly found this so helpful! Thank you so much. I have been wanting to create my own brushes for sometime, but haven't found a tutorial that did have too much technical jargon in it. This is perfect!

    1. Yea, tutorials on the net can be really hit-or-miss sometimes. I'm glad it was clear and easy to follow! Have fun creating your brushes :)

  3. YES. I'm so excited to try this. If it's essentially copying and pasting, and then adjusting levels, I could technically make any image a brush right? As long as it's big enough? (I had no idea it was so easy!)

    1. Yes, I think technically, you could. Our professor had us create our own textures and stuff for the sake of originality, but I don't see why you couldn't use images, as long as they're free-market/copyright-free or if you own them/have permission.

      Glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  4. Dropping by from Etsy and couldn't stay a silent visitor. Awesome tutorial, I will definitely redo it to use with GIMP, thank you for such a clever idea. I love the way you draw.

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  5. What about the brushes you made for the tutorial? Could you share them? I really like them a lot! Either way, the tutorial is very clear and helpful, thank you!

    1. I will probably not put up my personal downloadable brushes, mostly because I think it's important to create from scratch, and I spent quite some time on the tutorial so you guys could make your own ;) Plus, it's just good fun to get messy!

      Glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  6. Great tutorial! Love your finished piece!

    Stooping by from Blogging Buddies

  7. wow, I have to try this! So cool!

  8. Very nice and clear tutorial, thanks so much for sharing! :)

  9. Where was this when I had photoshop?!

  10. Thank you guys so much for the feedback! I am glad everyone enjoyed the tutorial!

    Yay skillset building! :)

  11. This is amazing (your Black Swan art, too!)...

    I'm thinking that I should use this technique to easily add my signature/watermark/symbol to my photos. Thanks for the tutorial!


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