Brushing up

I have recently got into digital painting (digital drawing, Photoshop painting, whatever you want to call it) and one of the most helpful tools you can use are custom brushes. Any painter or artist will have a favourite brush or pencil they swear by, but digital can be a bit different. Obviously you can download brush packs, but creating your own custom brushes is not only as difficult as you might think, it is also essential for taking your work to the next level.

This image was created using custom brushes made from petrochemical plants:




Step 1: Choose your image

You can use any image to make a custom brush, however it is best if there is sky and a lot of detail, as we will be destroying detail in a later step. The following image was taken from the website (this is an invaluable website, giving users free textures and image downloads every day). This is the image I will be making a brush out of:

1st image.png

Step 2: Desaturate

Load the image into Photoshop, and desaturate it. This can be done by either going through Image – Adjustments – Desaturate, or by pressing Shift+Command+U on a Mac, or Shift+Ctrl+U on Windows:

2nd image. desaturate.png

Now it is desaturated, feel free to remove any bits you don’t want (like the sky and wires in this image)

Step 3: Destroy

With most of the image now transparent, leaving only the building, bring your levels up by going to Image – Adjustments – Levels, or by pressing Command+L on a Mac or Ctrl+L on Windows. The aim is to make the image very stark and contrasted, destroying a lot of the details, but not all of them:


Step 4: Selecting

Use the Quick Select tool, W, to select the parts of the image that will form the brush, either all of it or only a selection. When the marching ants are around your selection, go to Edit – Define brush preset, click it and give your brush a name. Name it with something that will help to categorise it and order them in your brush panel. You don’t want to be spending ages looking for a new variation of ‘My brush’. Now your brush has been made and named, it will be at the bottom of your brushes in the Brush panel. You can use it the same way as with any brush, painting, erasing, spot healing, cloning, dodging and burning.

You can see a video of me using this technique to make my example image: Here