Tutorial: How to Make a Photoshop Brush Set

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Photoshop brushes are used all the time by designers to create stunning graphics quickly and easily. While there are plenty of free and premium Photoshop brushes available for download, there are times when you can’t find an existing brush or brush pack that meets your needs. Or maybe you’ve found one that would be perfect, but it’s not licensed for use on commercial projects. In these situations, you can create your own custom brushes and use them however you choose.

In this tutorial, we’ll be going through the process of creating a Photoshop brush that resembles a real paintbrush stroke. Although there are already a number of brush packs of this kind available, being able to create your own will give you more flexibility. Here’s a preview of what we will be creating.

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Brush stroke

How to Create a Set of Photoshop Brushes

To complete this tutorial you will need the following items:

  • Heavy Paper
  • Paint (I’m using black acrylic)
  • A Paint Brush
  • A Scanner
  • Photoshop

Step 1: Painting

To start off, apply some brush strokes to a piece of paper. I’ll be using my paper to create two separate brushes, so I’ll make sure that the paint from the two areas does not touch each other. After painting, give it some time to dry before moving on to the next step.

Step 2: Scanning

Once the paint has dried we will be scanning the paper at 300 DPI. After it has been scanned, open the image in Photoshop. Here’s what my scan looks like.

scanned brush strokes

Step 3: Adjusting the Levels

You’ll notice that the scan has some gray areas that need to be cleaned up. The image below shows these areas using the red outline.

gray areas in the scan that need to be fixed

When the brush is created, any area of the image that is pure white will be transparent when the brush is applied. Any black areas in the image when the brush is created will create colored areas (the foreground color) when the brush is applied. Gray areas will be somewhere in between. So we need these light gray areas to become totally white so they do not affect the brushes that we will be creating.

To do this, go to Image – Adjustments – Levels and you will see a histogram like the one shown below.

adjusting the levels in Photoshop

The histogram allows you to easily change the levels, which will make the dark areas darker, the light areas lighter, and vice versa (if you want a more technical explanation please see Tutorials: Photoshop Levels). The white point slider is the one that is all the way to the right and it says “255”. I’ll change this to 200, and then the black point slider (far left) will be changed to 25. I’ll change the mid-tone slider (the one in the middle) to .65. All of these numbers will vary with your scan, so experiment to see where you can get a good contrast while eliminating the light gray areas.

New levels settings

Our image now looks a lot cleaner.

brush strokes that have been cleaned up with levels to remove gray

For more tutorials, please see:

Step 4: Creating the Brush

Since our image contains two areas that will be used to create two different brushes, I want to work with just one at a time. I’m using the rectangular marquee tool to select the one on the right.

selecting one of the brush strokes

Copy the selection and paste it into a new file.

new file featuring just one brush stroke

Brushes are limited to a maximum of 2500 pixels in height and width (smaller dimensions in older versions of Photoshop), so the image needs to be resized to a height of 2500 pixels so it will let us create the brush.

Once the image is sized properly, go to Edit – Define Brush Preset and give it a name.

Naming the brush

The brush has now been created, so let’s see how it looks. Open a new file that is large enough to hold the brush, I’m using 2000 pixels in width and 3000 pixels in height. Give the canvas a background color, change the foreground color to use with the brush, select the brush tool, open the brush palette, and select the brush that was just created.

brush palette

Apply the brush to the canvas and see how it looks.

how the brush looks when it has been applied

Creating the Brush Pack:

When you’re creating brushes you’ll most likely be creating more than one at a time, and it can be helpful to save them as .abr files. This makes it easier for you to manage your own library of custom brushes, and that’s also what you will need to do if you’d like to distribute the brush pack. I’m going to follow the steps above to create the second brush from our scan. Here’s how it looks when applied.

second brush from the pack

Normally I would include more than two brushes in a brush pack, but for the simplicity of the tutorial, I’ll only be including the two we just created. Go to Edit – Preset Manager and select Brushes as the preset type. Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll find the brushes that were just created.

Saving the brush set

Select both of the brushes and click on Save Set. Then give the brush pack a name and save it as an .abr file. You can now easily load this brush set any time, and it can also be distributed to others.

For more on Photoshop brushes please see:

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