Anything Photoshop or Photography

How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text

I keep finding cool brushes and started wondering how to make them.  Lots of times they are not of the quality or the look I want. In this post I want to go over what can be done with your own images to create really nice paintbrushes and how to save them so you can find them easily. This all began last week when I was catching up on my Photoshop User TV videos – Corey Barker, one of the Photoshop Guys, came up with this really simple way to make a Lens Flare Brush in Episode 259. It was a short tutorial – the blooming oleander tree image below is how it turned out.  The text tutorial was by Dave Cross in Photoshop User TV video Episode 258.

The most important thing to know about Photoshop brushes is that they are all created in black and white – anything that is white in the image will not show up in your final brush (it is transparent), all that is black shows up clearly, and anything in gray tones shows up partially.

Creating a Brush Document:  Before starting to make a brush, first create a New Document in Photoshop – the all important size issue needs to be addressed here. BittBox, in a great little article called “How to Make a Photoshop Brush” stated that it is best to make your brushes as large as you can and reduce the size later when using the brush.  Since CS2, you can make the size as large as 2500 pixels each direction.  Therefore, in the New Document dialog, set up the width and height to 2500 pixels at a resolution of 300 (this creates a high resolution brush), Color Mode Grayscale, 8 bit mode, and White background. Save and name this document (Brush) so you can use it again anytime you want to create a new brush. Grayscale is used for a color mode since defining a brush automatically creates it as a grayscale brush.

Here’s how to create a good brush.

  1. In Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, open an image that has an object you want to make into a brush.  For my example, I will use a cloud from one of my images. Crop to create a rough selection around your object, it does not have to be a square. In my case it will be one of the clouds used in the image below.
  2. There are many ways to adjust the contrast to create a good brush. I found that by first putting my image into black and white in Lightroom and then adjusting the sliders mainly in the Basic Panel, a lot of definition in the object could be obtained. For the clouds below, the following sliders were used:  Blacks at 95, Contrast at +100, and Clarity set to +47. Experiment with all the sliders to get a major contrasty look – you want a really extreme black and white with lots of detail in the object.  It does not have to be perfect at this point. (Alternate method:  If you want to experiment, do not convert you object to Black and White in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, but do this in Photoshop using any method you would like – Black and White Adjustment Layer, Image or or Image -> Adjustments -> Desaturate (as used in Corey’s tutorial above) or maybe a plug in like Nik Silver Efex Pro, for example. Just be sure that you either merge any adjustment layers down into just one black and white layer, or do a composite layer (turn off all the layers but the ones you want to composite and highlight the top layer – then CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E to create).
  3. Open your object in Photoshop to begin the final adjustments.
  4. Look at your image to see if it needs to be inverted so the details you want to appear in the brush are showing up in black. For my clouds, the image needed to be inverted so the clouds looked black and the background was white – otherwise the clouds would not show up in the brush, only the dark background since only black and gray tones create the brush. To invert the image, just CTRL+I or Image -> Adjustments -> Invert.  A Curves or Levels Adjustment Layer may need to be applied if the contrast and detail is somewhat lost with the inversion. Be sure to merge adjustment layer(s) down so there is only one black and white layer, or do a composite layer (turn off all the layers but the ones to be combined, then create composite by highlighting the top layer and CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E). (For my Mountain set, this step did not need to be done – see below to download.)
  5. Next clean up any extraneous edges you do not want in the brush. I used a soft edged brush and painted white at a fairly low opacity to reduce hard edges around my clouds to get rid of the the distinct sharp lines around the outside of the document.  This can be tricky, but if the final brush turns out a little off, just come back to this document and try again.  Save your document now so all your work does not accidentally disappear if further adjustments need to be made.
  6. If a brush document is not already created, make one now (as described in “Creating a Brush Document” section above).  Drag your black and white object layer into into your new brush document. Use the Free Transform (CTRL+T) to adjust to fit the document if it is comes in too large. With the Crop Tool cut any extraneous areas not needed in the brush.
  7. Now in the Brush Document, go to Image -> Define Brush Preset.  If the Define Brush Preset is ever grayed out, the brush is larger than the 2500 pixel maximum Photoshop allows.  This is why you move it to a new document. I had this happen with Corey’s Photoshop User tutorial referenced above. It has you create the brush in the original document (which I do not recommend doing because of this issue) – it took a while to figure this out.
  8. It is important to save your new brushes in a set so click on the Open Preset Manager icon (2nd icon from the left) at the bottom of the Brush Presets Panel. In the Preset Type field, be sure Brushes is showing.  Now select your new brushes in the table by ALT+clicking on each one to highlight, and click the Save Set button. In Explorer, make sure you are in your Brushes folder in Photoshop to make it easy to keep track of where they are on your computer. (On a PC, it is located at User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 ->Presets -> Brushes.)  Name the .abr file, in my case SJ-Clouds.abr. I use my initials first so I can find them quickly in the fly out list when I want to choose them later. The brushes can now be loaded anytime by going to the Brushes Preset Panel and clicking on the fly out menu (the little arrow to the left of the Done button) and clicking on the brush set name. If brushes are present that you do not want in your set, you can Alt+Click them to delete the brushes and resave the set. This trick also works in the Brush Presets Panel – just highlight the brush name and ALT+click to delete. I found I had way too many brushes – some I use all the time and some I do not. I created a Favorite Cloud set, for example, by adding all my cloud sets into the Brush Presets Panel, appending each so I had a full list of the cloud brushes.  Next eliminate the brushes you do not use much (CTRL+click) and go to the Preset Manager to save as “My Favorite Clouds” set. (Be sure to CTRL+A to select all the brushes so they all appear in the set). Keep the original cloud brush sets in a folder called Extra Brushes so they can still be used by clicking Load Brushes in the Brush Preset Panel’s fly out and navigate to the folder if you need them. This has reduced the size of my brush list considerably.

For the image below, the sky was just a flat clear blue. To get the pretty cloud effect, I used three of the brushes I created using three different images. Two new layers were added and just one dab of each brush was used over the sky area. Then I erased out what I did not want to use and set the layers to Screen blend mode at different opacities to get this effect. I think it is a realistic look. The clouds can be set where you want them for effect. If you would like to see an example of some nice cloud brushes, here is a link to some very beautiful clouds that I also use often called by Clouds by Rubina119 (see my “Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brush” blog’s last image). Click link to download my 12 cloud brushes called SJ-Cloud Brush Set.

Text can also used to make a brush and used as a repeated pattern in an image. Using the steps above, but creating a much smaller sized brush, the image below uses text layers repeating the word “daisies.” Each layer used a different size and color to create the receding type effect.

I feel the hard-working people who create so many of the wonderful resources should be given credit for their work. The brushes I did not create but used on this photo include:  the bright purple daisy is a beautiful brush from Texturemate and can be downloaded here and one of their grunge brushes was used on a layer to add texture. This site has a lot of very nice resources for your images; and a texture from Caleb Kimbrough‘s set called Color Grunge Texture, texture no. 295, and BittBox‘s Ice and Snow Textures – Ice Texture bluer (I could not find these two textures still available on the internet). BittBox has several other beautiful textures available on their Flickr account. Also, the font is my favorite Fantaisie Artistique that can be downloaded for free from

One of the really cool free programs I came across is called abrMate that allows you to view all the brushes inside a set before adding them to your Photoshop brushes. I use this little program all the time since I like to download interesting brushes.  Here is the link under the abrMate download section.  If the program comes up with a Brush Reading Issue dialog that says “Issue Reading brush file, file may be protected.”, it is because the brush was saved as a 16 bit file – when the brush is selected in Photoshop’s Brush Presets Panel, it can be used but it shows a 16 in the top right of the brush icon. The size of the thumbnail can be adjusted and the name of the brush can be displayed by clicking on the top menu Settings. Below is an example of what the program looks like when open.

These beautiful free brushes are from Mel’s Easter Eggs set. The reason I am showing these is that this is another great example of how you can create nice brushes by making different parts to fit together. The decoration for the eggs fit exactly over the basic egg brush so different brushes can be stacked to create a very colorful design. See my blog on “The Incredible Editable Easter Egg” from a few weeks ago.

If you are interested, the following all totally free brushes were used in this image:  Two of the clouds from my cloud set you can download above, a mountain image brush set contains this mountain in Nevada from a trip last year, the flying bird brush and grasses and plants  are great sets from Obsidian Dawn (this site has some beautiful brushes and other resources), 20 people brushes by digitally present, trees from Larrydnjr, waterfall brushes from Midnightstouch and Redheadstock water brushes.  To finish off the image, in Nik Color Efex Pro a Custom Bi-Color preset was created using a blue tone on top and brown tone on the bottom to give a late in the day feel, and an OnOne PhotoFrame was added. I was surprised how realistic this image came out! There are some really nice brushes out there.

Well that should wrap it up for this blog this time. It was fun to learn so much about the basic object brush and I feel I can now make better brushes when I need them. I hope you learned some new tips too! See ya next time!….Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Just Plain Fun Brush Effects!
Create a Winter Scene with Photoshop Brushes and Textures
That Flaming Fire Brush!
Brushing up on Circles!

5 responses

  1. Pingback: Create Realistic Planets « Syd Johnson's Blog

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