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The Easy Way to Make Your Own Custom Photoshop Brushes

If you’ve never heard about the creative use of brushes in Photoshop, this article is for you. If you already know about using brushes, you’ll be able to ramp up your creativity once you learn this easy skill – making your own brushes.


What are Photoshop brushes and why you’d want to learn how to make your own?

Photoshop brushes are tools that are mostly used just like regular paint brushes to add strokes of color to your images. Most often people will use them as part of their dodging and burning workflow. Some people also use them in digital painting. The built-in brush set comes with a great assortment of  brush styles, such as soft bristles, round, square etc., but you can also make your own “fancy” custom brushes (which are reusable) to speed your workflow and add elements of interest to your images.

The creative side of custom brushes allows you to use all sorts of imagery, textures, individual shapes, and even other photos like an old fashioned stamp pad, so you can quickly add artistic treatments to your images. You can even make a brush of your signature to easily sign your work.  Then combining the stamped brushes with layers and blending modes you have a whole other set of easy creative tools you can use to multiply your photographic impact.


Screenshot of the Brushes Palette – notice the birds and my name close to the bottom? These are custom brushes.

Making reusable items into brushes helps you to easily add objects of interest or even subject matter to your images. Birds are very popular in landscape images these days. Who doesn’t instantly feel the freedom and purpose of birds in flight? Adding a carefully placed flock of birds, or even just one bird in flight, can change the entire story of the image and add a powerful element to your composition.


Adding a “flock of birds” brush to create a better story.

By creating your own “instant flock” with brushes you will never be at a loss to fill an empty sky. As well, this technique is the same whether you’re making a birds brush, a signature brush, sparkles, snow flakes, or music notes – what you can create is entirely open, limited only by your imagination.

The Simple Process for Making Custom Brushes

Let’s use birds for this example. Birds are popular and a versatile addition to landscape images, so this demo will show you how to make a custom reusable brush for adding a flock of birds to your images. This assumes you have a photo of birds. If you don’t, but still want to follow along, the zip file below contains all the elements you need to replicate this specific tutorial.

Step 1

Open the image you want to make the brush of – birds, trees, etc. – in Photoshop. The best images to use are ones where the item that is to be the brush is isolated on a plain background, in the case of birds a clear blue sky is perfect. If you want to make brushes from images of trees, try to use images where the trees are against a plain uncluttered background.

A good image for a brush base.

A good image for a brush base.

Step 2

Double click on the background layer to make it editable – it should now be called Layer 0. Make a new empty layer and move it beneath Layer 0 as shown below.


Step 3

Next,  you are going to select the background and cut it out. Using the Magic Wand tool, set the Tolerance in the top menu to around 50. This will ensure that all your background pixels are selected. If you have a more complex background, you will have to play with the Tolerance, or perhaps try the Lasso tool to cut out the background.


Background selected with the Magic Want tool.

Step 4

With Layer 0 as your active layer, and the background with the marching ants, hit Backspace on your keyboard to delete the background. Click CTRL D to remove the marching ants. Your image should now look like this:


Step 5

Now you’ll will make the actual brush. You can use the Rectangular Marquee tool or the Freehand Lasso to select the birds or the subject of your brush. Which tool you use will depend on your brush subject. I will use the Rectangular Marquee tool for this example. Using the marquee tool draw a selection  around your birds.


Under the Edit menu, look for Define Brush Preset and select it. You’ll get a pop up that wants you to name your brush. Give it a creative name and click ok.  Now go into your Brush Preset palette by clicking on the brush tool, and you’ll see your newly minted brush at the bottom of the list.

brush tool     brushes context menu




The final step is to SAVE your new brush so you can use it over and over. Look for the little gear in the top right corner of this brush preset palette. Click Save Brushes and give your new set a name.

You’re done! Yay. Birds in flight forever. Whenever you want to add birds, just select this brush from the palette and stamp away (use the brush at 100% to have solid birds, anything less they will become see-through).

One big hint for using ANY brush is to use it on a new layer. This way if you don’t like its position, opacity, size, etc., you can easily edit it without having to start your image over again.

You may have noticed that this SAVE you just did, saves all the other brushes together with your new one.  If you want to really get savvy with custom brushes to create special brush sets with only your brushes watch for my article on Advanced Brush Creation and Management.

Download the zip file for this image: DPS Making Brushes – use it to create your bird brushes. Show us the images you’ve made using brushes,  especially the ones you’ve created with this file!

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Alex Morrison
Alex Morrison

is a professional fine art and nature photographer, accredited by The Professional Photographers of Canada. She was the Canadian Photographic Artist of the Year in 2009. She teaches photography, runs workshops and online classes on fine art and nature photography, as well as infrared and iphone photography. Her educational website with photography tips is at nature-photography-central.com. View her art photography portfolio here. Alex has a coupon code for her Infrared Post Processing e-book, use DPSTKS to save $12.00.

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