How to Make a Signature Brush in Photoshop

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The decision of whether to watermark images posted online is a frequent topic of debate. Proponents say it’s an added measure of security–a notice to would-be image thieves that the photographer takes his or her copyright seriously and will defend it like a mama lion protecting her cubs. Others point out that watermarks are distracting, clients don’t like them, and unscrupulous people with decent editing software can make that watermark disappear in the blink of an eye, so what’s the point? Regardless of where you come down on this issue, sometimes you just find yourself wanting to make sure the world knows that you took the photo.

There are a lot of ways you can do this, but I find most of them to be rather cumbersome. You can create a watermark and save it in various file formats, but that means opening  the file and dragging it onto your image each time you want to use it. Chances are that you’ll have to resize it and/or adjust the opacity for every image. I also tried it as a custom shape tool for a while, but that too was an inefficient way of accomplishing what should have been a pretty basic task. I eventually figured out how to create a signature brush in Photoshop, finally finding my perfect solution. I should point out, that I’m one of those people who has pretty much thrown in the towel when it comes to online watermarking. If someone really wants to steal my image, they are going to find a way to do it–with or without a watermark. I do, however, like adding my signature to some of my fine art images.

While I’ve outlined the steps for creating a brush of your signature, the same steps will work for making  a brush of your logo.

Step 1 – Sign Your Name

Use a plain white sheet of paper and a fine point Sharpie. The Photoshop part of the process will go much easier with the heavier lines of the marker, but you should also scribble out your signature a bit larger than you ordinarily would. Once your signature looks right, scan it at a high resolution and save the JPEG to your computer. You can try taking a photo if you don’t have a scanner, but fill the frame and make sure that your lens is as parallel to the paper as possible.

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Thicker, bolder lines from a marker will make creating the brush easier, yet still give the signature a normal appearance when applied to an image.

Step 2 – Open, Zoom, and Select

Once you open your signature in Photoshop, zoom in nice and tight. Using the magic wand tool (keyboard shortcut W), click on the signature to select it. You should immediately see the “marching ants” flashing across the outline of your signature. If the tool fails to select the entire signature, press and hold the Shift key while you click on parts of the signature that were missed the first time. Since my signature has a break in it, I had to add the second segment with an extra click of the selection tool. You can also right-click and select “Similar” from the context menu, but I find that the shift-click is quicker and more accurate.

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The Magic Wand tool shares its spot in the tools palette with the Quick Selection Tool. Make sure you select the correct one.

Step 3 – Save It and Name It

Once the complete signature is selected, click on the drop-down Edit menu at the top of the window. Clicking on Define Brush Preset will open a dialog box showing a thumbnail of your new brush. Give the brush a name and click “OK.” This will save the brush at its current dimensions in your current brushes set. You can check it by selecting the brush tool (keyboard shortcut B) and opening the preset picker (second drop-down menu from the left at the top of the window). Your new brush will appear at the bottom of the brush set.

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The Define Brush Preset command appears in the drop-down Edit menu.

Finding your signature in the brushes palette will be pretty simple, but give it an easy-to-remember name, just in case.

Finding your signature in the brushes palette will be pretty simple, but give it an easy-to-remember name, just in case.

Step 4 – Customize It

Due to the over-sized signature that we used to create the brush, our new brush is way too big for tastefully marking a photo.  You can adjust the size within the brush panel, but there is a faster, easier way of doing it right from the keyboard. The right and left bracket keys — [     ] — can be used to adjust the size of the brush. The right key makes it bigger, and the left makes it smaller. You can either create a second preset at a more manageable size, or simply use the bracket keys to make quick size adjustments for each photo as necessary. The preset picker contains a small square icon on the right side. Clicking it will open a dialog box that will allow you to save the new preset at its new size. It’s also worth noting that–just like any other brush in Photoshop–you can change the color and opacity, as well as the hardness or softness of the edges.

You can further customize the brush by saving another preset with variations of size, color, and opacity.

You can further customize the brush by saving another preset with variations of size, color, and opacity.

I find that the best use of this brush is small and subtle, with enough contrast for it to be noticeable, but not too distracting. I usually select a color or shade from within the image to help the signature appear more organic and less out of place. You should also experiment with adjusting the opacity of the brush until you find a combination that suits you.

Read more from our Post Production category

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.

  • Marnie Davis

    I actually did this based on another tutorial and it works great!!! I sign my photos with it. Be sure to use the black sharpie. The tutorial I used did not say to use a sharpie. After I tried with a pen I switched to a sharpie because I figured the thicker lines would scan better. The thicker lines did scan better. I love being able to sign my photos with my own handwritten signature..

  • Amaryllis

    Another way of doing this would be to use a pen tablet if you have one and feel comfortable using it for this. But it’s a great tip, I should start doing that!

  • emris

    So you really give away your signature to the world to abuse it?

  • You can have more than one signature – one for legal documents, checks, etc. and a separate one for autographs, works of art, etc. Wouldn’t celebrities (the President, for example) avoid signing autographs if they thought it could be abused?

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Not actually my real signature, Emris.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    You’re right about the tablet, Amaryllis, but a lot of people don’t have them. In some ways, I think this is even easier than using the tablet. It’s consistent and scalable. That’s one of the reasons the custom shape tool doesn’t work for me– the proportions change every time you drag it. Thanks for commenting.

  • Cryolite

    superb tips, thank you very much!!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it useful.

  • Loopy

    Great tutorial but I’m stuck at Step 3. I’m unable to select Define Brush Preset as it’s greyed out. I notice the screen shot in your Step 3 is the same. Any tips on how I select this? I’ve probably not checked something important. Thanks!

  • Loopy

    Ok, after a little research, it was due to the size of the image I was using – too large. I rescaled it and now it works fine. Although I’m unable to change the hardness of the brush. Any thoughts on this?

  • EK

    I got the signature into the preset but when I select it, the signature come out huge. I tried to save it small and I tried to reduce the size of the image, no luck.
    also, your tutorial does not continue on to how to place the signature. Help!

  • Dee

    Signature may not be the right idea due to security measures of your other lines of business (like bank accounts, legalities etc).. rather using a scripture (special fonts) and make a logo to apply them as brush… open for comments.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    I wouldn’t use my legal signature for something on line. I’ve had clients, however, who are willing to hang a print with a signature on it, but wouldn’t feel the same about a logo.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    It came out as a huge brush size because that’s how it was saved. Remember– scanning a larger than normal signature makes the selection easier. You can reduce the brush size, either with the bracket keys or in the tool menu options at the top of the screen once you’ve selected the brush tool.

    As far as placement goes, that’s entirely up to you. Adjust it for an appropriate size, color, opacity, etc., then just click on the image where you want the signature to appear.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Personally, I wouldn’t adjust the hardness of the brush. Doing so would blur the edges. If you want something a little more inconspicuous, you can reduce the opacity of the brush and make it appear lighter.

  • Chris

    This also works just fine with PSE as well! Thanks for the tip.

  • what Jeff said and us [ for making the brush smaller and ] for making it larger. It’s a brush so just click anywhere on the image you want it. I would suggest doing so at 100% opacity. You can always lower the layer opacity (if you put it on a blank layer) or move it around later also.

  • Have another look, the article clearly shows a photo OF a sharpie and says:

    Step 1 – Sign Your Name

    Use a plain white sheet of paper and a fine point Sharpie.

  • Marnie Davis

    Darlene,

    I was just reiterating the importance of the sharpie.

  • Oh I see, I misread your original comment. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Jennifer Summar

    OMG! I’ve been wondering how to do this for the longest time! Thank you!!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    You’re welcome, Jennifer! I’m glad you found it.

  • Kenneth B.

    I have a black sigtature what if i want to copy it and make it gold or silver?

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Hi, Kenneth– No need to copy it into another color. When you have the brush saved as a preset, all you have to do is select the brush and then change the color by either (1) selecting a new color in the colors palette, or (2) sampling a color from within your photo by using the eye dropper tool. I hope this helps. –J.

  • JAN

    I followed the instructions to create a brush signature -good- but now I can’t make adjustments to the size, colour, sharpness, etc – shows in a beige almost transparent colour – unreadable, even going into brush presets. What am I missing?

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  • Caephire

    I see my signature, but all my tabs are greyed out, so how I can use it?

  • Caephire

    I have found my mistake

  • Baja Robin

    Fabulous – thanks for sharing — it was just what I needed right now!!

  • Amal Ward

    Ok, I ended up with an outline of the signature. Shouldn’t if be filled black?

  • Excellent! Thanks so much, worked beautifully.

  • Nancy Giambani

    I made one signature preset. Then I thought to make a new one, so I deleted it.
    Trying to save the new one, I saw that the “Define Brush Preset” is disabled (light grey) and I can’t select it. Any ideas?

  • Nancy Giambani

    I think I made a great stupidity …

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