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Custom Brushes

By Poz Watson

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Date Added: 15th January 2015
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Don't go too far with custom brushes, or you can lose sight of what you're trying to achieve, says Xavier Etchepare.
© Xavier Etchepare

The world's top digital painters reveal invaluable industry theories, techniques and inspiration to help you hone your digital painting skills and improve as an artist…

Photoshop has a massive selection of brushes and various ways to tweak them to suit, but for some artists, and for some projects, there is nothing like a custom brush. These can be created and re-used by an artist as personal brushes, or they can be built for a specific part of a specific image. Our experts reveal how they make and use custom brushes in their own work.

Do it yourself

"Sometimes I use parts of a photo to make a custom brush; sometimes I paint something with a specific texture or behavior in mind.” Bjorn Hurri

Know what you want

"It's important to know what are you expecting graphically (which texture do you want to simulate?) before you create your brush, because you can effectively create a million different results. At the beginning, it can be fun to discover new effects but you may become completely lost in your process later on, so you have to fix objectives.” Xavier Etchepare

Know when to say ‘no'

"I don't use a lot of custom brushes, as I am a bit more traditional in this area. The main brushes I use are a hard-angled brush to get sharp shapes and edges, and the simple large standard airbrush with a very low opacity to mix light with local colours and create atmospheric blending. Sometimes, to save time in specific designs, I will also use pattern brushes (like scaffoldings for a sci-fi theme or trees in a landscape).” Raphael Lacoste

Use what's available

"There are so many brush packs on the web that I mainly just go through and keep an assortment of brushes from other people. I'll make a specific brush if there is an effect I know I want to get.” Wesley Burt

Texture tactics

"In order to create custom brushes for textures, I first make a clean empty layer. I will find a texture that conveys my design intentions like rocks, a pattern, cloth, or a sci-fi symbol. I will erase the edges so there are no hard edges, and then create a custom brush.” Brett Bean

Basic brush creation

"I start with a white 300x300pixel image, and paint my texture in grayscale. Then I'll move to Edit > Define Brush Preset, and name it. I experiment with the brush presets until I'm happy, then select all my brushes and save over my current set. I sometimes just duplicate and edit the brush presets of an existing brush which already has attributes that closely suit what I'm after.” Jeremy Love

Kick start your creativity

"I have about five brushes I use for just about everything but sometimes it's beneficial to just make a quick brush to save time. Custom brushes are great for getting a painting started so there's already some texture on the page to paint over. Sometimes it helps me to get started if I'm having a bit of a block.” Jeremy Love

Seek out the best

"I don't actually create my own custom brushes, and until recently I only ever used default brushes as I find custom brushes tend to create images that look gimmicky. I do use some of the brushes from Kyle Webster's Ultimate Brush Set (, particularly his excellent Chisel Shift 15 brush which gives me a really painterly feel, reminiscent of a short flat oil brush. I'm always looking to have as traditional a feel as possible in my work, so Kyle's brushes are fantastic for this.” Ian McQue

Go custom for speed

"If you want to create more complex things quickly it's always good to use custom brushes and custom shapes. These can help with painting foliage, complex structures and so on.” Jonas De Ro

Be confident

"Use big strong brushstrokes and think about big shapes and values. This will allow you to get ideas down quickly. The secret is to trick the mind that there is a lot to see, even though after closer inspection it is all just painterly blobs. Good control over your fundamentals is key to get the image across.” Jonas De Ro

Brush off

Even if the image doesn't turn out quite as planned, having made a set of custom brushes is never a waste because you never know when they might turn out to be useful again in the future. This is one of the best things about Photoshop - you can hone and add to its tools so that it becomes your own unique workshop, from which you can create whatever style of artwork you desire.

Color is critical when it comes to perfecting your brush work. © Bjorn Hurri

Organize your brushes and you'll save yourself lots of time, says Jeremy Love

Asgard © Raphael Lacoste

Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
(ID: 157846, pid: 0) Amandy on Sat, 28 March 2015 8:30pm
Great article! I bought Alex Dukal's brush sets and one from kyle's. Both are amazing. really worth the few bucks that costs!
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