How to Make a Brush in Photoshop

Easily design your own Photoshop custom brushes

Brushes are repeatable, monochrome shapes that can be painted onto any image file. Virtually all freehand digital painting in Photoshop is accomplished with some variety of brushes, and the options to control them are endless. To help manage this complexity, you can create a brush in Photoshop using a utility for saving brush settings as presets. These presets can be easily recalled later, exported and shared, or imported and applied. They're portable and fully contained, making sharing and backup easy.

Categories of Photoshop Brushes

With brush presets, you can easily "bookmark" brush settings to return to later, or you can create custom brushes from monochrome image files.

Together, those types of brushes make up the two primary categories of brushes in Photoshop. The first type of brushes is made by adjusting the sliders and settings that control Photoshop's preset brush. Factors like size, roundness, angle, and dynamic shaping are all saved in the preset.

You can also create brushes from media assets. This produces something akin to a digital "stamp" from a monochrome image file you can apply to any design, in any color, with any blending effects. It's a fabulously flexible way of working, but it requires high-quality starting materials and a clear understanding of your end usage and artistic goals.

Customizing Basic Photoshop Brushes

Basic brushes can be customized with some basic settings, but not all of these settings can be accessed from the default drop-down for every brush. To see all available settings, select the brush folder icon, or select Window > Brush Settings. By default, this is also bound to the F5 key.

The Brush Settings pane in Photoshop CC.
  • Size: Shrinks and enlarges the brush tip size. Brush size is measured in pixels by default. The size marks the diameter of the brush, from edge to edge, including softened or fuzzy pixels created by adjusting the hardness value.
  • Hardness: Softens and sharpens the brush's edge. With a hardness value of 100%, the brush has a defined, visible edge. With a hardness value of 0%, the edges are fuzzy and indistinct, fading in opacity toward the edges of the brush. Changing the hardness value does not change the size of the brush: regardless of fuzziness, the diameter of the brush remains the same.

With the Brush tool selected, the brush size can be decreased and increased with the [ and ] keys, respectively. Hardness can be decreased and increased with Shift+[ and Shift+], respectively.

  • Roundness: Adjusts how circular or oval the brush tip is. 100% is a perfect circle, while 0% is a flat line.
  • Angle: Sets the rotation of the brush tip, which is only visible on non-circular brushes.

To adjust the roundness value from the Brush tool's drop-down menu, drag the edges of the brush preview circle. The angle can be adjusted by dragging the arrow near the edge of the brush preview.

  • Spacing: Modifies the distance between "repeats" of the brush's shape. For example, if your brush uses a distinct shape, you may want to include sufficient spacing to avoid printing one copy over another. Spacing is measured in percentages of image width, with 100% allowing for the full width of the image between repetitions.
  • Flip X/Flip Y: Flips the brush tip horizontally.
  • Shape Dynamics: These settings adjust dynamic, or varying, properties of the brush. These are controlled through "jitter" sliders, which adjust the degree of variance across the brush's stroke. The higher the jitter values, the more variance you'll see.

The available types of jitter aren't hard to understand: size jitter enlarges and shrinks the brush; roundness jitter squishes and rounds; angle jitter rotates the brush on a central point. The values set in the sliders control how extreme the variance is, but there is always be some element of randomness to the changes.

Saving Basic Brush Presets

Once you have your brush set up the way you like, you can save it as a preset for quick recall.

From the Brush tool's options palette, select the gear icon, then select New Brush Preset. Alternatively, select the Hamburger menu > New Brush Preset. You'll have the opportunity to name your brush when you save it and organize it into the correct folder.

How to Create a Brush in Photoshop

New brushes can also be created from an image file. This file is converted directly into a brush, so take care in choosing the appropriate file.

Start with high-quality, uncompressed files. While vector art is ideal, PNG and SVG files both make good starting points. Avoid JPGs and compressed images. Choose a greyscale or monochrome image, as brushes cannot include color information, and it will be discarded when the brush is created.

Custom brushes can be adjusted with nearly all the same brush options as built-in brushes, except for hardness.

  1. Create or locate an image you want to make a brush from.

    Note that the brush's default size is set by the source image. If you start with a 2000px image, then a brush created from that image file will have a default size of 2000px. While there's no minimum or maximum, selecting an appropriate image size now may save frustration later on.

  2. Select Edit > Define Brush Preset from the menu bar at the top of the window.

    The location of the Define Brush Preset command in Photoshop CC
  3. Type a name for the brush in the Name field. By default, the name is prefilled with the filename, including the extension. Select OK.

    The Brush Name panel in Photoshop CC

The brush is created and automatically selected for immediate use.

Importing Photoshop Custom Brushes

In addition to working with brushes, you create yourself, you can download and import custom brushes from locations around the web. Here's how to import brushes into Photoshop.

  1. Download the brush files you want you import. These typically come in a compressed archive, such as ZIP, or a folder of ABR files. To download from Adobe's approved selection of additional brushes, select the Brush tool's drop-down menu, select the gear icon, then select Get More Brushes.

    You need an Adobe account to download the brush files.

  2. Move the ABR file(s) to the appropriate location, based on your operating system. The brushes are completely self-contained, so only the ABR file(s) need to be moved. If you use Photoshop CC 2019, for example, the location is:

    • macOS: ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CC 2019/Presets/Brushes
    • Windows: %AppData%\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CC 2019\Presets\Brushes

    While moving the files to these locations is no longer mandatory with modern versions of Photoshop, it's a good way to keep all your presets in an easy-to-find location.

  3. With Photoshop running, double-click the ABR file to automatically load the brush into Photoshop.

    You can also manually import the brushes. Select the Brush tool's drop-down menu, select the gear icon and then select Import Brushes. Alternatively, select Load while in Preset Manager.

Managing Brush Presets in Photoshop

If you want to move brushes after you've created them, you can use the Preset Manager, which controls all presets, including textures and fill patterns. To get to it, select Edit > Presets > Preset Manager.

Brushes can be organized into folders using the preset manager or when saved. You can also use this screen to rename brushes and drag them into custom orders.

To delete a brush preset, right-click it and select Delete Brush, or select the brush once and press the Delete key. To delete the brush from the Preset Manager window, select the brush and then select Delete.

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