Creating and Using Custom Brushes in Photoshop Elements


Sue Chastain

 In this tutorial, we're going to show you how to create a custom brush in Photoshop Elements, save it to your brushes palette, and then use that brush to create a border. For the tutorial, we're going to use one of the custom shapes in Photoshop Elements and convert it to a brush, however, the steps are the same for anything you want to convert into a brush. You can use clip art, dingbat fonts, textures — anything you can select — to create a custom brush.

To begin, open Photoshop Elements and set up a new blank file, 400 x 400 pixels with a white background.

You need Photoshop Elements version 3 or higher for this tutorial.

Draw a Shape and Convert to Pixels

Shape Tool Options

Sue Chastain 

Select the custom shape tool. Set it to custom shape, then find the paw print shape in the default shapes set. Set the color to black, and style to none. Then click and drag across your document to create the shape. Since we can't create a brush from a shape layer, we need to simplify this layer. Go to Layer > Simplify Layer to convert the shape to pixels.

Defining the Brush

Define and Name Your New Brush

Sue Chastain 

When you define a brush, it is defined from whatever is selected in your document. In this case, we will select the entire document to define as a brush. Do Select > All (Ctrl-A). Then do Edit > Define Brush from the selection. You will see the dialog shown here which asks you to provide a name for your brush. Let's give it a more descriptive name than the one suggested. Type "Paw Brush" for the name.

Note the number under the brush thumbnail in this dialog box (your number may be different than ours). This shows you the size, in pixels, of your brush. Later when you go to paint with your brush, you can adjust the size, but it's better to create your brushes in a large size because the brush will lose definition if it is scaled up from a small original brush size.

Now choose the paintbrush tool, and scroll to the end of the brushes palette. You'll notice your new brush has been added to the end of the list for whatever brush set is active at the time. Our brush palette is set to show large thumbnails, so your may look a little different. You can change your view to large thumbnails by clicking the small arrow on the right-hand side of the brushes palette.

Click OK after you have typed the name for your new brush.

Save the Brush to a Set

Saving the Brush to a Set in Preset Manager

 Sue Chastain

By default, Photoshop Elements adds your brush to whatever brush set is active when you define the brush. If you ever need to reinstall your software, however, these custom brushes won't be saved. To remedy that, we need to create a new brush set for our custom brushes. We do that using the preset manager. If this is a brush you only plan to use once and aren't worried about losing, you are free to skip this step.

Go to Edit > Preset Manager (or you can open preset manager from the brush palette menu by clicking the small arrow at the top right). Scroll to the end of the active brush set, and click on your new custom brush to select it. Click on Save Set...

Note: Only selected brushes will be saved to your new set. If you want to include more brushes in this set, Ctrl-click on them to select them before clicking Save Set...

Give your new brush set a name like My Custom Brushes.abr. Photoshop Elements should save it by default in the proper Presets\Brushes folder.

Now if you want to add more brushes to this custom set, you'll want to load the custom set before you define your new brushes, then remember to save the brush set again after adding to it.

Now when you go to the brushes palette menu and choose load brushes, you can load your custom brushes anytime.

Saving Variations of the Brush

Advanced Brush Options

 Sue Chastain

Now let's customize the brush and save different variations of it. Select the brush tool, and load your paw brush. Set the size to something smaller, like 30 pixels. At the far right of the options palette, click More Options. Here we can adjust spacing, fade, hue jitter, scatter angle, and so on. As you hold your cursor over these options, you'll see pop-up tips telling what they are. As you modify the settings, the stroke preview in the options bar will show you how it will look when you paint with these settings.

Put in the following settings:

  • Spacing: 150%
  • Hue Jitter: 80%
  • Scatter: 10%
  • Angle: -90°

Then go the brushes palette menu and choose Save Brush... Name this brush "Paw brush 30px going right"

Saving Variations of the Brush

Variations of the Brush

 Sue Chastain

To see the brush variations in your brushes palette, change the view to Stroke Thumbnail from the palette menu. We are going to create three more variations:

  1. Change the angle to 180° and save the brush as "Paw brush 30px going down"
  2. Change the angle to 90° and save the brush as "Paw brush 30px going left"
  3. Change the angle to 0° and save the brush as "Paw brush 30px going up"

After you've added all the variations to the brushes palette, go to the brush palette menu, and choose Save Brushes... You can use the same name as you used in step 5 and over-write the file. This new brush set will contain all the variations shown in the brush palette.

You can rename and delete brushes by right-clicking a thumbnail in the brushes palette.

Using the Brush to Create a Border

Using the Brush to Create a Border

Sue Chastain 

Finally, let's use our brush to create a border. Open a new blank file. You can use the same setting we used before. Before painting, set the foreground and background colors to a light brown and a dark brown. Select the brush named "Paw brush 30px going right" and quickly paint a line across the top of your document.

If you have trouble clicking and dragging to paint, remember the undo command. We needed several re-dos to get good results.

Change brushes to your other variations and paint additional lines to do each edge of your document.

Custom Brush Snowflake Example

Custom Brush Snowflake Example

Sue Chastain

Tip: Another thing you can do is click repeatedly to create a line instead of clicking and dragging. If you take this approach, you'll want to set scatter to zero, so your clicks will always go where you want them to.

More Custom Brush Examples

Custom Brush Examples

 Sue Chastain

See what other cool things you can do with custom brushes on your own.