In Photoshop you can quickly make a custom brush from a series of black shapes, or directly from an image. Creating your own brushes is useful for specific projects or can be used to add new elements to a photo like clouds or waterfalls. Plus, after creating your custom brush, you can change its look in the Brush Settings window for even more creative options.

To make a custom brush from scratch in Photoshop, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new 500×500 300PPI document with a white background
  2. Add black shapes or brush strokes onto the white canvas
  3. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset
  4. Give your new brush a name
  5. Edit your brush settings to customize the look
  6. Begin using your new brush!

Now although that breaks down the process at a glance, in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to make two different types of custom brushes. The first example will share how to make a custom brush from scratch, while the second will explain how to create a brush from an image in Photoshop.

How To Make A Custom Brush From Scratch In Photoshop

To turn any element in Photoshop into a brush, you just need to do the following: create black shapes, strokes, or patterns and place them on a white background.

For the best results, I recommend setting your canvas to a proper size, so that your custom brush won’t look low quality or seem too large by default. Thus, I recommend setting your canvas to 500x500px with a 300ppi resolution.

In the example below, I created some circular shapes. My goal was to turn these shapes into a custom brush, so I can use it to create a snow effect to apply to images. If you’re unfamiliar with creating and editing shapes in photos, refer to this guide on working with shapes.

As you can see, my shapes are all black, and the background is white. Thus, they are ready to be saved as a brush.

In my case, I also applied some effects (gaussian and motion blur) to the shapes for a more realistic effect, but the shapes are black, so they will still work. To save your custom brush, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.

This will open the Brush Name dialog box, where you can name your brush. After naming your brush, click Ok to save it.

This will save your brush in Photoshop and you will be able to access it any time in the future when you open the Brush Panel.

How To Modify & Change Custom Brush Settings

Changes you make to your custom brushes are not permanent, which makes them extremely versatile assets. I will use the brush I created in the previous section to demonstrate some changes you can make to your brush.

1. Brush Color

By default, any brush you create will be black. To change the brush color, activate the brush tool (B). After that, click the foreground color swatch at the bottom of the Toolbar to open the color picker panel. Then, choose a color for your brush. 

You can also bring up the color picker panel by pressing F6.

You can access the brush settings in the next section via the Brush Settings panel. Keep the brush tool active (B) and go to Window > Brush Settings to open the panel.  You can also open the Brush Settings panel by pressing F5 on your keyboard.

2. Size

Once you open the Brush Settings panel, you can alter brush size in the Brush Tip Shape section. You just have to move the Size slider to the left to decrease brush size or to the right to increase it.

Alternatively, press the left square bracket key [ to decrease brush size or the right square bracket key ] to increase it.

3. Spacing

You can change the Brush Spacing at the bottom of the Brush Tip Shape section in the Brush Settings panel. You can adjust the spacing by moving the slider to the left or the right.

Most custom brushes need adjustments in brush tip spacing. That’s because if you set brush spacing to the default percentage (1%), Photoshop will compress the shape you created into a continuous stroke.

Dragging the brush on the canvas with brush spacing set to 1%

Using brush spacing at 1% is only convenient for specific situations, such as when adding brush strokes to a painting. In these situations, you won’t need to adjust the spacing

But for situations where you need the brush to look more like a stamp, or scattered throughout your image, you will need to adjust the spacing.

Dragging the brush on the canvas with brush spacing set to 106%

4. Scattering

You can change brush scattering on the Scatter slider in the Scattering section of Brush Settings.

Scatter spreads out the brush tip shapes across the canvas. So rather than keeping the shapes positioned next to each other, they will be arranged in different locations in relation to one another as you increase the Scatter percentage.

Scattering set to 0%
Scattering set to 348%

5. Count

You can combine Scatter with Count. The count will increase the frequency your brush is painted and they will be scattered at the same percentage you determined for the brush tip in the Scatter slider.

There are lots of other settings you can adjust to customize your brush. I’d suggest you to play around with them because the possibilities are endless.

Using shapes to create custom brushes and adjusting their settings is perfect to create nice effects in illustrations, paintings, and images. See the difference the snow brush above made in the picture below.

Before
After

How To Turn An Image Into A Brush In Photoshop

As mentioned earlier, the only requirement for an element to be turned into a brush is that the object must be black and the background must be white. Thus, you can manipulate any image to meet these requirements. I will show you how to do this now with these clouds.

Once you have your image on the canvas, go to the Channels panel, located beside the Layers panel. 

What we are going to do here is pick the channel that has the most contrast to make its background completely black, and its object completely white. In other words, we will make a selection using channels.

After that, we will use a layer mask to remove the background. So everything black will become transparent, and everything white will become visible. Then, we will turn the white part into a brush.

From the channels panel, pick the channel that has the most contrast. In my case, that was the red channel. 

Then, duplicate the chosen layer by dragging it to the plus sign icon at the bottom of the Channels panel.

Red Channel 

As you can see, the image above needs a few adjustments, since the background is not black enough. To adjust your image tones, keep the target channel selected and then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.

Alternatively, press Control + L (Win) or Command + L (Mac) to bring up the levels panel.

In the Levels panel, you will need to adjust the Input Levels.

Notice that there are three arrows under the Input Levels histogram. The dark arrow on the left controls the dark pixels. The middle arrow controls the mid-toned pixels, and the white arrow controls the bright pixels. Thus, as we want to make the background black and the object white, we need to adjust the black and white sliders.

Let’s start with the black slider.  Move the black slider to the right until the background turns completely black.

As for the white arrow, move it to the left until your object turns completely white (or almost white).

Depending on what you have in mind, there may be some exceptions to this rule. For example, in my case, as I was selecting a cloud, I didn’t mind having some areas of it semi-transparent. That meant, I didn’t need the selection of the cloud to be completely white and could leave a bit of grey with my levels adjustment. If you want to make your object visible, it’s better to make your selection completely white.

Keep in mind that while it’s sometimes a good idea to make some parts of your object transparent, you should never make your background semi-transparent. Thus, make sure your background is completely black.

When you’re done, click OK to close the Levels panel.

Then, go back to the Channels panel, and click the red channel copy while holding Control (Win) or Command (Mac).

This will make a selection of the object.

 Now, go back to the Layers panel and click the original image layer.

 This will transfer the selection to the original image.

Then, click the Layer Mask icon to remove the background.

Now, click the layer thumbnail and then press Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac) to invert the selection. This is necessary because you need your object to be filled with black to turn it into a brush.

Now, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.

 Then, name your brush if you like, and click Ok to save it.

Once you save your brush, you can change its color and size, as shown in the previous section. Then, you can use it as you like. In my case, I changed the brush color to white and changed its size. Then, I placed the brush strokes against a light blue background and I have a realistic cloud brush!

Creating a custom brush in Photoshop is definitely easier than doing it from an image. However, if you have experience creating selections and removing backgrounds, it’s pretty straightforward to turn image elements into a brush as well.

Now if you were left feeling a bit confused by the channels selection method I outlined here, don’t worry. I explain the entire process of using channels more in-depth along with 7 other easy background removal methods in my ultimate guide to removing backgrounds in Photoshop!

Happy Editing!