PFB: Custom Brushes

Yay another tutorial!

Today: Custom Brushes & Selecting


This tutorial is more of a “how to?” than a “what do?”, meaning I will show you how to make your own custom brushes in Photoshop so you can use this technique to create all kinds of interesting effects. Really it’s quite simple and there are a few different ways in which brushes can be made or found. I say found because you can use a whole or parts of picture to make a brush by selecting them, so this tutorial is really a two for one.

Let’s start with selecting as it will lead into the first way in which brushes can be found/made.

There are at least four ways I know of in Photoshop to select something. Well five, but that’s for another day as it involves masks. There are three different tool sets and one Menu option that help you pick out a certain feature or area of a picture, I will go over the tools first so you get the general idea of what we are doing.

CustBrush selecting options

              CustBrush MarqueeCustBrush Lasso CustBrush Magic



Above is each of the options for each of the tools along with their hotkeys, again like with the brush whichever you last had selected yourself will be the one to come up when you press the hotkey. While we are on the topic of hotkeys, here is a great option for selections.

The invert selection hotkey: CRTL+SHIFT+I this will invert the current selection you have to everything but what you wanted selected, this is great for getting rid of backgrounds.

The Marquee Selection tools are great when you need a very general selection or piece of a photo and they work on a click and drag principle; meaning you click where you would like your selection to start and holding the mouse button down you drag to where you would like it to finish. The rectangular and elliptical selection tools also have an option when you hold down the SHIFT key while dragging to be either a perfect square or a perfect circle. The single row and single column tools do exactly what they say, select a single pixel width row or column for your picture, the practical application of which is not apparent to me.

CustBrush Select Marquee

The next picture is an important one as these options appear for pretty much all the selection tools and can impact greatly how you select something intricate.

CustBrush Important

Depending on which one you have selected it will perform that corresponding action. The nice thing about these, especially the add to selection (yellow) and the subtract from selection (red), is that you can change between them without de-selecting what you have already selected. This way you can edit a selection without having to start over.

The Lasso Tools are a more in-depth selection tool. The basic lasso simply follows where you drag it to create a selection, it’s good for a rough outline where you don’t need to be too careful or for creating a general outline. I find it’s actually better to use as an editing tool than an initial selection tool. It works really well with the Add and Subtract options to clean up the edges of a selection.

The Polygonal Lasso selects by using a series or straight lines that you can trace around an object with. To finish off the selection you have to meet back up with the original start point to create a closed shape. This tool is great for selecting straight edge items that are not quite square like the brass POST flap from above as you can subtly make the top line follow the edge by adding more points in between the two corners.

The Magnetic Lasso tool allows you to trace along edges and place points to create a selection. This sounds like it would be the best of both worlds but it can be a little temper-mental while tracing an object and either jump into the area you want selected or outside of the area based on the colors around. This tool is best used on photos that have a high contrast between colors of the item you are selecting and the background.

The Quick Selection tool allows you to more or less paint on a selection, you can adjust the brush size and in the same way you would paint with the brush, you select what you want. I find this one to be somewhat useful, it does have a tendency to do a very broad selection and isn’t good for intricate work.

The Magic Wand, yes it is called that, in a simpler version of the next selection option I will talk about. Basically the magic wand will select all the pixels of one color within a photo or picture. The sensitivity can be set by the tolerance slider, similar to the one in the color replacement brush. You can also set whether or not you would like to selection to be contiguous or not. If you have the contiguous box checked than only pixels of the same color THAT ARE TOUCHING will be selected, whereas if you have in not checked then all the pixels of that color within an image will become part of your selection. Again this is a great basic selection tool but often needs to be refined, and it does work well on high contrast color images like the magnetic lasso.

Those are all the tools that are specifically designed for selection, there are a couple other ways but I will get to them in another tutorial. The one last Option for selection I will go over today is the Color Range option. This is found in the top most menu under SELECT>COLOR RANGE. The options menu look like this.

CustBrush Color Range

This option allows you to select parts of your image based on their color, the black area in the image is all the colors that are not part of your current selection. In the SELECT: drop down menu you have the option to select by REDS, YELLOWS, GREENS, CYANS, BLUES, MAGENTAS, HIGHLIGHTS, MIDTONES, SHADOWS, or by sampling color direct from the image.

As you can see on the side under “save” you have options to add colors to your selection or subtract them similar to the option you have for editing your selection.

The Localized Color Cluster works the same was the contiguous option does, if it is selected then only color touching your base color will be selected.

The FUZZINESS slider is how you set the sensitivity of this option the higher the number the more sub-colors will be added to the selection.

You can also save or load previous selections. Once you click OK you will see your selection on the image and you can edit it from there. It is also important to note that there are a couple more hotkeys you should know at is will make your life easier when editing.

The Select All: CTRL+A    The Cut: CTRL+X    The Copy: CTRL+C    The Paste: CTRL+V

Now that you know all about selections let’s make a brush.

I’m going to use the above photo of the mail box and get a couple of cool brushes out of it. First off the crown. Using the quick selection tool I get my rough shape.

CustBrush Crown1

Next I will want to refine it by evening out the bottom, I’m going to use the Lasso tool on the subtract setting to get rid of last step down. I also noticed a few spots that needed some attention, I highlighted them on the next picture to show where I edited the selection.

CustBrush Crown2

Now that I my selection is the way I want it I can make my brush. If you want to edit the actual image before you make it into a brush then copy the selected area with the CTRL+C and paste it into a new document on either a white or transparent background. This will help with the edit-ability of the brush. If you like it just the way it is then simply select EDIT from the top men bar and click on Define Brush Preset. A little window will pop up and give you the option to name your brush, click OK and you’re done.

Congratulations  you have made your first brush. It will now be available to you in you brush picker. To make sure that you don’t lose your brush go to the Preset Manager, also under the EDIT menu.

CustBrush Presets

As you can see you can select what kind of preset you are looking at and it will show you everything currently on your clipboard. All the numbers under each of the brushes represent how many pixels their original size will be when you select them, you can adjust them from there. To save your new brush select it, a black square will appear around it. You can select multiple brushes by holding down the CRTL key while clicking on them, this way you can save them as a set instead of individual brushes. Then simply select “save set” and tell the computer where to store it. For myself I make it easy and make a new folder in Pictures called “Custom Brushes” and that’s where I save too and Load from.

The last important thing I will mention is, if you are working with an image that has a low contrast, that is to say the colors are similar; then consider upping the contrast before saving it as a brush. I will show you the difference with the horseman from the mail box.

CustBrush Horseman

The difference really comes when using color with your brushes. Black and white always look good when it comes to using your brushes like stamps as in this example. The color brush with the high contrast shows a greater detail but also lets more pass through it as you can see by the white showing through. The advantage to knowing this is that you can make multiples of the same brush at different contrasts to create a layering brush. I made a GIF below to show you the stacking of the three brushes.


The other way to make your own custom brushes is to quick literally draw them yourself. I find it works best on a transparent or white background and to work in greyscale; that way you can really see where your brush will be lighter or darker. It translates like so: the darker or closer to black a line is the more deep and rich the color will be, the lighter or more close to white a line or texture is the less deep and more transparent the color will be when using the brush.

CustBrush Draw

As you can see from the above image even text can be used to create a new brush so really the sky is the limit to this. You can find the photo of the post box here

Well have fun making brushes and please feel free to post pictures of what you made in the comments section, I love to see other people’s work. Thank you again for sitting through another tutorial, more to come soon.


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