Creating Effects With Custom Brushes in Photoshop

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Creating varied effects can be difficult for many designers. It is human nature to create your work in a uniform manner. Many times it can be hard to produce natural effects or special effects, because they look too uniform or constrained. With custom brushes, you can create a varied effect easily, so that your work looks more natural.

Creating a custom brush is fairly simple. Open a new document and make sure that the background is white. Next, we want to create the effect that we want to repeat. The way that defining a new brush preset works is that everything that is black is used as the brush. Everything that is white is ignored. This works with shades of gray as well. Anything that is not white will show up as pixel information in the brush.

In the example below select 50% gray as your color and select the Gradient Tool. Choose Radial Gradient as your gradient, and select foreground to transparent as your gradient style. This is the second icon in the default gradient list.

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From the center of the canvas, click and drag outward to draw a circular gradient. Try to contain it within the canvas so that it doesn’t bleed over the edges.

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Then, make a selection over half of the gradient. I made the selection over the bottom half, so that the top half of my selection is a sharp gradient edge.

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Next, go to Edit> Define Brush Preset. This will bring up a dialog box where you can save your brush and name it. Be sure to name it something that makes sense so you can find it easier lately. In your Brush Presets, you should find it at the bottom of the list.

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With our brush selected, click the icon next to the Brush Preset Pick Icon. This icon will open the Brush Panel, where you can tweak the settings for your brush. This is the area in Photoshop where you can control how your brush behaves, making the possibilities endless.

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The first thing that we need to adjust is the spacing. We don’t want the effect to be so close together that it runs together into one straight line effect. This effect is undesired. We want to space the brush out far enough so that each instance of the brush is individually apparent.

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Depending on the effect that we are going for, Shape Dynamics will play a big part in the outcome of the effect. Our effect is going to remain the same size throughout, but if we wanted a randomized, varied size effect, we would use Size Jitter to add this aspect to our effect. For our effect, we are setting this control to 0%. Angle Jitter is important here, because we want our brush to rotate randomly, depending on each click. Set Angle Jitter to 10% and set the control to rotation. Otherwise, set all other controls to off.

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Color Dynamics plays another huge role in how the finished effect will look. Foreground/Background Jitter determines how the color of your effect will go back and forth between your foreground and background color. Hue Jitter will make the hue, or color value of your brush jump around. Set Foreground/Background Jitter to 50% and set Hue Jitter to 100%. Leave the other settings as their default.

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Click on Transfer and we will set Opacity Jitter to 20%. This will vary the opacity to the brush each time you click. THis will add a degree of dimension to your effect when you start using the brush.

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Fill the canvas with black and create a new layer above it. It is always a good idea to paint with your brush on its own layer. The reason for doing this is that if you aren’t happy with the results, you can simply delete the layer without having to start all over again. I selected #00ffd8 as the the color. Begin to click randomly on the canvas. The settings you dialed in will create a varied, random effect.

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Keep working your way around the canvas, clicking in the areas that are black. If you like the effect above that fades into black, then leave some space around the edges. Otherwise, keep clicking around the canvas until it is filled in. If you want to keep going, but like what you have so far, simply create a new layer and continue working. That way, you won’t destroy the parts that you like, but can continue working without worry.

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If the result is too dull for you, changing just one setting can have drastic results. Go back into the Brush menu and go to Color Dynamics. Change the Saturation Jitter to 50%. Also, when using this, make sure to choose bright colors for your foreground and background colors. If I hide the other layers, and paint using our newly altered brush, the results will be drastically different.

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It is extraordinary how one setting can make a difference in your Photoshop effects. Custom brushes are the key to creating some really interesting effects. Imagine how difficult it would be to create this effect with gradients. You would have many layers stacked on top of each other, and you still might not have the varied effect that you had intended. It might take multiple adjustments, and much more time. A better solution is the one shown above. You can create an infinite array of effects with custom brushes. Combine an infinite number of shapes with blend modes, layers styles, and layer masks and the possibilities are endless.

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