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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Exploring Near-Infinite Brush Variations and Creating Custom Brushes

If the heading to this section were true, you would have to plod through a near-infinite chapter! Fortunately, we've collected for your enjoyment the really interesting variations-on-a-brush tips and presented them in this section. We've also provided you with only necessary explanations of the less-than-spectacular controls so you can go off and experiment on your own.

Levels of Brush-Building Complexity: Part 1

You can dig into two areas with the Brushes controls; you need to be careful not to mistake the Brush Preset picker for the Brushes palette. The Brush Preset picker is the place where the saved brush tips are offered up for you to use. But when you want to truly customize a brush or build your own, the Brushes palette is "Shape Central." Without further diversions, let's look at how you can build one of your own brushes with the Brush Tip Shape controls—the less elaborate and confusing of the controls.

Here are the steps you need to create a unique tip for the Brush tool:

Creating a Custom Brush

  1. Click on the menu icon on the Options bar (item a in Figure 3.27). A menu drops down into the workspace with way too much information for mere mortals to understand. Click on the Brush Tip Shape button to simplify things and avail yourself of only the tools you immediately need.

  2. Figure 3.27Figure 3.27 The Brush Tip Shape controls enable you to create a rudimentary custom brush that could be ideal for photo-retouching.

  3. Round brushes are the staple of Photoshop; you can't retouch images without them. However, each round brush is based on an existing one, so click on the 19-pixel hard brush on the Brushes palette within this menu box. Then click on the arrow inside a circle at the top right of the menu (item b in Figure 3.27), and choose New Brush Preset from the flyout menu. If the Brushes palette is docked in the well, the arrow for this menu is located on the tab to the right of the Brushes tab title, or you can click on the Brushes tab and drag the palette away from the Options bar to get a better look at the arrow location. When the Brush Name dialog box appears, name the new brush 23 Elliptical Hard and press Enter (Return).

  4. Drag the diameter slider over to the right so it reads 23 px, or type this number into the Diameter field and then press Enter (Return).

  5. Drag one of the dots in the brush tip proxy box (near item c in Figure 3.27) closer to the center of the brush; the brush shape becomes elliptical. Don't worry about the Angle and Roundness fields; we're experimenting here, and if you want to be precise, you can always come back to these controls.

  6. Drag the arrow in any direction you choose. As you can see in the preview window, a stroke will now become thicker or thinner depending on the direction in which you stroke.

  7. We'll get to the Hardness slider in a moment. For now, leave it and the Spacing slider alone. You now have a new brush with the name you have given it at the end of the currently loaded Brushes palette. Keep Photoshop open; there's more in store.

It is important for you to understand—and I guess right now is a good time—that Photoshop has brush tips that fall into two different classes: those that are based on math (and can be squished and have hardness altered) and those that are built from a captured bitmap design. We haven't touched the bitmap sort yet, but we will soon. With both math-based and bitmap brush tips, you have the option of increasing Spacing. Spacing is the distance between one paint daub and the next. When you drag the Brush tool, you are actually making oodles of individual daubs that are spaced so closely together that it appears to be—and for all purposes, is—a continuous line.

You do not need a tutorial to walk you through Spacing, but you can take a moment and experiment on your own. Choose a small hard round tip, and increase the Spacing for it on the menu (see Figure 3.28 for an example). You'll see the continuous stroke break up into individual dots, and if you paint with the setting you've chosen, you can make a path of dots. Spacing is much more useful when the individual paint daubs represent something such as stars or other mini-designs on the Brushes palette. Painting with dots wears thin in the amusement department fairly quickly but could come in handy if you need to make a dotted line with evenly spaced dots.

The next set of steps will be the world's shortest tutorial because you will play with only one control—an important one—Hardness.

Figure 3.28Figure 3.28 Spacing is the control that can break up a continuous stroke a brush makes into its components.

Using the Hardness Control

  1. Click the 19-pixel hard tip brush on the palette, and choose New Brush Preset from the palette flyout menu. Name the brush 23 pixel soft tip, round. Click on OK. Do not goof with the Angle and Roundness controls this time.

  2. Drag the Hardness slider all the way to the left.

  3. Check out the preview window at the bottom of the menu (see Figure 3.29).

  4. You now have a small brush that is ideal for retouching using the Brush or other painting tool (such as the Clone Stamp tool). And let's face it—professional retouching requires a lot of subtlety, and a totally soft round brush is very hard to detect in a finished piece of retouching. It's a bit harder than the airbrush option, but softer than using the Pencil tool.


Changing brush tip size At any time, you can change the size of your brush tip without leaving the scene of your retouching or designing efforts. Right-click (Macintosh: hold Ctrl and click) when a painting tool is chosen, and up pops the Brush Preset picker with a Master Diameter control at the top. A changed brush is not a saved brush, but you can save a setting very quickly by adding the configuration—even the present foreground color—to the Tool Preset picker, the top-left icon on the Options bar; then click on the page icon on the palette to save the tool as a preset.

Figure 3.29Figure 3.29 Create a soft brush of the diameter you like for special occasions such as image retouching.

So you say you want more control over brush tips? We hear you, and the following sections will take you on a (pleasant) roller coaster ride of options you can put at your mouse tip.


Using a digitizing tablet A digitizing tablet is really an enhancer to these new brushes in Photoshop. This type of tablet gives you more control than a point-and-click device, and Photoshop is able to recognize pressure-sensitive input, which means you'll get more work that appears genuinely hand-drawn. Hint: Wacom's Graphire 3 tablet and stylus come with Painter Classic, a wonderful graphics arsenal addition and frequently a helpful mate to Photoshop.

Using Brush Presets: A First Look

We're not going to dig too deeply in this section because every option on the Brushes palette has at least three sub-options. If you need a simple solution for the "round-tip, soft" blahs, however, this section will show you how just a few clicks can take you to an arresting new look for painting.

Let's do it in tutorial format, just because my publisher told me to:

Oh, Those Brush Presets

  1. Click on the Brush Presets tab on the Brushes palette. Now, before we go changing stuff (not to worry—changes here are not permanent, although we'll discuss how to make permanent changes shortly), why don't you click on some of the weird new brush tips on the Brushes palette to see which properties suddenly have a check mark next to them.

  2. Okay. Let's stop clowning around while we're learning. Click on the 19-pixel hard brush tip, and then draw a stroke on an empty canvas. Hmmm, round on both ends of the stroke and fairly unremarkable. Click on the Scattering check box, marked as item a in Figure 3.30. Now drag the brush. Wowee! The page looks like a marbles championship! Keep Figure 3.30 handy because we'll be referring to it for a few more steps.

  3. Figure 3.30Figure 3.30 Permutations are piled upon permutations in the Brush Presets area. Chances are, you can design a brush tip no one has even thought of yet.

  4. Choose the 59-pixel brush tip (circled in the figure) that looks like a splatter. Stroke it across the canvas. Pretty neat, huh? It looks like an actual, physical brush stroke. How can we improve its realism? Click on the Dual Brush check box (item b in the figure), and make a stroke (item c in the figure). Okay, perhaps this is not what you had in mind, but an explanation might help things here. Dual Brush means that all four sides of a brush stroke display the ends of the stroke—the unevenness, or whatever the effect of a particular brush tip may be. Not all brushes will make such a pronounced effect; in fact, round tip brushes are a total dud when used in combination with Dual Brush. Uncheck Dual Brush.

  5. You can use a brush tip enhancer that isn't even in the Brushes menu: It's called Flow and it's on the Options bar. Crank Flow down to about 16%, as shown in Figure 3.30, and make a stroke with this 59-pixel splatter tip (item d in the figure). Now, you can see the hairs on the brush, and the stroke looks a lot more realistic.

  6. Keep Photoshop open because we're really going to turn this customized brushes stuff on its ear in the following section.

Noise, Wet Edges, and Color Dynamics

In the steps that follow, you will experiment with far more interesting effects (although I'm sure you feel that the ones you've been using are already thrilling!). So, to pile superlative upon superlative before getting to the point, let's do some knock-out stuff:

More (and More Complex) Brush Presets

  1. Get out a new, blank, white image window, or erase what you've been using. Choose the Brush tool and a 100-pixel, soft-edged tip from the palette, as marked by callout a in Figure 3.31.

  2. Check the Noise check box (callout b in Figure 3.31), and make a brush stroke (callout c). Wild, eh? It looks like a horizontal cat's tail in a marsh, or something. This stroke is neither soft nor hard. Think about stroking a path using a brush this size or smaller.

  3. NOTE

    Insider - Again, not all brush tips work as well as the one we've recommended here for the Noise filter. Soft edges produce the most attention-getting effect. If you still have the Flow set to 16% on the Options bar (from the last exercise), try a few brush strokes with it turned back up to 100%.

    Figure 3.31Figure 3.31 These are the Noise, Wet Edges, and Color Dynamics modifiers for brush tips.

  4. Click in the Wet Edges check box (callout d in Figure 3.31). Make a stroke; it looks like finger painting, right? A visual example is marked e in the figure.

  5. Color Dynamics is one of my favorite parameters. Choose the hollow star or the leaves tip from the Brushes palette, and then click on Color Dynamics to select it and view the options. Now set the Foreground/Background Jitter to a number greater than 0% (for example, try starting with 50%). Then set the color swatches on the toolbox to diametrically opposing colors. Green and blue will do. Now stroke away. You can't see it in Figure 3.31 (callout f), but the individual components of the stroke cycle colors from green in the spectrum to blue.

Now let's look at how the rest of the modifiers change brush shapes. And we'll even show you how to build a really interesting new brush shape of your own.

Brush Dynamics, Textures, and Making Your Own Sophisticated Tip

Guess what? There's a "trap door" in the Brushes menu that we haven't opened yet. Right now, check the Shape Dynamics check box, and then click on its title. Wow! A whole new world of strange new options has taken the place of the Brushes palette. Things like Control and Jitter and Angle are listed. Whatever do they mean?

Well, first, unless you have a pressure-sensitive digitizing tablet, you aren't going to get much out of the Control drop-downs. This is not to say you can't experiment, but the Fade option seems to cause the most apparent change in the behavior of the brush tip.

Second, we're going to run down the terms found in this "Fine-Tuning Center" so that you can adjust the parameters quickly and confidently on your own:

  • Jitter. Means randomness, straying from the default. Therefore, if you set Roundness Jitter up high, you get a brush tip that produces thick and thin strokes (thin where the random Roundness decides to be un-round, elliptical).

  • Shape Dynamics. Should be the first place you stop when designing a custom brush tip. This area on the menu has controls for size (and variation in size as you paint), Angle (with variations—Jitter), and Roundness (also with variations).

  • Texture. This area gives you a big chance to mess with the look of the brush stroke. Shortly, when we run down a mini-tutorial, you will add a predefined texture to the brush stroke. When a brush tip already looks as though it's a captured bitmap and has texture, adding texture makes the tip look more complicated. And because nature is a very complex place, the more complex a brush tip, the more natural it looks.

  • Other Dynamics. These are Opacity and Flow controls, and you can easily access more of them from the Options bar. However, when Flow is used at a low setting (in other words, your digital pen is slightly clogged), you can simulate paint build-up by stroking over areas a different number of times.

The Noise, Wet Edges, and other options at the bottom of the palette have no secret door to variations, and their purpose is self-explanatory. However, the Protect Texture check box is of great interest to us brush-builders. When you have the ultimate texture to tip into the brush recipe and then decide to change parameters, you might wind up with a different texture in the Texture dialog box. Click on this option (under Texture) to retain the texture while you design your brush tip.

Ready to test drive the Brushes controls with a little back-seat driving? Of course, you are!

Making a Sophisticated Brush Tip

  1. Press Ctrl(Command)+N to open a clean image window (callout 1 in Figure 3.32). Choose White for the Background Contents color, and its size can be as small as 1" square, 72 ppi, and Grayscale. Click on OK.

  2. Figure 3.32Figure 3.32 Create a noisy image, and then enlarge a section to become your brush tip (at least the beginning of it).

  3. Choose Filter, Noise, Add Noise. Crank up the Amount to 400%. Choose Gaussian Distribution. Here, the Monochromatic option is irrelevant because this is a grayscale image (see callout 2 in Figure 3.32). Press Enter (Return) to apply the filter.

  4. With the Rectangular Marquee tool, hold down the Shift key to restrain the tool to a perfect square, and drag a small rectangle (a quarter inch is more than fine). Press Ctrl(Command)+J to copy the selected area to a new layer. Now press Ctrl(Command)+T to put the rectangle in Free Transform mode (callout 3 in the figure). Drag a corner away from the center of the selection until you can clearly see the dots of the noise.

  5. Press Enter (Return) or click the check mark on the Options bar to execute the enlargement of the selected section.

  6. On the Layers palette, drag the Background layer to the trash icon so that you can see more clearly what you have to work with on Layer 1.

  7. Switch to the Eraser tool. Then use a 35–pixel brush tip, click on the Airbrush icon from the Options bar, and soften the edges of the dotted rectangle on the layer (see Figure 3.33, callout 1). Choose Edit, Define Brush Preset, and then in the dialog box, name the brush tip something you'll remember, such as My First Brush tip. Switch to the Brush tool, and select your new brush from the Options bar (it should be located at the end of the list on the Brush Preset palette). On a new canvas, make a stroke or two, first with the Flow at 20% and then with Flow turned up to 100% (callout 2 in Figure 3.33). What a difference Flow makes, eh?

  8. Figure 3.33Figure 3.33 The Flow control allows more detail to become visible and also enables you to build up a texture using multiple strokes.

  9. Okay, now you're ready for the big time. Click on the Brushes menu on the Options bar, and to be cool, use only the Shape Dynamics. You can see the settings and an example of the stroke in Figure 3.34.

  10. Okay, it's boogie time. Click the Texture title, specify 100% Depth (see Figure 3.35), and then choose one of the preset textures from the drop-down box. Use Hard Mix, and then drag the brush around the canvas. It's a pretty interesting, organic-looking brush stroke, eh? Ooops—make sure Flow is still at 20% on the Options bar, or your strokes will look too heavy and be lacking in character. You might want to remember to return your Flow setting to 100% when you're finished.

  11. Figure 3.34Figure 3.34 Using only the Shape Dynamics controls, you've turned an interesting brush art tip into a very interesting one!

    Figure 3.35Figure 3.35 Wow! Did you create that? You bet, with a little guidance and Photoshop's new Brushes controls.

  12. You might want to save this brush now in a more accessible place. Click on the Brush on the far left of the Options palette, and add it—with your own inspired name—to Tool Presets. You can close the working canvas at any time. Keep Photoshop open.

So now you have total control over how brushes and shapes appear within the workspace. Next, let's see how to make a palette obey your beck and call.

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