How to Make a Brush from a Photo in PhotoshopMay 30, 2022
Hands up if you love an easy, beautiful, and 100% fail-proof project! 🙋🏻♀️ I got you, boo.
My name’s Khara Plicanic and I’m a design geek and Photohop nerd here to share this fun and simple technique for creating a brush from a photograph—along with some inspiration for what you might do with it.
Ready to get started? I’ve got you covered with the step-by-step drill and links for everything so you can follow right along with me! If you don’t already have Photoshop, you can snag a 30-day free trial from Adobe’s website.
- This beautiful image by Susanne Schwarz (available free on Unsplash)
- Adobe Photoshop
- A willingness to experiment
Step 1: Select the Subject
Open your photo in Photoshop and from the file menu along the top of your screen, choose Select > Subject. Because this image has a clear background with plenty of contrast from the subject, it’s a breeze to select.
Step 2: Create a New Brush (Then Don’t Forget to Deselect)
With your subject selected (noted with virtual “markching ants” undulating around your subject), choose Edit > Define Brush Preset.
Give your new brush a name and click OK. Then, choose Select > Deselect (or press Cmd/Ctrl + D) to get rid of the marching ants.
Photoshop will capture the luminosity (brightness) values of the selected subject in your new brush—but not the color. So even though your photo may be in color, the brush you create will essentially be black and white, taking on whichever color you choose to paint with.
At this point, Photoshop automatically switches you to the Brush tool and selects the brush you just created, so you should see your cursor in the shape of your subject. (If you don’t, make sure your caps lock key is off and if you somehow don’t have the Brush tool active, the keyboard shortcut is the letter B.)
Your new brush now lives in your Brushes panel, and you can get to it anytime by choosing Window > Brushes and selecting it from the bottom of the list.
Step 3: Create a New Document and New Layer
Now we’ll create a new blank document for our painting. Choose File > New and enter whatever size you want your finished image to be. In this example, I’m using a width of 5 inches, a height of 4 inches, with a resolution of 300ppi.
In order to avoid painting directly on the background and maintain flexibility as we work, we’ll create a blank layer for our painting. So from the bottom of the Layers Panel (Window > Layers), click the little plus sign button to create a new, blank layer.
Step 4: Let’s Paint!
With your newly created brush selected, chose a color from the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches) and adjust the size of your brush as needed by pressing the left or right bracket keys (next to the letter P). The left bracket key [ will make your brush smaller and the right bracket key ] will make it bigger.
(If you want to use the same colors as me, click the Foreground swatch—the top square at the bottom of the Toolbar—to open the Color Picker, and enter one of these three hex codes: #d96758, #d7ab54, or #8f3755). When you’re ready, position your cursor and click to stamp one instance of your new brush.
Then choose a different color, move your cursor to another spot (and change the size if you want), then stamp a second time. Repeat once more for a total of 3 instances of your brush.
If you want to paint your stems a different color than the petals, choose a color (I used #a4a070) and a different brush, (from the Brushes panel, one of the hard-edged, round ones will work great), then from the top section of the Layers panel, click the mini-checkerboard icon to lock the transparency of the selected layer.
Now you can paint right over the stems without worrying about “coloring inside the lines!” Just don’t forget to click again to unlock the transparency, or it’s easy to get frustrating wondering why you can’t paint anywhere else on the same layer. Speaking from experience over here! 😂
Need some more floral inspiration? Grab yourself a copy of Peggy Dean's Guide to Nature Drawing and Watercolor.
Step 5: Experiment!
You can repeat this process to create additional brushes to add to your composition—or explore more options by clicking the Brush panel menu (the three lines in the top right of the panel) and choosing Legacy Brushes (for a large collection of other Photoshop brushes) or Get More Brushes (to be taken to an Adobe site where CC subscribers can download hundreds of additional free brushes including the watercolor pack I used in my finished design).
You’ll need to install any new brushes you download, which is as easy as double-clicking the .ABR file (Photoshop will automatically load them in the right place, you may have to unzip a zip file first) or by returning to the Brush panel menu and choosing Import Brushes. Easy peasy!
In my finished piece, I added some text, a texture overlay, some additional paint layers (using the watercolor brush pack available from the Get More Brushes option in the Brush panel menu), and some digital glitter.
A camera slinging design geek and Adobe nerd, Khara Plicanic is a natural born teacher who’s been sharing inspiration & know-how with fellow creatives around the globe for more than 15 years. She’s authored several books, teaches oodles of online courses, and is a regular contributor to CreativePro Magazine. When she’s not presenting at creative industry events, making futile attempts at reclaiming hard drive space, or searching the sofa cushions for a runaway Wacom pen, Khara can be found plotting her next craft project, catching up with her favorite late night hosts, or trying to remember where she left her phone. Find her and the classes she teaches at KharaPlicanic.com.