Today we are going to go over the basic’s of making a brush for Photoshop. While I am using CS4 there is no difference in using CS3, as seen in my previous tutorial.

Getting Started

The first thing we need to do it clear out our brush panel so that later when we save the brushes we can just save this set in a brush file (.abr) of their own. Go to the edit menu and select the preset manager. The screen below should pop up.

First make sure you are looking at the brushes portion and not at the swatches or gradients. If you are not looking at the brushes click on the drop down menu and select the brushes. Now click on the first brush in the series. Hold the shift key and click on the last brush. Once all of the brushes are selected click delete from the menu on the right. Don’t worry you aren’t actually deleting the brushes you are actually just clearing out the brush panel.

Create a new document

Next we need to make a new document to contain our brushes. The maximum size a brush can be in Photoshop is 2500px by 2500px at 300px per inch so that is how big we will make our canvas. A note here is, if you have a canvas larger than those dimensions Photoshop will not let you save the resulting brush so you’re wasting to your time in making bigger brushes. The canvas size listed above is plenty large enough for any print project of any size.

If you plan to make brushes in the future you should save your document as a new preset. I typically name my ‘brush.’

Remember to work in Grayscale

Now that we have opened our new document we need to prepare the rest of our tools. Photoshop brushes work on a greyscale model. White means the colour being painted while using the brush is completely clear while black is the 100% value of that colour. So I like to start by by taking my colour palette and switching it to greyscale. This can be quickly and easily accomplished by holding the shift key and clicking on the colour selection bar until it shows a greyscale bar.

Next we need to pick our tool. Today I’m going to make some polygonal brushes so I’ll pick the shape tool. Some notes on using the shape tool. If you hold shift while dragging out the shape it will constrain proportions (so it stays square in this case). If you add the ALT (Option for Macs) key it will constrain proportions from the centre. If you hold space while holding either of the other two keys you can move the shape around in your document.

Drawing your shape

So start off by drawing out your shape.

I typically duplicate the layer next, change the greyscale value of the shape, press control+T (command+T on the Mac) to change the size of the shape. Then repeat the steps listed till you have a shape you like.

Saving your brush

Next we need to actually save this as a brush which is were most people get stuck. First you need to select all of the shape layers you want in your brush. You do not need to select every layer in the palette.

Now go to the Edit menu and select ‘Define Brush Preset.’ If it’s greyed out you most likely have a document larger than 2500px by 2500px at 300px/inch or you haven’t selected multiple layers.

Now a dialogue will come up with the opportunity to save your brush. Honestly when I have named the brushes I have never seen the name again so I just skip it and press ‘OK.’ If you know why I should be naming the brushes let me know in the comments please.

Now if you have you brush palette open you should have a new brush showing up in the palette. All you have to do is repeat the process listed until you have the brushes you want. Once you have completed your brush set you have one more VERY IMPORTANT task. You need to save your brushes. From the flyout menu in the brush palette you need to select ‘Save Brushes.’ Name them something descriptive and save them.

Final Tips

You can use any brushes on this document. Actually you can do anything you want to the file as long as your edits are based on greyscale. Effects are fine. Filter can be very cool. Use other brushes to add effects. Do whatever you want and create some cool brushes. You can also use images as the basis for your Photoshop Brushes as seen in my other tutorial.

About The Author

Curtis McHale
Curtis McHale is a freelance web designer located outside of Vancouver BC. When not sitting at his computer designing and codingĀ  you can find him on the river whitewater kayaking. For more information on Curtis visit his site at

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