I’ve seen a ton of free brush sets for download on a billion different blogs. The coolest I’ve run across came from Smashing Magazine. But it got me wondering, why use someone else’s brushes when you can easily make your own to suit your needs? Custom brushes can come in handy for personal or professional projects, especially illustrations. Plus it gives you a reason to bust out your neglected art supplies, turn your back on your computer and get your hands dirty again.
The first thing you need to do is rediscover your storage unit, basement, garage or attic so you can dig up all your old art supplies to make some custom marks. This is what I found…
I used some watercolor paper and went to town, not worrying about what kind of mark I was making, just that they were getting on the page one way or another. I’m a big fan of mistakes and the result that can come from them.
Next scan your work at 300 dpi and then save the marks you like, each individually, in a 2500px by 2500px Photoshop file, Grayscale mode.
You want to create contrast in your custom brush so the mark will show up well when being used. We also want to lose the paper gain in the background. To accomplish this use your levels slider in Photoshop (command + L) and adjust accordingly. I copied this layer on top of its self and gave it a multiply to make it even darker. If there are random marks, just erase or mask them out. Rinse and repeat for your other brush marks.
Now where to store these files. Set up a My Photoshop folder in your Documents folder and make a sub folder called Brushes. Create a folder shortcut of your brushes folder in your Photoshop Default Brush folder (Applications > Photoshop > Presets > Brushes). Now open your brush palette in Photoshop and clear out all your current brushes.
For every 2500 by 2500 brush image you’ve saved, open it up and choose Edit > Define Brush Preset and save the newly made brush to the palette you just cleared.
There you have it. Making custom brushes is easy and relatively fast from beginning to end, so experiment with this technique and make something uniquely yours.
Here’s an example of how I used this technique to design a grungy, custom brush background and navigation for the Nestle Nutrament website. You can check out the real thing here.