Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Brush-Making Procedures

Alright. To those who have been asking me to share my brushes, here's what I've got for you: a documentation of the process I follow to make my brushes specifically, the ones that mimic traditional strokes.

First things first. I'll have you know that this process is for users of Adobe Photoshop. At the present, I am using Adobe Photoshop CS5. Although if you're using a previous version of the program, it's probably OK. What I'll be showing here is the making of a custom brush that I believe isn't version-dependent. Without further ado, I hereby present to you:

The Making of a Custom "Traditional" Brush

Step 1: Preparing the ingredients

First, you need to decide what you're going to try to simulate. The demo files in this documentation were made as an attempt to simulate the look of oil on canvas with a more dry-brush effect. Once decided, the next thing to do is to come up with a brush tip and a canvas pattern like the ones below:

There are many ways to come up with such images. For the brush tip, you can just make an actual brush stroke and then scan it or you can just make it manually using Photoshop's default tools like what I did here. I painted the brush tip above using a default chalk-like brush. I was shooting for a flat brush hence the shape. For the canvas pattern, you can either scan a piece of canvas or search online for a reference image. Important: you have to make sure your canvas pattern is a tiling pattern or else you will see seams in your output. Making seamlessly tiled patterns is very easy if you know how to use the Offset Filter.

Before we move on to the next step, I'd recommend saving these images as JPEG files. Why save? So you don't lose your reference images. Why JPEG? JPEG files have no layers which make them simpler. Simpler images are, in my opinion, easier to make presets with. You might want to check the sizes of your images too as you don't want to be making a brush that's too tiny or too big.

If you feel like using the samples I provided here, go right ahead.

Step 2: Integrating the images into a tool

So now you have a brush tip and a canvas pattern. The next step would be to make a tool out of these materials. At the end of this step you should have the following:

  • A new brush preset
  • A new pattern preset

Step 2A: Making the Brush Preset

To make the brush preset, open the brush tip shape JPEG file if you don't have it opened already. Then go to EDIT > Define Brush Preset. A little window will then pop up and you'll have the option to give the brush a preset a name. 

After doing this, you'll see that you now have a new brush in your brush picker menu.

Technically, you now have a new brush at this point. But unfortunately, this new brush you created is very crude. If you try to use it as it is right now for some serious painting, you'll see what I mean. Now let's see about that canvas pattern.

Step 2B: Creating the Canvas Pattern Preset

The procedure to make the canvas pattern preset is very similar to that of the brush preset. First, have your canvas JPEG ready and this time, go to EDIT > Define Pattern. Name it and then check if it appears as a new pattern in the texture sub-panel of the brush customization window.

At this point you already have a brush preset and a pattern preset. Now it's time to put them all together.

Step 3: Customization

This is the fun part! Adobe Photoshop allows for many possibilities with the brush customization window which you can access simply by pressing F5. To see how it works and what it does, do the following tweaks that I made.



I don't want to leave you wondering so here's a bit of an explanation of what I did and why. As you can see, I tweaked the new brush preset using the following sub-panels:

  • Shape Dynamics - I set the angle jitter to direction so the brush tip rotates according to the direction of my brush stroke. No more manually rotating the tip which in my opinion makes the painting experience a little bit more convenient. To keep it from looking too synthetic, I put a value of 3% in angle jitter and check Flip X jitter.
  • Texture - I used the canvas texture I produced as an overlay. This is necessary to achieve the painted-on-canvas look.
  • Dual Brush - Dual Brush allows the mixing of two different brush shapes. This makes your brushes even more randomized. Randomized = not-so-computer-perfect-look which adds a natural touch to your brushes. For this custom brush, I ticked Dual Brush and used a default Photoshop brush preset called Sea Sponge 2 as the secondary tip. The most noticeable effect of this on the brush being made here is that it makes the brush stroke a little more irregular.
  • Transfer - In previous versions of Adobe Photoshop, I believe this sub-panel used to be called "Other Dynamics". I made tweaks here because I am heavily dependent of Pen Pressure. It helps me simulate the look of the sweeping strokes that I make when I paint in real life.

Step 4: Saving Your New Brush as an ABR file

You've gone this far so that means you now have a new fancy brush. But what if your computer crashes? Or what if you've accidentally reseted your brush presets? What if you've done this on someone else's computer? What if you want to share your new brush with your friends? Is it necessary to go through all these again? Do you have to do this every time on a new computer? Fortunately, no. There is a way to save your brush so that no matter how many times you reset your brush presets or how many new workstations you transfer to, you'd still be able to access your new brush.

To do this, you need to save your brush in ABR format.

Do this by going to EDIT > Preset Manager. A window showing your loaded brush presets will appear. Then you'll have to select your new brush and every other brush you want to save it in a set with. After this, just click Save Set, name it, save it and you're all set! The output is an Adobe Photoshop brush file which you can then load if you accidentally reset your presets or send to your friends if they want to use your brushes.

If you followed every step demonstrated here, the new brush you produce will allow you to make something like this:

So there you have it! That's how I give my digital paintings a traditional touch! You might want to check out Jan Ditlev Christensen's brushes. He's one of the artists whose tools and techniques I study.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Feel free to leave your comments! :)