Photoshop Brushes – A Tutorial

Last week I posted a blog about using Photoshop brushes to create digital artwork. Now Fred liked it so much he asked me to put together a tutorial showing how to create an image using just brushes. The one we are going to create will be of a ship sailing against a blue and orange background.

This tutorial was created using Photoshop CS5 but I’m sure you would be able to adapt for CS2 upwards, Elements and presumably The GIMP. If you want to follow this tutorial you will need to download some brushes for use in Photoshop. The brushes I will be using are a set called Galaxies II from Sunira and you can download them here

The next set of brushes are called Ancient Warships, they are available from free-brushes by following this link

As an alternative I have made them available from my SkyDrive folder which you can find here!172

Right lets get started. First of all make sure Photoshop is not running. The next thing we need to do is load the brushes you have downloaded into Photoshop. There are several methods for doing this but I prefer to use this one because it means the brushes are always available if I need them for another project. Using Windows Explorer select the brushes you downloaded and right click copy

Staying with Windows Explorer navigate to the folder where Photoshop stores your brushes. For me this is c:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS5\Presets\Brushes.

Note: If you cannot find the brushes folder I will explain later how to load a brush “on the fly”

But assuming you have found the folder. Inside the folder right click and paste the brushes, they will now be available for use in Photoshop.

Start Photoshop and create a new file 1200 pixels by 900 pixels. Make sure the Background is white.

At this point we need to start building our background on the blank canvas we have just created. To do that we are going to use the Galaxy Brushes adding each new brush on a different layer. By creating different layers we can move elements of our background around the screen and also vary the opacity. My final Layer Pallet looks like this. You can see the different brush layers and where later I will be adding a Vignette. I always label my layers what they do. For me it just makes sense as I can see where I have done adjustments.


Select the Brush Tool from the tools palette.

The options bar will change and you should see something like this at the top of Photoshop. Press the little down arrow next to the brush size.

You will now be able to adjust the size of your brush or choose a different one but we are more interested in the little arrow you can see highlighted below. This give you an extended menu, allowing you to select brushes amongst other things. Press this arrow

You will now be presented with a new menu showing you all brushes that have been loaded to Photoshop. By default Photoshop provides some additional brush sets from the default one that is normally loaded at start-up. If you have loaded the brushes correctly in the previous step you should see the Galaxies and Ancient Warships Brush Sets. Choose the Galaxies_II set by clicking on it. Remember I said there was another way of loading bushes “on the fly”. If you look at the menu below you will see an option to load brushes. You can use this option to load a brush set which is stored anywhere on your computer.

Whichever option you choose, pre-load or “on the fly” a message will pop up asking  if you want to replace the current brushes. You are also given the option to append. If you choose replace, the default brushes will be exchanged for the Galaxies brushes. If you choose append the Galaxies will be added to the default brushes. I normally choose the option to replace the brushes.

Later you can use the same menu to reset the brushes back to the default ones. Repeat this step for the Ancient Warships only this time choose Append. Your brush palette should now look like this.


If you hover your mouse pointer over each brush a tooltip will pop up giving you the name of each brush. But before we can start to draw we need to change the colour of the brush that we will be painting with to a shade of dark blue. To do this double click on the Black and White squares on your toolbar.

The colour picker menu will pop up

Choose a deep shade of blue for the foreground colour and press OK. I’ve used RGB values of 21, 54, 174 but you can just move your mouse into the colour panel, find the shade you like and select it with your mouse.

Now go back to the brushes and select Ghostly Reflections in The Pleiades. Make the brush size 1150 pixels. Position the brush over the right side of your canvas and click you mouse once. Don’t drag the mouse. Just click. The brush will paint a blue galaxy on your canvas. Move to the left of your canvas and do the same again. It doesn’t matter if they overlap. Your canvas should now look like this or something similar, depending on where you placed the brush

Create a New Layer. Change the brush to Hubble Universe, 911 pixels and using the colour picker change the RGB colour to 125, 215, 141. Use the brush to paint 3 times onto the canvas filling the two corners, which are still white and one towards the centre. Don’t forget, single clicks for each one. It should look similar to this when you have finished

Positioning of the brushes doesn’t have to be deadly accurate. The main idea is to build up a background which will look varied in colour and shape.

At this point we are going to use one more brush. This will be Dying Sun. But before we do, use the colour picker to change the colour again. I used an orange by setting the RGB to 231, 146, 25, but if you want something different just go ahead and select a colour of your choice. Add another layer, change the brush to Dying Sun, 1399 pixels and once again paint the brush roughly near the top middle. You’re aiming to achieve something like this.

You could use more brushes and colours, it’s really up to you and your imagination but for the purposes of this tutorial I will stop.

I’m going to add my ship now. So once more add a new layer. Change the brush to Ship 2 and a pixel size of 862. We want to paint it on using black as the colour, so change to black . A quick way of getting back to the default Black and White colours is to click the little b+w square which will be next to the  two large colour squares you can see on the toolbar. Can you see that funny double arrow. Clicking that will reverse the colours.

Right, where were we? Oh yes! Adding the ship. As before paint the ship on by clicking the mouse once, do it roughly in the centre of the canvas. It should look something like this?

As this stands we could leave it but I want to add some more atmosphere. The easiest way is to darken the background but still make the ship stand out. So we are going to add a vignette which will help to darken the edges of the the image.

Select, Filter, Lens Correction, Custom and move the sliders for vignette to the far left. This will darken the image around the edges

But for me, it still isn’t dark enough, so Select All, Copy Merged and Paste. This will add a new layer. Change the blend mode of this layer to Multiply, which will darken it further.

Still with me……now we need to reset our brushes back to the default ones. Using the procedure I explained above on how to load a brush you can also find in this menu a Reset Brushes option. Select this and when prompted press OK. You’re default brushes will be re-loaded. Select a soft

Once the default brushes are loaded select a Soft Round brush about 400 pixels in size. Do you know how to quickly change brush size without going back to this menu? Press the right Square Bracket to increase the brush size and the left Square Bracket to decrease it.

The image is almost finished but I want to highlight the ship just a little bit more. For this we are going to use Dodge and Burn. By using Dodge and Burn we can paint areas of our image with light or shade. It’s a technique I use on on a lot of my images.

Create a New Layer, make the blend mode Overlay. Now go to Edit, Fill and choose 50% Gray. Using the tool bar click on the little black triangle of the D&B Tool. Another tool bar will pop out like I have shown below. Just a note. You will see one of two symbols on the tool bar. The hand represents the Burn Tool and will darken selected areas of the image. The lollipop (?) represents the Dodge Tool and will lighten selected areas of the image. Whichever one you used last will be shown on the tool bar.

First of all select the Burn Tool. If you look at the options bar below you can see at the left hand side the hand is showing. This signifies the burn tool is selected. You can choose to burn the Shadows, Midtones or Highlights. You can also choose the opacity of the burn, Normally when I’m using this tool I don’t go much higher than 14%, but I want the edges just a little darker so I have upped it to 29%. I’m going to be working on the darker areas so I choose shadows as the area to be affected by burning. Notice the brush is a soft round one at 400 pixels. This is the setting we set earlier.

Paint the areas of the image that you want to darken. This really is an “according to taste” option, my idea of what is right will be different from yours.

NOTE: You can build up the darkening process gradually. Click and hold the mouse key, paint over the area you want to darken. This will paint at an opacity at 29%. Release the mouse. Click and hold again and paint over the same area. This will add another 29% opacity, further darkening the area you painted. In effect you have done 58%. You could keep on doing this but eventually the sum of all your Burns on the same area will reach 100%.

Now we need to highlight the ship. Choose the Dodge Tool set the Range to Highlights and the opacity to about 61%. Brush over the lighter areas of the sails and the hull of the ship. Repeat for the hull of the ship but don’t do the sails a second time.

That’s it. You’ve finished. I always save works like this as PSD files. That way if I ever feel like working on them again I can bring them back with all the layers intact

Although I have shown this image being built from scratch using brushes with no hint of a phototgraph you can also combine your photographs with brushes to add something new.

If you look at the image above brushes were used to create the maps on the background paper. They were also used on the pages of the book to create the handwriting, the maps and the grungy dirty look.

In the image below which started off as a sunset I took in Florida, the brushes used were the ships..

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Admittedly it’s a bit long but I wanted to make sure you could see the processes I used by showing screen shots. If like me you are interested in digital art, Photoshop brushes can be a great way of giving you additional material for your artwork. Once you get used to using brushes, you’ll find that they can come in useful for all sorts of things. Can you see the signature on the image above? That’s a Photoshop brush. It can be resized, coloured, placed anywhere on the image. I can even adjust the opacity if required.

15 thoughts on “Photoshop Brushes – A Tutorial

  1. Hiyah Mike
    There is no doubt about it, your presentations look so much better on here. It would be great if all our Photos could be made larger on Fuji. Look at the difference between Fuji and Flickr for instance.
    An easy to follow tutorial Mike, not the sort of thing that I go in for but I see Angie D has already done one on Fuji following your instructions.. See you soon Mike.
    All the best


    1. Thanks Steve. Fred asked me to do it after I published the blog last week. I’ve been sort of putting it together, in between creating a video slideshow from the wedding and testing a new HDR software.

      Like you I just wish Fuji’s blogging/techniques pages could be done better with larger pictures I’d do more blogs there. To be honest it was the lack of features on Fuji that made me migrate to WordPress, where I have much more control.


    1. I look forward to seeing what you produce. You don’t have to wait for CS5 you can use brushes in most versions of Photoshop from CS2 right through to CS5


  2. What?s Going down i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid other users like its aided me. Great job.


  3. Brushes – a whole new world of possibilities! I’m off to a good start, though – I know what a layers is…


    1. Well, that’s always a good start. Photoshop is a very powerful tool and most of us don’t use even 30% of it. Over the years I have taught myself to experiment with different aspects of the software. I’m now doing the same thing for Corel’s Paint Shop Pro.


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