Fun with Photoshop’s Brush Engine

Learning to Play with Photoshop Brushes

Each version of Photoshop since P7 has offered a brush engine, allowing you greater control over your painted effects. It was heralded as a breakthrough when it was created, and since then it’s only become better with age with each successive update. To learn how to use the brush engine to its fullest capacity, let’s look at how a custom brush can make something as simple as a coin come to life before your eyes (and not in that creepy, muppet sort of way.)

(Disclaimer: I’ve had people ask me complex questions about getting into the professional photography business. While I have friends in the profession and know that Photoshop is a necessary tool for the modern photographer, I’m not in the business, so I can’t answer related questions; I just have a knack for retouching the photos of friends and family and am familiar with the workings of the program.)

First, we start by creating the path of the coin. It’s generally simpler, to begin with, an example in front of you, so try scanning the coin you want to use the program. Next, click on the Pen Tool to trace a path around the coin’s shape. You don’t have to be exact, just get the general shape.

You need to fill the shape you just made with black “paint”. Click on the Paths Palette, then right-click on “Make a Selection”. Hold down the Alt button and press Backspace. At this point, there should be some transparency visible behind the image of your coin; if necessary, conceal the background and other layers by going to the Layer Palette and clicking the Eye icon.

With me so far? Good. Now we concentrate on actually creating the brush.

Click on “Rectangular Marquee” to create a “selection” around your coin. On the toolbar, click on Edit/Define Brush and give your brush a name (you can name it whatever you’d like; I normally just use “brush”.) The brush you’ve just created is going to be accessible via the Brush Palette. To use it, start up a new blank image, click on Paintbrush, then click your brush’s name on the Brush Palette.

With the Brush Palette, you’re able to customize a good deal of options. Try lowering the brush’s master diameter so its size is better proportioned (your preference may vary, but I find 35px works best for me. Click the “Brush Tip Size” and raise the space setting close to 100%.

Now, click on “Shape Dynamics”. Raise the “Size Jitter” to the maximum. Feel free to play around with the other settings if you want to. Increase the minimum diameter to 25% to stop any tiny coins from popping up in the final picture. You’re also going to want to slide the Angle Jitter to 15% and set its control to “Pen Pressure”.

Next, click on “Scatter” on the left-hand side. This you’ll want a lot of, well over 100%, but how much is up to you. Crank up the Scatter a good bit. “Both Axes” needs to be checked off, and you’re welcome to play with the Count for a while again, preferences will vary. Each brush will treat the “Count Jitter” differently, so whatever number you choose now may be completely different from your next brush.

You’re almost there. Head to “Color Dynamics” and slide the Foreground to maximum for the greatest color variation. Also adjust the Hue Jitter, increasing it until you feel comfortable. This setting will give the coin subtle color nuances, making it more realistic. You may have to go back after you’ve finished fine-tuning the setting.

Pick both a background and foreground color that represent the range of colors your coins will have. These colors will depend on what type of coin you’re trying to make. If you plan on an array of different shades, the flow, and opacity in the options box will need to be at a maximum.

Pick up your Paintbrush Tool and paint away. Create a collage, or just have some fun. Enjoy your new brush.