Combining Custom Brushes for Wild Effects in Photoshop

Custom brushes can be an incredibly powerful way to add a touch of originality to your work.  By photographing or otherwise capturing given effects such as splatters, drips and watercolor textures, you can easily create your own custom brushes in Photoshop, and apply them to your own work right away to make it stand out.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create some custom brushes based on scans of different types, and then you’ll instantly put them to use to come up with a wild finished result.  You’ll see how simple custom brushes can make all the difference, and you’ll learn some great tips on how to get the best results.

Let’s get started.

Tools Used:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • A scanner (not required but preferred)
  • Stock Images

Final Image Preview:

Step 1: Document setup

We will start this pressing ‘CTRL N’ on your keyboard; this will bring up the new document dialog box. We will use this to setup the width and height for our new document. We will now set our document as 2000*3000 which is a great ratio for a piece like this. This is especially a good thing because once we are done we can size our document down to 800*1200 without any cropping.

Once our document is up we will head over to Deviant Art to grab a texture for our background. Since we are trying to create something between illustration and photo manipulation we will use a background that looks like a traditional texture. So go to and copy the image and paste it into our document. If you have a texture you have made, found or purchased that you liked more than the above texture then by all means use it, I will be using one I made. Once you paste it into Photoshop make sure the top hits the top of the document and the sides are matching. Your document should look similar to mine below.

As you can see our background doesn’t fit all the way, there’s a big gap at the bottom. We can fix this with the clone stamp tool. The clone stamp tool simply grabs sections of an image and duplicates it where you tell it to. So press ‘S’ on your keyboard to select the clone stamp tool and right click on the document to bring up the brush settings as we have done before. We will be using a similar brush as before this time just a little bit smaller. Make sure you have your hardness set to 0%, this is very important otherwise your duplicated pieces will not blend together due to their hard edges.

Now holding the ‘ALT’ key on your keyboard click on the document around three quarters of the way up and all the way to the left; this is where we will be duplicating from, so any where we click it will duplicate from this area. However once you click the selection we will be copying from will move; this is very good since we don’t want to duplicate the same section over and over again. Once you have held the ‘ALT’ key and clicked we can now go to the left side of the white space and click and drag to the right. If you’re new to the clone stamp tool it might help to press ‘CTRL SHIFT N’ to create a new layer once you have selected your start point. That way anything you stamp can easily be done by deleting the layer.

Once you have dragged the mouse to the right you might need to grab a few more locations to just make sure everything blends well. Once you are satisfied with the end result yours should look similar to mine. Make sure you have copied over all of the white on the canvas before you continue though!

Now this should be fine for your document, but remember if you have one you like more then use it! I’m using a personal stock that looks like the below.

Step 2: Custom brush creation.

Alright so we will start off by creating our own custom brushes to use, if you have your own or a set you downloaded go ahead and use those; if not head ever to and grab this splatter: Do note that to download the stock images from Sxc you will need an account. They are free so if you don’t have one go ahead and set it up so you can follow along. Once you have downloaded or copied the image open up Photoshop and create a new document. Set the size for this new document to 4500*4500 as I have in the below screen shot.

Now this is one big document, but that’s ok, we will be working with different stocks at different resolutions so it’s nice to have some breathing room. Once you have created the document press ‘CRTL V’ on your keyboard, this will paste the image we have copied into our document. If you did not copy the image, just go to the file tab and find where you saved it at and drag it into our document.

Once the image is in our new document we can start isolating it so we can make a brush out of it. Since the background is white we don’t really have to isolate the image much at all. This will be more of less a cleanup procedure so we won’t have any issues using the brush later on in the image. Start off by pressing ‘M’ on your keyboard; this will equip the marquee tool. Be sure your marquee tool is set to the rectangle marquee and has no feather. Once you have the marquee tool set up properly we will grab the outer edges of our layer as I have, we don’t want any hard edges in the final image or any strange cut offs. Now that it is selected we can just press ‘DEL’ on the keyboard to clear this selection and move on to the next step!

Now press ‘CTRL SHIFT D’ to deselect the selection if it’s still up. Once that is done you can press ‘CTRL L’ on your keyboard, this will bring up the manual level editor. We will not be using the auto level tool for this because we want to keep the majority of the splat semi transparent. Using the auto leveler might cause the grays in our image to become absolute black which would not be good. So with your level editor up slide the middle triangle way over to the black triangle, not all the way though you want to stop at about ’1.44?. This will cause our image to become much brighter which is fine; it will also help if there are any strange grays around the edges that we cannot see to become pure white. And as I said before, we don’t want any strange edges.

Once you have hit the ok button we will start the final process. That is to remove any last remaining unwanted splats or grey lines that might linger around in the stock image. We will do this by pressing ‘E’ on our keyboard to bring out the eraser tool. Now right click on the screen and a new dialog box should appear; this dialog box will be how we adjust the settings for our eraser brush. Set your brush up as mine is below, don’t be to concerned about the size of the brush the document and image are both huge. Once your brush is set up as mine you can set the opacity to around 45% and eraser along the outer edges of the layer. Try not to erase anything to far to the center of the image, we just want to clean up the image, not destroy it!

We will now grab the marquee tool once again, which is ‘M’ on your keyboard. This time we will select everything we want to become our brush. Remember that everything that is white will become transparent and all that is black will be our brush. With all of that selected press ‘CTRL SHIFT U’, this will desaturate our selection so that our brush becomes black and white.

Go up to the edit tab, located between the file and image tabs, and select define brush preset. By clicking the define brush preset button we will be creating our brush. Everything that is black will be 100% opacity on our final brush, the grays will be around 50% opacity and the whites will not exist. The dialog should look something like mine does, once it comes up type in the name for your new brush and select ok.

Now you can browse through your brush dialog and see that your brush is ready to use!
Before we get all excited there are more brushes to be made. So we will go back to Sxc and grab this image: We will paste it into the document the same way we did with the other stock image. However this time since the white is so much brighter and there are no strange outlines our isolation will be much simpler.

We will press ‘CTRL SHIFT U’ the same way we did before just to make sure everything is black and white. Once that is done we will press ‘CTRL T’ this will bring up our free transform tool. Since the image is much larger than the previous stock image it must be sized down before Photoshop will allow us to define it as a brush. Once the free transform tool comes up select the chain link in between the width and height settings so that we do not skew our stock. Now we will just change the size settings as I have in the below screen shot.

Now that our stock has been sized down we can grab the marquee tool one last time by pressing ‘M’ on your keyboard. This time we will make a very tight selection, keeping the dashed lines as close to the stock as we can get them, this will ensure that our brush does not exceed the size limitations (2500px).

Once the selection has been made we will go back to the edit tab and define our selection as a brush preset.
If you really want to create a completely opaque brush you can just duplicate the splat layer twice and set both of the new duplicated layers as a multiply at 100%. This should make the image completely black.

Now we will just repeat this process many times over. If you don’t have a scanner I have provided links to images on Sxc that you can use the same way we have in the above steps. If you do have a scanner you can just throw some paint, ink, finger nail polish, dye or really anything that will dry and look the same way our stocks have. Once you have splatterd or brushed your chosen liquid onto the paper just wait for it to dry, scan it and manipulate it to create a brush the same way we have in the previous steps.
If you are without a scanner here is a large list of stocks, if you don’t want to fool with all of that there are plenty of splatter and brush stroke brush packs around on the net just go looking!


So by now you should have quite a bit of brushes. However you may want more. So go looking for stocks! Look on google images, stocks sites etc… the more you have the better your images will appear. Also if I was not clear, if you have a scanner spat some ink on some paper, scan it in and isolate it the same way we did the above stocks.

Step 3: Stock selection and manipulation

Stock selection for a piece such as this is very important. However you do have a wide variety of stock types you could choose from. Below is a list of tips you should keep in mind when looking for yours, also if your having trouble deciding you can always check out my gallery ( I have quite a few pieces in this style.

  • Size, go big. The bigger the stock the easier it will be later on when creating the crops and deciding where to start.
  • Choose one that looks good! It’s a very popular trend to use a beautiful woman for this style of manipulation but you don’t have to! Just make sure your stock looks good!
  • If you are not going to create a monotone piece like we are here then make sure you choose one with clear vibrant colors.
  • Choose a image with a nice amount of contrast.
  • Most importantly just choose a good stock image!

The below screen shot is the stock image I will be using.

Now that you have a stock image just follow along as I show you how I create the final image. From now on I will continue on as if you are using the same stock image I’m using, just to make things a bit easier.

So to start off we need to make a layer mask and then fill in the area of the face. You can use the pen tool for this or the brush tool. The way I did it was to apply a layer mask and then with a 3px small brush I drew in black on the mask to cover the face. Once the face was covered I just inverted the mask and ta da! I would suggest that you do this the same way or use the pen tool if your better with it.

As of now my canvas looks like the below screen shot.

Once you have isolated out your face so that only it is visible we can continue on to the brush work.
So this image is created by using a white brush on a layer mask. This means that everything that is white will become visible on the final image. This is why the transparency of your brushes is very important. But its also very important to keep in mind that if you ever mess up you can switch your color to black and use your splatter brushes as erasers. Also keep in mind that patience is the key here! Take your time.
So to start off you want to use any splatter brush you like and just lay down about 2 or 3 brushes coming off of one side of the face.

If your brushes are more opaque then you want (they should be about 70%) then just turn the opacity down to match what you are looking for. Also keep in mind that you don’t need to just throw spat brushes around you need to make them blend into your stock image and create a flow of sorts. Just have patience with the process and you shall be rewarded!
Next we just need attack the other side of the figures head. The below screen shot is what my image looks like as of now.

Now we need to create a new layer underneath the stock image. Once you have done this we need to grab one of our brushes and apply it underneath the head to create an abstract hair like effect. I applied 2 or 3 brushes to achieve the effect I wanted. The below screenshots are what my image looks like as of now.

Now our tutorial will take a change of sorts. The following screenshots will show the process of creating the flowing and dripping effect. I have found a stock that is extremely similar to the dripping lines that I used. To use this stock apply the layer as a multiply.

The stock can be found here :

My canvas now looks like the below screenshot.

Now we need to create a layer above the stock image. Once you have done this grab one of your brushes and throw it down so it appears as if its black tears as I have done in the below screen shot.

Next, while on this layer we need to enable the standard 3px hard brush.

With this brush enabled just darken the area around the eye lightly. The trick here is to really darken the eye area while still keeping it realistic.

Now we can move over to the other eye.

I also took the opportunity to darken the lips with the 3px brush at this time. As well as to add a few more small details in the splats themselves.

My image now looks like the below screenshot.

Well we are done! My final image is displayed below. There’s more you could add, some small details here and there but for the most part we are finished with our tutorial! I hope you learned a bit about how this style of picture is made and have either came out with some new brushes you like, learned something or at least got an image you like. If you have any questions regarding this don’t hesitate to ask! Thanks for reading!


  1. Very nice effects with custom brushes here. I really like the painterly look to this image. However, if I have to see one more “bleeding mascara” photo, I may puke. Otherwise, good tutorial.

  2. That was great! Most Photoshop tutorials are so involved that I avoid them. This is one that I can actually remember for future brushes. A lot quicker than scanning the internet for brush sets every time I nee one. Nice job, now I can get a brush of ANYTHING I can imagine! You rock! Thanks!

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