To celebrate ten years of ThemeKeeper Tuts+, we’re giving away this essential pack of Photoshop brushes! Learn how to create your own, and find more inspiration from our trusted tutorials.
10 Essential Adobe Photoshop Brushes You Should Own
10 Essential Brushes You Should Own
Do you love Photoshop brushes? So do we! Create magical paintings and manipulations with incredible, high-resolution brushes. In this collection of essentials, I’ll show you various basic and texture-based brushes every designer should own.
How to Create Custom Photoshop Brushes
To build the ultimate toolkit, you’ll need amazing Photoshop brushes. They’re super easy to make, and you’ll be glad you made them in the long run.
Here is the method I’ll be using to create most of these brushes. Feel free to leave any questions for more clarification.
1. Basic Round Brush
I’ll try not to play favorites here, but after painting for nearly ten years, I generally stick with a basic round brush. Here’s the reason:
1 Round Brush = Many, Many Brushes
You see, the Round Brush stands alone. It’s the first brush you’ll get to know and the one you’ll never put down. But you also won’t want to! You can use it for photo editing, painting, calligraphy, and so many other cool projects.
Here are a few examples of the type of magic you can make with a round brush:
Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Dreamy, Emotional Photo Manipulation Scene With PhotoshopJenny Le
Digital PaintingHow to Paint Water, Waves, and the Ocean in Adobe PhotoshopMelody Nieves
The standard Round Brush features 100% Hardness, which usually stumps people in the beginning. It can feel very reminiscent of Microsoft Paint (RIP), but it doesn’t have to.
Instead, take advantage of learning about Brush Opacity and pen pressure sensitivity. If you have a graphics tablet, you’ll be blown away by the amount of options and flexibility available.
I, for example, like to have at least one Photoshop Round Brush with 100% Hardness and no extra pressure settings. A blunt brush that reminds me to think about crisp details often.
But like many people, I like having choices.
So I’ll show you two examples of how to work with this brush with different settings. Bring up the Brush panel (F5). Now go to Shape Dynamics. Change the brush Control to Pen Pressure.
For sketches, comics, and general inking, use this brush.
For soft, atmospheric effects, and general blending, you can try this brush below. All you have to do is lower the Hardness to 0% and set the Transfer to Pen Pressure.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to remember these settings—I’ve included them as bonuses with our pack!
Still having trouble with the basics? Here are a few more tips!
- Vary the Brush Opacity often.
- Use 50–100% Hardness to create crisp, clean details.
- Use 0–50% Hardness for general blending and shading.
- If you’re pressing too hard on the tablet, then the Opacity is too low.
2. Grunge Brushes
Despite all of the minimalism we see, grunge brushes are here to stay. Just like round brushes, they hold an important place in our essential brush kit.
So what can you use them for?
Just about anything. Grunge brushes are so varied in texture, style, and overall complexity that you can use them for a variety of projects. Check these out, for instance:
Photo EffectsHow to Create a Rubber Stamp Effect in Adobe PhotoshopJohn Negoita
Photo ManipulationHow to Create an Emotional, Molten, Shattered Statue in PhotoshopMario Sanchez Nevado
Grunge brushes are usually made from texture stocks. Some of the more common ones come from paper, stone, and glass images.
So for the next brush in our pack, I’ll create one using this paper image. Feel free to play with Adjustment Layers for more variation.
Subtle textures are more flexible, so a simple grain like this is multipurpose for any creative need. You can also try out more images for incredible effects.
3. Drip and Splatter Brushes
Though still considered grunge, drip and splatter brushes are next up on the list for basic Photoshop essentials.
Horror, retro, and antique design are all amazing styles creatives love. And although these brushes seem mostly gruesome, drip and splatter textures are actually a natural part of weather and erosion.
Here are two completely different results using drip and splatter elements:
Photo EffectsManipulate a Portrait Photo to Create a Splatter Paint EffectBrandon Spahn
IllustrationCreate an Illustrated Watercolor and Ink Photo Effect in PhotoshopSheridan Johns
This splatter was created using the bristles of a paint brush to flick paint onto paper. If you need some ideas for how to use this brush, consider trying it out on an explosive effect. Or add more debris to a post-apocalyptic scene with just a few clicks.
Learn how to create Gothic photo manipulations with blood and splatter. Give this fun tutorial a try:
Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Dark Gothic Portrait Photo Manipulation With Adobe PhotoshopJenny Le
4. Watercolor Brushes
Every designer should have a set of watercolor brushes. They add great texture to any design and are often multipurpose.
But what can you use watercolor brushes for?
Watercolor brushes are perfect for:
- print design
- text effects
- photo manipulations
Here are a few tutorials to inspire your watercolor creations:
Text EffectsHow to Create a Watercolor Inspired Text Effect in Adobe PhotoshopRose
Photo ManipulationHow to Create an Abstract Vietnamese Woman Portrait in Adobe PhotoshopJenny Le
For this set, I’ve included several brushes for your projects. These brushes are made using very diluted paint and a soft bristled brush.
Want to create your own watercolor brushes? Check out this tutorial:
5. Smoke and Fire Brushes
Fire is so hard to replicate that many artists just give in with a stock. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with mixing multiple mediums.
Using these brushes is also pretty simple. Anytime you need a bit of smoke or fire, just click once (or a few times) on the canvas.
Want to see these in action? Check out these tutorials:
Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Wanted Poster Photo Manipulation in Adobe PhotoshopMelody Nieves
Photo ManipulationAdvanced Photo Manipulation Techniques: Adding Cracks and SmokeMelody Nieves
Great for designers, matte painters, and photo manipulators, smoke and fire brushes create realistic, fiery details with fantastic atmosphere.
Then use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset to create your new brush.
It’s that simple! Gather dozens of smoke images to create your own smoke brush set!
6. Geometric Brushes
Going all the way back to the Egyptians, geometric design has always been a huge part of art and creativity. And you can explore elegant designs with various minimal shapes.
Get started with a photo effect for more experience with geometric elements. Try out this fun Photoshop tutorial to learn how:
When it comes to creating the actual brush, keep it simple sweetheart! Here I used Photoshop’s Shape Tool to create a multipurpose circular brush.
This brush can be used to create awesome tube designs or texture for clothing and metal. Keep the Brush Opacity between 70–100% to accentuate the pattern, or at low levels like 1–20% for a bit of grunge.
7. Art Brushes
Whenever you want to feel like Da Vinci, just open Adobe Photoshop. You too can feel like your favorite traditional artists, even with digital software.
Art brushes are used to create beautiful artistic effects. They simulate traditional art strokes and are used in collaboration with normal round brushes. Check out these tutorials for more painting inspiration:
Fan ArtCreate Stunning “Iron Man” Fan Art From Scratch in PhotoshopSheridan Johns
Digital PaintingHow to Paint Water, Waves, and the Ocean in Adobe PhotoshopMelody Nieves
The best way to create these brushes is to go back to the basics.
Use a simple brush along with acrylic paint to paint several brush strokes. Scan them into your computer or just take a quick picture with an iPhone.
Here I’ve created two different brushes made from the same paint stroke. The first is the original paint texture, and the second mimics the actual art form. Experiment with both to find the style you like.
8. Star Brushes
Another popular trend highlights the spectacular outer space. Star brushes allow artists to paint dozens of tiny star dots in fewer steps.
Want to see them in effect? Master beautiful star and flare light effects with these tutorials:
Photo ManipulationHow to Create an Enchanted Rose Photo Manipulation in Adobe PhotoshopMelody Nieves
Text EffectsHow to Create a Galaxy Text Effect in Adobe PhotoshopRose
Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Hard Round Brush at 100% Opacity to create many small dots on your canvas. Then use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to follow the same steps as before to create your custom brush.
Add small clusters of stars to your landscape paintings for realistic night-time environments.
9. Realistic Hair Brushes
Google recently told me that our hair contains 100,000 hair follicles. 100,000!
Will you be painting them all by hand? I certainly won’t!
Use hair brushes to make the process easier! Yes, it’s true! You can paint dozens of hair strands with a single brush stroke. Learn how to paint realistic hair from these tutorials:
Digital PaintingAn Introduction to Painting Realistic Hair in Adobe PhotoshopMelody Nieves
Adobe PhotoshopHow to Paint Realistic Hair in Adobe Photoshop: Braids and DreadlocksMelody Nieves
To create a Photoshop hair brush, the process is pretty simple. Use the Brush Tool (B) again, at full Hardness and Opacity.
Paint four black dots in a row. Capture these dots as a custom brush. Then enable Pen Pressure under the Shape Dynamics and Transfer settings for a fluid result.
Use this efficient hair brush to save valuable time!
10. Nature Brushes
Build a forest without ever drawing a single tree. Nature brushes are essential for a fast painting workflow.
And the best types of brushes are usually in the form of a silhouette. These brushes can be used to paint background bushes, flowers, and more. Learn how to work with natural brushes with these tutorials:
Digital PaintingCreate a Mountain Fortress Using Matte Painting Techniques in PhotoshopEric Dima-ala
Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Desolate Wasteland in Adobe PhotoshopJenny Le
For this brush, I used this 3D object from ThemeKeeper Elements. After downloading the tree at the angle you prefer, pass it through the Threshold filter at a high level. Enjoy a clean silhouette effect that can help you overcome depth of field issues.
Nature brushes can also be made from high-quality stocks! Check out this video to create a custom leaf brush set:
Get the Essentials!
Conquer the Brush Tool one tutorial at a time. Experiment with different styles and textures by downloading brushes from your favorite artists.
New to Photoshop? No problem!
Learn more about the Brush Tool to make the most out of these assets: