Design Your Own Creative Brush Packs in Photoshop & Illustrator | Gerren Lamson | Skillshare

Design Your Own Creative Brush Packs in Photoshop & Illustrator

Gerren Lamson, Chief Design Officer of Creative Market

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12 Lessons (40m)
    • 1. Trailer

      2:16
    • 2. An Introduction to R&D

      2:08
    • 3. Filling out your Creative Brief

      2:17
    • 4. Path A: Create Physical Illustrations

      11:34
    • 5. Path B: Using Found Objects & Surfaces

      7:36
    • 6. Path A: Refine Physical Illustrations

      2:24
    • 7. Path B: Refine Objects & Surfaces

      2:07
    • 8. Path C: Refine Digital Illustrations

      1:22
    • 9. Path D: Bonus! Physical to Vectorize Art Refinement

      2:10
    • 10. Export your PS Brush Set

      2:14
    • 11. Export your AI Brush Set

      2:04
    • 12. Tips for Creating Screenshots

      2:15

Project Description

Create your own Brush Pack

Research & Idea Development

  1. Brainstorming ideas

    Ok, let’s get started! The first step is coming up with a creative idea that you’re passionate about making — one that will result in beautiful and useful brushes that designers can apply to their projects. So, before we add some structure to this class, let’s leave it wide open and brainstorm for a few minutes.

    Grab a piece of paper and a pen.

    Start by listing out a few creative interests, such as watercolor techniques that you’ve wanted to try, objects that you may have found or collected over time, photos of tactile surfaces that you’d like to go hunting for, and more. Try not to censor yourself.

    Creative ideas can be found all around you — in the objects, tools, and experiences of your daily life. As an example, here’s a short list of interesting artistic possibilities that I’ve either been thinking about  lately.

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    And, don’t worry if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, because I’ve put together a list of concepts in the Additional Resources. Feel free to pick from it to generate your list.

    Once you’ve made a list of brush concepts that interest you, put a star next to your 3 favorite ideas.

  2. Select your approach

    In order to narrow down your top 3 ideas into a final direction, you need to think about how your brush pack might be used.

    Brushes typically fall in two major categories: Embellishment brushes and Utility brushes. And sometimes, a brush can be both.

    The embellishment brush type contains artwork that is ready to use as-is, and requires little-to-no editing when applying to a design project. Examples of embellishment brushes are as follows: paper textures, scans of found objects, repeating and non-repeating patterns, seals & frames, spot illustrations, lettering, and more.

    Embellishment brushes act more like clip-art in the way that they immediately enhance a project, and their produced in either Photoshop (raster) or Illustrator (vector) file formats — and sometimes both.

    The utility brush type contains artwork that is meant to be edited, layered and manipulated to achieve a particular visual result. Examples of utility brushes are paint strokes, light and flare effects, distressed textures, stain swatches, pencil rubbings, charcoal smudges, and much more.

    Utility brushes perform 2 functions: (1) they can be used to style the strokes made by the brush tool, and (2) they can be used as raw material to apply in a single or multiple stamped-down fashion.

    Now, after reading about the approaches, go back to your 3 favorite ideas, and see which are embellishment or utility. Are you more interested in making pre-made artwork or raw material for users to apply and manipulate in their work?

    Pick your favorite idea. Put five stars next to. Celebrate!

  3. Identify your creation path

    Now that you've got your idea and approach nailed down, it's time to figure out the specific path you'll follow to create artwork and refine it into your brush pack. Make sure to read through the requirements too.


    A. Physical artwork: Illustration

    Requirements: access to a scanner*, tools and materials for creating your desired physical art, and Photoshop.

    If your idea involves artistic tools, such as paint brushes, charcoal, pencils, stamp-making supplies, and more, then this is most likely your path. 

    Bonus: If you're feeling ambitious, you can create strokes, swashes and more using your art tools, and take your artwork through Photoshop into Illustrator to create Vector Art Brushes. This would be your path: Section 2: Path A → Section 3: Path A → then Path D.


    B. Physical artwork: Found Objects & Surfaces

    Requirements: access to a scanner* or SLR camera, found objects or surface materials to work with, and Photoshop.

    Recommended for beginners.

    If your idea involves digging through old books and magazines, gathering materials from nature, taking out your box of antique collectibles, photographing various surfaces, and more, then this is most likely your path. 

    C. Digital Artwork through Vector Illustration

    Requirements: Illustrator.

    If your idea consists of using vector lines and shapes to produce clean artwork (or if you plan on porting over your physical illustrations to make flexible vector versions — recommended only for advanced students), then this is most likely your path. 

    *Note: If you don’t own a scanner, you can scan your artwork at your local FedEx Kinko’s store for a fee. Remember to bring a flash drive to bring your files home with you.

    Here’s a chart that I put together to show the three major paths that I described above — so that you can confirm which of these your idea follows.

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  4. Prepare your creative brief

    Ok, we're almost through with the research and development phase!

    Now it’s time to put together a short creative brief for your project — which is a simple, one-page guide that defines your idea, outlines a general production strategy, and can be referred back to as needed throughout the production process. Think of it as the blueprint that defines your goals for your brush project.

    I’ve created a Creative Brief PDF for you to download (see attachments to this section). You can print it out and fill in the fields, which are explained below. 

    Here's a sample of how yours might look after you've filled it out for your project:

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    Brush Title: Come up with a fun, work-in-progress name for your brush pack.

    Approach: Select either Embellishment or Utility brush type (or, in some rare instances, it may be both).

    Creation Path: Describe your anticipated creation path based on the previous section. Here are a few examples of what your selection might look like:

    • Physical Illustration > Scans > Photoshop
    • Physical Illustration > Scans > Photoshop > Illustrator
    • Found Object / Surfaces > Photographs > Photoshop
    • Digital Illustration > Illustrator

    Tools: List out the tool(s) that you think you'll need for your project.

    • If you're starting with Physical Creation, your tools will be things like art brushes, paper, found objects, etc.
    • If you're starting straight in Illustrator for Digital Creation, (and not using any physical creation in your process), you can put none.

    Visual Style & Content: Briefly describe the content and style of your artwork, and how you intended to produce it. For example: sketchy & loose charcoal swatches, unedited scans of aged paper from 18th century books, block patterns of floral and fauna elements in the style of old mediterranean pottery, etc.

    Quantity: Put down a tentative number of brushes that you're thinking of making. A quantity of 10 is a good minimum for beginners, but feel free to put down a more ambitious number if you plan on producing a larger exploratory batch of artwork in your creation process.

    Target Uses: Describe a few ways in which you foresee the brushes being used by others. If you need ideas, see the Target Uses doc in the Additional Resources.

    File Format(s) & Extras:

    • Make sure to put either .ABR Photoshop brush document type (raster) or .AI Illustrator brush document type (vector).
    • (optional) If you plan on making your brush artwork more versatile to customers by including various other file types, you may add one or more of the following: .TIFF files, .PNG files, .BMP files, .JPEG files, .EPS files, .PSD files, etc.

    And that's it! If you have any questions about the fields or trouble filling it, let me know.

  5. Create a mood board

    The last step of the research & development phase is to put together a mood board — which will serve as a visual guide for the type of artwork you’ll create or source for your final brush pack design.

    For this class, I’m recommending using Pinterest by creating either a private or public board. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up here and learn the basics of setting up a board and pinning images.

    I’ve put together a large Pinterest board of various brush inspiration  for you to browse through. However, your mood board should be just examples that you find of your selected brush idea (e.g. 20-30 visuals of pressed leaves, if that’s your concept).



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    I recommend pinning at least 20 images, to give yourself time to discover diversity within your overall brush concept — since we’ll be making a minimum of 10 individual brushes that will work as a cohesive set. 

    If you need sites to dig through artistic imagery, have a look at the following visual inspiration sites:

The Creation Process

  1. Path A: create physical illustrations

    A. Prepare your Workspace
    No matter what type of physical illustration or mark-making you're going to create, it's a good idea to find the brightest spot in your home (or outside), and a sturdy surface to work on.

    Make sure to have plenty of the paper appropriate for your planned art medium and a diverse set of tools to experiment with that are applicable for your idea.

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    B. Experiment with your Art Medium

    Depending on your selected concept, you'll explore a variety of mark-making, drawn objects or spot illustrations, and texture creation.

    Before sharing tips across a few popular tools, here's a list of high-level considerations as you experiment:

    • Have fun and experiment! This is a unique chance to get creative with making physical artwork, so take risks — even if they don't get used after scanned in.
    • Since Photoshop brushes are produced from greyscale artwork, have intention in creating lighter and darker areas — as the lighter ones will be more opaque in the final result.
    • Are you working on a Utility concept? Make as many dashes, strokes, shaded blocks and shapes as possible, and explore different pressures on your tool and aggressive or passive movement in your mark-making. If you're concept is to explore block patterns, produce as much variation as possible. Think about how designers may use this artwork to singularly or repeatedly stamp it to produce a desired result.
    • If you're using art tools such as charcoal, pastels, pencils and the like to create swashes and strokes, or texture and shaded swatches, you'll have the option of also making Vector Art Brushes (for swashes / strokes) or Vector Scatter Brushes (for texture or shaded swatches).
    • Are you working on an Embellishment concept? Create different iterations of your illustrated subject matter, and keep in mind how designers might use your spot illustrations in their work. Maybe they'll need a version with white space to incorporate type into, or want to interlock or repeat pieces to achieve a certain result. Make as many variations that come to mind of your subject matter until you don't want to anymore. It's better to have more to scan, than less.
    • Think about the thickness or thinness of your tool, the speed at which you create your art, the pressure you apply when mark-making, and the abstract or objective content of the pieces you're creating.
    • For best results, we'll scan our final batch of visual experiments to get from our physical illustration to
    • Think of your brush pack as a cohesive set of artwork; so, shoot for exploring a variety of visuals but set any constraints that you feel necessary to keep your concept consistent and diverse.

    And now, it's time to put your mark on that blank page!

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    B1. Pencils
    Whether you're producing raw mark-making or a spot illustration, always use darker, softer pencils (B, 2B, 4B, 6B, charcoal varieties). Light pencil artwork makes for weak stamps and can be difficult to use well, so start with darker lead and lighten your pressure with intention as needed.

    Tip: If you're drawing triangle patterns, make dozens. If you're drawing texture shading swatches, make 5 times as much as needed and vary the shapes, direction and pressure. Play with erasers for extra effects.

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    B2. Charcoal, Pastels, Crayons
    When using charcoal, it's best to stick with compressed charcoal as it's darker and smudges less. Avoid vine or willow charcoal varieties, as they produce messy, light grey artwork. Charcoal pencils work well too, but offer less flexibility for varying the width of your mark-making. Oh, and get some blending stumps to play with too.

    Tip: Charcoal has a deeper range than pencils; it produces super dark blacks and light speckling textures. Use this dynamic to your advantage.

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    If you're having trouble coming up with textures, patterns or subject matter for illustrations, then you might consider shifting your concept to allow for charcoal rubbings.

    Many semi-flat objects found in nature and your home can produce interesting visuals when when you place a piece of paper over them to produce a rubbing (rough carbon copy). Or, you can go hunting for texture surfaces just about anywhere.

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    B3. Pens & Markers
    Basic pens, markers, and highlighters are easy to find and offer dark blacks and light grey mark-making. With pens like Micron Ink Pens or Brush Pens, you can create dots, dashes and lines as texture or pattern swatches, and produce high-contrast illustrations, lettering and more. If exploring markers, keep in mind that lighter color or grey tones will result in lower-contrast brush art. And, don't forget about calligraphy style pens and india ink too.

    Tip: Mix pen brush types and markers for unique executions. You can also use tracing paper on top of sourced art to create new hand-drawn iterations of existing imagery.

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    B4. Paint Brushes
    When one thinks of Brushes, creating art swatches with acrylic and watercolor paints quickly comes to mind. You can explore texture and tonal ranges easily by adding more water, transparency mediums or pulling paint quickly across the page. Make sure you use paper appropriate to your paint medium (e.g. watercolor paper, acrylic paper, etc.).

    Tip: You don't have to use color paint pigments; black works just fine since your art will turn to greyscale in brush format. Vary the type of brush tips and sizes to get a larger range of styles, and play with brush tip angle and speed too.

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    B5. Stamps
    If using a stylus instrument isn't your thing, then finding vintage stamps (wood type, steel type, rubber stamps) or carving your own out of craft rubber (or potatoes!) using a Speedball linoeum cutter. You can find these tools at your local craft store.

    Carving around a shape will result in the positive (black image) of your art. Carving your shape out of the rubber will create the negative (white image) of your art.

    Tip: Use a black dye ink pad and white paper for best results, making sure to ink your stamp a few times on the pad and pressing hard on it when stamping the paper. Or, for a different look, try white pigment ink on black paper (and inverse it digitally during the Refinement step). If you're attempting to make letters or words, produce an outline of it backwards with a pencil first.

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    C. Moving your Artwork into Digital

    Now that you've completed a batch of physical illustrations on paper, it's time to make them digital. The best approach to do this is using a scanner.

    C1. Scanning your Art
    If you're looking to get a scanner, there are many affordable ones out there. I've owned a CanonScan 5600F for a while, and it's worked great.

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    If you don't own a scanner and don't want to buy one, it's easy to head over to a nearby FedEx to make your scans, and take them with you on a USB flash drive.

    Resolution & Format: It's important to scan each illustrated paper scrap or sheet at a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. But, I recommend scanning at 600+ dpi to shoot for the highest quality possible. You can always scale the image down in size if needed later. Also, it's ideal to scan in as JPEG and TIF file formats, so shoot for those in the option settings.

    How to Use: If you've got a scanner (or just bought one), follow the software instructions the brand provides to use your scanner. If you go to FedEx to use their scanner and can't figure it out, ask for an employee for help.

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    Layout: Since your artwork was produced on single sheets or lots of smaller scraps, you can either (a) scan one single sheet at a time, or (b) lay out lots of your smaller scraps in a grid in which they don't overlap, and scan them in as sets with this approach.

    And, that's it! You're ready for the next step: 3C Refining your Physical Illustrations.

  2. Path B: sourcing found objects & surfaces

    A. Prepare your Workspace
    With this approach, you may not need artistic tools, but it's a good idea to create large white workspace surface to experiment with your found objects and surfaces.

    (Note: This does not apply to those who plan on going out into the field to take photography of textured surfaces).

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    B. Source your Raw Creative Material
    Depending on your selected concept, this is when you'll gather a diversity of objects or surfaces appropriate to use in your project idea.

    Before sharing tips across a few popular tools, here's a list of high-level considerations as you experiment:

    • Is your object flat enough to scan (see section C1), or does it need to be photographed from the top or side? (see section C2). Is it not an object but rather a physical surface, such as a distressed wood or concrete (see section C3).
    • Are you going to scan the object(s) as-is, arrange them in a cluster (strip, square, circle, burst, etc.), or make them take on different meaning by arranging them as a unique symbol, word or shape layout?
    • Do your objects have higher-contrast (ideal) or lower-contrast in their details? Shoot for objects that have higher-contrast to lessen the amount of adjustment during the Refinement process, and allow users to have the option to lower the contrast by making the final brush less opaque.
    • Always make more scans or take more photos than you think you'll need. You can edit out the less ideal ones of the final pack.
    • Think of your brush pack as a cohesive set of artwork; so, shoot for exploring a variety of visuals but set any constraints that you feel necessary to keep your concept consistent but diverse.

    B1. Nature & Food Objects
    Objects found in nature or foods offer less flexibility in terms of usage as a design resource, but can be beautiful and stylish. Explore gathering a variety of your desired object, such as leaves, flowers, feathers, petals, berries, bark, twigs, dirt, nuts, animal by-products, sectioned fruits and vegetables, and more.

    Tip: Make sure to scan or photograph both sides of each natural / food object, and aim for a cohesive set of visuals — such as many types of leaves that you can find as possible.

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    B2. Craft & Office Supplies

    Finding great objects from your craft, packaging and office supplies can make for good, flexible brushes. Explore gathering a variety of your selected object type, which may be washi tape, twines, rubber bands, staples, masking tape, sticks, bunting flags, price tags, shipping supplies, packaging stamps, and much more.

    Tip: Craft and office supplies are easy to form words, letters and symbols using the objects, and make for very useful brushes when just scanned in as-is.

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    B3. Spices, Dust & Particles
    If you're looking to make a distressed brush that's useful in texturing stale Photoshop layers, then it's worth experimenting with particle-based substances to scan or photograph from above. Experiment with all of your spices in the kitchen, different types of dirts, and more as splashes, bursts, shapes, symbols and more. If you want to discover distressed textures, try taking your camera out to capture weathered wood, concrete, oxidizing metals, and more.

    Tip: If you only have light particles such as sugar, flour, and salt, play with them on black paper so that you can reverse the art after you photograph it. It's best to avoid scanning because you'll get particles everywhere in your hardware if placed right on the scanner bed glass.

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    B4. Random Finds
    If you're not interested in traditional route, go to a thrift or antique store to hunt for neat objects. Or, if you've got a junk drawer, dig through and see if you find any treasures. Think about collecting a similar batch of objects (e.g. differen types of antique wood type or vintage stamps), or gather a batch of various objects and use a fun, conceptual name and description to provide cohesion for your brush pack.

    Tip: Look for random objects that have a similar theme and might make for a cohesive, useful set of artwork. Think about the dimension of the objects, and lean towards higher contrast visuals. If what you collected is flat, you'll be able to easily scan them in. If your objects and three-dimensional, you'll need to photograph them on a white surface from the top down, or against a white backdrop from the side view.

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    B5. Paper & Textile Samples
    One of the easiest objects to start making brushes which are paper and textile samples as their flat which makes them ideal for scanning. These types of materials are an ideal resource for adding dimension and tactility to flat artwork and design work. They can vary from subtle to more drastic in contrast and texture.

    Tip: Scan the largest swatches of each of your paper or textile samples as possible; you can crop them down to a tighter, appropriate swatches as needed in the Refinement process. Shoot for as many variations of the surface you're exploring.

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    B6. Old Books & Illustrations
    If you've collected antique books, magazines, newspapers and the like, then you can explore scanning in aged papers, book covers and vintage spot illustrations to produce brush artwork. Interior pages offer nice aged paper art and make engraved plate artwork; book covers over various materials such as leathers, tweeds, linens and more.

    Tip: It's better to focus on source material that's older than 100 years (that hasn't been published for a long time), to ensure that you're safe to sell it as a brush resource.

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    C. Bridging the Physical to Digital
    Now that you've got your sourced objects collected and arranged, or found good candidates for texture surfaces — it's time to make them digital.

    C1. Scanning Objects
    If you're looking to get a scanner, there are many affordable ones out there. I've owned a CanonScan 5600F for a while, and it's worked great.

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    If you don't own a scanner and don't want to buy one, it's easy to head over to a nearby FedEx to make your scans on a USB flash drive to take home.

    Resolution & Format: It's important to scan each single object or group of objects at a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. I recommend scanning at 600+ dpi to shoot for the highest quality possible. You can always scale the image down in size if needed later. Also, it's ideal to scan in as JPEG and TIF file formats, so shoot for those in the option settings.

    How to Use: If you've got a scanner (or just bought one), follow the software instructions the brand provides to use your scanner. If you're at FedEx and can't figure it out, ask for help from an employee.

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    Object Layout: The quickest way to get your objects in is to put many of them in a loose grid on the scanner bed in order to consolidate the number of scans. Alternatively, if you're scanning surface materials such as paper sheets or textiles, you should scan one at a time so that the benefit from the full size of scanner bed.

    C2. Photography: Top Down
    If you're object isn't flat enough or is too messy for the scanner, I recommend shooting from directly ahead. For best results, you'll need a basic tri-pod (such as the one I have from BestBuy), and a basic SLR digital camera.

    I have a Canon EOS Rebel camera, and it works great in these situations. If you don't have a camera, try to borrow one from a friend. And, as a last result, you can use an iPhone5 (make sure HDR is on) and a tri-pod although I don't recommend doing this.

    Set-up each object on a surface with a white sheet next to the brightest window(s) you have access too. It's best if the light comes from multiple sources instead of just one, and you should watch to make sure you're not blocking the light or creating shadows.

    Scoot the camera next to the edge of the table, and point it straight down at the object — centering it on the view finder. Set the camera to Auto (settings & focus) if that is easiest for you. If you know a bit about your camera, set it to Manual, and adjust the ISO setting inbetween 20 - 80 to get a nice bright shot. The goal is to get a straight-on, bright and crisp shot of each object.

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    Shoot each object individually, to avoid any fish-eye warping of the perspective. Zoom out to counter if you're experiencing difficulty with warping.

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    Since you're using a tri-pod, you'll want to find the vertical and horizontal levels on it, and make sure they fit their ideal middle targets in order to produce the straightest shot possible.

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    If you're shooting texture surfaces it's still a good idea to use a tri-pod to produce crisp shots.

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    Photograph your entire object set during the same session to get the consistent, even lighting, then transfer the digital pics to your computer.

    C3. Photographing from the Side View
    In the rare instance that scanning and top-down photography won't work for your project, you can set-up two sheets of large white paper (one for the 'floor' and one for the 'backing wall') to create a make-shift white environment.

    Follow the camera set-up in the previous section (C2), but set the camera pointed straight forward. Bring up or down the height of the tri-pod so that the camera is pointed straight at the object that is sitting upright in your white environment.

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    The object I'm using in this example is a wooden floral stamp that is sitting upright from it's handle. Here's an angled shot I snapped with my phone to give you an idea of how the object is set-up on a white surface with a white backdrop.

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    And here's the final bright, crisp shot — ready for the Refinement stage.

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    Shoot the rest of your objects in the same session, and transfer the digital pics to your computer.

  3. Path C: create vector illustrations

    We'll be focusing on creating Scatter and Pattern brushes in Illustrator, which are very similar types that use single objects or a group of objects to repeat them along a path. I'll explain more about this in-depth when we get to the refinement section next: (3C).

    The main thing to remember as you go through this is process is: If your original idea changes a bit as you learn the tools in Illustrator, that's ok. It's all about having fun!

    A. Prepare Your AI Workspace
    Open up Illustrator, and want to create a new doc using the menu (File > New) or the short cut of (Command + N). You'll get a dialog box, and typically all of the default settings work fine. Name your file and hit Ok.

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    Next, if you need structure support (Rulers, Guides, Grids) for your concept, follow the next two paragraphs. If not, skip to Section B.

    A1. Rulers & Guides
    You can turn on Rulers by using the short-cut (Command + R) or the menu (View > Rulers > Show Rulers). With Rulers, you can pull down Guides by clicking and dragging from the left-anchored or top-anchored ruler bars to display blue lines that can help you measure and draw against. If you're not seeing them, you can toggle the visibility by using the short-cut (Command + ;) or the menu (View > Guides > Show or Hide Guides).

    A2. Grid
    If you're looking for more structure, you can turn on the Grid by using the short-cut (Command + ') or the menu (View > Show Grid). You can then make shapes, lines and drawings  snap to the Grid by using the short-cut (Command + Shift + ') or the menu (View > Snap to Grid).

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    B. Creating Vector Art

    B1. Filled Shapes Artwork

    As you create multiple shapes, you should consider:

    • the size of the shapes (consistent or varied)
    • the colors of the shapes (consistent or complimentary)
    • layout of the grouped objects (tighter or looser)


    The Pen Tool

    Select the pen tool in the Tool Panel (Note: if it's not showing up, go to Window > Tools to make it visible).

    Click a few points on the artboard to start drawing the shapes you want.

    On the left in the image below, I've drawn a few shapes loosely grouped together (a good approach for Scatter brushes), and applied different Fill colors by double-clicking in the Fill area to pick a color for each shape. (Note: You'll need to turn off the Stroke color by clicking it to bring it to forward, and selecting the the red strike-out icon below.)

    If you click and drag with the pen tool, you'll create a curve-ready endpoint with two anchor points that can be controlled with the white arrow tool (top right icon in the toolbar). Curving certain points make it easy to create shapes like the eye, speech bubble and heart in the image sample below.

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    On the right in the image above, I've copied certain shapes and tightly grouped them together to create block-style pattern swatches.

    In order to copy Shapes, click one to select it. If you're using short-cuts, Copy the object (Command + C), and Paste the copy (Command + V). If you want to paste it right on top of the original use Paste in Front (Command + F), and then use the direction arrows on your keyboard to shift it to a new position. If you prefer to use the menu for these actions, they are: Copy (Edit > Copy), Paste (Edit > Paste) and Paste in Front (Edit > Paste in Front).


    The Shape Tool

    Another way of creating shapes is by using the Shape tool. Click and hold over the rectangle shape icon to pull up the sub-menu, which offers a few basic shapes.

    You can see how I've drawn a loose group of basic shapes on the bottom of my art board using the Shape tool.

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    B2. Stroke Art
    If filled shapes aren't what you're looking for, then starting with stroke paths (and then expanding them into shapes) can produce interesting results.

    Open up the Stroke panel using the short-cut (Command + F10) or the menu (Windows > Strokes).

    Switch your color swatches from Fill to Stroke only by clicking the double-arrow icon next to the swatches in the bottom area of your toolbar.

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    The Pen Tool
    Yep! You can also use the pen tool to create interesting line work by clicking multiple points. (Tip: Holding down shift will create straight vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines).

    If you like the filled shapes that you already drew, you can select them with the arrow tool, and switch the fill color to be the stroke color.

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    In the image above, you can see that I've drawn sprinkle lines, a group of arrows, and switched the hearts I drew from fill to stroke color with 2 different weights by selecting individual hearts and changing the weight from 1 to 2.

    The Line Tool
    The Line tool (and few preset options inside the tool) is another easy alternative to draw your stroke artwork.

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    The Pencil Tool
    Or, if you like to draw by hand, you can use the Pencil tool to create loose vector paths. Inside the Pencil options, the Smooth tool makes it easy to go back over your drawn lines by clicking and dragging over them to refine the curves.

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    Converting Stroke Art to Filled Shapes
    In order to prepare stroke art to become a vector brush, you'll need to expand the strokes to filled shapes.

    Select the stroke artwork using the Selection tool (top left black arrow icon in the toolbar), and go to Object > Expand. When the dialog window pops up, make sure that Stroke is selected and hit OK. And you're done!

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    B3. Fil & Stroke Combined Art
    Lastly, if you want a more advanced look, combine both Fill Shapes and Strokes to create colorful repeating icons and objects.

    Make sure your strokes are expanded, and group together the Filled Shapes and expanded Strokes of each piece of artwork by clicking and dragging around it to select it. Then, Group the items using the short-cut (Command + G) or the menu (Object > Group).

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    And now we're ready to move to the Refinement stage (3C).

    On creating illustrations in Illustrator:

    If you're looking to making non-repeat or seamless repeating patterns, here are some extra resources that can help:

    If you're looking to making non-repeat or seamless repeating patterns, here are some extra resources that can help:

    If you're looking to produce hand-drawn letters, embellishments, seals, badges, ampersands and more — to help you create PS or AI brushes, here are a few tutorials to explore:

The Refinement Process

  1. Path A: refine physical illustrations

    A. The Goal of Refinement
    Now that you've scanned in your illustrated artwork (or uploaded your photos), it's time to edit and refine them.

    With Photoshop brushes, there are a few key things to keep in mind as you adjust the levels and/or brightness and contrast of your art:

    1. The lighter areas of a piece of artwork will be more transparent as a brush. Areas that are totally black will be 100% opaque.
    2. Moderately high contrast in your artwork will create a more flexible brush. Users will be able to earn the benefit of rich details, but have the flexibility to lower the bold quality of your art by making it more opaque. If you worked with black markers, pens and india ink, this dynamic doesn't factor in for you.
    3. Higher resolution scans and larger sized artwork samples will allow you get closer to the 5000 pixel brush size limit that Photoshop CC has — making your brush more useful for lots of folks. If you are in a lower version of Photoshop, you'll be creating 2500 pixel brush sizes and below.

    B. Preparing for Refinement
    Whether you have individual files for each piece of artwork, or sheets with multiple illustrations on each, open up your first one in Photoshop.

    Here's my sample sheet, which contains different styles and content so that I can walkthrough a few examples of how to adjust the artwork.

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    Note: If you have a sheet with lots of illustrated pieces like me, you'll want to copy each individual piece to a new document unless your adjustments apply across all of the artwork.

    First, you'll select the Rectangular Marquee Tool in the Toolbar on the right (the keyboard short-cut for this tool is 'M'), and click and drag around an individual piece of your artwork to select it.

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    If the Rectangular Marquee Tool doesn't help you surround just one piece of illustration because they are tightly grouped on your scan, use the Lasso Tool (the keyboard short-cut for this tool is 'L'). With the Lasso Tool, you'll want to draw around your illustration. You can add some feathering, but don't set the number too high so that the fade around your object doesn't cut off your illustration or include an object that might be next to the one you're selecting. Make sure as you're loosely tracing around your art that you leave a little white space around it so that you don't cut into any side of your illustration.

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    Next, you'll want to Copy (⌘ + V), start a New Document (⌘+ N, or File > New Document in the menu), and set the resolution in the dialog box to match what you scanned in at (for me, that's 800 dpi).  Leave the width and height as whatever pops-up , because Photoshop is auto-generating the file dimensions from your Copy action. Then, you'll Paste (⌘ + V) your artwork into it. Then, you'll want to Save As (⌘+ Shift + S, or File > Save As) your new document as a Photoshop document.

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    And now we're ready to adjust the artwork! There are four adjustment tools that you can use to enhance your image, either individually or in combination with each other: Brightness / Contrast, Levels, Curves, and Exposure.

    C1. Brightness / Contrast
    To create this adjustment, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness / Contrast in the menu. A dialog box will pop up asking you to name the layer, and the panel will open after you hit Ok.

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    The Brightness / Contrast filter is a quick fix. You can increase or decrease the Brightness and Contrast by moving the sliders. The goal of using this tool is to brighten your artwork enough to make the paper texture fade away, and bump up the contrast to give your art a bolder look. For my charcoal sample, I've increased both options to 40, and it's done the trick.

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    Save this PSD, and perform the same process to all of your individual art pieces.

    Here are a few other ways you can refine your artwork, if Brightness / Contrast doesn't work well for you. Keep in mind that you can stack multiple layer effects above your art, if a combination of effects works best for you.

    C2. Levels
    After selecting another piece of artwork and getting it into a new document, open and add the following effect layer through the main menu: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. For the example, I've pulled a watercolor swatch I made.

    Tip: Make sure that the Levels effect (the wave icon) is selected in the Layers palette on the right, instead of the white mask to the right of it.

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    Within the Levels panel, you can choose a Present (there are some decent options for increasing contrast), or play with pulling the 3 sliders underneath inward to increase contrast to taste. For my sample, I pulled the black and white controls in, and placed all of the sliders further to the right.

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    Save this PSD, and perform the same process to all of your individual art pieces.

    C3. Curves
    After selecting another piece of artwork and getting it into a new document, open and add the following effect layer through the main menu: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. For this example, I've pulled an owl illustration that I made with a Micron pen.

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    Within the Curves panel, you can choose a preset (there are a few options), or play with the grid to increase brightness and contrast. For my process, I clicked on the diagonal line once near the top right and once near the bottom left, and then dragged the top right dot up and bottom left dot down to increase brightness and contrast. You can also adjust the black and white sliders at the bottom, although most of the time, I find that's not needed to get a good result.

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    Save this PSD, and perform the same process to all of your individual art pieces.

    C4. Exposure
    After selecting another piece of artwork and getting it into a new document, open and add the following effect layer through the main menu: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Exposure. For this example, I've pulled a pencil swatch that I made.

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    Within the Exposure panel, experiment with the three filter options: Exposure, Offset and Gamma Correction. With these effect options, it's best to play it more conservatively — thus why I set mine to 0.5, -.1 and 0.5 to produce a decent result. Always make sure that the Exposure setting is above 0. If it dips below 0, the background will start to turn grey, and that effect will transfer into your brush.

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    Save this PSD, and perform the same process to all of your individual art pieces if this adjustment type worked best for you.

    And that's it! You should have a cohesive batch of physical illustrations adjusted and ready to output into a brush pack.

    Skip forward to Section 4 (Output & Packaging), Project Step #1 (Export your PS Brush Set).

    Or, if you're looking to move this artwork in Illustrator, skip forward to Project Step 4 (Path D) in this Section.

  2. Path B: refine objects & surfaces

    A. The Goal of Refinement
    Now that you've scanned in or uploaded photographs of your found objects / surfaces collection, it's time to edit and refine the artwork.

    When creating Photoshop brushes out of Found Objects & Surfaces, there are a few key things to keep in mind as you adjust your artwork:

    1. The lighter areas of your artwork will be more transparent as a brush, and the darker areas will be more opaque.
    2. If you're working with found objects that are planned to be embellishment brushes, it's typically better to shoot for a little more contrast. And, you'll probably have to clip out, mask or erase around each image to isolate it on a white background.
    3. If you're working with texture surfaces that are planned to be utility brushes, you'll want to be minimal with contrast if you're processing papers, and heavy-handed with adjustments if you're processing surfaces like distressed concrete.
    4. Higher resolution scans or photographs of large sized objects or surface samples will allow you get closer to the 5000 pixel brush size limit that Photoshop CC has — making your brush more useful for lots of folks. If you're in a lower version of Photoshop, you'll be creating 2500 pixel sized brushes and below.

    B. Preparing for Refinement
    Whether you have individual scans or photographs of each object / surface, or files with multiple objects / surfaces on them, open up your first one in Photoshop.

    Here's a sample sheet I produced of a few different objects / surfaces that will help me walkthrough a few adjustment examples:

    2a31035e



    Before we start adjusting each object, I find that it's helpful to strip out the color so that we know exactly what we're dealing with. To do that, you can use the short-cut (Shift + ⌘ + U) or the menu (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate), and your artwork should look like this:

    4198b44a

    Note: If you have scans or photographs with lots of objects or surfaces samples on them like me, you'll want to copy each individual piece to a new document.

    First, you'll select the Rectangular Marquee Tool in the Toolbar on the left (the keyboard short-cut for this tool is 'M'), and click and drag around an individual object or surface sample.

    For objects, you'll most likely want to select around them (like my quarter example). For surfaces or textures, you may not want to show the border of your sample, so make a selection inside your artwork (like my paper example).

    2d5d4493

    Alternatively, you can use the Lasso Tool just under the Rectangular Marquee Tool in the left Toolbar (or select it with the keyboard short-cut 'L'). With the Lasso Tool, you'll want to draw around an individual object. You can add some Feather effect (located in the top menu bar), but don't set the number too or your selection may fade your object or start to reveal the one next to it.

    Make sure as you're loosely tracing around your object that you leave a little white space around it so that you don't cut into the sides of it.

    c9c18390

    Next, you'll want to Copy (⌘ + V), start a New Document (⌘+ N, or File > New Document in the menu), and set the resolution in the dialog box to match what you scanned in at (for me, that's 800 dpi). Leave the width and height as whatever pops-up , because Photoshop is auto-generating the file dimensions from your Copy action. Click Ok.

    Then, you'll Paste (⌘ + V) your artwork into it. Then, you'll want to Save As (⌘ + Shift + S, or File > Save As) your new document as a Photoshop document.

    f174b92a

    7bf7fe05

    And now we're ready to adjust the artwork! Make sure to save your PSD before proceeding.

    There are four adjustment tools that you can use to enhance your image, which are as follows: Brightness / Contrast, Levels, Curves and Exposure.

    Note: Make sure to read through all of the examples, as I'll also be sharing tips about clipping objects out and making masks as you may need to removed shadows from your scanned or photographed objects for a cleaner finish.

    C1. Brightness / Contrast
    To create this adjustment, go to Layer  New Adjustment Layer > Brightness / Contrast in t

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