Create Your Own Grunge Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
It's a fairly easy feat to create custom sets of grunge brushes in Adobe Photoshop once you have a couple of techniques down. The main ideas are to have a textured source and to play around with filters that manipulate the look of sketched-out lines and doodles. Join me below in creating a custom set of brushes, ready for painting with, using three sources of texture: scanned paper and objects, a stock photo, and manipulated doodles within Photoshop itself.
You can download the watercolor paper by hitting the Download Attachment button to the right of this tutorial, or scan textured paper of your own. The texture of the paper is subtle, so I'm going to start by manipulating the Levels (Control-L). Enter 0.12 in the middle box under Input Levels to bring out the texture. 
Changing Levels
Altering the levels has brought out the yellow tone of the paper. Bring it down by simply Desaturating (Shift-Control-U) the image under Image > Adjustments.
Desaturating the image
Under Image > Adjustments > Threshold, move the slider to the right, bringing the Threshold level to 231. Under File, choose Save As (Shift-Control-S) and save the file as a .psd.
Altering Threshold
Create a New Document (72dpi if you need a brush for web-based media, or 300dpi if you'd like to create larger, print-based media). Create a New Layer (Control-N) to begin making custom brushes.
Using the Brush Tool (B), choose a default, soft brush from the Brush panel. Brush out a small pattern or design, something similar to what's seen below (unless you have a specific shape you'd like your brush to be, of course).
Choosing a default brush
This is where the watercolor paper from the previous section comes in handy. Go to Filter > Distort > Displace. In this case, we'll use the default settings. The dialog box that pops up will also prompt you to load a .psd file. Use the watercolor texture file created in Section 1.
Using the displace filter
Further manipulate your layer by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and input the settings of your choice. In my case, I chose 29.55%Gaussian, and kept it as Monochromatic.
Adding noise
Grab the Magic Wand Tool (W) and select the negative space around the little brush design you've been creating. Select Inverse (Shift-Control-I) and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset in order to name and save your new custom brush in the Brush panel.
creating a new brush
Play with your new brush! Change the settings within the Brush panel. Play with the SizeAngleNoise, and Shape Dynamics to further customize your brush, and save an additional copy within the panel itself.
using your new brush
In an effort to experiment with various scanned textures, I used the toy I made for this Craft & DIY tutorial and squished it in my scanner for the sake of art! You can download the scan I used by hitting the Download Attachment button to the right of this tutorial, or scan knit, crochet, or lace pieces of your own (toys, scarves, gloves, etc.).
We'll repeat some of the steps from the previous two sections by doing the following:
  1. Sketch out a shape or quick design with a default brush (note the hardness of this brush is higher than the one used in Section 2).
  2. Save the crochet texture as a .psd file.
  3. Apply the Displace filter with the newly created crochet .psd file. Again, I used the default settings to create what is seen below.
using another scanned texture
For the sake of grungy style and experimentation, let's apply the Displace filter a few more times. I changed the Horizontal Scale settings within the effect to 25, selected Stretch to Fit, and selected Repeat Edge Pixels. Hit Control-F a few times to repeat the same filter. Once the brush is to your liking, select it and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset to name and save your second custom brush in the Brush panel.
displacing the new texture
Once again, play around with your fresh new brush.
using the new custom brush
Our texture for this section is a stock photo of dry dirt, which can be purchased here on Photodune. We're going to create two types of brushes with the stock photo. The first method is the same process as done previously:
  1. Open the stock photo and save it as a .psd file.
  2. Using a default brush, scribble out a shape, lines, or whatever you'd like your brush to be.
  3. Load the stock texture through the Displace filter. This time I set the Horizontal Scale at 25 and the Vertical Scale at 30.
  4. Select and save your brush.
Setting up a new textured brush
Once more, play around with your new brush. Alter the angle jitter in Shape Dynamics within the Brush panel, apply additional noise, or change its Flow and Opacity.
playing with the new brush
This method creates a brush that's more like a texture block. Open the stock image purchased in Section 4. Adjust the Levels by setting the White Input Level to 147 and the Gray Input Level at 0.10. Then, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the level to 110 or so.
altering the levels of a stock photo
Select the positive image left from the previous step and save it as a new brush.
making a new brush
As we've done for each brush created within this tutorial, experiment with your new brush on a New Layer or within a New Document. Save any additional edits you make to the brush within the Brush panel (if you like them, of course).
playing with new texture
Finally, we're at the best part (in my opinion) of this tutorial: creating grungy brushes from scratch! Start as you've done with the other brush styles: drawing blobs, lines, and doodles with a default brush, using the Brush Tool. Apply the Add Noise filter to 155.68%.
adding noise to a doodle
Distort your brush splatter shape further by going to Filter > Distort > Ripple at 797% (or whatever takes your fancy). Continue changing the look of the brushed-out blob shape by applying a new effect, using Filter > Pixelate > Facet.
ripple filter
Let's get the shape that's sort of looking like a weird world map in my document further distorted by going to Filter > Stylize > Wind and selecting Blast and From the Right in the dialogue box that pops up. Hit OK and let's take our final steps in creating a custom grunge brush.
wind filter
Create a New Document and choose a brush that has a real scatter-like quality to it. In my case, I chose Flat Fan High Bristle Count, which has been a default brush since Adobe Photoshop CS5. Take some time to brush out a texture with it all over your document and Save As.psd file.
adobe photoshop cc brush
Use the .psd file created in Step 4 of this section to Displace the design we've been working on during this final section. Once again, I've applied it a few times with the Horizontal Scale set to 25 and Vertical Scale set to 30.
Note the change in the look of the brush when Displace has been applied once versus three times. When satisfied with the look of your brush, Select it and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset to save it in the Brush panel.
differences in displacing
With three texture sources and a couple of techniques in distorting brush strokes, you've created a small set of grunge brushes. Push them further with various brush shapes, texture resources, and different colors to be used when painting or editing photos.
Completed grunge brushes used to create texture
using the displace feature again


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