How to Create Custom Hand and Foot Print Brushes in Adobe Photoshop


Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Hand and foot prints are a fun way to add a human element to a digital design. They are instantly recognizable, yet every one is completely unique. Hand prints are iconic and often symbolize intimate control. Foot prints tend to be seen as representing guidance or travel. Having a set of brushes for these can open up new opportunities for your design work.
Capturing these prints isn't difficult, and can be a lot of fun, although somewhat messy! In this Quick Tip I will share my technique for creating and capturing fun and usable prints.
While it may seem fairly straightforward, obtaining a good quality hand print with no smudges can be more challenging than expected. Not every medium or surface holds a print well enough to translate into a digital resource. But once the correct combination is found, the process is simple and rewarding.
The materials recommended for this project are easily found in any arts and craft store:
  • water soluble ink of any color
  • linoleum block 
  • ink roller
  • heavy duty paper or cardstock
I found the lino block, ink, and roller all together in a Block Printing Kit at my local arts and crafts store.

Block Printing Materials

The most important resource: hands and feet! It is possible to use your own for this project, but it is much easier to use an assistant. I found that a pair of eight-year-old daughters are more than happy to help!

Hands and Feet to make the prints

Squeeze some of the ink out onto the linoleum block

Ink the block

Use the roller to spread the ink around the block. The intent is to cover the roller with ink, not the block.

spread the ink with the roller

Carefully "paint" the hand using the roller. Work to get good coverage inside the cracks of the fingers and slightly around the edges of the palm.

Spread the ink on the hand

Firmly press the hand onto the heavy paper. Check to make sure that the tip of each finger is making good contact with the paper surface.

Press the hand onto the paper

When the hand is lifted up, the paper will stick to it. Carefully peel the paper from the hand to see the result.

Result of the handprint

To create a fuller print, before peeling the paper off, press on the opposite side of the paper to make sure it contacts the hollow areas of the hand, like the palm and where the fingers connect.

A fuller style hand print

Repeat the process, gathering several shots of various pressures and finger positioning.
The foot prints are captured in much the same way. But there's the additional challenge of finding some way of getting to the sink to wash the ink off without staining your floors! I will admit that using the foot of a lightweight eight-year old girl made this a rather simple task.
Ink the foot in the same way as the hand. Try not to tickle the helpful assistant—they don't appreciate it!

Ink the sole of the foot

Step onto the paper—try to avoid wiggling the foot, as it will smudge the ink.

Step on the paper

Peel the paper off the foot and evaluate the print. Our feet don't have nearly as much fine muscle control as our hands do, so it might take a few tries to some good surface contact with the paper.

Look at that arch

Once you've got some experience working with the ink, roller, and paper, look around for other items that might generate an interesting print. 
I thought a shoe print might be a good alternative to the bare footprint. But I didn't want to ruin the sole of a good shoe with ink, so I chose some footwear that is easy to wash: a snow boot!

das boot

Use the same process for inking the bottom of the boot and printing it onto the paper.

Ink on the sole of the boot

Evaluate the print and repeat as needed.

Boot Print

With several prints to work with, it's time to clean up the ink (see why it's important to use water soluble ink?) and spend some quality time with the scanner before transforming these prints into a custom Photoshop Brush.
Scan in each print using a high dpi setting. I recommend at least 600 dpi to generate a good high resolution brush. If your scanner has a setting for black and white, use that instead of the color setting. 

Scan Screen

Open the scanned image in Photoshop. Increase the contrast of the image by going to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Pull the outer handles inwards until the print is a crisp black against a stark white.

Increase Contrast

Use a large, soft edged brush with white paint to make certain that the edges are all 100% white.

paint edges white

Look closely at the scan and if there are any stray marks, ink drops, splatters, or smears. Paint them out with the same white.

Clean any stray marks up from the scan

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to create a selection around the print. Then go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Give the brush a recognizable name and hit OK. Photoshop now adds this brush to your library.

Give the brush a name

While I fully encourage you to follow along and create your own custom hand and foot print brushes, I realize that not everybody has the time or opportunity to craft their own brushes. So I've provided an assortment of free custom brushes for you to use!

Hand and Foot Print Brush gallery

Download the attached file for this tutorial, HandFootBrushes.abr. Then go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager. In the Brushes section, use the Load button to navigate to the downloaded file.

Preset Manager

This will add nine new brushes to your Brush Presets library.
Go be amazing! Now use your smashing new brushes to produce some digital artwork with hand and foot prints that you didn't have before.
Can't get enough custom creative brushes in Photoshop? Check out my previous tutorials on creating custom brushes for Coffee RingsSmoke TendrilsWater Drops, and even Water Splashes! Hungry to learn more about how to use custom brushes in photo manipulation projects? Check out my profile of courses and tutorials here at Tuts+ and find all that, and much more!
Creating your own library of digital resources pulled from real-world practical effects is a skill that will pay off exponentially in the future. Instead of searching stock sites for interesting textures, try creating some for yourself! I'd love to see them in the comments below.


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