10 free Photoshop brushes for painting skin and hair

Marta Dahlig explains how to make best use of custom brushes in Photoshop and Corel Painter.

Thanks to painting software, artists are not limited to traditional brushes any more, but are encouraged to create their own. There are many brilliant free Photoshop brushes out there to download, and in this three-part workshop I will be describing how to use custom brushes to create characters, costumes and the environment.

While this workshop is mainly designed for Photoshop users (CS2 and above), I will also share tips for Corel Painter users to achieve similar effects. Download all 10 brushes here, and stay tuned for part two next week!

01. Ragged hard round brush

This is the first brush I use for any painting. An altered Hard Round brush with ragged edges is perfect for the first stages of colour blocking, because aside from applying colours, its edges will prevent the transitions from being too rough. The pressure sensitive opacity will enable you to create a bigger variety of skin tones.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Spacing: 10%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Smoothing: checked

Painter:

  • Tinting: Basic Round
  • Opacity: 5-15%
  • Grain: 0%
  • Resat: 20%
  • Bleed:100%
  • Jitter: 0%

02. Blending spackled brush

A spackled brush is the best thing to choose when you want to blend facial skin tones. Thanks to its shape and pressure-related opacity, it can blend really well and hint at skin pore texture. Smooth the transitions with this brush, while picking the colours with an Eye Dropper tool. Painter users can use the Blender brush; while it doesn't render a natural skin texture, it creates satisfying effects.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 20-100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Spacing: 6
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Scattering: Both Axes, 109%

Painter:

  • Tinting: Blender
  • Opacity: 15%
  • Grain: 0%
  • Resat: 0%
  • Bleed: 100%
  • Jitter: 0%
  • Blenders: Just Add Water
  • Opacity: 15%
  • Grain: 0%
  • Bleed: 50%
  • Jitter: 0

03. Airbrush

The Airbrush is an extremely flexible tool. It's perfect for adding in anything to your work, from painting strands of hair to adding little details, such as blushes, moles and so on. An Airbrush is also a good way to soften the edges of painted objects and those rougher transitions between certain shades, creating an illusion of fleshy softness.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 80-100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Shape dynamics: just switched on

Painter:

  • Airbrush: Soft Airbrush
  • Opacity: 5-15%
  • Resat: 100%
  • Bleed: 100%
  • Jitter: 0%

04. Rotating brush

This brush is perfect for enriching the colour palette of an already painted body part, and I always use it for this task. Thanks to its distinctive shape and angle variations, applying new shades naturally is extremely easy: just choose a colour and run with it over the painted skin. If you apply the colours carefully on a low opacity, you won't really require any extra smoothing. This brush also works great as a skin tone blender.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 50%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics:
  • Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Scattering: 100%
  • Shape dynamics: just switched on

Painter:

  • Airbrush: Detail Airbrush
  • Opacity: 2-20%
  • Resat: 20-70%
  • Bleed: 100%
  • Jitter: 2-3

05. Spattery brush

The small Spackled brush is great to render skin pores with. Use it on a low opacity setting on a separate layer, so you can play with layer modes later (Soft Light usually gives the most natural effects). To enrich the 'automatic' pore effect, create another layer on top of the existing one and, with an Airbrush, randomly place some small lighter dots on top of the previous ones.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Spacing: 75%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Smoothing: checked

Painter:

  • Airbrush: Tiny Spattery Airbrush
  • Spread: 50%
  • Flow: 1
  • Feature: 20
  • Opacity: 70%

06. Triple dot brush

After having the hair basis marked with an Airbrush, it's good to start adding some texture. This simple Spackled brush is perfect for this job. Start applying the hair strands, gradually moving from bigger and darker to smaller and lighter.

In Painter, I highly recommend the Acrylic brushes – aside from a 'strandy' feel, they will automatically create a very interesting texture.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Smoothing: checked

Painter:

  • Acrylics: Wet Soft Acrylic
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Resat: 30%
  • Bleed:100%
  • Jitter: 0

07. Slimmed brush

This simple brush, thanks to its pressure adjusted size and opacity, is a natural choice for painting eyelashes. Use it on a low opacity to mark the shades under the eyelashes (1). Afterwards, size it down a bit and increase the opacity, marking the actual eyelashes (2). This brush is also a wonderful tool for hair detailing.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Shape dynamics: just switched on
  • Smoothing: checked

Painter:

  • PENS: Fine Point
  • Opacity: 10-30%
  • Resat: 100%
  • Bleed: 0%

08. Fairy dust brush

This Spackled brush is a great special effects tool. When painting characters, you can use it to texture mouths: choose a light colour and run with the brush over the highlighted part of the lips. To achieve natural effects, switch the sizes and opacity constantly. You can also use this brush to enhance a magic spell rendition, by creating a fairy dust effect. Furthermore, you can also paint stars with it!

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Smoothing: checked
  • Scattering: Both Axes, 85%

Painter:

  • Airbrush: Variable Splatter
  • Spread: 90°
  • Flow: 5
  • Feature: 9
  • Opacity: 60-80%

09. Scratch Maker

This custom brush was made from a leaf photograph I took. It's perfect for creating scratched surfaces, but most of all for scars. Choose a neutral brown colour and use the brush over the skin (by clicking, not dragging). Then experiment with the layer modes (I recommend Overlay). Later, you might want to shrink the brush and add some lighter textures to some parts of the scar to make it look more natural.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 30-40%
  • Flow: 100%

Painter: Unavailable

10. Dirt brush

This ragged brush is fabulous for adding dirt effects to the skin and clothing. Simply pick a darker colour and click around the surface, remembering to switch the sizes and opacity constantly. Afterwards, change the Layer mode to Multiply and add some Gaussian Blur to make your brushstrokes look natural.

Photoshop:

  • Opacity: 10-50%
  • Flow: 100%
  • Other Dynamics: Opacity and Flow, 0%
  • Smoothing: checked
  • Scattering: 33%

Painter: Unavailable

Words and illustrations: Marta Dahlig

Marta Dahlig is a talented Polish artist who has been working with Photoshop and Painter for years. She's currently a freelance illustrator. This workshop originally appeared in ImagineFX.