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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Photoshop

How to Create Curly Hair in Photoshop (Type 3 Hair)

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Read Time: 10 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a Photoshop brush for type 3 hair—curly hair. Then I'll show you how to apply this Photoshop curl hair brush to a photo to create a realistic effect of curly hair.

According to the Andre Walker Hair Typing System, type 3 hair consists of loose or tight curls, but never so tight as to be considered coils. In contrast to type 4 hair, the curls are easily distinguishable even in their tightest, "corkscrew" form (also known as type 3c). While it's type 4 hair that is usually associated with Black people, it's not uncommon to find type 3 hair in Black people as well.

I'm going to show you the general technique of creating this type of texture with black hair brushes in Photoshop. You can then use different photos to create different curly hair brushes. And if you're interested in type 4 hair specifically, you may want to try this tutorial instead:

What You'll Learn in This Curly Hair Brush Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to create a curly hair brush in Photoshop
  • How to curl hair in Photoshop
  • How to add highlights to hair in Photoshop
  • How to create a black hair brush in Photoshop
  • How to draw curly hair in Photoshop

What You'll Need

High-quality photos are the key to nice, professional Photoshop brushes. I've found mine on Envato Elements:

1. How to Create a Curly Hair Brush in Photoshop

Step 1

We're going to create our hair curls brush in Photoshop using multiple photos. Open Photo 1 first. Press Control-Shift-U to make it black and white.

make image black and whitemake image black and whitemake image black and white

Step 2

Take the Lasso Tool (L) and select a part of the hair on the right. Be careful to exclude the face. Press Control-J to copy the selection to a new layer.

Step 3

Do the same with the hair on the left.

select another part of hairselect another part of hairselect another part of hair

Step 4

Create a New Layer over the Background layer, and fill it with white. Use the Move Tool (V) to place one part of hair over the other, for example like this:

combine both parts of haircombine both parts of haircombine both parts of hair

Step 5

Add a Layer Mask to the upper layer. Paint on the mask with black to blend the two layers.

blend hair with layer maskblend hair with layer maskblend hair with layer mask

Step 6

You can now repeat this process to cover any other parts that break the illusion.

fix the rest of the hairfix the rest of the hairfix the rest of the hair

Step 7

Merge all these layers (except the background) with Control-E. Add a Levels adjustment layer and drag the black marker to the right, until all the highlights disappear—but not any further than that.

add levelsadd levelsadd levels
darken the layerdarken the layerdarken the layer

Step 8

Take a soft brush and paint on the mask of the adjustment layer to make the thin hair more delicate.

soften the edgessoften the edgessoften the edges

Step 9

Select any of the layers except the adjustment layer, and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Name it Type 3: Shape.

define new brushdefine new brushdefine new brush

Step 10

Take the Brush Tool (B). Press D, and set the Opacity and Flow to 100%. Then open the Brush Settings panel and click the plus icon in the lower right corner. Define your brush once again, this time including the tool settings and color. Feel free to remove the first brush.

change opacity and flowchange opacity and flowchange opacity and flow

redefine the brushredefine the brushredefine the brush

2. How to Create Loose Curls Hair Brush in Photoshop

Step 1

Open Photo 2. Select a single lock of hair and copy it to a new layer with Control-J. Do the same with the loose hair on the right.

select one strand of hairselect one strand of hairselect one strand of hairselect second strand of hairselect second strand of hairselect second strand of hair

Step 2

Create a New Layer over the background, and fill it with white. Rotate each of the layers with Control-T to make the strands of hair more vertical.

rotate the hairrotate the hairrotate the hair

Step 3

Add a Levels adjustment layer on top. Drag the white marker slightly to the left to make the background completely white, and the black marker slightly to the right to make the hair blacker.

darken the hairdarken the hairdarken the hair

Step 4

Add a Layer Mask to each of the strands. Paint on the masks with a soft brush to blend the sharp edge on top.

soften the tipssoften the tipssoften the tips

Step 5

Select one strand, Copy it with Control-Shift-C, and Paste it onto a new layer. Do the same with the other strands and hide all the other layers, leaving only a white background behind them.separate the strandsseparate the strandsseparate the strands

Step 6

Now, hide two of the strands and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Name it Type 3: Strand 1. Do the same with the other two strands, naming them, respectively, Type 3: Strand 2 and Type 3: Strand 3. Redefine the brushes in the Brushes panel, like before.define new brush presetsdefine new brush presetsdefine new brush presets

3. How to Create a Hair Highlights Brush in Photoshop

Step 1

Let's create the highlights now. Open Photo 3. Take the Lasso Tool (L) and select a part of the hair where the highlights are clearly visible. Copy it to a new layer with Control-J, and place a white background behind it.

open the last imageopen the last imageopen the last image

Step 2

Add a Layer Mask and paint on it with a soft brush to make the edges smoother.select the highlightsselect the highlightsselect the highlights

Step 3

Add a Levels adjustment layer. Drag the white marker strongly to the left, to accentuate the highlights. Clip it to the layer below with Control-Alt-G.add levels adjustmentadd levels adjustmentadd levels adjustment

Step 4

Add an Invert adjustment layer, and clip it too. This is necessary because in Photoshop brushes, white = transparent. So if we want to paint white highlights, we need to make them black first!

invert the colorsinvert the colorsinvert the colors

Step 5

Add another clipped Levels adjustment layer. Drag both markers slightly to the middle to increase the contrast.increase the contrastincrease the contrastincrease the contrast

Step 6

Define the brush the same way as before. Name it Type 3: Highlights. Then open the Brush Settings panel and adjust the settings in the following way:

In the Brush Tip Shape tab:

  • Spacing: 120%

In the Shape Dynamics tab:

  • Size Jitter: 30%
  • Angle Jitter: 10%
  • Roundness Jitter: 45%
adjust brush settingsadjust brush settingsadjust brush settings

Step 7

Press D to reset the swatches, then X to switch them. Set Opacity to 100% and Flow to 50%. Then redefine the brush in the same way as before.

adjust opacity and flowadjust opacity and flowadjust opacity and flow
save the brushsave the brushsave the brush

4. How to Curl Hair in Photoshop Using a Curly Hair Brush

Step 1

So our Photoshop curly hair brushes are ready! Let's see how to apply them to a photo now. Open Photo 4, or your own photo. Press W and click Select Subject in the upper bar. Press Control-J to copy the selection to a new layer. Name this layer Model.

click select subjectclick select subjectclick select subjectsubject selectionsubject selectionsubject selection

Step 2

Create a New Layer between the Background layer and Layer 1. Take the Type 3: Shape brush. Adjust the size of the brush with the [ and ] keys, and paint a part of the hair behind the model's head. To rotate the brush in a controlled way, rotate the canvas by pressing R.

draw hair in the backdraw hair in the backdraw hair in the back

Step 3

Create a New Layer on top and add the hair on the left. You can adjust its shape with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) in Warp mode.

use warp modeuse warp modeuse warp mode
warp the hairwarp the hairwarp the hair

Step 4

Add the hair on the right in the same way.

add mode hairadd mode hairadd mode hair

Step 5

If you need to remove a part of the hair, use a Layer Mask.

add a layer maskadd a layer maskadd a layer mask

Step 6

Let's use the model's natural hair to create the hairline. Select the Model layer and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Clip it with Control-Alt-G. Darken and desaturate the hair with it.

add hue saturation adjustmentadd hue saturation adjustmentadd hue saturation adjustment

darken the hairdarken the hairdarken the hair
darkening effectdarkening effectdarkening effect

Step 7

Fill its layer mask with black, and paint on it with white to reveal the effect over the hair only.

add a layer maskadd a layer maskadd a layer mask

Step 8

Right-click the adjustment layer and select Blending Options. Go to the Blend If section and drag the lower white marker to the left to reveal the highlights in the hair. Split the marker with the Alt key for a more transitional effect.

add blend if settingsadd blend if settingsadd blend if settingsblend if addedblend if addedblend if added

Step 9

Continue adding more hair all around the head, using the Type 3: Strand 1-3 brushes as well. Make good use of Layer Masks and Warp mode, and be sure to Rotate the canvas a lot to achieve a variety of shapes and directions.

add more hairadd more hairadd more hair

Step 10

Merge the hair layers (except the one behind the head) by pressing Control-E. Hold the Control key and click the thumbnail of the merged layer to create a selection.

Create a New Layer, and add a Layer Mask—the current selection will be applied to it. Paint the highlights on this layer using the Type 3: Highlights brush. To add the highlights over the model's natural hair, create a New Layer without a mask and paint on it. Then group both highlights layers by pressing Control-G.

add the highlightsadd the highlightsadd the highlights

Step 11

Create a New Layer and clip it by pressing Control-Alt-G. Paint on this layer with a soft brush to give the highlights more natural colors. You can mix the blue of the background with some dark brown.

color the highlightscolor the highlightscolor the highlights

Step 12

Let's blend the hair with the environment now. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the Model layer stack and clip it. Decrease the Lightness.

darken the photodarken the photodarken the photo

Step 13

Go to the Blending Options of this layer and use the lower white marker to remove the darkening effect from the bright areas.

add blend if optionsadd blend if optionsadd blend if optionsreveal the skinreveal the skinreveal the skin

Step 14

Fill the Layer Mask of the adjustment layer with black. Then paint on it with a soft white brush to reveal the shadows close to the hair.

paint the shadowspaint the shadowspaint the shadows

Step 15

Use the same method to add more shadows, if necessary.

add more shadowsadd more shadowsadd more shadows

Step 16

Control-click the thumbnail of the merged hair layer. Once the selection loads, add another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and clip it to the rest. Move it slightly down and to the right.

add another hue saturation adjustmentadd another hue saturation adjustmentadd another hue saturation adjustment

Step 17

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and blur the shadow to make it more realistic. Then lower the Opacity of the layer to about 20%, to make it barely visible.

add gaussian bluradd gaussian bluradd gaussian blur

lower the opacitylower the opacitylower the opacity

Step 18

Finally, you can blend the hair with the environment by adding a couple of layers on top, and painting on them with a soft brush. Lower their Opacity and play with the Blend If options to make the effect subtle.

add more coloradd more coloradd more color
lower the opacitylower the opacitylower the opacity

Step 19

When you're done, take a good look at the hair as a whole, and see what else you can do to make it more realistic. You can add more highlights, or more loose hair, or maybe clean up something that doesn't fit the rest.

final correctionsfinal correctionsfinal corrections

Good Job!

Now you know how to create a hair curls brush in Photoshop, and how to apply it to a photo in a realistic way.

photoshop hair brush final effectphotoshop hair brush final effectphotoshop hair brush final effect

Recommended Photoshop Brushes

Now that you can see how powerful custom Photoshop brushes can be, maybe you'd like to test other brushes as well? Here are a few options from Envato Elements:

150 Weather Brushes [ABR]

150 Weather Photoshop Brushes150 Weather Photoshop Brushes150 Weather Photoshop Brushes

Change the atmosphere in your photos completely by adding snow, rain, fog, or even lightning to them! This huge pack contains 150 brushes for any weather.

20 Starfield Photoshop Stamp Brushes [ABR]

20 Starfield Photoshop Stamp Brushes20 Starfield Photoshop Stamp Brushes20 Starfield Photoshop Stamp Brushes

If you want to add some magic to your photos, or just brighten the night sky with extra stars, these brushes are exactly what you need! There are 20 of them in the pack, with stars of various densities and sizes.

Elegant Floral Brushes for Photoshop [ABR]

Elegant Floral Brushes for PhotoshopElegant Floral Brushes for PhotoshopElegant Floral Brushes for Photoshop

You can use 15 floral brushes to create beautiful photo manipulations or to decorate your photos. All the stamps are nicely shaded and work perfectly in every color.

Devilishly Cool Halloween PSD Brushes [ABR]

Devilishly Cool Halloween PSD BrushesDevilishly Cool Halloween PSD BrushesDevilishly Cool Halloween PSD Brushes

Do you need brushes for your Halloween-themed project? This set contains 26 of them, with a variety of spooky objects and creatures.

45 Animal Claw Photoshop Stamp Brushes [ABR]

45 Animal Claw Photoshop Stamp Brushes45 Animal Claw Photoshop Stamp Brushes45 Animal Claw Photoshop Stamp Brushes

Go wild with this set of 45 brush stamps picturing a variety of claw tear patterns. These unique brushes will add some aggressive character to your photos and photo manipulations!

If you enjoyed this tutorial, you may also like our other tutorials about Photoshop brushes:

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