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How to Create Custom Brushes to Render Fur in Adobe Photoshop

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Read Time: 12 mins
This post is part of a series called Photoshop Brushes from Scratch.
How to Create Custom Hand and Foot Print Brushes in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create and Apply a Fish Scale Brush in Adobe Photoshop
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this fur tutorial for Photoshop, we'll create a small set of custom brushes from scratch and learn how to render animal fur with them. We'll focus on rendering a fox tail in grayscale, using custom brushes and the Smudge Tool to create both soft and coarse fur, and using Blending Modes to add color and warmth to the rendered piece.

But what if you're a graphic designer with many projects and little time to create brushes from scratch? I'll tell you where to find fur brush Photoshop add-ons ready to use.

Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Scroll down after this fur tutorial for Photoshop to find a selection of Photoshop texture brushes from Envato Elements.

What You'll Learn in This Fur Tutorial for Photoshop

  • How to make a brush in Photoshop
  • How to create simple custom brushes
  • How to save and use simple custom brushes
  • How to render a fox tail: building values
  • How to render a fox tail: softening the fur
  • How to color the fox tail

1. How to Create Simple Custom Brushes

Step 1

Let's begin with the first step to make a realistic fur brush set for Photoshop. Open Adobe Photoshop, create a New Document, and create a New Layer. Using the Brush Tool (B), choose the default Hard Round brush from the Brush Presets panel.

  1. Draw a series of dots in different sizes. The size of your brush will determine how large your custom brush will be. 
  2. Keep the dots spaced out slightly, but don't bother to keep the formation uniform.
  3. Either keep the dots within a circular or oblong formation.

We'll call this brush style the "dot brush".

Create your first custom brushCreate your first custom brushCreate your first custom brush

Step 2

Create a New Layer or move to a free space within your document. The next brush style starts with the default Hard Round brush with Noise selected in the Brushes panel. Lower the Opacity and Flow to 60% or so (you can also experiment with both settings). Make sure Pen Pressure has been selected in Brushes > Shape Dynamics > Size Jitter so the ends of the default brush taper.

  1. Consider this brush to be like a tuft of fur.
  2. Draw overlapping lines that curve inward on either side.
  3. Layer them up on each other so the length and opacity varies.

We'll call this brush style the "fur tuft brush".

Draw a tuft of hair for a simple pre-rendered brush styleDraw a tuft of hair for a simple pre-rendered brush styleDraw a tuft of hair for a simple pre-rendered brush style

Step 3

This is one of the main brushes that we'll use to create and render the fur. Using the default Soft Round brush, draw spaced-out dots of varying sizes in a circular formation. Do this with Noise on and off (so do it twice) to create a soft fur brush and a coarse fur brush.

We'll call these brushes the "soft fur brush" and the "coarse fur brush".

creating a soft and coarse fur brushcreating a soft and coarse fur brushcreating a soft and coarse fur brush

Step 4

Finally, use the default Hard Round brush again, with Build-Up and Smoothing selected in the Brush panel, to create short fur or grass-like sections that will become brushes to be used later in the tutorial. Vary the size of the Hard Round brush in order to create variations in thickness of each piece of fur.

We'll call these brush styles the "short fur brushes".

Create short fur brushesCreate short fur brushesCreate short fur brushes

2. How to Save and Use Simple Custom Brushes

Step 1

Using one of the Selection Tools, select around one of the custom brush shapes that we created earlier in this tutorial. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and give your new brush a unique name (or don't if you're experimenting with brush shapes and styles). You'll find your newly saved brush in the Brush Preset panel or in the Options bar when you have the Brush Tool selected.

Save your brush to the brush preset panelSave your brush to the brush preset panelSave your brush to the brush preset panel

Step 2

Try out each of your brushes with the Brush Tool. Play with variations in FlowOpacity, and the settings within the Brush panel. Try sweeping each brush across your document, as well as using stippling techniques in order to see how each brush works for painting and adding texture to an area.

Try out your new brushesTry out your new brushesTry out your new brushes

3. How to Render a Fox Tail: Building Values

Step 1

Create a New Document and a New Layer within that document. Starting with the default Hard Round brush, we're going to build up the values of our fox tail or swatch of fur. Consider the rest of this tutorial an exercise in becoming acquainted with your newly made custom brushes.

  1. Build up values of light grays. Note the white at the end of the tail.
  2. Concentrate darker grays at the top of the tail.
  3. I'm ending this step with medium gray at the top of the tail. This gives you a good idea of what the tail's base should be.
Build up the values of your fur swatchBuild up the values of your fur swatchBuild up the values of your fur swatch

Step 2

Switch from your current brush to the Coarse or Soft Fur Brush, both of which we created earlier. Note that I've set the Spacing all the way to the left at 4% and selected Build-Up and Smoothing. I've also enabled Pen-Pressure for the Size Jitter under Shape Dynamics, as I'm using a graphic tablet during the entirety of this tutorial. Digital painting can be quite difficult without a pressure-sensitive tablet of some sort.

Switch to your coarse or soft fur brushSwitch to your coarse or soft fur brushSwitch to your coarse or soft fur brush

Step 3

Let's continue adding texture and value to our swatch of fur.

  1. Starting at the top, build up medium and light values of gray with the Soft or Coarse Fur Brush.
  2. Note how the size of the brush will determine the look of the fur of the tail. Size your brush accordingly. You may need to experiment a bit to get what's right for you.
  3. I've started using the Coarse Fur Brush at the top and the Soft Fur Brush at the bottom just to create variations within the look of the fur.
Lets continue adding texture and value to our swatch of furLets continue adding texture and value to our swatch of furLets continue adding texture and value to our swatch of fur

Step 4

  1. Play with other brush textures. You'll notice there's more variation in the color of my fox tail now. The little spots around the tail were created by using one of the dot-like brushes around the top and sides of the tail.
  2. Start to bring lighter gray back into the bottom of the tail. Consider how the fur may have highlights within sections of the tail itself.
  3. I've decided the upper right contains the darkest shadows and strands of fur.
  4. I've also decided to repeat the dark gray on some parts of the sides of the tail. Keep layering colors and use photo references if you need to see what animal fur can look like in terms of value.
Layer up various shades of gray to create depth and valueLayer up various shades of gray to create depth and valueLayer up various shades of gray to create depth and value

4. How to Render a Fox Tail: Softening the Fur

Step 1

The realistic fur brush set for Photoshop is taking form. Let's set up our Smudge Tool.

  1. Select the Smudge Tool from the Toolbar.
  2. Set the Strength to 77%. You can, of course, vary your Strength settings as you go. You may find more or less will be better for your design.
  3. Within the Brush panel, choose a more densely created Fur Brush. Make sure Shape Dynamics aren't checked and Smoothing is.
  4. Finally, set the Spacing to 10%.
Set up your Smudge ToolSet up your Smudge ToolSet up your Smudge Tool

Step 2

Let's get to softening the tail.

  1. Using the Smudge Tool, start at the top of the fox tail. Carefully begin to smudge strands of fur in a downward motion.
  2. Vary between stroke lengths.
  3. Also make sure you're mainly going in one direction. At this point I've gotten to the center of the tail.
  4. Continue moving your way down the tail, smudging various sections of the tail. Note how the top half has softened up.
Smudge strands of fur along the length of the tailSmudge strands of fur along the length of the tailSmudge strands of fur along the length of the tail

Step 3

Continue smudging sections of the tail.

  1. Move as though you're sketching in small chunks of fur, rather than working through the entire length of the tail at once. Also allow your computer to catch up with the tool. Sometimes it may lag and you'll have to wait it out.
  2. Start pushing strands outward at their ends. This allows the fur to look a bit shaggier and less contained.
  3. Note how the end here is quite soft-looking and the ends taper. Any sketchy lines drawn previously should taper down to sections of fur.
  4. Soften darker sections of fur so they move together in the same direction.
Continue smudging sections of the tailContinue smudging sections of the tailContinue smudging sections of the tail

Step 4

Let's Zoom (Z) in further on our design (to be frank, I usually zoom in and out quite a bit on my work, but for the sake of this tutorial have shown each step as a whole).

  1. Note how the fur kicks out at the sides. This is entirely due to downward and diagonal strokes from the Smudge Tool.
  2. Create a New Layer. Using a small, hard brushTuft of Fur Brush, or Short Fur Brush (the latter two of which were created earlier in this tutorial), draw or stipple on darker, defined strands of fur within the design.
  3. Note how these darkened strands help define the spaces between larger sections of soft fur. Experiment with their size, placement, and value.
Zoom in and work on small detailsZoom in and work on small detailsZoom in and work on small details

5. How to Color the Fox Tail

Step 1

This animal fur brush for Photoshop is ready. Now, at this point we're no longer using the custom brushes (aside from final touch-ups later). We're focusing solely on adding layers of color to the fox tail.

Create a New Layer and use a default Soft Round brush with its Opacity set to 75% or so. Set the Foreground color to dark ruddy brown and brush over most of the tail.

In the Layers panel, set the Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 32%.

Create a layer of overlayed brownCreate a layer of overlayed brownCreate a layer of overlayed brown

Step 2

Create a New Layer and use a default Soft Round brush with its Mode set to MultiplyOpacity set to 28%, and Flow set to 75%. Set the Foreground color to a ruddy brown and brush layers over most of the tail.

In the Layers panel, set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity to 67%.

Create a layer of lighter brown set to color dodgeCreate a layer of lighter brown set to color dodgeCreate a layer of lighter brown set to color dodge

Step 3

This next step is one I find quite fun. Once again, create a New Layer in the Layers panel.

  1. Using a tapered soft brush, brush layers of dark brown, yellow, orange, and ruddy brown along your tail. Feel free to Blur the layer slightly (Filter > Blur > Blur).
  2. Set the layer's Opacity to 55%.
  3. Set the layer's Blending Mode to Overlay.
Add layers of color to your tailAdd layers of color to your tailAdd layers of color to your tail

Step 4

  1. Create a New Layer once again and use a soft round brush to brush over yellow-orange, orange, yellow ochre, and brown tones. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with a Radius of anywhere from 10 to 50 pixels or so.
  2. Set the layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light. This should add a soft glow of color to your tail.
Add a soft glow to the tailAdd a soft glow to the tailAdd a soft glow to the tail

Step 5

I've zoomed in again to show you the details of this final layer of the animal fur brush in Photoshop. Note how textured the fur looks. I've changed the spacing on the Coarse Fur Brush to a higher percentage in order to add more texture into some of the design.

You can either paint over the tail with yellows, oranges, and browns, or paint under the color layers with light grays. Play with other highlight and shadow details now that you're at this nearly completed stage of rendering.

Add additional textures to the fox tailAdd additional textures to the fox tailAdd additional textures to the fox tail

Step 6

Finally, here's an optional step to add a bit more texture to the tail. This step requires the layers to be Merged (Control-E), so if you'd like to maintain your layers, Group (Control-G) them together and create a Duplicate of the Group before Merging together.

Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and enter the following values for a result like the one seen below:

  • Amount: 180%
  • Radius: 8.0 pixels
  • Threshold: 19 levels
Sharpen the final tail designSharpen the final tail designSharpen the final tail design

Great Job, You've Made a Realistic Fur Brush Set for Photoshop!

Now you know how to make a brush in Photoshop from scratch. Take the techniques you learned above (brush creation, rendering, smudging, and coloring) and push them further by rendering an animal head or the entire creature! Below, I've done just that with a cute fox spirit mask. Like the tail we worked on together, the fox mask was worked up in the same series of steps, but I kept the fox head's shape and planes in mind when rendering.

Share your results from this tutorial or with similar creations using the brushes you've made to render animal fur in the comment section below!

Final fox face using the custom brush set made previouslyFinal fox face using the custom brush set made previouslyFinal fox face using the custom brush set made previously

4 Top Hair and Fur Brush Photoshop Add-Ons

Are you a freelance or graphic designer with multiple projects? Do you use Photoshop every day? The best source of Photoshop texture brushes and other add-ons is Envato Elements. The subscription-based marketplace offers you unlimited downloads of fur brush Photoshop sets. And that's not all. You'll also find thousands of graphic templates, premium fonts, add-ons, and more.

Enjoy unlimited Photoshop fur brush downloads with a subscription to Envato Elements.Enjoy unlimited Photoshop fur brush downloads with a subscription to Envato Elements.Enjoy unlimited Photoshop fur brush downloads with a subscription to Envato Elements.
Enjoy unlimited Photoshop fur brush downloads with a subscription to Envato Elements.

Here's a selection of some of the best Photoshop texture brushes you can find on Envato Elements.

1. Smooth Hair Flow Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Smooth Hair Flow Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Smooth Hair Flow Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Smooth Hair Flow Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Looking for a more detailed and realistic look? This Photoshop texture brushes pack could be a great option.

The hair and fur brush Photoshop kit comes with ten high-resolution brushes. These fur texture Photoshop brushes are suitable for high-quality realistic textures. And you can use them on tablets as well.

2. Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Digital Smooth Flow of Hairs Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

This is another modern approach to draw Photoshop fur. The download includes ten high-resolution Photoshop texture brushes that imitate flowing hairs.

Play with this realistic fur brush set for Photoshop and create amazing designs.

3. Electric Particle Fields Brushes Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

Electric Particle Fields Brushes Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Electric Particle Fields Brushes Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)Electric Particle Fields Brushes Photoshop Brushes (ABR, PNG)

You can find hundreds of Photoshop texture brushes in Envato Elements. And this is a unique example.

The fur texture Photoshop brush pack contains ten different high-resolution brushes in a futuristic style. These will add a distinctive and realistic touch to your Photoshop fur.

4. Ink Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

Ink Photoshop Brushes (ABR)Ink Photoshop Brushes (ABR)Ink Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

Now, if you prefer a more traditional look, consider these ink Photoshop texture brushes. You can use these for calligraphy, painting, line art and, why not, Photoshop fur. The Photoshop fur brush download includes:

  • 44 Different pressure-sensitive brushes
  • 15 Bonus textures (3000x3000 px, 300 dpi)

Discover More Photoshop Texture Brushes and Resources

You've learned how to make a realistic fur brush set for Photoshop. Now you have a realistic fur brush set for Photoshop ready and you know where to find top Photoshop texture brushes. If you need more Photoshop brush inspiration, we've got these resources for you:

This post was originally published on 30 March 2015. It’s been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is a staff writer with Envato Tuts+.

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