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How to Create Custom Scratched Metal Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Photoshop Brushes from Scratch.
How to Create and Apply a Fish Scale Brush in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create Custom Dirt and Decay Brushes in Adobe Photoshop
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Creating your own practical brush effects in Adobe Photoshop is an incredibly rewarding experience. Getting away from your desk and crafting something in the real world to use as a digital effect causes you to look at the world around you in a different way. You begin to see textures and patterns that were previously overlooked. Finding elements to use digitally is one thing; creating them yourself is something entirely different.

Portraying metal in any type of realistic manner necessitates a bit of wear and tear on the substance. Metals are more durable than most of the objects found in our world, but that doesn't mean the world doesn't try to test that limit on a regular basis. Metal objects that are used heavily tend to have dings, dents, scrapes and scratches. In this tutorial we will explore some easy methods of creating and capturing scratched metal effects that can be used for digital designs in Photoshop.

1. Creating the Practical Effect

Step 1

The materials for this project are simple and common. There are also several alternatives to this approach. The items I'm showing here are the ones I used, but by no means are these all absolute requirements. In fact, I would encourage you to find various items that you can use to create this effect.

When selecting a base metal to scratch, choose a softer metal that will scratch easily and doesn't not contain much of a texture already. Sheets of aluminum are cheap, readily accessible and will damage easily, making them ideal for this type of project.

NOTE: Metal edges can be very sharp! Please handle with caution!

The materials I recommend are:

  • sheets of aluminum flashing (I found these at my local hardware store for less than a dollar a piece!)
  • hand sander with course sandpaper capable of scratching the metal surface
  • wire brush
  • a handful of nails
  • a couple of screwdrivers with various sized heads
Materials used for this project

Step 2

The type of effect is determined largely by the order in which the tools are used. I chose to start with the tools without sharp points—specifically, the hand sander. Focus the effect near the center of the material, avoiding the edges if possible.

Hand sanding on the metal

Step 3

The wire brush produces a very fine set of scratches. Use straight, lateral strokes to create scratches in one direction. Avoid circular motions, as those types of scratches usually appear rather unnatural and forced.

Use the brush in quick brisk movements

Step 4

The screwdrivers can be used to create deep gouging scratches. Use different screwdriver tips at different angles to get various shapes and depths of these scratches. Keep in mind that changing the order of tools will produce different effects. For example, using the sandpaper after the screwdriver will make the gouged scratches lighter and more subtle.

Use the screwdrivers to create deep scratches

Step 5

The scratches from the screwdriver can sometimes appear "drawn" or overly intentional. To help create the appearance of randomness and chaos, use three or four nails at once to create a series of scratches that are similar but not identical.

Create scratches with a handful of nails

2. Going Digital

Don't limit the effect to a single piece of metal—use several pieces and try different tool strokes, orders, pressures, etc. It's best to create a library of various scratch effects, especially since they are so easy to produce! But once the scratching is done, it's time to turn those effects into a digital asset.

Step 1

Make sure the metal material is sitting flat on the scanner. It may be necessary to set a heavy book on top of it to make sure it lies flat. Scan the material at a high resolution, at least 600 dpi, in full color.

Scan the scratched metal

Step 2

Open the scan in Photoshop. Add a Black & White adjustment layer and reduce the Blue Channel to -200%. This will darken the natural blue hue of the metal and make the scratched area more prominent.

Step 3

Add a Curves adjustment layer and bring the outer curve handles in close to meet the histogram to greatly increase the contrast.

Increase contrast with Curves

Step 4

The grain of the metal is showing through. Add a new layer and use a soft edged brush with black paint to make sure the edges are nice and dark, further isolating the scratches.

Step 5

Photoshop's brushes are determined by black pixels on white backgrounds. The current image is white on black, so add an Invert adjustment layer to reverse the colors.

Invert the image colors

Step 6

Add another Curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast again. This step is more about personal taste. If you want a larger scratched surface with subtle scratches, don't add as much contrast. But if the intent is for deep, dramatic scratches, then increase the contrast dramatically.

Step 7

Make sure the focus is on the Curves thumbnail, and not the mask. Then go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Photoshop asks for a brush name, and then when you press OK, this new brush is added to your list of Brush Presets.

Adding a new brush

3. Use My Brushes

I fully encourage you to create practical effect brushes on your own. It's not a very difficult task and it is incredibly rewarding. Cultivating the skill to transition visual effect from practical to digital will open up new possibilities for your digital designs. 

But if you don't have the time or capability to create these brushes on your own, I've included mine here for you to use on your personal projects.

Step 1

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

Load my brushes file

This will add nine new Scratched Metal brushes to your Brush Preset library

Scratched Metal Brushes Gallery

Step 2

Go be amazing! Use these brushes to add realistic distressed effects to any metallic surface in your digital designs.

Using the scratched metal brushes

Want More?

Can't get enough custom creative brushes in Photoshop? Check out the rest of our series on creating Photoshop Brushes from Scratch. 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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