Photoshop Brushes: Similarities in Nature

Here’s something that I actually stumbled upon by accident: I was attempting to take a photo of lightning and create a brush from it, so I could have lightning when I needed it. However, in my pursuit of this, I had a “Eureka!” moment. When you look at the lightning image below, what does the shape of the lightning resemble? Read on to find out.

Here, we’ll start with this simple stock image of a lightning strike. It’s always good to have a folder of images that contain generic elements like this. You just never know what you might be able to use them for.

To create the brush, we are going to start with the image’s channels. Open the Channels panel by going to Window>Channels. Toggle through the individual channels and locate the channel that defines the lightning pretty well, while the background is as dark as possible. In this case, it looks like it will be the Red channel. So, make a duplicate of the Red channel by dragging it down onto the Create New Channel icon.

With the Red copy channel active, press Command-L (PC: Ctrl-L) to open the Levels dialog. Grab the black (shadows) eyedropper below the Options button, and click on the light gray area next to the lightning bolt. This will force everything that is that shade of gray or darker to go black. Then, if necessary, move the sliders to tighten up the contrast a bit more (I ended up dragging the center gray Input Levels midtones slider to the right a little to 0.75), and click OK.

When defining a brush, Photoshop will disregard the white area, only defining the black areas and any little hints of gray there might be. So, press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I) to Invert the image, so the sky is white and the lightning is black. Now, go under the Edit menu and choose Define Brush Preset. Then just give the brush a name and there you have a lightning brush.

At this point, we have achieved what we first set out to do, which was to create a lightning brush. But, if we think a little outside the box, we can use it for more than just lightning. Click on the brush thumbnail in the Options Bar to open the Brush Picker, and select your new lightning brush. Then, click on the icon to the right of the brush thumbnail to open up the Brush panel. Click on Brush Tip Shape on the left and set the Spacing to 60%. Notice, also, that the brush size is set to what it was defined as. But, we’ll use a handy keyboard shortcut to change the size later while painting.

Next, click on Shape Dynamics on the left to turn it on. Set the Size Jitter to 100% and make sure the Control pop-up menu is set to Off. Then set the Angle Jitter to 100%, as well, and again leave the Control menu set to Off. Finally turn on the Flip X Jitter and Flip Y Jitter checkboxes at the bottom to add variation to the brush effect.

Next, I opened a stone texture file (you can use any texture file you want to try this effect on). Remember when I said that if you look closely at the shape of the lightning, you can see more than the obvious? I look at it and see a cracked effect. So, click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer to paint on.

Before we paint, click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Bevel and Emboss from the pop-up menu. Using the settings you see here will give the cracks a little edge depth, making them a little more realistic. Now, press D to set your Foreground color to black and paint on the blank layer with the new brush. You can see how it gives you the effect of cracks in the stone just by painting a few strokes.

To finish off the image here, add some text, using a heavy font (here, I used Swiss721BT), and change the text layer’s blend mode to Overlay, so you can see some of the cracks through it. Then, Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on the text layer’s thumbnail to select the text, and press Command-Shift-I (PC: Ctrl-Shift-I) to Inverse your selection. Now, click on your cracks layer and switch back to the Brush tool. Use the Left Bracket Key ([) to make your brush size smaller, and paint back and forth around and over the text to make it look like it’s so heavy it crumbled the stone when it dropped onto it. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect.

Excerpted from Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers. Learn more in Corey’s book or check out his online courses.