Creating Vibrant Hand-Drawn Texture in Photoshop

In this tutorial we will explore a technique to use hand-drawn textures in digital illustration. This method is quick, and simple to use. However, it requires that you take some time to understand the application before getting started. The first part of this tutorial is about making textures and preparing them for digital art. The second part will demonstrate a method to paint with texture and apply some color theory. This will all be created using Photoshop CS3, and should take anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on the textures you make.

Part One: Making Hand-Drawn Textures

Grab some paper and any materials you would like to use. Things that work well include: wet and dry washes (both ink and watercolor, although ink tends to work better), charcoal (the darker the better, I prefer “sketch charcoal” from General’s, willow charcoal is just too soft and gray, unless that’s what you are going for), and acrylics. When choosing paper make sure it’s a heavier weight, but don’t go overboard and limit yourself by trying to get something that will last forever— after you scan them, you can throw them away (although I like to keep mine, and I highly recommend it)—they don’t have to be perfect or “display” worthy. For example, my textures all buckled when they dried, but it was not a problem because they were flattened on the scanner bed. This process can be pretty forgiving, so just choose some papers that you like and have fun.

Break Out the Art Supplies

For this tutorial I created five textures. You can follow along or create your own. Make sure your samples will fit on a scanner bed.

Charcoal: First, create a light gray background, rubbing the charcoal smooth and even. On top of that put a rougher, darker layer, with no rubbing. Apply some fixative and you’re done.

Wet-Wash: Tape your paper down around the edges with masking tape (which you should do for any wet media in this tutorial). You can apply a wash in two ways: by wetting the paper first, or just painting it on. For my texture I lightly wet the paper with a sponge and then applied a semi-dark ink wash on the wet surface. Allow the surface to dry completely. If you are not happy with the wash’s shade, it can be adjusted in Photoshop or you can add another layer. If you decide to add another layer be very careful as you don’t want to destroy the layer below (which is especially true if you are using watercolor instead of ink).

Dry-Sponge: For this I used some acrylic screen-printing ink that was hiding in some boxes. You can use regular acrylic paint, although the ink is formulated for paper and has nice coverage. Sponge it on however you would like and give it time to dry. Be careful not to go overboard as that will ruin the texture.

Wet-sponge: To get a wet and splotchy sponge effect, dilute your acrylic and moisten your sponge. Again, be careful not to go overboard or you will lose your texture.

Lined-wash: Using the wet-sponge with  your acrylic, swipe it across the paper in smooth, even strokes covering as much area as possible. Try not to go over areas you have already covered. For my texture I used a paper with a line texture, which enhanced what was left by the sponge.

Scanning Your Textures

After everything has dried, scan the textures in at high resolution. The scanner I use goes as high as 600dpi, which means at print resolution (300dpi) the texture will be twice the actual size. That also means that the texture will appear “zoomed in” when not scaled to that resolution. That’s okay— in fact, it’s what we want. The texture’s scale will be changed later, so at this point we want it to be really large. This allows it to be used at many resolutions, and produce many different effects, which I will explain later.

Part Two: Preparing the textures

You should now have some digital images of your textures. Open each one and copy the background layer, save them as Photoshop Documents (.psd). Apply any adjustments you would like and merge those layers into the background copy layer (don’t worry , you can always recopy the original background). Later you will need a flat layer to define your texture in Photoshop, so you can flatten it later if you like.

You may de-saturate (or gray-scale) the texture with another adjustment layer. We will be applying these textures with the paintbrush tool, which interprets the texture image in gray-scale, and applies color accordingly. I prefer to keep them in color, in case I ever want to use the texture for a fill and would like to keep the color. Either way, the paintbrush tool will interpret the texture in gray-scale.

Cropping the Texture to Size

Crop your texture to a size that’s large, and fairly uniform (or not). Before we define this texture as a pattern in Photoshop, we need to make a choice. When Photoshop uses patterns it tiles them— meaning it repeats the pattern infinitely in all directions. If you define the pattern as it is now, it won’t tile perfectly, and edges will show. If you are okay with that, then select the entire canvas while on the texture layer. In the main menu, go to Edit > Define Pattern, name it, save it, and you’re done.

Choose a fairly uniform area and crop.

If however, you do not want seams to appear, then you need to make the pattern into a repeating tile before defining it as a pattern.

Making Your Texture Seamless

With your texture layer selected in the layers palette, select the entire canvas. In the main menu go to Filter > Other > Offset. Check the preview box and make sure “wrap around” is selected. Change the horizontal and vertical offset until the seams (which you can now see) are somewhere in the middle of the canvas.

Enable "wrap around" in the offset filter and your seams will appear.

Grab the clone-stamp tool and change the brush settings to a fairly large, soft-brush. The size and softness will need to be adjusted for your texture. The idea here is to get a brush that’s large enough to cover and blend the seams with the surrounding area, but soft so that it blends with the background closer to the brush edges. Select an area that is similar to what’s around the seams, hold the option key and click to sample the area. Release the option key and click over the area of the seam you would like to patch. Continue sampling and cloning until the seams have all been patched.

Continue using the clone stamp until the seems disappear, going careful and slow helps.

Define the Texture as a Pattern

Now you have a pattern that can tile seamlessly, so select the entire canvas (on the texture layer of course) and in the main menu go to Edit > Define Pattern. Name it and save it and you are done.

Repeat this entire process of cropping, offsetting, and blending for each of the patterns you made earlier.

Part Three: Applying Texture to a Brush

Now that you have your textures you are ready to start painting in Photoshop. Grab the brush tool and open the brush options fly-out menu. Click the checkbox next to the “Texture” label, and select the label to open the options window. Open the texture dropdown and select your newly defined texture.

Within the brush palette, click on texture and check the box to reveal the texture options.

There are some important options here that need some explaining:

Invert: this inverts your pattern’s gray-scale image, making light into dark and dark into light. Sometimes this is useful, especially if you want darker coverage, but it may not work well for all patterns. Also, if you paint one layer of the texture without this checked, and then paint another on top with it checked, the textures cancel each other out and make a solid color with no pattern.

Mixing Mode: Set this to multiply. The only other option that seems to do any good is color burn, which in my experience practically destroys the texture, so use with caution. The other blending modes work, but they depend on the background you use, and the colors you use, so we won’t go into those.

Depth: Just don’t mess with this, I honestly have no idea exactly what it does, but you can play with it and see the preview at the bottom of the window.

Scale: This is THE MOST IMPORTANT option in this box. Essentially, this controls the “zoom level” of the texture, and its overall appearance.

Changing the Texture’s Appearance

The appearance of the texture depends on the size and resolution of the document you are painting in. Since the textures we made earlier are so large (600dpi), at 100% on a canvas with a lower resolution (say 72ppi), it appears as though we are looking through a magnifying glass— so we have to scale it down. When you reduce the scale, it appears to “zoom out” from the texture, and vice versa. You could say the texture’s appearance is relative to the document settings and the texture scale applied to the brush. A benefit of this relative scaling is that you can get multiple effects from a single texture simply by changing the scale, pretty neat!

The drawback however is that you will have to experiment with the texture at different resolutions and settings. To make this easier we will create some reference materials that demonstrate how our texture behaves.

Part Four: Developing a Technique

Open a new Photoshop document set at 72ppi, any size you prefer. Start by making a row of 10 square swatches filled with black. Merge all the swatches into one layer if you prefer (like I do), and make a copy for later, turning the copy layer off.

Understanding Texture Scale

Command-click the layer swatch in the layers palette to select the swatches, and select the layer. Press delete and clear out all the black fills. Now you are ready to start painting within the selection. Set black as the foreground color, brush hardness to 100%, and the size to something you can carefully paint the swatches with. In the brush texture options set the scale to 100%.

Use the brush to fill the swatch on the far right. Do this in one pass (one click) by overlapping or scribbling with the brush. If you don’t fill the entire swatch in one pass, when you paint the unfilled area it will darken where it overlaps the previous pass. This is where a tablet comes in handy as you can carefully scribble to fill the swatch.

Lower the texture’s scale to 90% and fill the swatch to the left. Repeat this 8 more times, reducing the scale by 10% each step to the left.

When you are finished you should have ten swatches that give you an idea of how the scale of the texture affects the appearance. It also shows what your texture looks like on a white background with the options I described earlier. It doesn’t look like much, but it quickly shows you what scale range you might want to use to get the texture you want.

The swatches here show how the texture changes as its scale changes.

Understanding Color Application: Technique #1

I will be painting everything on single layers, but if you would like to keep each texture layer separate, they will blend the same, and you can play with opacity and blend modes.

Create 5 new swatches and clear the selection. Looking at my texture scale I like the texture at 30%, so that’s the scale I’ll use. Select a color and paint the texture into the swatches in one pass. Notice here that the color is dull compared to the color selected. Paint another layer on 4 of the swatches. This darkens the color and texture. Paint another layer on the next 3 swatches, and repeat, decreasing each layer by one swatch. You now have 5 swatches in order of lightest to darkest with increased layers of texture.

Layering the texture on top of itself intensifies the color and diminishes the texture's appearance.

The most important observation you should make here is that each layer you add darkens the texture, and shifts the color towards the one you have selected. This method works well, but expect to use more than one layer to get it dark enough. Also, be cautious of adding too many layers as the texture will vanish into a solid color. Try it with another color to see how different colors work (for example, red always looks pink with this method, and yellow makes the texture almost invisible).

Understanding Color Application: Technique #2

Another method for painting is to create a solid fill below the painted texture. In this method you can literally “mix” the colors by painting in layers, much like on a real canvas. This method has a lot of benefits— most importantly, your colors will be more vibrant and have greater texture density. To start, we will mix primary colors, but you can mix color as freely as you like.

Copy the 5 swatches made earlier, and fill them with black. Copy again, move the swatches down and select a red and a yellow color. Fill the first five swatches with yellow, and the second five with red. Set the red color as the foreground and make sure your texture settings are the same as before. Paint the red texture over 4 of the swatches, leaving one to show the fill color. Paint another layer of texture over the next 3 swatches, and repeat, reducing the number of swatches with each layer until you have 4 textured swatches representing 1-4 layers of texture. Repeat this process with the red fills and yellow texture.

Layering the texture on top of a fill produces a more vibrant color and texture.

Stop, it’s time to make some observations. The following are my observations and may not be true for the textures you use:

Putting one layer of texture on the fill takes the color halfway to the texture’s color, creating the secondary colors. Meaning— if I have a yellow fill and I paint a red texture on top, the overall color will become orange. The same is true for a red fill and yellow texture. However, the orange made with a yellow fill will be lighter than the one made with the red fill.

Adding more layers of texture creates the tertiary colors. In my case, adding more red texture to the yellow fill made red-orange, and adding more yellow texture to the red fill made yellow-orange.

As more layers of texture are added, the color approaches the texture color. In my case that’s primary red and yellow. This produces primary colors that are much more vibrant than if you were to paint multiple layers of just the texture, like in technique #1. In this way you can also “tint” your primaries, like creating a bright yellow with just a hint of green or orange, depending on what color you are mixing from.

Repeat these steps to create swatches for red/blue, and yellow/blue. After that you should have a full range of color, moving all the way around the color wheel. In my document I also created some swatches showing how to get textured primary colors and gray values. The last thing to do is label your swatch groups, and make any notes about how they were mixed. Save the document for future reference. Here’s one that I created:

This is my texture reference; here I show the texture's scale and color relationships.


Now you are ready to start making some digital art. The techniques presented here are only one method to create and use hand-drawn textures in Photoshop. Of course there are many ways to do this, and as always you are encouraged to explore this technique and others. I hope this gave you a good platform to start incorporating hand-made textures into your digital works. Enjoy!

What’s in the Download

In this download I’m giving away all the seamless textures I created in this tutorial. You are free to use them any way you like as I am releasing them under a public domain license.

To the extent possible under law,
Morgan Finley has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

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