Five Ways to Create Textures Completely in Photoshop


I like creating new textures, and I’ve written about how to use them in digital paintings before. Most of the time, making textures involves getting out some scrap mat board or bits of paper, and just going to town with some acrylic paint, gesso, and modeling paste.

I think of it as play time, because anything goes. You can spray, drip, or even fingerpaint. You’re not worried about creating anything concrete or beautiful; you’re just setting out to find what kinds of things you can do with your tools and to stretch your limits a bit.

This can be a really useful exercise for traditional painters, because 1) you can use whatever textures and effects you create for future paintings, and 2) you learn a lot about the materials you are working with.

Well, I think digital painters need a little play time too.

So, here are five exercises I’ve come up with to help inspire you to play with your digital paint. And the best part is you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess afterwards.

1. Brush and Paint

You can create a texture just by painting some random brushstrokes onto your canvas. The problem with doing this digitally, however, is that the brushstrokes start to look a little monotonous after awhile. The key to doing this right is to play with the brush settings while you are painting.

Take a look at your Brush palette (If it is not open, go to the Window > Brushes). There are lots of different settings to play around with. Open a new document, paint some random brushstrokes, change a few brush settings, then paint some more. You can create some really great stuff just by layering on different colors and effects.

Here are some of my favorite settings to play with:

  • Brush Size – Make sure to change this once in awhile to add variety to your strokes.

  • Opacity – Lowering this will help you see the different layers of paint better.

  • Scattering – If you move this up and down while you are painting, you can create some cool effects.

  • Roundness and Angle – This is a great way to add variety to your brush shape, without having to switch to a different brush altogether.

  • Texture – Change the texture itself or play around with the Scale slider.

  • The Brush Itself – Don’t just use one brush. Pick a new one once in while.

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2. The Wave Filter

Filters can be difficult to manage because they can start to look really “digital” really fast. Again, the key is to play around with the settings a lot and experimenting.

  1. Start with a blank document. I like to start off by filling the background with a dark color.


  2. Create a new layer. Choose a new color and scribble on a few lines.


  3. Go to the Filter menu and go down to Distort. Select the Wave filter.

  4. A new menu will open up with lots of sliders and options. Play around with these to get an idea of what they do. When you are done, click OK.

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  5. Make another scribble and run the Wave filter again.

  6. Continue repeating this process. You’ll want to change the filter settings each time by moving the sliders around. This is to keep it as random as possible. Here are some other factors that will help with this:

    • Switch to a new color once in awhile.

      Run the filter multiple times by pressing Command-F. This repeats the last filter you ran with the same settings. Don’t do this too many times, because then the texture starts to look a little too automated.

      Create new layers and run the Wave filter on them too. Try using different layer modes like Overlay or Color Burn to create new effects.

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  7. When you’re done, you can flatten your image and save to use later. Sometimes, after playing around so much, my colors start to look a little too confusing and clash too much, so I’ll often tone down the color or make them monochromatic first.


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3. Liquify Tool

  1. Create a new document. Fill your Background with a color.


  2. Create a new layer and scribble a few colors onto it.


  3. Go to the Filter menu and find Liquify.

  4. A new interface will pop up. The liquefy tools are on the left side of the screen. You can push things around, twirl them, bloat them, pinch them – play around and see what you prefer. I like to simply use the “warp” tool to create an effect that’s kinda like the wave filter, but with much more control over the direction and movement of the waves.

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4. Bevel and Emboss

I use this method to create a gessoed board-like effect. It also has a lot of other great uses.

  1. Open and new document and fill the Background layer with a color.

  2. Create a new layer. In the Layers palette, click the Effects button and choose Bevel and Emboss.


  3. Change the Technique option to Chisel Soft, and Lower the Size to about 1-3 pixels. Click OK.

  4. Pick a brush (a custom or textured brush works best) and paint on your new layer using the same color as the background. You will see that the Bevel/Emboss gives your brushstrokes a three-dimensional quality.

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  5. Slowly build up your texture. If it starts to become overworked and the texture starts to “flatten,” create a new layer, apply the Bevel/Emboss effect to it, and continue painting. Since you will be doing this often, I find it easier to create a Layer Style (Window > Styles) so I can easily apply the Bevel/Emboss effect over and over again.

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  6. When you are done, flatten your image.


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5. Patterns

You can quickly add a little visual interest into your illustration by making your own patterns for clothing, wallpaper, furniture, and other elements in your painting.

  1. Open a new document. Create a new layer.

  2. Draw any object or design. Do NOT touch any of the edges of your canvas.


  3. Go to the Filter menu and scroll all the way down to Other. Select Offset.

  4. In the new dialogue box, at the bottom under “Undefined Areas,” make sure the option “Wrap Around” is selected. Now, move the sliders around until you can see the “holes” in your pattern, and click OK.

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  5. Continue drawing your pattern. Again, do not cross the outside edges of your document. If needed, rerun the Offset filter (you can use the shortcut Command+F), and continue to fill in your pattern until you can no longer see any blank spots.

  6. Throw away the background layer.


  7. Select All (Select > All or Command+A), then go to Edit > Define Pattern. Give your pattern a name, then click OK to save it to your Pattern library.


  8. To see your new pattern, create a new document, go to Edit > Fill, change the Use drop-down menu to pattern, and then find your pattern under Custom Pattern.

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Now go play!

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