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Painting fur in PhotoShop

Updated on September 18, 2014

Painting Fur in PhotoShop

I love painting with Photoshop. I've been an artist all my life and have always done it the "traditional" way. I've used colored pencils, acrylic, airbrush, pen and ink, watercolor, and pastels. But when I started learning the computer and working with Photoshop, I discovered my new tool. Photoshop allows me to do things I never could do with the brush and canvas. It gives me the confidence to try new things without the expense of making mistakes or wasting materials. I don't think I'll ever go back to the traditional way of painting again.

Fur can be very intimidating no matter what medium you use. But it doesn't have to be.

I'll show you how to make a fur brush. How to adjust it and how to use it.

You will find that fur isn't really all that difficult. I created the baby bunny here with just one brush.

What You Need

Before you can even begin to paint with a computer you need a couple of things.

First you need a tablet. This is a pad that uses a stylus. Which is a pen like mouse. A regular mouse was never intended to be used with such precision. I recommend the Wacom Intuit 4. I find it to be just the right size to work on. The Bamboo is a good place to start, but you will find as you get better at it you will need a tablet with more precision. Might as well start with the Intuit 4. You will be hard pressed to grow out of it.

Wacom Intuos Intuos4 - Medium
Wacom Intuos Intuos4 - Medium

This tablet is the perfect size for working with your PC. Large enough, yet doesn't take up a lot of desk space.

Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch
Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch

A great tablet to get you started. Not as sensitive as the more expensive ones, but it's a great tablet to get your feet wet.


The second thing you need is a graphic program. Photoshop is one of the best graphic programs you can get. There are others out there like CorelDraw and Gimp, but they can be more limited. So, if you plan on investing in a graphic program, you might as well get the best one. Photoshop CC 2014 is the version I currently have and I really like it. I used to upgrade every other version but Photoshop now has their new Creative Cloud which you can get into for only $9.99 a month. Be careful when buying a graphics program. The less expensive programs will not give you the precision and flexibility of the more expensive ones. Do your research and don’t waste your money on inferior programs.

Open a new image 4" x 4" at 72 dpi with a white background

Select the brush setting and use the hard round. Turn on the shape dynamics and turn the spacing all the way down to 1%. Use a size of around 25 px.

Turn on Transfer and turn the Opacity jitter to 0% Pen Pressure, Flow Jitter to 0% Pen pressure.

Use only black and white when creating the brush. Go back and forth with the black and white. Turn the opacity down to 50% if you want. You want a kind of rice shape with one end darker than the other and the ends fading out. It's important not to have any sharp ends.

When your satisfied with the results, use the marquee tool and select just the brush work, not the whole area. Edit/ Define Brush Preset and give it a name like Fur Brush. Close this brush and open a new tab. Make it about 12 x 12 at 300 dpi. Select your new brush.

We now need to make a few more adjustments to this brush to make it work. With the brush selected you need to make the following adjustments.

Brush Tip Shape - Flatten the shape to about 40%

Spacing - around 47%

Shape Dynamics - Jitter size - off

Angle Jitter - Direction

Roundness Jitter - off

Scattering - To about 71%

Keep the Transfer on and at the current settings

It's important to save your settings at this point - At the top, click on the drop down box on the right corner - New Brush Preset - give this new brush a name. By default it will just give the brush a new number and that works for me.

Congratulation You just created your first fur bursh

Create your sketch. This is just for a guide. I also include the direction of the fur to keep me on track. It's just a road map so I don't start wandering and paint the fur in the wrong direction. Keep this sketch on the top layer so you can turn it on and off as you need it.

Open another layer below this one. Hold down Ctrl as you click on the new layer icon at the bottom. Now create one more layer below this one and fill it with white. Don't forget to name your layers as you go. You should now have three layers. A white background, a blank transparent layer for you to paint on and the top layer with the outline of the subject.

Be sure you are on the correct layer (transparent layer in the middle) and begin blocking in some of the colors. Use a soft round brush here. Don't use white under painting if your subject is white. Your brush strokes won't show. Think shadows. I like to use pinks, purples, violets and blues in the really white areas. Work the colors in the direction of the fur.

At this point the drawing will look really awful. Don't worry, this is just the under painting. Once you have your colors blocked in, go to your brush drop down and use the Mixer Brush. Settings, Wet - 10%, Load :5%, mix-26% and Flow - 26% Sample All Layers - Off. You want to blend these color a bit so they aren't so harsh. Don't be afraid to go back and add more color, darken or lighten areas if you feel you need to. Just keep working the colors and soften them.

Tip: If you want to darken or lighten an area a little bit more but not to harsh, turn your opacity down before you paint it on. Paint lightly in dabs then go back with the Mixer Brush and smooth it in.

Working The Edges

The edge of your painting can be difficult to make look soft and to hide the hard edge. Here is a trick.

After you paint the under painting and have completely mixed it, add a layer below it and fill with black. The black layer makes it easier for you to see what is happening. This layer can be removed with the painting is done. If you are working on a dark area, make another layer below it and fill it with white. Go back to the under painting layer and take the fur smudge tool you made and go along the edge in the direction of the fur.

– the edge after the smudge tool

Be sure you are on the Fur layer when painting the fur. I like to lock the under painting layer to be sure I don't accidentally paint the fur on it.

Here is the edge after the fur has been painted. No hard edges.

Now the magic begins

Choose your new fur brush and choose your colors. I'll start with the eye area. As you work, you will want to adjust the settings like scatter and the size. Always pull or push the brush in the direction of the fur. Start with a shadow color first and build up to the lightest color. Work these colors back and forth. The more layers, the better the fur will look. I'll show the process of the different colors so you can see how I build the fur up.

First lets start with a dark color to create shadows.

I'm using 32261b. If this is too strong lower the opacity. Don't worry too much about it being strong, we have many more layers to add and play with.

Next a mid tone. I'm using c2b7b7. It's a pretty good match to the under painting so it can be a bit hard to see here. But notice how it knocks down the dark color we used first. On top of that I use a slightly lighter mid tone like d2c5c5. I might add more of the c2b7b7 here and there to keep the shadow areas a bit darker.

finally the highlight. Color e1d8cd. I try not to use white except for the very, very last, and only in the very strong light areas. This also goes for black. I rarely use black for anything except the pupil.

I'll work these 4 colors back and forth until I'm satisfied with the results. Now, use the smudge tool with the same brush and lightly follow the fur direction again. Turn the strength of the smudge too down to at least 50% or more. You want to keep the look of the fur, but soften them just a little. If you overdo it, just add a few more strokes with the fur brush.

With that section done, I move on to the next and do it again, using the appropriate colors for that area.

There are three adjustments I'm always changing as I go. Scatter, Brush Size and Opacity. The smaller your brush size and scatter the finer the hairs will be. You can go down to painting a single hair with the size and scatter adjusted.

It's just a matter of working each color, back and forth, dark, medium, light, smudge, add a little dark, a little more light, smudge. Play, play, play until you are happy with it. You can play until you fall asleep, so do this a few times and move on. Learn from each piece just how much is enough.

The Pros and Cons

I love this brush and use it a lot, but there are a few quirks this brush has

Pros - Magical, you still have to stroke, stroke, stroke, but the way the brush scatters it does a lot of the work for you. The ability to adjust it as you go is also a plus.

Cons - Every now and again, this brush will throw a stray hair in the wrong direction. It doesn't happen often, but it seems to do it when you least expect it. The best way to avoid this as much as possible is not to work with too large of a brush in small areas, and be very careful you go in the direction of the fur.

I like to turn the image when working in a certain directions. But when you to this, the brush will not "turn" with you. I'm working to figure this one out, but for now you will have to work on the piece without turning it.

To me the Pros far out weigh the cons with this brush and I think you will too.

A few last words.

Painting on the computer isn't magical. Some people even think it's cheating. Painting on the computer is no different than painting on a canvas or paper. You still have to do the work. The difference is that the computer allows you to do parts of the painting on different layers. This makes things easier when you want the feet or the ears to be behind the body. It also lets you experiment. Just create another layer and experiment there. If you don't like the look, simply delete the layer. You're still painting, just not with a wet medium and the process is so much easier and forgiving

What do you think?

Do you think painting on the computer is cheating?

See results

The Hedgehog was painted exactly the same way. The only difference is I made a bigger, chunkier brush for the quills.

Siamese Cat

You will find that you don't have to cover the entire animal. Keeping the strokes subtle gives a soft look to the fur.

Here is a close up. You can see there are areas that don't have any fur. This gives a softer look.

Be sure to check out all my art tutorials. Go to The Natural Gift

I hope this tutorial was helpful. I'd love to hear how it worked for you and see your final piece.


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