How to Draw in Photoshop

Learning how to draw in Photoshop is fun and rewarding if you know what to do. Often, tutorials over complicate what is truly needed for drawing. Therefore, this section will focus on the simplifying core functions to help any artist become a powerful digital illustrator.

Drawing with Photoshop is a huge part of the graphics industry and is something no to miss as an artist (since you can potentially profit from professional illustrations)! When we look at professional images in magazines or any visual advertisement, we know most likely that Photoshop is behind these amazing pictures.

While photo manipulation is definitely one of the strong points of this program, drawing and painting is another side of the coin that other artists use this powerful program for as well. I love using this software for doing quick sketches or completed pieces of work.

Even though the airbrush is the primary drawing instrument, brush heads combined with different tools is what makes drawing possible. Always keep an eye out for the brush tip panel where any brush variances that you choose can be applied to these individual tools for drawing.

How to draw in Photoshop: the brush tool

The airbrush, combined with your drawing tablet, will be the main tool used most of the time. The key here is to get it to recognize pressure sensitivity. Sketch lines and filling require this to be turned off. However, when it comes time for details, that's when I turn this option on.

To draw straight lines, draw a point anywhere on the screen, then hold the shift key, and then clicking somewhere else. This will connect the dots to form a line! If shift is held, then the line will always be drawn horizontally or vertically at set angles.

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While brush heads are plentiful, the chalk brush types will give the most flexibility for blocking in form. This is best,combined with pressure sensitivity, to create universal drawing textures. Of course, there are many to try out. It is possible to create my own if it's a very specific texture I need.

Layers is also important. Managing drawing in an organized fashion is highly recommended. The rule of thumb is to start with a sketch layer for sketching the form and a fill layer to fill out that form. This separation helps with shading without distorting the original sketch.

How to draw in Photoshop: refining the object

With both layers merged, the next step in knowhow to draw in Photoshop would be to even out the colors. This is to avoid strong dark lines when tasked with drawing something a bit more realistic. The best way to do this is through the brightness/contrast global options. Set it so the strong contrasting colors are faded towards more neutral colors.

In this step, I protect the shape by locking it down. Details are still handled by the chalk brush. There are multiple methods but I like to focus more on two specific options: transfer and shape dynamics. Depending on what I need to do, I toggle both these options on and off. Sometimes, I have both turned on.

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The basic idea is that transfer will change the pressure based on a set brush shape while shape dynamics will change the brush shape with a constant pressure. There are keyboard shortcuts though, like using the [ or ] to change the size of the brush while transfer is on and shape dynamics is off. Everything else will come with experience.

Since it's done digitally, mistakes will happen. Thankfully, the Photoshop eraser will be there to correct it. However, when you make mistakes that you rather undo than erase, there is always the history panel. This will save a lot of time in the long run as I can always undo a few steps using this panel.

How to draw in Photoshop: detailing

Ironically, out of all these tools, the smudge tool is very important for detailing. They way I use it is based on the idea of hard smudging out the details rather than drawing it in. With a very small brush, I turn on shape dynamic and turn off transfer.

This combination will literally pull the colors into whichever direction I want it. The advantage is that is allows details to be drawn in based on surrounding colors. This saves a lot of time as it almost eliminates color sampling. Larger brush heads will also pull out the colors to create very flat details.

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As for the blur and sharpen tools, these work well with one another in bringing the focus of your painting on a specific area. For example, you want to sharpen an object that is close to the foreground while blurring out sections of the background.

Unlike the smudge tool, the best combination I found are soft round brushes. These types of brush heads create very gentle transitions between normal areas and sharpened/blurred areas of the drawing. I also like to use soft round brushes with the smudge tool to create consistent gradients.

How to draw in Photoshop: light source shading

Shading is the last step in learning how to draw in Photoshop. There are two ways to do this: destruction and non-destructive editing. For the former, it means that pixels will be edited. The advantage is that it's quick but does not allow experimentation of shading. The following tools are used:

  • Dodge tool – increase color intensity through brightening
  • Burn tool – increase color intensity through darkening
  • Sponge tool – increases or lowers color intensity values

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For a composition that requires a global effect, you can go into the Images > Adjustments menu and select the adjustments that are most appropriate for your composition. Just remember that this is a global wide destructive editing procedure where the best way to undo it is through the history panel.

The latter method is non-destructive editing where the pixels aren't touched. The best method for shading would be to use a clipping mask. First, create a new layer and hit 'alt plus left click' on the base of the new layer. Since it's a new layer, any drawing activity will not interfere with the original drawing.

The clipping mask is where I test shading directions. With a round brush, I glaze in shading and light source. Since it's on a differently layer, I can play around with opacity or blend modes to enhance the shading. I can even stack multiple clipping masks to experiment with color or new light directions.

The rest is just drawing slowly until it is down. In short, there's really no need to complicate learning how to draw in Photoshop. These core tools is more than enough to turn an empty canvas into a piece of artwork. There are always more advanced tools that I can use, but this is enough for the majority of most drawings.