OK, so Doomsday Dream Clan has been on a tear lately despite me being sick and miserable. While we were discussing topics for the Tarot Challenge I came up with the idea to do a dark torture theme for our cards. As I started doing concept sketches with this dark theme I kept drawing chains and even simple chains can be a pain in the ass if you try to draw every link… So I searched last night for Photoshop chain brushes and didn’t quickly find a good result. So here I am today to hopefully help some people out with a free download of a brush I created.

Download Niva’s Simple Chain Brush – Photoshop CS3

Disclaimer: This brush is being released AS IS. It may not work as advertised in Photoshop versions older than CS3. Use it in whatever way you’d want, though if you make something cool with it comment below and send me a link so I can check it out!

Tutorial on how to create a Chain Brush for Photoshop

I’m also going to explain how to create this brush for those of you who would like to create your own. This will be a somewhat advanced tutorial in how the Photoshop Brush engine works. While it may seem complicated at first the power of Photoshop brushes is immense. If you use the program to do digital painting, like I do, you owe it to yourself to learn this stuff and use custom brushes.

I’m going to discuss the problem before we begin. A chain is composed of usually identical links which interlock with each other to form the actual chain. The simplest chains are ones with straight oval links which fit into each other at a 90 degree angle of rotation from the axis of the chain as it is stretched out. There is slack in chains though, and generally not all links come together at 90 degrees as the chain hangs loosely.

Step 1 – Create a basic pattern which will be repeated in order to get the desired result: In this case a chain!

Two links of the chain which will be used in Photoshop as a custom brush

As you can see the drawing is very simple. I wasn’t even too worried about making it look accurate and good. There are many other ways in which a chain can come together but the primary purpose of this brush is for concept work and visualization so it will be quick and dirty. Notice that I did create some shading in the image above. It’s very important to make the image on pure white. The Photoshop brush engine when it samples an image to define a brush pattern uses white (or gray) in order to define opacity. Only pure black will be filled in completely as you use this brush, the gray areas will be somewhat transparent depending on how white they are.

Last night while I was searching for chain brushes I found many which are simply too long and are impossible to repeat properly to be used in the way I need this brush to be used. So it’s important to make sure the pattern is short enough so that when you repeat it and curve the links can still come together without adding too much illusion as being “double linked” pattern… which they are in terms of the brush.

Step 2 – Define the brush pattern.

Select the entire image, if you’ve started with pure white this won’t matter as Photoshop will only select non-white areas. So effectively even though you’ve manually selected a large image the brush pattern will be smaller than your selection.

Define Brush Pattern - Tutorial Step 2

After making your selection go to Edit > Define Brush Preset…

Once this has been completed you will immediately have a new brush visible in your brush selection window. However, this brush is not very useful until we change it’s behaviour a bit which is what I will discuss next.

Step 3 – Modifying the brush behaviour in order to achieve desired results.

There are two main things to take care of here in regards to the chain brush. Right now the newly created brush is just the ugly two links I drew earlier, which by itself is not useful. However, if we modify some of the attributes of the brush we can get a really useful tool in the end. Go to the brush window and select the new brush. If you don’t have the brush window visible go from the main menu in Photoshop and select Window > Brushes.

Once you have the window visible and you’ve selected your brush navigate to the Brush Tip Shape window, and you’ll get the following screen.

Brush Tip Shape Window in Photoshop

The first thing you want to take care of is to re-orient the brush so that it flows better. Sadly I drew the brush vertical so it has to be rotated by 90 degrees. In the area where you have the circle visible you can grab the arrow and rotate it around manually. Or you can type in the value of 90 degrees in the window labeled “Angle”. Next you want to go to the very bottom of the window and drag the spacing bar utnil you get to about ~190%. This means that as you trace a path, after one brush appears, the next one will appear at 190% of the distance in that path where 100% is the length of the brush. This seems to make little sense, because remember the brush was originally positioned vertical, but we’ve now rotated it and are making it fit horizontally. Photoshop however still remembers the original brush positioning which was defined by the brush pattern at the start and uses that value to calculate when the next pattern gets put down. Don’t get lost in the numbers though, just drag the bar until you get the chain links to meet appropriately. It’s up to you as an artist to decide what looks good.

Lastly, still in the same window we must activate “Shape Dynamics” by checking it. Make sure to click on the text itself and turn everyting off. The only thing you should have is Angle Jitter at 0% and Angle Jitter Control selected as Direction. Here’s what it should look like:

Selecting Angle Jitter Control to Pen Direction

Once you make this selection the angle of the brush will be calculated based on how your pen is moving, or your mouse (shame on you if you don’t have a tablet and are trying to paint on a computer!) Ok, now it’s time to test the brush, you can reduce the size to a more managable value like 200 pixels tends to be best for this imo. Big brushes are useful sometimes but generally take up too much resources… then again, we’re using Photoshop so you better have some resources! Generally speaking most simple brushes can be kept small, however some texture brushes are good to be bigger so that more of the texture detail is retained within the brush. If you shrink texture brushes too much then the detail gets lost. In this case 200 pixels is fine since this is a brush which will be used for a concept art stage and you’ll probably paint over it manually to make the work look better. If it needs to be smaller then you can simply shrink the brush size down as you need without worries.

Step 4 – Once properly configured save your brush pattern so that you can quickly access it in the future!

Test your brush on a blank canvas, make sure it works as expected. Once you’re satisfied you want to make sure to save these settings. The problem is that to do this you must create a new brush. Unless you do this, if you select another brush, and want to go back later to using the chain brush, you’ll have to reconfigure it to look right again. Unless you have some strange fettish for reconfiguring Photoshop brushes you won’t want to repeat this process. So with your newly minted brush selected go to the Brushes Window, click on the menu window (little arrow just below the X to close the Brushes Window) and select “New Brush Preset…”

Last step - Saving your configured Brush Preset

This will create a new brush yet again, but you can go back and delete the old brush which is entirely too huge and useless. Now you have a very quick and easy brush you can use for making some evil looking chains in your drawings. Here is a test sample of what the brush should look like in a single spiral stroke:

Testing the newly created chain brush

I hope this was useful, remember that your comments make my day so drop me a line. Cheers!

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