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Monika Zagrobelna is a freelance artist and a tutorial author passionate about both learning and teaching. Her specialty are animals and realistic imaginary creatures.
Monika share her techniques and digital drawing expertise on her website, including an incredible series featuring Autodesk SketchBook!

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I love designing dragons and other scaly creatures, but there’s always one big problem with them—the scales take ages to plan, draw, and shade! Fortunately, SketchBook comes with this great option of creating photo brushes. In this tutorial I will show you how to create a brush based on a photo of a lizard, and how to paint realistic scales with it.

Step 1

First you need to find a ​good quality photo​. Because it’s going to be a part of your artwork, it’s best to use photos with a licence that allows it. My favorite sources are ​Pixabay​ and ​Unsplash​. Download your chosen photo and paste it into SketchBook. Resize it if necessary.

Step 2

You can use colorful brushes in SketchBook, but if you want to create a universal brush, it’s better to keep it in grayscale. To remove the colors from the photo, go to Image > Adjust > Grayscale.

Step 3

In grayscale photo brushes, the white areas are used to reveal the colors below, and the shades of gray are shadows. If our photo lacks whites, the colors will be darkened. To avoid it, go to Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast and adjust the sliders to increase the contrast and brighten the bright areas.

Step 4

Almost every brush can be turned into a photo brush. In this tutorial I will show you how to do it with one of mine, as an example. Go to Window > SketchBook Extras and download my Quick Sketch Set. Take the Painting Brush and drag it to the brush panel.

Step 5

Open the brush settings. Go to the Nib tab and check Shape. Check With Color, and then click Capture. Now find the area that you want to use as a base for your brush. It should be as large as possible, pretty flat and with even shading. When you find it, resize the circle and capture the area by clicking.

Step 6

The texture has been applied to the brush, but at this point it’s not very useful. We need to adjust it to our needs. First, go to the Stamp tab and adjust Spacing, to stop the scales from covering each other. Then, go back to the Nib tab and adjust the edge. Soft edge will hide the borders between the copies of the captured area.

Step 7

You can also adjust the rotation, to make it follow the direction of the stroke. It will give you more control over the placement of the scales. If your scales seem to be turned wrong regardless of your direction, you may need to rotate them with the Rotation slider.

Step 8

These were the most important settings. You can now experiment with other so make the brush even better. For example, you can bind the size with the pressure, so that you can draw gradually smaller or bigger scales just by pressing harder or lighter. Remember that you don’t have to get it all right here and now. You can just go and start painting, and then come back to adjust something that feels wrong.

Step 9

Finally, click the icon of the brush and select Use Shape as Icon to make the brush instantly recognizable.

Step 10

The brush is done, and now I’ll show you how you can use it. Create a New Layer and draw a few strokes over your artwork. Then go to the Blend Mode menu. The Multiply mode will make white invisible, and turn shades of grey into shadows, as I mentioned before. The Overlay mode uses greys to darken the colors below as well, but it uses brighter greys to brighten these colors. The Soft Light mode works like a subtler version of the Overlay mode. Each of them can be used to make the texture transparent, but each of them gives slightly different effects, so try them all to see which one works best. Remember that you can also change the Opacity to lower the intensity of this effect.

Step 11

Now you can simply paint the scales all over the creature, adjusting their size to the form of the body. Nothing stops you from using various photo brushes at the same time, to create a variety of scales You can also use smudge brushes to make the surface slightly less even. When you’re done, use the Wand tool to select the outside of the creature, and remove the texture from this area.

Step 12

So now the creature has its scales! It was pretty easy, wasn’t it? But if you want a more realistic effect, remember to add some shine to the scales. The Screen mode is best for it. If you want to learn more about making the scales more realistic, visit ​the tutorial on my blog​. Also, remember that this method isn’t only good for creatures – you can use it to draw grass, leaves, texture of the ground, or sidewalk, or clothes, whatever you can think of. Photo brushes will make this process so much faster!


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Colin Smith

Colin is a Sr. Product Manager on the Automotive and Conceptual Design Team at Autodesk. During his 25-year career in the CAD industry he has worked in customer support, training, consulting and as a product manager for Alias and Fusion 360. Currently, he works on SketchBook Pro and Create VR and is based in Toronto, Canada.


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  1. Avatarrozucupid



    where did you get JPH Brushes Set??? I tries find JPhn Brushes…pls send me link

  2. Avataralice.roudy



    Hello, how do I resize the texture capture mode circle?

  3. Avataralice.roudy



    Bonjour, comment faire pour redimensionnez le cercle du mode capture de texture ?




    hey. it doesnt work for me. i’m using sketchbook from windows store. I don’t get any texture. how can I fix it?
    here is an example of how it looks for me:

    1. Colin SmithColin Smith (Post author)



      Hi John,

      Rather than using the Windows 10 version, I suggest you go to the SketchBook product page and download the windows for desktop version
      At the top of that page you will see an option to download the Windows or Mac version of the desktop product.

      Hope that helps,


  5. Avatarb.kerecz



    Hello! I have major trouble with creating photo brushes. Using the photo as “shape” doesn’t do anything. Using the photo as “texture” (which would be my first instinct) works, but then I get the square edges of the captured texture all over my canvas. HELP please!




    En el caso de las tabletas android, existe algún método para editar estos pinceles? Cuento con una tableta samsung galaxy tab 3

  7. Pingback: How to Paint Realistic Scales Digitally – Monika Zagrobelna