Freckles are a beautiful feature. So, it’s great when you have a model that has freckles, as it’s an element that can give your work a raw, natural feel. But what if you want to replicate that effect in one of your photos, but your model doesn’t have freckles? Fear not. You can always add them later in Photoshop!
By creating our own ‘freckle brush’ we can produce a convincing effect in no time at all. The simple process can be outlined by the following steps:
- Open your image in Photoshop
- Create a new layer and draw a single freckle
- Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to Select a square around the freckle and add a new white layer underneath it
- Choose Edit > Define Brush Preset to create a brush from the freckle
- Repeat steps 2-4 with a variety of different freckles
- Open the brush window and choose one of your new freckle brushes
- Edit the Shape Dynamics
- Edit the Scattering
- Open the ‘Transfer’ tab and increase the Flow Jitter
- Add a new curves adjustment layer and make the mid-tones darker
- Invert the adjustment layer’s layer mask to make it black
- Paint white freckles onto the layer mask to create freckles using your brushes
- Final Result
If you want to jump directly to the video tutorials of each technique, click right here.
1: Go to File > Open to Open Your Image
Once you’ve opened Photoshop, you can immediately head to File > Open at the top of the screen to open a portrait from your files.
We used this photo by Ibraim Leonardo from Pexels. If, like us, you’d prefer to use a stock photo to practice this technique, then you can find thousands of free, high-quality images over on Pexels.
If you still can’t find what you’re looking for on there, then check out this list that we’ve compiled of 25 stock image websites that are completely free!
2: Create a New Layer and Use the Brush Tool to Draw a Single Freckle
Once your image has opened in Photoshop, create a new empty layer by clicking on the ‘New Layer’ icon at the bottom of the Layers Window.
This new layer will automatically be made active, which will be indicated by it being highlighted in the Layers Window. This means that any changes we make will be applied to this layer rather than to the original image layer.
So, let’s go ahead and draw a single freckle, from which we will create a custom brush later. Select the Brush Tool (B) from the toolbar down the left side of the screen.
Upon selecting this tool, you’ll see an options bar appear near the top of your screen. Here, choose a hard round brush, set the Flow to be around 30%, and choose a fairly small size (this will vary depending on the quality of your document).
The color doesn’t matter at this point since we’re just using this dot to make a brush.
With the brush all set up, you can now draw a dot anywhere on the portrait (preferably somewhere where it shows up well, just to make things easier later). You can hit Ctrl + Z [Win] / Cmd + Z [Mac] if you want to undo it and try again. This will act as a freckle.
3: Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to Make a Square-Shaped Selection Around the Freckle and Add a Plain White Layer Beneath it
Next, we’re going to make a square-shaped selection of the freckle that we have just drawn on. So, let’s go ahead and choose the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) from the toolbar down the left side of the screen.
Then, click and drag whilst holding down the Shift key on your keyboard to create a small square selection around the freckle.
With the selection still active, head back to the Layers Window and, once again, click on the ‘New Layer’ icon at the bottom of it.
Then simply click on the newly created layer and drag it so that it sits beneath the freckle layer (Layer 1) and above the portrait layer, releasing it when a blue line appears where you’re dropping it.
Your window should now look like this:
Now that the layers are in the correct order, make sure that the new layer is still active, then head along the top of the screen to Edit > Fill and select white as the fill color.
Click OK, and you’ll then see that the square-shaped selection has now been filled with white, and the freckle is sat on top of a small white square.
4: Click on the Freckle Layer, Then Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset to Create a Brush From it
Now that the freckle is sat upon a white background, we can create a brush from it! In the Layers Window, ensure that the freckle layer is selected by clicking on it, then select Edit > Define Brush Preset from the bar along the top of the screen.
Type in a name for the new brush, then click OK.
You’ll now have created your very own brush from the freckle that you drew. Pretty cool, right? After creating the brush, you can go ahead and delete the two layers (the white square and the freckle) by right clicking on them and selecting Delete Layer.
5: Repeat Steps 2-4 a Few Times, Creating a Variety of Different Freckle Brushes
Since we’re aiming to, ultimately, create a natural-looking effect, it’s best that we create a few different brushes so that the effect doesn’t turn out to be too repetitive. So, simply repeat the method that you followed to create the first brush a couple of times.
6: Select Window > Brush Settings to Open the Brush Settings Window and Choose One of Your New Freckle Brushes
With a variety of custom brushes now created, we can go ahead and make a start on adding the freckles into the portrait. Let’s begin this process by opening the Brush Settings Window, which can be done by choosing Window > Brush Settings.
Within this window, choose one of your newly created freckle brushes from the top-right menu circled in the picture below.
7: In the ‘Shape Dynamics’ Tab, Increase the Size Jitter and Angle Jitter to Their Maximum Values
Still working in the Brush Settings Window, we’re going to open the Shape Dynamics Tab by clicking on its title from the list at the left of the window.
Once you’ve opened the tab, you’ll see some sliders that allow you to change the properties of the brush. Click and drag the sliders entitled ‘Size Jitter’ and ‘Angle Jitter’ all the way to the right.
This will mean that Photoshop will randomly rotate and change the size of your brush as you use it to add freckles, leading to what’s hopefully a more realistic and less repetitive effect.
8: In the ‘Scattering’ Tab, Drag the ‘Scatter’ Slider to the Right
Head to the list at the left of the window, just like we did before, but this time, select the Scattering Tab.
With the new tab open, you’ll see a slider that allows you to edit the amount of scattering, entitled ‘Scatter’. Again, drag this slider all the way to the right, to allow for an even less repetitive effect.
9: In the ‘Transfer’ Tab, Drag the ‘Flow Jitter’ Slider Also to the Right
For the final adjustment to the properties of the brush, we’re going to change the flow jitter, in order to further add to the realistic illusion of the freckle effect. So, let’s select the ‘Transfer’ tab from the list at the left of the window.
Within this tab, drag the slider entitled ‘Flow Jitter’ all the way to the right.
10: Add a New Curves Adjustment Layer and Drag the Centre of the Diagonal Line Downwards to Make the Mid-Tones Darker
Heading back to the Layers Window, let’s add a new curves adjustment layer by clicking on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the window.
This will prompt a list to come up, from which we’ll select Curves.
In the options window that opens, you should see a diagonal line. The positions of the points on this line (which will be turned into a curve when you drag the points) will effectively determine the brightness and contrast of the layers beneath the adjustment layer.
We’re going to make the mid-tones darker by simply clicking on a point somewhere near the center of the line and dragging it downwards until you’re happy with the effect. The brightness of this determines the color and brightness of the freckles that we will add, so it won’t be applied to the whole image.
11: Click on the Layer Mask of the Adjustment Layer and Invert it to Change the Main Mask Color to Black, Making the Effect of the Layer Invisible
Since we only want the adjustment layer to show up where we draw the freckles, we’re going to use a layer mask to determine in which areas the effect is visible and invisible.
When working with layer masks, always remember that black indicates areas, where the layer becomes invisible, whilst white, indicates where the effect is visible, with gray indicating areas of visibility between the two ends of the spectrum.
With that clarified, we’re first going to have to make the adjustment layer’s layer mask fully black to hide it all initially, and then use a white brush to bring the effect back in where the freckles are.
So, go ahead and click on the layer mask of the adjustment layer, then hit Ctrl + I [Win] / Cmd + I [Mac] to invert it- in other words, filling it with black.
You’ll see that the adjustment layer no longer affects the image, and that your Layers Window looks like this:
12: Use a Variety of White Freckle Brushes to Paint Freckles on the Layer Mask, Revealing the Adjustment Layer in Those Areas
Now’s the big moment you’ve been waiting for: you can finally add the freckles!
Make sure you have the Brush Tool (B) selected, then choose one of your freckle brushes again and use a small-sized white brush to click anywhere on the subject’s face to add freckles. Make sure you’re working on the Layer Mask of the Adjustment Layer.
We’d suggest that you have the Flow set to 100% (this can be done in the options bar at the top of the screen) and that you change the freckle brush that you’re using every so often, as this will allow you to avoid a repetitive effect as much as possible. If you want to get rid of any freckles, simply switch to a black brush and paint over them.
You can always change the darkness by clicking on the Adjustment Layer itself, then dragging the center of the curve further downwards in the options window.
Just keep going until you’re satisfied! Be careful not to go too overboard, and make sure that your image always looks as natural as possible. Here’s what our outcome ended up looking like:
13. Enhance the Effect with Black and White
To enhance the freckles, you can always add a black and white adjustment layer (by clicking on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Window, then choosing Black and White from the list that comes up) and decrease the brightness of the reds in the Properties Window.
Then you can just play around with the brightness and contrast of the image. You end up with an awesome result in which the freckles really stand out.
And that’s about all there is to creating natural freckles in Photoshop using custom brushes and an adjustment layer! Want to find out more about the process?
Then take a look at this video by PHLEARN that will walk you through a similar process.
Martin is an amateur photographer and digital marketer who has more than 15 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop. Register for his newsletter here and get a FREE Brush Pack!