For both beginners in the digital design field and those with more experience, copyright can be quite a confusing area. With various unclear rules and lots of gray areas, it can be hard to know what you can and can’t use whilst keeping in line with copyright laws.

In this article, we will try to dissect the subject and discuss what determines whether or not you can use externally created material in the production of your work.

If you are looking for more information on using brushes in Photoshop, feel free to check out our article on how to install and use a Photoshop brush.

A Summary: Are Photoshop Brushes Copyrighted?

In short, we’d recommend that you don’t use any externally sourced brushes when creating commercial work, unless you are entirely certain of the boundaries in place, and you know that you are licensed to use them. Most websites that let you download brushes will have sections dedicated to outlining the rules around copyright, so we suggest that you take a look at those sections for more specific information.

In terms of creating Photoshop brushes, we’d recommend that you try to work entirely from scratch in most situations. Avoid using any external images or other materials, even if you think that editing the original images slightly will let you avoid getting copyrighted. In most cases, it is best to just play it safe.

Creating Copyright-Free Brushes

First, let’s discuss the creation of your own Photoshop brushes. One great thing about Photoshop is that it lets you create your own original brushes using the Define Brush Preset function. The key word here is original. When producing your own brushes, aim to create them entirely from scratch.

In some cases, however, lots of designers find themselves either wanting or needing to use externally sourced images or other materials that are copyrighted. Lots of people think that if they create a brush from the image, and simply edit the image in some way, then the material will no longer be copyrighted, and they can claim the final design as their own work.

But unfortunately, this often is not true. If you trace or create any brush from an image by anyone other than yourself, then the product is considered to be ‘derivative work’. This term refers to work that stems from materials produced by somebody else. Creating derivative work is a form of infringement.

No matter how much you alter the original image from which the work is derived, if the original image can still be recognized to even the slightest degree, it is considered as copyright infringement.

Although the specific regulations can vary somewhat depending on what country you reside in and the laws applicable to your commercial situation, it is best to stay safe. Even if you think you are using a copyright-free image at any point during the creation of your Photoshop brush, you should stay on the safe side and think to yourself: is it possible for me to produce this using only materials of my own?

Downloading Copyright-Free Brushes

If you prefer to download brushes created by other people from sites such as Brusheezy, then it is important that before using any externally sourced brushes you check the copyright rules surrounding them. Lots of brushes from these sites are free for personal use but require you to purchase a license if you would like to use them in commercial settings.

To find sites offering an array of royalty-free brushes to download for use in Photoshop, you can simply conduct a quick internet search of something along the lines of ‘royalty-free Photoshop brushes’. To be certain of each website’s regulations or the policies of individual contributors, be sure to check each page of the websites you visit for more information.

For instance, one website that we have found is BrushLovers, which states that its brushes are free for both personal and commercial use. This article by Creative Pro lists a variety of brushes that are free to be used in Photoshop for both personal and commercial projects.

Our Final Advice

To summarise, the most important piece of advice that we can give you is to always be as careful as you possibly can. Wherever it is possible, create your brushes from scratch, and aim to make original designs that are not reflective of or produced from the work of others. Aiming to do this will also help you become more creative as you will grow less reliant on other designers’ skills!

When downloading brushes, check everywhere on the websites or individual pages for the copyright rules. Most free brushes are okay to be used in personal projects, but not all of them have the same laws when it comes to using them in commercial projects. Always be careful.


Want to find out more about copyright laws in relation to art and design? Check out this informative video by Tim Packer Fine Arts which summarises everything you need to know about copyright.

About the Author Betchphoto

Captivated by the digital world and particularly attracted by everything related to creativity, Martin is an amateur photographer and digital marketer who has more than 10 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop. Check his about page here

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