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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Brushes

Photoshop Brush Tool: A Basic Guide

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This post is part of a series called Photoshop Tutorials for Beginners.
A Comprehensive Introduction to the Type Tool
A Basic Guide to Photoshop's 3D Tools
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What You'll Be Creating

This time I've got for you a really basic Photoshop tutorial for the Brush Tool, which is useful for beginners and people interested in learning a little bit more deeply the power of Photoshop's Brush Tool or paint tool. Every single Photoshop user has dealt with the Brush Tool at least once, but not everyone knows how to explore its full potential.

What You Will Learn in This Adobe Photoshop Brush Tutorial

  • What is the Brush Tool in Photoshop?
  • How to use the Brush Tool in Photoshop
  • How to change a brush's shape in Photoshop
  • How to rotate brushes in Photoshop
  • How to change brush color in Photoshop

In this guide, you'll learn how to use the brush presets, create your own brush from scratch and modify its properties, and play with blend modes and pressure controls, besides some useful tricks. How much do you know about Photoshop brushes?

Follow along over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

Resources

1. What Is the Brush Tool in Photoshop?

The Brush Tool is a primary painting tool. It works like a traditional drawing tool by applying color using strokes. It's located in the standard toolbar, and its default shortcut is the letter B.

The Brush Tool works by adding a shaped mark on a layer, and if you continue pressing the mouse button or the pen on a tablet, several marks will be added, creating a stroke, until you release the pressure. The essential options for the Paint Tool in Photoshop are Brush Tip Shape, Blending Mode, Opacity, and Flow. You must understand those concepts before moving forward with the advanced settings.

Photoshop includes several built-in presets, which are premade brushes ready to use.

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2. The Basics 

Brush Tip

This is the most basic option for the Paint Tool in Photoshop. The Brush Tip settings allow you to modify the way to add colors on a Photoshop document using the Brush Tool. When you click on the Brush Preset Picker in the default Options Panel, you will see several built-in presets. On many of the presets, you can easily adjust two very important values:

  1. Size increases or decreases the size of the brush tip. The default shortcuts to increase or decrease are the [ key and ] key. Alternatively, you can Control-Option-Click on a Mac or Alt-Right-Click and Drag in Windows to change the brush size dynamically.
  2. Hardness increases or decreases the brush tip's border strength. 0% means a soft border, and 100% a precise border. 
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Foreground Color

The color being applied by the brush tip is controlled by the Foreground Color, found at the bottom of the Tools toolbar. To change the brush color in Photoshop, click on the Foreground Color and use the Color Picker to choose a new color. 

how to change brush colour in photoshop how to change brush colour in photoshop how to change brush colour in photoshop

Brush Preset Picker Contextual Menu

There are many useful tools in the Brush Preset Picker menu, including New Brush Preset, New Brush GroupDelete Brush, and Rename Brush.

Then there are different display options for the list of brushes in the Preset Picker panel; below there are several examples of this. Besides, you can easily manage the brush list by loading, saving, and replacing brushes in the list, or Append one of the existing Brush collections. We will see more about preset creation shortly.

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Brush Modes

Each time you paint something using the Brush Tool, you can choose a Blending Mode for the stroke. A Blending Mode is a way to change how a brushstroke interacts with the pixels behind the stroke. Let's try some of them.

Modes: Normal, Dissolve, Behind, and Clear

Let's review some of the basic brush modes.

  1. The first on the list is Normal Mode, which paints the color as is. 
  2. Dissolve Mode adds some noise at the edge of the brush stroke.
  3. Behind Mode paints behind an existing stroke, even if they are both on the same layer.
  4. And then Clear Mode. The “Clear” blend mode turns the pixels you paint on transparent, much like the Eraser tool.

There are dozens of different blending modes, and while most of the names do an okay job of telling you what they do, your best bet is to just scroll through them and see them in action for yourself!

brush mode brush mode brush mode

More Blending Modes

The following Blending Modes are just the same that can be applied to layers. Below you can see some examples of blending modes, and some applications. They are fairly useful for adding color to objects (Darken, Multiply, Overlay) or to add some light (Lighten, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge). You have a lot to experiment with here. No matter how many years you've been using Photoshop, you never stop learning about Blending Modes.

brush mode on imagebrush mode on imagebrush mode on image

Opacity

The Opacity value is a percentage of transparency; 100% means a full-color stroke, while a smaller percentage indicates a more transparent stroke.

brush opacity brush opacity brush opacity

Flow

The Flow setting controls the speed at which paint is laid down. Each pass of the brush over the same spot will build more and more paint. Unlike with Opacity, you don’t have to lift your brush, making it ideal for gradually building up things like color, light, and shadows!

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3. What Is the Brush Settings Panel?

The Brush Panel is the place to create, edit, save, and load a particular brush behavior or Brush Preset. You can customize several things here like the brush tip shape, scattering, opacity jitter, flow jitter, configure controls for each variation, and more.

To show the Brush Settings Panel, go to Window > Brushes. You’ll also need to select the Brush Tool on the Tools toolbar to enable the Brush Preset options.

Next, let’s create a Custom Brush and apply some different variations to it.

4. How to Change a Brush's Shape in Photoshop

One of the most powerful features of Photoshop is the ability to create custom brushes and brush designs in Photoshop from scratch, using any image as a source. Let’s create a quick bird silhouette brush. 

Step 1

To start things off, find an image of some birds—I will be using this 3D asset as it comes on a transparent background! I’ll be downloading it as a PSD. 

Let’s open up the PSD file and delete the shadow layer. 

3d bird asset 3d bird asset 3d bird asset

Step 2

Next, let’s go to Image > Adjustment > Hue/Saturation and bring the Lightness to -100, filling it with black. 

fill birds with black fill birds with black fill birds with black

Step 3

Mask or completely erase all but a couple of the birds using either the Eraser Tool or Layer Masks. Either one will work here!

mask birds mask birds mask birds

Step 4

Now, Crop the image down to its exact pixel size by Control-Clicking the leaf layer and then hitting Crop.

With the accepted crop, go ahead and Edit > Define Brush Preset and hit OK.

crop and save brush preset  crop and save brush preset  crop and save brush preset

Step 5

Once you've created the tip shape, you will see it in the Brush Settings Panel and the Brush Preset Picker. You can select the new brush and paint some spots to see how it looks before adding any extra settings.

custom paint brush  custom paint brush  custom paint brush

5. How to Create a Brush Preset

Let’s review some of the possible variations of a brush preset from jitters, counts, and pressure controls. 

The first thing that you should do when creating a brush preset is select a brush tip from the library or, as in this case, start working with a custom brush tip. 

Brush Tip Shape

The first thing that you can customize is the brush tip.

  1. The Size value is a measured pixel size of the Brush Tip. 
  2. The Flip Axis checkboxes flip the tip on its respective axis, X or Y (Horizontally or Vertically).
  3. The Angle value rotates the brush by the desired degrees.
  4. Roundness defines the elliptical roundness of the brush tip, where 100% is a perfect circle.
  5. Spacing is the percentage of space between images when you draw a stroke on the canvas, using a mouse or a pen tablet. The larger the percentage, the bigger the distance.
  6. And again, you can edit the Hardness value of the tip if it’s applicable. Hardness works with the default round brush tip, but if you create a brush tip from an image as we have, then it won’t work.
how to rotate brushes in photoshop how to rotate brushes in photoshop how to rotate brushes in photoshop

Shape Dynamics

Shape dynamics enable several options to handle the randomness of Size, Angle, Roundness, and Axis values. The larger the percentage, the more random the result.

shape dynamics shape dynamics shape dynamics

Control

You’ll notice that many brush behaviors like Jittering and Scattering can be controlled by setting one of the options on the Control dropdown. There are a few Control options that you can use:

  • Off means that no control will be applied.
  • Fade Control fades the brush stroke from the initial diameter to the minimum value in a custom number of steps.
  • Pen Pressure varies the brush diameter using the pen pressure values provided by an external device (like a graphics tablet).
  • Pen Tilt and Stylus Wheel work the same way as Pen Pressure, but using the hardware's tilt and stylus wheel values. These values do not work with a mouse. 
pen pressure control pen pressure control pen pressure control

Scattering

Scattering determines the number and placement of brush marks in a stroke. The higher the scattering percentage, the more distribution of marks.

  1. The Both Axes checkbox enables scattering on both the X and Y-axis. Deselecting this option means the scattering will be perpendicular to the stroke direction.
  2. The Count slider specifies the number of brush marks laid at any one time, so a large number means many marks will be placed at once versus just one. 
  3. Count Jitter adds some randomness to the number of marks on a stroke. Sometimes it may place one, while other times it will add more. 
scattering settings scattering settings scattering settings

Color Dynamics

This option controls how the color of paint changes across a stroke. The way it works is pretty simple. It just adds some random color marks in a range between the Background and Foreground colors.

  • Jitter Percentage defines the randomness between the colors. 
  • Hue Jitter controls the difference between the Front Color Hue and the Foreground Color Hue. The larger the percentage, the larger the difference in color.
  • Saturation Jitter defines a percentage by which the Saturation of a stroke varies between Foreground and Background colors. A larger percentage means a lot of variation in the Saturation.
  • Brightness Jitter is pretty much the same as the previous option, but this works on the Brightness value. A higher percentage means darker color increases between the front and back colors.
  • Purity increases or decreases the overall saturation of the color.
color dynamics color dynamics color dynamics

Dual Brush

Let's change the brush tip for this one. In the following example, I'm creating a peculiar brush for an easy explanation of the Dual Brush.

This one combines two tips to create a mixed mark. The second brush texture is applied within the brush stroke of the primary brush, only the areas where both strokes intersect are painted. You can choose a Blending Mode to combine the primary tip with the second, and all the common brush tips variation shown before.

dual brush settings dual brush settings dual brush settings

Texture

Textured brushes use a pattern to make strokes look as if they are painted on a textured surface. To paint with texture, grab one of the pop-up panel textures and set a percentage for the Pattern Scale. There are several different pattern settings you can apply. 

If the Texture Each Tip checkbox is selected, each time you paint a mark, a new instance of the texture will be applied. If this is unchecked, the texture will remain flowing through the stroke as a whole.

The Blending Mode option blends the texture with the brush tip color, and Depth will increase or decrease the texture's contrast.

Finally, some textures enable the Depth Jitter with a variation between Depth and Minimum Depth percentages using a Control (rarely used, but you can experiment with it).

texture brush in photoshop texture brush in photoshop texture brush in photoshop

More Dynamics

There are a few more dynamics on the list:

  1. Noise will add some noise at the borders of the brush mark.
  2. Wet Edges creates an illusion of watercolor painting, where the stroke borders seem darker than the center.
  3. Build Up simulates traditional airbrushing, so a long press of the mouse means a bigger mark. The Build Up option corresponds to the Airbrush option in the options bar.
  4. Smoothing is useful when you're painting in a rush, as it produces smoother curves in brush strokes. Great when you're drawing with a mouse. This can also be found in the upper options bar. 
  5. Protect Texture applies the same pattern and scale to all brush presets that have a texture, no matter if they have different settings. Great if you want to use the same pattern on multiple other brush tips.
more brush dynamics  more brush dynamics  more brush dynamics

How to Create a New Preset Brush

After modifying the brush options, you can easily save it by clicking the Create New Brush icon, found on the Brush Settings panel’s bottom right-hand side. 

Make sure Include Tool Settings is checked. Name the brush, and then hit OK.

Your new brush will now appear in the Brush Settings Panel, settings intact, but if you reset the brushes library, your brush will be lost.

save brush settings in photoshop save brush settings in photoshop save brush settings in photoshop

6. How to Save and Load Brushes in Photoshop

To keep your custom brushes safe, or even share them with a friend, go ahead and click Export Selected Brushes in the Brush Preset Picker panel to export as an ABR file, which is Photoshop's Brush format. 

To load a previously saved brush library, click on Import Brushes in the Brush Preset Picker menu.

Besides that, you can also Right-Click > Delete Brushes to delete a single brush or group of brushes. You can Append Default Brushes to bring back the default brush group that comes pre-installed in Photoshop. 

load brushes in photoshop load brushes in photoshop load brushes in photoshop

Conclusion

There you have it: the brush tool’s very basics, a staple in any Photoshop user's tool bag. We are just scratching the surface here. Sometimes, the best way to learn a tool is simply by playing, and the paint tool in Photoshop is no exception! 

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