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Quick Tip: How to Blend With the Brush Tool for Digital Paintings

This post is part of a series called Digital Painting For Beginners.
Digital Painting 101: Get to Know the Brush Panel
Quick Tip: Painting With Hard vs. Soft Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

New to this series? Start at the beginning with Digital Painting 101: Get to Know the Brush Panel.

Blending, by far, is the most important thing you need to know in order to paint in Adobe Photoshop.

Today we're going to break down blending with the Brush Tool step by step. Try to get as comfortable with this process as possible, because it will be the backbone of all your digital paintings.

First, let's go over some quick Do's and Don'ts beginners should keep in mind while using the Brush Tool.

The Do's

  • Do: Keep color swatches for your overall color scheme.
  • Do: Vary the settings for Hardness/Opacity based on what the painting needs.
  • Do: Study the difference between painting with a "hard" or "soft" edged brush.
  • Do: Use "heavier" brushes (50–100% Opacity) for blocking in colors, the main painting, and finishing details.
  • Do: Use "lighter" brushes (0–50% Opacity) for smoothing out details, adding atmosphere (like smoke/fog), and softening textures.

The Don'ts

  • Don't: Color pick from a reference photo.
  • Don't: Get stuck making an entire painting on one setting (for Hardness/Opacity).
  • Don't: Use Soft Brushes for details that need clean edges.
  • Don't: Forget to keep blending!
  • And Don't: Give up!

The number one problem beginners have is choosing the right Opacity and Hardness for the different stages of their painting. Naturally, they either start with a brush that's too hard with a really high opacity, or a brush that's too soft with a low opacity. 

You see, Hard, High Opacity Brushes are much harder to blend, while Soft, Low Opacity Brushes tend to muddy up a painting really quickly. And if you're not careful, they can also give off that super "airbrushed" look that doesn't always work well. So simply put, the best advice I can possibly give is to get used to changing the Hardness and Opacity constantly. Like-every-couple-of-minutes-kind-of-constantly. There really is no perfect setting.

Brush Settings

To show you this technique, let's keep the brush settings super simple:

Hardness set to 50%.
Opacity set to 50%.

The Two Keyboard Shortcuts You Have to Know

  • The Brush Tool (B) ...Obviously.
  • The Eyedropper Tool (Hold Alt while the Brush Tool is already selected).

Speed painting videos are great to learn from, but unfortunately they're sped up so much that viewers don't see the little Eyedropper Tool that pops up while blending. It happens that quickly! In the next few steps I'll show you how to interchange these tools for a perfect blending effect.

And for now, don't touch any other options! Experimenting with every imaginable setting in the Brush panel is very tempting but I don't want you to run into any confusion. I would hate for you to end your learning experience early just because you didn't understand a more advanced setting. As a general rule, dive right into the basics, try out these next examples a couple dozen times, and then see what the other settings can do for you.

How to Blend: The Basics

Step 1

First, pick one color from the Swatches panel, and plant it on the canvas using the Brush Tool (B) at 100% Opacity and 100% Hardness. Once it's on the canvas, drop the Hardness and Opacity each to 50%.

Pick a Color Swatch

Step 2

With the original color still selected as a Foreground Color, paint a small swatch next to it. This swatch should appear more opaque with softer edges because of changing the brush settings.

Swatch the Opaque Shade Next to the First

Step 3

Use the Eyedropper Tool now to color pick the opaque stroke you made. Swatch a new stroke next to it. Repeat this process, making sure to slightly overlap the strokes as you go.

Fade Out the Color Gradually

Eventually, the color will start to fade and show signs of blending together. Try to think of it as the first stages of a gradient effect.

Step 4

How you "blend" is to color pick two colors next to each other and overlap them with more and more opaque layers. Essentially, the Eyedropper Tool becomes the right hand man to the Brush Tool during this process. Continue these steps until your colors are all blended together. 

The Final Blended Colors

Let's See This Technique in Grayscale

Painting in grayscale is a technique you'll eventually get to know in digital painting. Many people, myself included, like to use it as a way to set up a lighting scenario before adding color. Try a couple of gray swatches to see how well you blend the tones together.

Using the Blending Technique in Grayscale

Let's See It Again With Other Colors

Here are some variations of color combinations with this technique. Experiment with more to get a better grasp of what to expect. 

Blending Exercise Using Other Colors

Now It's Your Turn: Blending Exercise!

I have included a couple of color swatches for you to try out below. Copy and Paste this image into Photoshop and have a go at blending with the Brush Tool. Add more colors to the canvas if you'd like, and feel free to upload your blending skills to the comments section.

Brush Blending Exercises


I really hope you've enjoyed today's quick tip lesson for digital painting. If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask them in the comments below. Keep up with our Digital Painting 101 series as we'll continue to provide more tips and resources on a topic I absolutely adore. Remember to keep at it, stay confident, and never give up. Good luck!

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