Graphic Design: Discover Photoshop Brush Tool

Beginner level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop

A Short History

The Brush tool is one of the oldest Photoshop tools and perhaps one of the most useful ones since this software first appeared, especially because it's used by either those who use Photoshop to edit their pictures and illustrators who choose this software to add color to their projects. In the picture below you can have a look at how the Photoshop tools panel has evolved throughout the years up until the CS2 version. If you look closely, you'll see that the Brush tool is in all of them, from the first until the last version. 


This tutorial won't consist of developing a particular project but talking about some useful tips so that you can make the most of this tool. Therefore, throughout the tutorial, you'll be able to create and modify your own brushes and you'll even learn how to export and import them to other devices. So, let's get started!

How to Create Your Own Brushes

Can't find the brush you are looking for? Are you tired of searching for brush packs similar to those you actually need? In this first chapter, we're going to learn to create our own brushes from scratch, to export them and even to install them. To do so, pick any picture, it can be a photograph, some brush-strokes you made by hand and then scanned or, for example, your own watermark to use that brush on it afterward. 

For this tutorial, I'm going to use a brushstroke that I downloaded from Freepik, which you can download here. If you prefer, you can visit the website and have a look at the wide variety of brushstrokes and pick the one you like the most. 


Step 1

The first thing you need to do is load the image in Photoshop. In order to turn the image into a brush, it's important that the dimensions of the image are up to 2500 px, so in this case, we'll need to reduce the width and set it at this value. Don't forget to keep the link icon highlighted to automatically and proportionally adjust the height and width in order to avoid getting a deformed image. To do so, go to Image  → Image Size… or press Alt + Ctrl + I. 


Step 2

It's not always necessary to make a selection and remove the background of the picture to create a brush. The option Create a Brush uses gray values so, if we're working with a white background, it wouldn't be necessary to remove it. Let's say that the background is green, what should we do in this case? 

Well, in this particular case, we'll need to make a selection of the area of the image that we want to turn into a brush. As we have a background of a single color, what we are going to do is select the background and invert the selection. The Color Range selection is a very useful tool for selecting backgrounds depending on the color. We'll find this tool in the menu Select → Color Range…


Select the background color with the Eyedropper tool and, once selected, invert it by pressing Control + Shift + I or by going to Selection → Invert. 


Now that the selection is already made, what we're going to do is create a layer mask, something that I usually do in my tutorials. It's true that we could have deleted the background layer to avoid masking the area selected, but this would mean doing a destructive edition, something that (you'll realize) isn't very practical. The more we work with layer masks, the easier it'll get to work with, especially if we make a mistake. 

To create a layer mask, we go to the toolbar of the Layers panel and click on the rectangular icon with a circle inside. After doing this, and with the selected area already inverted, we'll see that the white background disappears and we'll get a quite neat background where we only have the paint patch. 


Step 3

Here is where the important part begins. Don't miss out any detail because there are many confusing steps when turning this patch into a brush. The first step to do this is going to Edit → Define Brush Preset…


A small window will appear. In this window, we'll see a preview of our brush and a box where we'll name it. The name that appears is the one set by default by Photoshop. 


Press OK and we'll see that the Brush tool is activated with the brush we just created. It wasn't that difficult, right? In fact, it's quite simple, you don't need to have an excellent command of Photoshop and you can create as many as you want. We could use it to create a double exposure effect in a photograph, for example. I used as an example this photo below that I downloaded from Freepik and followed the steps I just explained. 


Brushes Adjustment

Not all the brushes are optimal for our needs and we need to adjust the parameters frequently in order to get the result we want. It's not necessary to create more brushes, we can adjust and modify them directly from the Brush Settings panel. In this panel, we can set diverse values, such as the distance between the brush stains, hue variation every time we click, rotation, etc.

The Brush Settings panel is usually open by default and corresponds to the icon you'll see activated in the following image:


If you can't find the icon, it's probably deactivated. Don't panic! Go to Window and check Brush Settings. You can also activate it by pressing F5.


Basic Shape Options

We can adjust the different parameters of our brush like size, angle, roundness, spacing,... without using the advanced options of Photoshop. However, this panel offers us a wide range of different options to set our brush. For instance, in the image you have below, I played around with values such as the spacing and the smoothness to get this effect. 


Shape Dynamics

The shape dynamics option allows us to adjust the same values as with the basic settings but, in this case, it offers more options to make the brush stroke different each time. This way, we'll get a realistic effect. 

Besides, these values can be adjusted so that the brush settings change depending, for instance, on the pressure we apply when using the brush. We can activate or deactivate this option from the Control pop-up menu that appears after enabling the shape dynamics. 



This option is great for adjusting the space covered by the brush, separating the patches and creating others that are scattered. We can also set the Control settings inside this option, which are similar to the previous one. In the example below, you'll see how, with a single stroke, we got a patch that seems to have been made with several strokes. 



This option allows us to use a preset pattern by Photoshop or one we've already created, to use it as our brush ink. 


Dual Brush

This option enables two tips in our brush. To select a second brush tip, go to the brushes palette and select this option. We can use it, for example, to combine two different brushes, like the typical rounded Photoshop brush and a splatter brush to get a stroke with splatters of paint around it. 


Color Dynamics

This option allows us to change the color of our brush as we paint. In the example below, we can see that the stroke has different colors in each dot. It's great for creating gradients with subtle colors. 


For example, if we combine the splatter brush with the shape dynamics option, we'll get something similar to this:


Other Options

In this step, I'm going to sum up other options to adjust the brush:

  • Noise: This is a really useful option if we want to add texture to our brush adding little dots over the stroke. this option is most effective when applied to brushes that contain gray values. 
  • Wet Edges: This causes paint to build up along the edges of the brush stroke, producing a watercolor effect. 
  • Airbrush/Build-up: With this option, we can simulate airbrush techniques. 
  • Smoothing: Produces smoother curves in brush strokes. This can be very useful if we are using the Brush Tool. 
  • Protect Texture: Applies the same pattern and scale to all brush presets that have a texture. Select this option to emulate a consistent canvas texture when painting with multiple, textured brush tips. 

The New Brush Panel and How to Import New Brushes

One of the changes in Adobe Photoshop CC2018 is the Brush Panel that improves the user experience with the Brush Settings panel. This offers us a new way to manage our brushes.


There’s a very interesting option that will help a lot of designers who struggle with IT. From this version, you can drag any brush you want to import to Photoshop directly over this panel and it’ll be installed. Besides, you’ll also have a preview of how the brush stroke works without going to the brush settings. But, don’t worry if you don’t have this version. I’m going to show you another way of importing your brushes.

If we are working with older versions, we need to go to the Brush Settings panel, open the drop-down menu and click on Load Brushes...and there you go! It's quite easy and, with these explanations, I hope it's clearer now.


Exporting Brushes

What happens if we change our PC or reinstall Photoshop? Do we need to design our customized brushes again? Can't we keep them? The answer is pretty clear: don't worry! Adobe guys have also thought of us and it doesn't matter which version we're using because we'll be able to export our brushes. So, to export them, we only need to open the Brush Settings drop-down menu and go to Save Brushes... In case we're using the CC2018 version, we'll have to go to Export Selected Brushes...



Well, I hope that you have enjoyed this tutorial and that you're ready to start working with all the options that the Photoshop Brush tool (B) offers. As usual, if you have any doubt regarding any step or procedure, don't hesitate to ask us in the forum of this tutorial. Besides, I invite you to upload your projects and share your work with us. See you in the next Tutpad tutorial! 

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The Brush Tool is one of the most popular tools in Photoshop. But, are we making the most of it? In this tutorial, we're going to see some basic notions on how to use it and we're also going to create and export our own brushes.

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