The Brush Tool

The Brush Tool

Painting with the Brush tool in Photoshop is much like painting in the real world. What you should know are all of the nifty keyboard commands that you can use to be much more productive when painting. These are really great, so make sure you try them as you read about them. By the way, the keyboard commands you see in Figure work on all the painting tools!

Figure: Brush Keyboard Shortcuts




Choose the Brush tool



Increase brush size



Decrease brush size



Harden brush



Soften brush



Sample color



Switch foreground and background color



Change opacity by a given percentage

Type a number between 1 and 100

Type a number between 1 and 100

The Brushes palette

If you’re really into the brushes, you have lots of great options available in the Brushes palette (choose Window®Brushes to open the palette).

You have the following choices of attributes, most of which have dynamic controls in the menu options that allow you to vary brush characteristics by tilting or applying more pressure to a stylus pen (if you’re using a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet), among other things, as shown in Figure.

Click To expand
Figure: Setting the dynamic controls.

A warning sign indicates that you don’t have the appropriate device attached to use the selected feature, such as a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet.

The following options are available in the Brushes palette:

  • Brush Tip Shape: Select from these standard controls for determining brush dimensions and spacing.

  • Shape Dynamics: Change the size of the brush as you paint.

  • Scattering: Scatter the brush strokes and control brush tip count.

  • Texture: Choose a texture from pre-existing patterns or your own.


    Create a pattern by selecting an image area with the Rectangular Marquee tool. Choose Edit®Define Pattern, name the pattern, and then click OK. The pattern is now available in the Brush palettes Texture choices.

  • Dual Brush: Use two brushes at the same time.

  • Color Dynamics: Change the color as you paint.

  • Other Dynamics: Change the opacity and flow.

If you have been using Photoshop for several versions, you might notice that with Photoshop cs, the attributes at the bottom of the Brushes palette are not necessarily new, but have been moved from their old positions on the Options bar. Here is what these attributes do:

  • Noise: Adds a grainy texture to the brush stroke.

  • Wet Edges: Makes the brush stroke appear to be wet by creating a heavier amount of color on the edges of the brush strokes.

  • Airbrush: Gives airbrush features to the Brush tools (there is no longer a standalone Airbrush tool as in previous versions of Photoshop). You can also turn on the Airbrush feature by clicking the Airbrush button, and adjusting the pressure and flow on the Options bar.


    If you click and hold with the Brush tool out on the image area, the paint stops spreading. Turn on the Airbrush feature, and notice that when you click and hold, the paint keeps spreading, just like with a can of spray paint. You can use the Flow slider on the Options bar to control the pressure.

  • Smoothing: Smoothes the path that you create with the mouse.

  • Protect Texture: Preserves the texture pattern when applying brush presets.

In addition to the preceding options, you can also adjust the jitter of the brush. The jitter specifies the randomness of the brush attribute. At 0 percent, an element does not change over the course of a stroke; at 100 percent, a stroke will totally vary from one attribute to another. For instance, if you select Other Dynamics in the Brushes palette, and then change the Opacity Jitter to 100 percent, the opacity will vary from 0–100 percent while you’re painting.

Saving presets

After going through all the available options, you may want to start thinking about how you will apply the same attributes later. Saving the Brush tool attributes will become very important to you as you increase in skill level.

All the Photoshop tools allow you to save presets so that you can retrieve them from a list of presets. The following steps show you an example of saving a Brush tool preset, but the same method can be used for all other tools as well:

  1. Choose a brush size, color, softness, or anything!

  2. Click the Tool Preset Picker button on the left side of the Options bar.

    The preset menu for that tool appears.

  3. Click the triangle in the upper-right corner to access the flyout menu; choose New Tool Preset from this menu.

    The New Tool Preset dialog box appears, as shown in Figure.

    Click To expand
    Figure: Saving the brush attributes, including color.

  4. Type a descriptive name in the Name text field (leave the Include Color check box selected if you want the preset to also remember the present color), and then click OK.

    Your preset is created and saved.

  5. Access the preset by clicking the tool’s Preset Picker button and choosing it from the tool’s Preset Picker list, as shown in Figure.

Click To expand
Figure: Choosing a preset from the Brush Preset Picker.

Each preset that you create is specific to the tool that it was created in, so you can have a crop preset, an eraser preset, and so on. After you get in the habit of saving presets, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them!

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