SIG notes for April, 2015

All that you wanted to know about Brushes (and a bit more!)

(1) Any images may be made easier to see by clicking on them.
(2) See the SIG notes in color and with links at


Last year when I was having a go with Photoshop brushes, I saw one that looked like a leaf. So I clicked on it and set my foreground and background colors to yellow and orange. When I painted diagonally across my canvas I was surprised to see this wonderful effect.

Demo of the leaf brush tool at 110 pixels and normal blend mode, 100% opacity and flow.

Demo of the leaf brush tool at 110 pixels and normal blend mode, 100% opacity and flow.

I asked myself, “How did I do that? And what other effects can I get?” Well, it has taken me 12 months to get around to presenting this topic. Here it is. I hope that you have as much fun and enjoyment from learning how to use PS and PE brushes.

So in the SIG today, I would like to show you how:
(1) to create and save your own Photoshop brush,
(2) some of the ways that you can use brushes (to create backgrounds, to add birds to an empty sky)
(3) how to find and download free brushes and then load them into Photoshop
(4) provide some intermediate/advanced level notes on how to make changes to your brushes.

Exercise 1 – Create your own brush with a smiley face
(1) Click on the Brush tool icon and select the brush tool as shown below. You can also use the keyboard short cut by pressing the letter B.

Choosing the brush tool from the tool box.


(2) Click on File/New to open up a blank canvas to paint upon. “To paint upon ” could be a real tongue twister! Say it really fast five times.
(3) You can use these numbers as a guide to set your canvas size. They are shown below:

Image 3 - Creating a new canvas size to get ready for painting

Creating a new canvas size to get ready for painting

(4) Click on the down arrow next to the brush size. This will bring up a selection of a variety of brushes that you can use.

Pick a hard brush. Don't worry about the size for now.

Pick a hard brush. Don’t worry about the size for now.

(5) Ready to rock and roll? Mouse on over to the white canvas and click and drag to create a line. what does yours look like?

My brush diameter was too big. All that I get is a blob. Looks a bit like Elvis?

(6) What happened? The brush size is way too big for the canvas. This will depend on the dimensions of the canvas and of the resolution that you pick (72 for digital and 300 for print). I can use a keyboard short cut  here. Pressing the left square bracket key makes the brush smaller and the right square bracket key makes it larger.
(7) How can I start over again with a clean canvas?
(a) Simplest is to create a new canvas using File/Now as we did in Step (3).
(b) Reset my Foreground/Background colors to black and white by pressing the letter                D key. Then press Control + Backspace (Command + Delete on a Mac).
(c) Click on Window/History. Click on the top line to go back to the start.

Image 6 - Starting over using the History Panel. click on the to line to go back to the start.

Starting over using the History Panel. Click on the to line to go back to the start.

(8) With a smaller brush size I am going to click and drag out a circle. I will simply click my mouse to get two eyes. Another two click and drags give me a smile and a slash for a nose. You can make this as fancy as you like. Change the brush size, opacity, or color. More about these shortly.
Smiley 1 – pretty basic.
Smiley 2 – Change of brush width  for smaller circle and bigger face.
Comment 1 – the edge of the brush can be very distinct (hardness set to 0%) or it can be really fuzzy (hardness set to 100%) like the mouth on smiley 2. Go back to step 4 and change the size and hardness sliders for different effects.
Comment 2 – You can change the color by clicking on the foreground color box and using the color picker panel. Step 1 is to click on the vertical hue color bar and pick the general region that you want. Step 2 is to click the mouse in the color space to pick your new foreground color. Then click on OK.

Image 7 - Using the color picker tool to change color

Using the color picker tool to change color

Comment 3 – If you want to erase a mistake, press the letter E for the eraser tool.
Comment 4 – If a spot will not just erase, have a look at your screen in case you sneezed on it. It could just be dirt on your monitor screen.
Smiley 3 – Changed brush sizes a bit.
Smiley 4 – Changed color as well. Wondered why the brush would not paint. It was still on the  eraser tool. Pressed B and was off again drawing a cone head this time.

Image 8 - Attempts at Smiley faces

Perhaps this is the time to confess that I am not that good an artist!

(9) Now I am going to make this into a brush using only Smiley 4. To do this I just erased the other three Smileys with the Eraser tool. As much as I like all the colors of red, green and blue, when I save this as a brush it will only be shades of black and white.

Image 9 - Final Smiley 4 only after erasing the other three.

Final Smiley 4 only after erasing the other three.

(10) Click on Edit/Define Brush Content and give your new brush a name.

Image 10 - Naming Brush

Naming the Smiley brush.


(11) Repeat Step 4. Look for your brush as the last one added. Click on it to select it.

Image 11 - The new brush appears in the brush selection tool box

Brush has been added to the other choices.

(12) Open up a new canvas (Control +N).
(13) Press the D key to restore your black and white colors for the foreground (black) and background (white). Here is what i got with my smiley face brush. I know. It looks ghastly. But I learned a lot of useful ideas in building it.

Image 12 - Showing off my smiley face brush
(14)  Now select your new brush and see what you get on your new canvas when you try single clicks with your mouse. Next try a click and drag with your mouse. Now create a new layer and different colors. See what happens with the brush and layer blend modes as you change them and experiment with them. This is your chance to be creative and come up with your own ways to use brushes. Here is my first try at creating a background.

Leaves Background

Background created with leaf brush using different size brush, different colors and on several layers. Blending modes for brush and layers played with as well.

(15) This is my version of the brush basics. For a good tutorial on how to make a brush of flying birds to add to an empty sky in your photo, give this one a try from the Digital Photography School based in Melbourne.

You might find these other tutorials from the Digital Photography School of interest as well:




Exercise 2 – How to find more brushes

(1) Click on the drop down arrow next to the brush size box to see all the brushes that you can choose from. These are your Preset brushes that will be your starting point for using and making changes to your brush. You have about 90 different that you can choose from. the ones that we are using to play with from Exercise 1 might be different size stars, grass, dune grass,  scattered maple leaves, scattered leaves and a leaf brush projection.

Image 13 - selection of brushes available

Brush Panel for available brushes that you may choose from.

(2) Looking at the list above, we can see a further 15 groups of brushes that we choose from. Let’s add the first group called assorted brushes. Click on the Assorted Brushes from the list.

Image 14 - Adding the Assorted Brush Set

Click on the assorted Brushes to add them to your Brush selection.


(3) A choice is offered. Do you want to add these to the existing set of brushes (Append) or do  you want to replace the existing set of brushes? For simplicity, I’ll choose OK.

Image 15 - Choice of append or replace

You have a choice to add these to your existing set of brushes or to replace them. for right now while you are getting used to them, it would be easier to replace them.

(4) Click on OK.

(5) Here is what the new brush set looks like. Give them a try out on a new blank canvas and use different sizes and colors. In this case, it shows me that just because i can do something doesn’t mean that it is going to look as good as I hoped. these are all too fuzzy to suit me.

(6) There are thousands of free brush sets available online. But this is something to explore later in in further detail.

Exercise 3 – how to download brushes and install them in PS or PE
(1) Google an interest of yours for a brush. I have Googled “Free Photoshop Grunge Brushes.” Here is what I settled upon.


(2) Save these to a folder that you might call “Brushes for me to play with!”
(3) Figure out how to unzip them. It’s time for RTM.
(4) In PS or PE, click on the Load Brushes Option.

Image 20 - Load brushes

Select Load brushes to be able to play with new brushes.

(5) You will need to drill down to find the file (or you could have just saved it to your desktop?).

Image 21 - Loading the Brush file (.abr)

Look for the file extension .abr to load the new set of brushes

(6) Now you can try it. Create a new canvas. Fill with  a background color of your choice. Then use your new brush set to create an image. Do a single click at a time. If it is a big brush, then sit back and wait a few seconds while Photoshop figures out what to do. Remember that you can change the color, blend mode and opacity of the brush. You can create new layers and use their blending modes as well.
(7) One last tip that I forgot to pass on to you. You can change the angle of your brush or flip it vertically or horizontally. Press the F5 key. You get this:

Image 22 - Brush size, angle and spacing controls

You can control the size of the brush with the slider in 1. You can control the angle of the brush with the circle and arrow head pointing east. Click and drag the arrow head around to 90 degrees. Or just type the number into the Angle box and hit enter.
(8) Here is what my try looks like:

Image 22 - my creation using tree and grass brushes

What about next month?
May will be about using Actions and batch processing to save time using PE/PS. Get a head start by going here –

May Photoshop Challenge
There is no formal challenge for May.

If you have the time or inclination to try some of the tasks, please send me your photos and I will happily put them up on the website for the May Challenge. The email address is

That’s all, folks!

The following notes are more suited to intermediate and advanced PE and PS users.

Making changes to your brush

There are several factors that you can change once you have selected a brush. These are the size, the roundness and the angle.

(1) Press F5 to bring up your brush panel.

Image 18 - The Brushes Panel

This is where you can make changes to the size, angle and roundness of your brush.You can see the changes in the window at the bottom to the panel.



(2) Click on the circled words, Shape Dynamics,  to bring up the controls. If you only click on the tick box, you will not be able to bring up the controls. It just turns the property off or on (as tick boxes do!). for now, just ignore the word Jitter next to each of the controls.

With best intentions to try and complete these notes, I realise now that I cannot say it any better than in the following website tutorials. Here they are in no particular order. The information and exercises are excellent.

It is worth the time and effort to work your way through these tutorials. They have helped me to gain a thorough undeerstanding of how to begin using brushes in PS and PE.



About woldham

Concise! Retired and loving it!
This entry was posted in Brushes, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements. Bookmark the permalink.

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