Photoshop brushes are an extremely versatile Photoshop feature that can be used to create lines or shapes, add textures, patterns and lighting effects. Photoshop already comes with a set of different brushes you can use; however, often you will find brushes online that you would like to add to your brush collection. Further, there are limitless ways how you can customize those brushes to suit your needs. This tutorial will explain both – how to import and use Photoshop brushes.
Importing Photoshop Brushes
Photoshop brushes come as an .ABR file, but often brushes will be downloaded in an archive as a .ZIP or a .RAR file. The first step is to extract the files. If you are unsure how to extract files, check your preferred search engine on how to “unzip files.”
Once you extract your files, and you see that they are recognized as Photoshop files, simply open the file and it will automatically load into Photoshop. If that fails to work, you will have to copy them to the Brushes folder in Photoshop manually. The quickest way to access this folder is through Photoshop itself. Once you have opened Photoshop find the Photoshop toolbar at the top left corner of the screen click the ‘Edit’ section. In the drop-down menu, towards the bottom of the list, you will see the ‘Presets’ tab. Open the ‘Presets’ tab and open the ‘Presets Manager’.
It will open a panel with all the presets currently imported into Photoshop and will show all the brushes installed at the moment. Click ‘Load…’ located on the right side of the panel. It will open the ‘Brushes’ folder in the Photoshop directory. Copy the downloaded .ABR files into this folder. The downloaded brushes should now be loaded into Photoshop and you should see it listed in the ‘Preset Manager’ panel.
Using Photoshop Brushes
Once you have your brushes installed, select the brush tool, keyboard shortcut ‘B’. In the Bursh options panel located right under the Photoshop toolbar, you will find the currently selected brush displayed, click the small arrow right next to reveal your brushes gallery and choose the brush you want to be using.
For the purpose of this tutorial we will be creating a flaming outline of the InfoParrot logo using a variety of flaming brushes. If you choose to try a similar effect you will need to trace an outline of the object before you begin. One way to do that quickly is to add a Stroke layer style to your logo. To add the effect of the logo giving off heat, a red outer glow can be added to it.
Once you select the brush you want you can start painting the effect that you wish to achieve; it is recommended that you create a separate layer to paint on, so that you preserve the original image. To create an empty layer for your brush work click the ‘Add New Layer’ button in the Layers panel.
For the effect to look realistic you will need to adjust a number of presets for the Brush tool. Opacity, flow, brush size and hardness are the first ones to consider. Set the opacity and the flow located in the presets options to the level that helps achieve the desired effect; different effects will require different settings e.g. smoke effect might require lower opacity than a flame effect. You have also the option of changing the brush blending mode to change how the bush interacts with the layer that it is painted on. The brush size can be easily adjusted using keys ‘[‘ and ‘]’ and hardness can be changed using the same keys while holding the Shift key. Experiment with different levels of hardness and size to find the right settings for your image. These adjustment and the angle of the brush, if you are using Photoshop CC, can also be quickly accessed in the tool options when using the shortcut Cmd+click on Mac or right clicking for Windows – note that the Brush tool must be selected to access this shortcut.
To adjust the brush settings further you will need to access the Brush panel. Click ‘Toggle the Brush Panel’ icon in the Brush options panel you will find top left corner of your screen. You will notice that there is a wide range of options you can now change for how you use the Brush tool as well as see the Brush gallery. The first setting in the panel is the ‘Brush Tip Shape’ adjustments where you will find the size, hardness, angle and spacing adjustments.
There are twelve further adjustments that you can apply to your brush in the Brush panel. This is a brief description of what they can do: the Shape Dynamics setting will change the way the brush tip varies through the course of the bush stroke, scattering will allow you to change the degree and the count to which the brush is scattered through the image. You can further add texture to your brush, combine it with another brush to create a Dual Brush, change the saturation, hue, brightness and purity of your Brush in the Color Dynamics settings, change the build-up of the brush in the Transfer settings, and adjust the pose of the tip of your selected Brush.
For the other five remaining presets for the Brush you can only choose to check or uncheck the desired effect; those include adding noise, wet-edge, build-up, smoothing effects, and protecting the texture pattern of the Brush.
There is no one best way to adjust all requirements and you will have to find the right adjustments for your required application, but with the extensive list of brush adjustments that are offered, you should be able to find the brush setting to suit your needs.
Important Aspect to Consider
Using brushes, whereas it is fantastic to create advanced editing effect, it can affect not only our Photoshop install but the Pc performance overall. How so? Let’s put it this way:
Photoshop is an application that requires Processor Speed, RAM and Dedicated Graphics to work properly. If some of these elements fail, then we are going to face problems (i.e.: not having a dedicated graphic card translates in not being able to use 3d tools or having viewport struggles). If we keep adding and adding brushes to our library without cleaning up the libraries we don’t use, then Photoshop will need not only more startup time to load all the resources needed to work, but also more RAM to handle all the elements. If we have over 8 GB of RAM, for most common projects that shouldn’t be an issue; although, if we work with 2-4 GBs of RAM, then Photoshop is prone to crash unexpectedly due RAM outage.
Also, if you move the folders where brushes are stored, Photoshop won’t be able to track the location, thus brushes won’t display next time. Consider that adding the brushes directly to Photoshop install folders means adding them to your system hard drive, thus if you lack free hard drive space, then it might not be the wiser move to perform.
Did you find this tutorial useful? You can further extend your Photoshop knowledge with our tutorial on using Patterns in Photoshop.