Welcome to part four of the Adobe Photoshop Essentials series, in this tutorial we are going to examine the Brush Tool. By the end of this tutorial your should be able to create your own brushes, and modify their properties, plus get a better understanding of the blend modes and pressure controls of the brush tool.

We have already mentioned the brush tool in the first part of this series but just in case here is a quick reminder. The Brush Tool is a basic painting tool, it is located in the Tool Bar, and the shortcut is the letter B.

The working principle behind the Brush Tool is the following: it adds a single mark on a layer by a single click of the mouse, by holding the button and moving the mouse, several marks will be added creating a stroke in the process. The basic options behind the brush tool are: Brush Tip Shape, Blending ModeOpacity and Flow.

Brush Tip

The basic modifiers for the brush tool concern the Brush Tip. By right clicking anywhere on the document while the brush tool is selected, you will be presented with the Brush Preset Picker menu.

Brush Preset

From the Brush Preset Picker, you can adjust two fundamental values and select a brush tip shape:

  • Size: Here you can increase or decrease the size of the brush tip. Alternatively you can use the shortcuts which are the Left Bracket [ and the Right Bracket ].
  • Hardness: Here you can increases or decreases the strength of the brush tip or more specifically the border of the brush tip. The lowest value or 0% will give you really soft border, and 100% will give you a precise border. The shortcuts for hardness are shiftLeft Bracket [ or shift + Right Bracket ].
Hardness Example

Brush Blending Modes

Brush Menu

The Brush Blending Modes can be found inside the brush toolbar under Mode. Besides the regular blending modes that we discussed in the previous tutorial, the blending modes for the brush have additional four modes: NormalDissolve, Behind, and Clear.

  • Normal Mode will add a regular stroke without any modifications expected from a blending option.
  • Dissolve Mode will add noise at the border of the stroke.
  • Behind Mode will add a stroke behind an existing stroke even if they are both on the same layer.
  • Clear Mode will delete a section of an existing stroke, but unlike the eraser tool you wont affect anything on the layer besides the stroke of the brush.

The difference between the Brush Blending modes and the Layer Blending modes is, the blending modes here affect the brush only while in use, without altering the blending mode of the layer itself.

Opacity & Flow

The opacity as you expected represents the percentage of transparency of the brush stroke. Again this wont affect the Opacity of the layer only the brush itself. Flow is the value measured in percentages that sets the rate of color applied. The amount of color applied with each stroke is controlled by the Flow percentage, but it cannot exceed the Opacity percentage unless you stroke again on the same place. The image below represents two single brush strokes with opacity at 50%, the left stroke is with flow 100% while the right stroke is with flow at 50%.


Creating A Custom Brush Tip

Besides using preset brush tips, you can also make your own custom brush tip. The following steps explain the process of creating a custom brush tip from a stock image. Stock Image: Download Here

Step 1

Open the Leaf Image you just downloaded, then double-click on the Background Layer in the layers palette to make the layer editable. What we need to do now is extract the leaf image from the white background.

First open the Channels Panel and duplicate any one of the available channels besides the RGB channel, i usually chose the one with the highest contrast and for this image that was the blue channel. (Right Click > Duplicate Channel)

Now hide all the other channels except the duplicate channel.  After that simply invert the colors with the Ctrl + I command, then select the entire image with the Ctrl + A command and finally copy the channel Ctrl + C to the clipboard.

Step 2

Now delete the inverted channel from the channels panel (Right-Click > Delete Channel), and un hide the rest of the channels. Go back to the Layers Panel and add a layer mask to your layer. Now go back to the Channels Panel, you will find a new empty channel at the bottom. Select the new channel and on it paste Ctrl + V the inverted channel you copied in the previous step. Make sure the new channel is visible before you hit Ctrl + V.

Masked Leaf

Step 3

All we are left do now, is make the image black and white, and semi transparent where the leaf is thinner. In order to do that we will add few Adjustment Layers (Window > Adjustments). The Adjustment Layers Palette will present it self, right above the Layers Palette if you are working in Adobe Photoshop CS5.

First select the leaf layer, then click on the Black and White adjustment layer icon. After that just change the Black and White preset, to High Contrast Red Filter.

Black & White Adjustment Layer

Now select again your main layer, and add another Adjustment Layer, this time add the Levels Adjustment Layer. Finally change the value of the Highlight Output Level to 40.

Levels Adjustment Layer

Now select the three layers, and merge them by pressing Ctrl + E. The only restriction concerning custom brushes is, we can not have a brush larger than 2500 by 2500 px. Unfortunately our image is larger than that, so go ti Image > Image Size and change the size to 1844 x 2500 px.

Now hold Ctrl and Click on the Layer, by doing that you will select only the contour of the layer. Finally go to Edit > Define Brush Preset, enter the name you would like to call your new brush, and you are done. You can now find your brush tip at the bottom of the brush preset picker.

Custom Brush Preset

Now lets take a look at the possible variations of a brush preset, from the color jitters to the pressure controls, and we are going to do all that with our newly created brush tip. We are going to customize our brush tip through the brush window which can be opened from: (Window > Brush). I highly encourage you to experiment with everything presented here, so you can get the feel of the given modifications.

Brush Tip Shape

Brush Tip Shape

The basic customization options of a brush tip concern the shape of the brush tip:

  1. Size represents the diameter of the Brush Tip, and it cannot be bigger than the image of the tip.
  2. Flip X and Flip Y, will flip the brush tip on its respective axis.
  3. Angle, will rotate the brush tip according the given degrees.
  4. Roundness concerns the elliptical roundness of the brush tip, 100% represents the original shape.
  5. Hardness as stated earlier, deals with the hardness of the border of the shape. The only restriction this modifier has, you cannot modify the hardness value if the brush is made from an image.
  6. Spacing is the percentage of space between image marks. If one click represents one mark and movement creates a stroke, the percentage represents the frequency of marks within a given stroke.

Shape Dynamics

Under the shape dynamics tab, you can find the options that deal with the randomness of the Size, Angle , Roundness and Axis values. Understanding this option is fairly simple, higher the value more random the result will be. Knowing this the shape dynamics dont need any further explanation since the names of the given values are rather self explanatory, and mentioned before.

Another thing you should take into consideration is the Control option under most modifiers. There are total of five Control options that you can use:

  1. When set to Off, the control will be turned off.
  2. Fade Control will fade the brush stroke from the initially given diameter in a given number of steps. When you enable this option an input area will appear where you can enter the desired number of steps for the fade control.
  3. Pen Tilt, Pent Pressure and Stylus Wheel will affect the brush diameter by using the values retrieved from an external device such as graphic tablet.

I suggest  you experiment a bit with the available options, so you can better understand how they affect your brush. For ease of use, you can see preview of a stroke with the given shape dynamics modifications at the bottom of the window.


Scattering affects the number and placement of marks within a given stroke, increasing the percentage value will increase the distribution of marks.

  1. Both Axis means the scattering will be in both X and Y axis, while disabling it means the scattering will be only perpendicular of the stroke direction.
  2. Count Slider defines the number of marks with a single click, higher value means more marks.
  3. Count Jitter will add randomness to the number of marks on a stroke. In a way this is quite similar to the Control options represented in the Shape Dynamics.

Color Dynamics

With the Color Dynamics option you can modify the color or in this case colors used within a given stroke. What it does it will add a random color marks between the range of the Background And Foreground color.

The options once again are quite similar with the options found in the previous dynamics, the only difference is they affect the color now.

  1. Jitter Percentage affects the randomness between the colors.
  2. Hue Jitter affects the difference between the Foreground Color Hue and the Background Color Hue.
  3. Saturation Jitter defines the variation of Saturation between the Foreground and Background color within a single stroke.
  4. Brightness Jitter defines the variation of the Brightness value between the Foreground and Background color.
  5. Purity will increase or decrease the saturation of the color.

Dual Brush

Under Dual Brush, you can make a combination of two brush tips to act as one. First you will select a primary brush which will be the shape of the new mixed brush, while the secondary brush will be the texture of the new mixed brush. The stroke will consist only of the intersection between the two brush tip, everything outside will be left out. In the example below, i have use a doted brush as my primary brush, and our custom brush as a secondary brush.


Compared to dual brush, here you will combine a brush tip with a texture. The end result is as if stroke is painted on a texture. Few things you should know about this option are:

  • Texture Each Tip check box means every time you paint a mark, the texture will be applied again. If this option is not selected, the texture will flow through the stroke.
  • From Mode is you can chose the blending mode, which will blend the brush tip color with the texture.
  • Depth will increase or decrease the contrast of the texture, mainly used in order to enhance the allusion of depth.

Create New Preset Brush

After applying the desired modification in the brush options, you can save them through the Panel Menu and selecting New Brush Preset. The saved brush will appear in the Brushes Panel.

This brings us to the end of this part of the Photoshop Essentials series.