Photoshop 7: Understanding the Brushes Palette


The key to using Photoshop 7's new painting engine is the new, high-powered Brushes palette. Let's take a look at the basic workings of the palette.

When the Expanded view is selected in the palette menu, you see the Brushes palette in all its glory. (If the palette is grayed out, press B on the keyboard to activate the Brush tool. The palette is available when any brush-using tool is active.)


Without the Expanded View, the Brushes palette is similar to the older Brushes palette, where you simply chose a brush. (This, by the way, is also the view you'll see when accessing the palette from the left end of the Options Bar.)


The Brushes palette is similar to the Layer Style dialog box -- you can check a box on the far left to apply the current values of an option without seeing them, or you can click on the name in the left column to open the particular pane of the brushes palette.


The top entry in the left column, Brush Presets, shows you the available brushes. Once you have selected a brush, you can adjust its size using the Master Diameter slider in the Brush Presets pane. You can also move to other panes of the Brushes palette to modify the brush's appearance and behavior.

To change the content of the Brush Presets, use the palette menu commands Reset Brushes (restore the default set as specified in Preset Manager), Load Brushes (add to or replace the content of the palette), Save Brushes (create a set that can be loaded at another time), and Replace Brushes (delete the current content and add a different set of brushes). The Brush Presets pane is the only one in which these menu commands are active. You can delete and rename individual brushes using the palette menu.


While most of the menu commands are straightforward, a few require additional clarification.

Expanded View: The default Expanded View mode for the Brushes palette, seen earlier in this section, enables you to customize brushes using all of the brush options. If you have already created all the brushes you'll need and selected their options, you can simplify the palette by deselecting this option from the menu. You select a preset brush by clicking on it. Double-clicking enables you to change the brush's name. The content of the palette can be changed using the palette's menu, but in the simplified view, the brushes themselves cannot be edited.

Clear Brush Controls: This command deselects all of the user-definable settings for the selected brush. The brush reverts to the basic brush tip shape, using the Angle, Roundness, Hardness, and Spacing settings with which it was originally defined.

Note: Clearing the controls does not permanently change the brush, but you can clear the controls and then use the New Brush command to save the changes.

Copy Texture to Other Tools: When you painstakingly prepare a texture for a specific brush, you can use the New Brush command to save your work. However, if you quickly whip up a texture for a little touch-up to an image, you may want to simply use the Copy Texture to Other Tools command to make that texture available for the editing job at hand. For example, if you match the grain of an image for the Burn tool, rather than going through the process again for the Dodge tool, you can use this command. The tools to which the texture will be matched are Brush, Pencil, Eraser, Clone Stamp, Pattern Stamp, History Brush, Art History Brush, Dodge, Burn, and Sponge.

Note: Copying a custom texture doesn't apply it to the other tools, but rather makes it available to the tools. If you change tools, you might still need to open the Brushes palette and check the Texture box to activate your custom texture.

Preset Manager: This command opens the Preset Manager, which enables you to customize the content of the Brushes palette. You can also open the Preset Manager through the Edit menu. Customizing the Brushes palette can streamline the search for the appropriate brush. Remember, too, that you can save sets of brushes that can be loaded through the Brushes palette menu or selected as the default in the Preset Manager.

Photoshop 7's new Brushes palette is far more than simply a place to pick a brush. You have incredible control over the size, shape, and behavior of the brush. The Brush Tip Shape pane of the Brushes palette is one of the keys.

The Brush Tip Shape pane includes thumbnails of the brushes currently loaded in the palette. Click on a thumbnail to select the brush. You can then modify the diameter, angle, roundness, hardness, and spacing values using sliders.


You can also modify the roundness (top) and angle (middle) by dragging in the preview. The Hardness slider determines feathering for the brush tip. It is only available for round brushes. When a custom or square brush is selected, the Use Sample Size button is visible. When not grayed out, you can click it to reset the brush to the size at which it was designed.


When experimenting with the various brush capabilities, it's easiest to see what each does when you disable all others. For example, when determining optimal spacing for a brush tip, uncheck the dynamics options in the Brushes palette.

The Spacing variable determines the distance between instances of the brush tip. Rather than a continuous flow of ink from a pen, think of Photoshop's brushes as a series of imprints of the brush tip. When the brush tip instances are very closely spaced, they overlap and you see what appears to be a continuous line of color. When spacing is increased, then you see the individual instances. (From the top, three identical paths are stroked with a 55-pixel hard round brush with spacing of 1%, 40%, and 83%.)


When the Spacing option is turned off in the Brush Tip Shape pane of the Brushes palette, the spacing is governed by the speed of your drag. the faster you drag, the greater the spacing. (As indicated, the mouse was dragged at increasing speed through the curves.)


Controlling the Dynamic Options
Before discussing the additional Brushes palette options, an explanation of the Control pop-up menus is appropriate. Many of the options explained in the following sections are "dynamic" options - they produce variations in the brush as the brush is used. The variety of brush instances adds randomness to the stroke that would be time-consuming to create manually. You can use the Fade option to taper-off the effect on the brush. Photoshop 7 enables you to exercise even more control over the "randomness" of the variations when you use a drawing tablet.

Off: When Control is set to Off, Photoshop applies the selected jitter randomly and throughout the length of the brush stroke. The stroke is unregulated.

Fade: Fade is available with or without a pressure-sensitive tablet. When Fade is selected, the field immediately to the right of the Control menu is active. You specify a value between 1 and 9999. If you set a jitter slider to 0% and specify a value, the Fade command specifies either the value to which the stroke fades or when the specific jitter ends along the stroke.


All three examples use the same brush and Fade set to 25. Only one jitter option is active for each sample. The only difference among the three strokes shown is the one jitter setting. The brush uses the same tip and a Spacing of 100% to best illustrate the differences among the effects of the Fade setting.

  • The top sample shows Size Jitter set to 25%, with a minimum diameter of 50%. Note that the fade option forces the brush tip size to the 50% diameter after 25 instances of the brush.
  • The middle sample shows a stroke with the Angle Jitter set to 0% and Control set to Fade, 25. The brush tip "angles" 360 degrees over the first 25 instances. After completing the selected jitter, the stroke returns to its original appearance for the 26th instance and beyond.
  • The bottom stroke has Roundness Jitter set to 0%, Fade at 25 as the Control, and a Minimum Roundness setting of 20%. Like the top example, the stroke reaches the desired Roundness (20%) after 25 instances.

For the first and third examples, the Fade field's value represents the number of instances the stroke uses to reach the value specified for the jitter. In the middle example, the stroke uses the number entered in the Fade field as the extent or duration of the jitter.

Pen Pressure: The Pen Pressure option is used with a pressure-sensitive tablet, such as those from Wacom. Increasing the pressure of the stylus on the tablet decreases the amount of jitter - the greater the push of the pen, the less the variation of the stroke. This image shows examples of Size, Angle, and Roundness Jitter with Pen Pressure activated. (In all three examples, the pen pressure is light on the ends and heavy in the middle.)


Pen Tilt: Pen Tilt reads the angle of the stylus on the tablet rather than the pressure to adjust the jitter. It is especially useful for airbrush artists using the Brush tool with the Airbrush option.

Stylus Wheel: Some tablet accessories, such as Wacom's Intuous and Intuous2 Airbrushes, include a fingerwheel. When available, the wheel can be used to regulate the amount of variation with Stylus Wheel selected in the Control pop-up menu.

Initial Direction: Available for the Angle Jitter option only, the Initial Direction option determines the orientation of the brush instances as you drag. In the next image, the settings are identical for both samples. The Angle Jitter is set to 25%, constraining the brush angles to -90 degrees to +90 degrees. The top sample, created from left to right, varies the angle in relation to the top of the page. The lower sample, dragged from right to left, reverses the orientation.


The 25% setting for Angle Jitter restricts the brush tip angle to one-quarter of a circle (90 degrees) in either direction from the original brush orientation.

Direction: Also available for the Angle Jitter option only, The Direction control orients the brush tip to the path rather than to the page. In these examples, the Angle Jitter is set to 0% to best show the orientation of the brush to the paths.


The initial direction of drag when using Direction determines which way the brush tip instances will be pointed. The two examples in to the right illustrate the difference.

Tip: Using Angle Jitter 0% and Control: Direction keeps the brush tip oriented to the path. This is a great way to use custom brushes to draw dashed lines, borders, dividing lines, even such things as railroad tracks and roads

We'll have more on Photoshop 7's new brush controls in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

This story brought to you by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP). Copyright 2002 KW Media Group. Photoshop is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems, Inc.

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