Photoshop & PSE: Getting to Know the Brush Tool, Part 1

July 26, 2013

Photoshop & PSE: Getting to Know the Brush Tool, Part 1

If you've ever used Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (PSE) for editing and working with your photos, you've probably come across the Brush tool.

Brushes in Photoshop and PSE are, in some ways, just like regular, physical paintbrushes that you would use to do the walls in your house or create a masterpiece on a canvas.

But, the software version is so much more than that. You can certainly paint with them. But the value of this tool goes far beyond that. In fact, although the Brush tool is one of the most basic of the Photoshop (and PSE) tools, it's also one of the most useful.

So this post will be the first of a series that we'll be doing on working with the Brush tool in Photoshop and PSE. Here, we'll introduce the Brush tool and learn how to access it from within the software interface. In later posts, we'll look at how to change the basic settings, how to manage your brushes and how to work with Dynamic settings.

Selecting the Brush tool

The Brush tool is accessible from within the Toolbox. The Toolbox is a palette of tools that runs vertically along the left-hand side of the interface in both Photoshop and PSE. The look of Toolbox varies a bit with each software package and even differs depending on the software version.

Below you'll see the Toolbox layout in Photoshop CS6, PSE 9 and PSE 11.

photoshop toolbox

The Brush tool is nested with other tools.

What does it mean to be a nested tool? Nested tools are groups of tools that share the same space in the Toolbox.

In Photoshop and in versions of Photoshop Elements prior to version 11, you can tell that a tool is part of a nested group when you will see a small triangle in the lower right-hand corner of the tool icon:

photoshop nested tools

When you see this small triangle, you know that there are additional tools nested underneath the tool that's showing. You can access those hidden tools by clicking and holding on that tool with your mouse button or simply right-clicking on the tool. When you do this, a fly-out toolbar will open to show you the additional tools and you can select one of them by simply clicking on it:

photoshop brushes fly-out
And one other thing. For all the nested tools, the icon that shows in the Toolbox is the icon for the tool that you used most recently. So if you don't see the icon for the tool that you're looking for, it's probably hidden underneath another of the tools in the nested group.

Now let's talk about Photoshop Elements version 11 (PSE 11). Nested tools work a little differently in the most recent version of Elements.

First, the organization of the toolbox is different in PSE 11, with the tools organized into sets, five of them all together (VIEW, SELECT, ENHANCE, DRAW, and MODIFY), with like tools arranged together.

The icons in PSE 11 don't show small triangles to indicate that the tool is part of a nested group. In fact, there's no indication of nested tools at all until you hover your mouse over one of these sets. When you do, you will see the tools within that set marked with an open arrowhead in the top right corner to indicate that it represents a nested tool group:

photoshop PSE11 nested tools

There are no longer fly-out menus from which you can choose from among the nested tools. Instead, when you select a tool from the Toolbox, the other tools within the nested group appear in the left-hand portion of the Options Bar that shows along the bottom of the interface when a tool is selected:

photoshop PSE11 nested tools

But, regardless of which software package you are using or what other tools it may be nested with, the Brush tool is always represented by a small paintbrush icon.

Once the Brush tool is selected, you can use the brush by clicking and dragging across the workspace to create a line in whatever color is set as your foreground color and using the current setting for the tool.

photoshop brushes
photoshop swatches

By the way, you can constrain the line to be either a straight horizontal or vertical line by holding the shift key down as you drag.

You will also notice that, once the Brush tool is selected, the Options Bar changes to show the settings for the tool. You'll find the Options Bar running along the top of the workspace in Photoshop and in Photoshop Elements prior to version 11:

photoshop brush options

If you are working in Photoshop Elements Version 11 (PSE 11), the Options Bar appears at the bottom of the interface:

photoshop PSE11 brush options

The Options Bar will show you the current settings for the basic properties of the Brush tool. These settings control how the brush strokes will look when applied to your project.

So now that we know how to access the Brush tool, we'll look at working with the basic settings. In our next post, we’ll start with Photoshop Elements.




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