Discover Photoshop’s Painting Tools

Nothing in Photoshop CC gives you more precise control of color in your image than using the Pencil tool with a 1-pixel brush. Remember that your image consists of a whole lot of little colored squares (pixels) and that the color of those individual squares is what produces the appearance of a tree or a sunset.

As you work in Photoshop, you’ll also find many very important roles for the brush-using tools other than painting imagery. From touching up dust and scratches in a scan to removing distant power lines from a photo to perhaps adding wispy hairs to soften the outline of a head, you have lots of reasons to paint in Photoshop.

When you’re capable and confident using the Brush tool, you might even find it the best way to make selections in your image. Selections with the Brush tool? That’s right — painting in an alpha channel creates or refines a saved selection.

Photoshop even has a brush-using tool that you can use to make selections directly. The Quick Selection tool, like the Magic Wand, selects areas of similar color. However, instead of Shift+clicking in a variety of areas with the Magic Wand to add to your initial selection, you simply drag the Quick Selection tool.

The brush diameter, selected on the Options bar, tells Photoshop the size of the area you want to search for similarly colored pixels.

In addition to the Quick Selection tool, you have 19 other tools that use brushes available in Photoshop. Here’s a quick look at the various capabilities of those tools:

  • Painting tools: The Brush, Pencil, and Mixer Brush tools add the selected foreground color to the active layer as you click or drag the tool.

  • Eraser tools: These tools can make areas of a layer transparent or can paint over pixels with the current background color (if the layer doesn’t support transparency).

  • Healing tools: The Spot Healing Brush and Healing Brush are designed to repair texture, like smoothing wrinkles or adding the appearance of canvas. With the Healing Brush, you first designate a source point — an area from which you want to copy texture — by Option/Alt+clicking and you then drag the brush over the area targeted for repair.

  • Color Replacement tool: Nested with the Brush and Pencil, the Color Replacement tool replaces the color over which you drag with the foreground color.

  • Stamp tools: The Clone Stamp tool, unlike the Color Replacement tool or the Healing Brush, doesn’t copy an attribute (such as color or texture), but actually copies pixels. It’s like having copy/paste in a brush.

    Option/Alt+click a source area and then move the cursor and drag where you want to copy those pixels. It's powerful! The Pattern Stamp tool paints with a selected pattern, using the blending mode and opacity that you designate in the Options bar. The Pattern Stamp tool is sometimes a good way to add texture selectively.

    When working with the Clone Stamp tool and the Clone Source panel, you can specify and move between up to five different source points. You also have the option of showing an overlay, which lets you see in advance what dragging the tool will do to your artwork.

  • History brushes: The History Brush allows you to paint areas of the image to restore them to a previous state in the development process. Nested with the History Brush, the Art History Brush uses the history state selected in the History panel to add an Impressionist look where you paint.

  • Focus tools: The Blur and Sharpen tools do just what their names say, but you'll likely find the default 50% Strength to be way too powerful (Sharpen) or way too weak (Blur) for most jobs. Selective sharpening can help bring out details and direct attention in an image.

    Likewise, selective blurring can hide minor defects and help direct the viewer’s eye toward areas of sharpness in the image. If you have avoided the Sharpen tool in the past, give it another chance using the Protect Detail option.

  • Toning tools: The Dodge tool lightens, the Burn tool darkens — and if you use the defaults, they do it too much! When using these tools to adjust luminosity in your image, it’s best to start with an Exposure setting of about 15% and paint carefully, perhaps repeatedly, rather than making a huge change with Exposure set to 50%.

    The Sponge tool is nested with the Dodge and Burn tools. Use it to either increase or decrease saturation as you drag. (Decreasing saturation with the Sponge tool is a great way to create an image that’s partially grayscale.)

The Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp have a button to the right of the Sample menu in the Options bar. When the Sample pop-up menu is set to All Layers or the Current & Below option, that button gives you the option of ignoring adjustment layers.

You might want to use this option if, for example, you're cloning or healing from multiple layers below an adjustment layer to a new layer that itself would be affected by the adjustment layer. This prevents the adjustment from being applied twice.

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