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How to Blend Colors with the Mixer Brush Tool in Photoshop CS6

The Mixer Brush tool in Photoshop CS6 takes painting one notch higher toward achieving a more realistic, natural media look to the brush strokes. This tool allows you to blend colors and vary your wetness within a single brush stroke.

The Mixer Brush tool uses two paint wells — a “reservoir” that deposits color (Adobe calls it paint) on the canvas and a “pickup” that receives, or picks up, color from the canvas (which can be an image or color you’ve applied). This is a great tool to try if you want to paint over a photo to make it look more painterly but don’t want to apply a filter.

Here’s how to use the Mixer Brush tool:

  1. Select the Mixer Brush tool from the Tools panel.

    This tool shares the same flyout menu as the Brush, Pencil, and Color Replacement tools.

  2. To load color into your reservoir, Alt+click (Option+click) where you wish to sample that color. You can also choose your desired Foreground color from the Tools panel.

    When you load color from your canvas, your brush tip reflects any color variation in the sampled area. If you want the brush tip to use a single color based on your sampled area, select the Load Solid Colors Only from the Current Brush Load (swatch icon) drop-down menu on the Options bar.

  3. Choose a brush from the Brush Presets panel.

    Note that the HUD (Heads Up Display) gives you a nice big preview of what your brush looks like from various angles (click on the HUD to change views).

  4. Set your desired options in the Options bar.

    Here is a brief run down on options specific to the Mixer Brush tool:

    • Current Brush Load Swatch: Load Brush fills your brush with reservoir color. Clean Brush removes color from your brush. Load Solid Colors Only, as mentioned above, enables you to pick up a uniform versus varied color from your sampled area.

    • Load Brush after Each Stroke/Clean Brush after Each Stroke: Automatically loads your brush with reservoir color and then cleans your brush after each stroke. These two options are good options if you want to paint over a photo, for example, to make it look like a painting.

    • Blending Brush Combinations: Choose presets, from Dry, Moist, Wet, Very Wet, with variations of mixing levels. Experiment with these combos to see the look they provide.

    • Specify percentages of Wet, Load, Mix, and Flow: Wet percentages specify how much color the brush picks up from the canvas. Higher numbers give more paint. Load specifies how much color is loaded in the reservoir. Lower percentages enable the stroke to “dry” out more quickly. Mix controls the ratio of canvas color to reservoir color. A mix percentage of 100% grabs all color from the canvas, whereas 0% gets all color from the reservoir. Flow specifies how much color is pumped out when the Airbrush option is enabled.

    • Sample All Layers: Enables you to pick up or blend color from all layers, not just your active layer.

  5. Drag on your image to paint. If you have selected the Airbrush option, you can also hold down your mouse to “build” your color.

    [Credit: ©iStockphoto/Elpiniki Image #1861345]
    Credit: ©iStockphoto/Elpiniki Image #1861345
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