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How to Paint with the Photoshop Elements 11 Brush Tool

The Brush tool is a popular tool used throughout Photoshop Elements 11 in various incarnations, so getting to know this tool and how it operates is a good idea.

The most important difference between the Brush and the Pencil tools is that, by default, the Brush tool produces soft-edged lines. How soft those strokes are depends on which brush you use. By default, even the hardest brush has a slightly soft edge because it’s anti-aliased.

Anti-aliasing creates a single row of partially filled pixels along the edges to produce the illusion of a smooth edge. You can also get even softer brushes, which employ feathering.

Although jagged edges are most apparent in diagonal lines, Elements applies anti-aliasing to brush-stroke edges, even in horizontal and vertical lines.

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The Brush tool shares most of the basic options found in the Pencil tool, except that the Auto Erase feature isn’t available.

Here are a few tips on working with the Brush tool and its unique options:

  • Select the Brush tool from the Tools panel or press the B key until you get the Brush.

  • In the Tool Options, click the arrow and select a brush tip from the Brush Preset Picker drop-down panel that appears.

  • Select a mode and opacity from the options in the Tool Options.

  • Drag to paint, click and Shift-click to paint straight lines, and hold down the Shift key while dragging to constrain the Brush tool to horizontal or vertical lines.

  • Press the Alt key (the Option key on the Mac) and click any area of color to switch the foreground color to that color.

The Brush tool has several other options:

  • Airbrush: Click the Airbrush button in the Tool Options to apply the Airbrush mode. This mode produces the spray effect you see with a traditional airbrush. The longer you hold down the mouse button, the more paint pumps out of the tool and the wider the airbrush effect spreads.

    [Credit: ©istockphoto.com/Beano5 Image #14501558]
    Credit: ©istockphoto.com/Beano5 Image #14501558
  • Tablet Settings: If you’re using a pressure-sensitive digital drawing tablet, check the settings you want the tablet to control, including size, scatter, opacity, roundness, and hue jitter (switching between foreground and background colors). The harder you press with the stylus, the greater the effect of these options.

  • Brush Settings: In the Tool Options, click Brush Settings to access additional options that enable you to change the brush strokes as you apply them. Here’s a quick lowdown on each option:

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    • Fade: The lower the value, the quicker the stroke fades. Zero, however, creates no fade.

    • Hue Jitter: This option varies the stroke between the foreground and background colors. The higher the value, the more frequent the variation.

    • Scatter: The higher the value, the higher the number of brush marks and the farther apart they are.

    • Spacing: The higher the number, the more space between marks.

    • Hardness: The higher the value, the harder the brush.

    • Roundness: A setting of 100 percent is totally circular. The lower the percentage, the more elliptical your brush becomes.

    • Angle: If you create an oval brush by adjusting the roundness, this option controls the angle of that oval brush stroke. You can more easily drag the points and the arrow on the diagram than “guesstimate” values in the text boxes.

    • Set this as a default: You can lock in these brush options by selecting this check box, ensuring that every brush you select adopts these settings.

Just as they do for the Pencil tool, more features for the Brush tool appear on the Brush Preset Picker panel menu. (Click the arrow at the top of the panel.) Here’s a quick explanation of what you can do with each one:

  • Save Brush: Save a custom brush as a preset. See the following section for details.

  • Rename Brush: Don’t like the name of your brush? Give it a new one with this option.

  • Delete Brush: Eliminate an unwanted brush with this option.

  • Reset Brushes: Revert your current brush library to the default.

  • Load Brushes: Load a preset or custom brush library. They have names such as Special Effect Brushes and Faux Finish Brushes. Select one to append the brushes to your current set or to replace the current set with the library you select. (The dialog box that appears offers a choice of either action.)

  • Save Brushes: Save custom brushes in a separate library.

  • The display options: A set of commands that enables you to change the way your brush tips are displayed in the drop-down panel. The default view is Stroke Thumbnail, which displays the appearance of the stroke. Other commands include Text Only (text names of brush tips), Small and Large Thumbnail (thumbnail images with diameter in pixels), and Small and Large List (thumbnail images with text names).

You can also manage brush tip libraries by using the Preset Manager option available from the panel menu or by choosing Edit→Preset Manager.

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