How to Use the Photoshop Elements 11 Smart Brush Tool

The Smart Brush tool in Photoshop Elements 11 allows you to paint a variety of image adjustments on all or just a portion of your image. The action of the tool is similar to that of the Selection Brush — as you brush, you make a selection and adjust simultaneously. Follow these steps to use the Smart Brush tool:

  1. Select the Smart Brush tool from the Tools panel in Expert mode.

    The tool icon looks like a house paintbrush with an adjacent gear. You can also press the F key to switch between the Smart Brush and Detail Smart Brush tools.

  2. In the Tool Options, choose your desired brush size.

  3. Choose additional attributes, such as hardness, spacing and roundness, from the Brush Settings drop-down panel.

  4. Select your desired adjustment category and then a particular preset adjustment from the Smart Paint Preset Picker drop-down panel in the Tool Options.

    In the Smart Paint preset panel, choose adjustments ranging from photographic effects, such as a vintage Yellowed Photo, to nature effects, such as Sunset (which gives a warm, orange glow to your image).

    [Credit: ©istockphoto.com/billyfoto Image #2758280]
    Credit: ©istockphoto.com/billyfoto Image #2758280
  5. Paint an adjustment on a layer in your image, where you can paint with the Antique Contrast effect.

    While you paint, the Smart Brush tool attempts to detect edges in your image and snaps to those edges. In addition, while you brush, a selection border appears.

    A new adjustment layer is automatically created with your first paint stroke. The accompanying layer mask also appears on that adjustment layer.

  6. Using the Add and Subtract Smart Brush modes in the Tool Options, fine-tune your adjusted area by adding and subtracting from it.

    When you add and subtract from your adjusted area, you’re essentially modifying your layer mask. Adding to the adjusted area adds white to the layer mask, and subtracting from an adjusted area adds black to the layer mask.

  7. Select a different preset adjustment for your selected area, if you want.

    In fact, try them all out before you make your final choice.

  8. If you believe that you need to refine your selected area, choose the Refine Edges option in the Tool Options.

    If you’d rather apply the adjustment to your unselected area, select the Inverse option in the Tool Options.

    If you want to modify your adjustment, double-click the Adjustment Layer pin on your image. The pin is annotated by a small, square, black-and-red gear icon. After you double-click the pin, the dialog box corresponding to your particular adjustment appears. For example, if you double-click the Shoe Box Photo adjustment (under Photographic), you access the Hue/Saturation dialog box.

  9. Make your necessary adjustments in the dialog box and click OK.

    You can also right-click (on the Mac, Control-click if you’re using a one-button mouse) and select Change Adjustment Settings from the contextual menu that appears. Or, you can select Delete Adjustment and Hide Selection from the same menu.

  10. After you finish, simply deselect your selection by choosing Select→Deselect.

You can add multiple Smart Brush adjustments. After you apply one effect, reset the Smart Brush tool and apply additional adjustments.

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