How To Use The Brush Tool In Photoshop

Do you know how to use the brush tool in Photoshop? It’s easy to use, and is extremely versatile for drawing, designing, creating textures and patterns, and changing or adding colors in your images. A wide array of brushes are available and the customization options are endless. Let’s get started with the tutorial.

How To Use The Brush Tool In Photoshop - Paintbrush And Flowers

The Brush Tool In Photoshop

You can find the brush tool in the toolbar. It’s the 8th tool from the top, right above the pencil tool.

brush tool

If you can’t locate the toolbar, go to “Windows” in the menu, and make sure “Tools” is checked. The quick command for the brush tool is “B” on the keyboard. You can always find the shortcut key by viewing the letter to the right of each tool.

Windows and Tools in Photoshop

The best way to learn is to follow along while I teach you how to use the brush tool. Open an image you’d like to edit. Below is the image I’ll be working on. I want the white sneakers to be purple instead of white.

two feet with white sneakers on

Hit “Shift” + “B” to bring up the brush tool. First, I need to change the foreground color in the “Color Picker” to the exact shade I want. Press “OK” after you’ve selected your color:

color picker in photoshop

Below, you can see how the color changed in the color picker. Instead of the foreground color being black, it’s now lavender. I didn’t want the shoes to be too bright so I chose a light shade of purple:

purple foreground in color picker

Create a new layer by going to “Layer” in the top menu, then “New” and “Layer.” Alternatively, you can hit “Command” or “Control” + “N” on your keyboard. You can see this quick command to the right of “Layer.” Making edits on a new layer will preserve your original image.

new layer in Photoshop

Working on your new layer,  go to the paintbrush icon above the toolbox. Right next to it you’ll see a dropdown menu where you can customize the brush controls. Play around with the size and hardness of your brush. As you can see in the screenshot below, you can import your own brushes as well.

brush controls in photoshop

You can also customize your brushes by going to the “Brush Settings” to the right of your image. There are a variety of options you can configure.

Brush Settings in Photoshop

If you go to the top of the dashboard, you’ll see a number of controls you can customize to get your brush just how you like it. I typically keep the “Mode” at “Normal,” but it will depend on your image, and what you’re trying to create.

Opacity is a measure of the transparency of your brush, while the flow determines how much paint your brush will deposit onto any given area. Play around with the “Opacity” and “Flow” to see how your brush behaves. I usually never have them at 100%. Again, it will depend on the look you’re trying to achieve. I’ll talk about “Smoothing” below.

opacity tool bar in photoshop

You’ll want to zoom in while you’re editing to better control your brush. You may need to change the size and hardness of the brush when you zoom in. You can also change your brush altogether.

The girl’s shoes are now lavender. Pretty cool, right?

purple sneaker on crossed ankles

The Pencil Tool

Now let’s move on to the pencil tool. This tool is similar to the brush tool except the pencil is very hard-edged and works with only one pixel, whereas, the brush tool can be soft or hard with feathered edges. Even if you change the hardness setting, the pencil default will still be a hard edge. However, you can change the size of the pencil, and erase previous edits.

pencil tool

You can also change the opacity, smoothing, and blending modes. As you can see the settings are a little different from the brush tool settings as there is no “Flow” option. The “Smoothing” setting is really important for the pencil tool because the higher the setting, the slower your strokes become, which gives you the most control.

I don’t know about you, but free-hand drawing is tough so you’ll want to customize this setting for optimal control. The “Auto Erase” feature allows you to eliminate portions of your pencil strokes without reverting to the erase tool.  I think you’ll find more uses for the brush tool than the pencil tool, although it’s certainly handy when you need it.

blending modes and opacity controls

The pencil is applicable for using in detail-oriented areas, and where pixel-by-pixel editing is applicable. Use the pencil for different forms of artwork, free-hand drawings, retina displays, web graphics, animations, or favicons (favorite icons).

[Read More: How To Use Font Awesome In Photoshop]


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To begin using your pencil, click your mouse on the point where you’d like to begin. Start drawing with the mouse button depressed. If you lift and hold the “Shift” key, your movements will be more controlled, and your lines will be straight. I created this little graphic using the pencil tool. If I wanted, I could paint the inside of the hearts red with the brush tool:

hearts drawn with pencil tool

If you’re working on a Mac, you can hold the “Option” key to select specific areas of your drawing that you want  to change to the foreground color in your color picker.  Another time-saving shortcut is to press the “V” key to access the “Move” tool. When the “V” key is released, you’ll still be working with your pencil.

This quick command lets you move between tools without having to navigate to the tools panel, and also applies to the “Color Replacement Tool” and “Mixer Brush Tool,” which I’ll talk about in my next tutorial.


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Key Points

I frequently use the brush tool when editing in Photoshop. It’s great for changing colors in a photo, or painting shades and hues onto an image. Brushes are highly customizable, making it easy and convenient to use. I don’t use the pencil tool that often, but it’s useful if I want to sketch shapes or figures by hand. Practice using these handy tools. There’s tons of different applications for them, especially the brush tool. Have fun!

How do you use the brush and pencil tools in Photoshop. Let me know in the comments:)


12 thoughts on “How To Use The Brush Tool In Photoshop”

  1. Personally, I use GIMP and PIXLR. I used to use Photoshop when I had a Windows laptop.

    But ever since I switched to a Chromebook, I’ve had to rely on web-based photo editing tools.

    The directions for using a brush are somewhat similar in these two programs.

    Don’t get me wrong. Photoshop is great. But if you need to use something more lightweight (and free), then these two tools are the way to go!

    • I’ve never used GIMP or PIXLR, I’ve always relied on Photoshop for editing. Interesting that the brush behaves similarly in those programs. Thanks for sharing that and for commenting!

  2. Photoshop (and any visual editing in general) is a huge weakness of mine. Your tutorial will come in handy for me because I’m about to embark on a project where I will need to be doing lots of photo editing. 

    To be honest, I’ve done no photo editing before beyond cropping, rotating, and applying filters here and there. But I’m sure I’ll be using the brush and pencil tool on this project.

    • Hi Holly,

      The brush tools are easy to use once you get the hang of them. Play around them until you get a comfort level. 

  3. Wow! I found this piece very timely and helpful, especially for me.

    I am currently designing a project and I have been using the brush tool but at a very slow pace. Reading through this article has exposed me to even easier ways to use it, along with convenient shortcut keys to save time, and increase the speed of my workflow. 

    • I’m you found my post helpful. Thanks for your comment. 

      I like using shortcut keys. They do increase workflow speed and save time. 

  4. Hi there, thanks for sharing this post on how to use brush tools in Photoshop, let me quickly say this will really help people who’s focus is always on using the pencil, rather than learning on how to use brushes as well.

    I personally know how to use both pencils and brushes but am more used to brushes because they’re easier for me to use. Let me say that you have added more to my knowledge with this article.

    • Thanks for reading. I’m like you and use the brush tool far more than the pencil tool, although it’s pretty awesome when you need it. 

  5. Thanks. Though I’m a beginner to Photoshop, your post has changed my perspective on the use of the brush tools for changing colors in a photo or paint shade or even hues onto an image. Normally, I used the hues saturation adjustment layer to make changes to color. 

    I’m aware that the brush tool is easier to use, however, my understanding of it is that it is meant for simple projects. This has made me branch out from using the hues saturation adjustment layer whenever I want to change color in Photoshop. I would like to start using the brush tool for color changes. 

    • I like the hues/saturation control also, but the brush tool is great for changing colors in specific areas of an image. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. I absolutely love this insightful article because it is full of great information. This is fascinating and intriguing to me. This article is interesting since I’m a newbie to Photoshop and am going to sit down and follow the steps in this article. 

    I want to be an expert in using the brush and pencil tools in Photoshop. Thanks for the insight. 

    • Thank you. Play around with the brush and pencil tools. They’re fun to use and you’ll the hang of them pretty quick. 


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