Photoshop Essentials – Using Brushes, Pencil & Eraser

Photoshop has many tools to help you create images as well as edit them

Although it is primarily designed and best known as an image editing program, Photoshop also offers a range of versatile tools, allowing you to create original artwork as well as adapting existing images. The brushes, pencils and eraser are designed to behave as much like their real life counterparts as possible, to make using them an intuitive process. If you have a graphics tablet and a pen, this helps even more.

The brush Tool

The most useful drawing implement is the Brush (keyboard shortcut B), which is a multipurpose tool that can emulate almost any type of drawing tool imaginable, be it a fine pencil, a felt-tip marker pen, a soft-bristle brush, an airbrush, or anything in between. The Brush tool has received a major upgrade for version CS6 and now has more options and more presets than ever before, giving you unparalleled versatility for creating your own artistic Photoshop masterpieces.

You select the Brush tool by clicking on its icon in the tool palette, but to get the most out of it you need to open the new Brush palette by clicking on the little folder-shaped icon in the options bar. When you take a look at the new Brush palette you’ll be blown away by just how customisable it is. You can adjust the shape of the brush tip, the density, length, thickness, stiffness and angle of the brush bristles and adjust or disable brush spacing. As well as this there are many more options, allowing you to add random scattering, noise, texture, wet edge simulation, airbrush-like build-up and both shape and colour dynamics. If this degree of control is too time-consuming there are also dozens of preset brushes.

There are preset brushes to simulate airbrushes, pastel crayons, big soft brushes, small stiff bristles, pencils, felt pens, sponges and even template brushes to quickly draw grass or leaves. The options and adjustments can be applied to preset brushes, so you can customise them for your own specific needs. You can even make your own brushes if you want.

As well as options for the appearance and texture of the brush, there are also options for how it interacts with the layer that you paint on. These are called Blend Modes and you can choose which one to use by clicking on the Modes button in the tool options bar.

Many people will probably use Photoshop with a pen and tablet device, such as the Wacom Intuos4 shown here. The Brush tool includes options for pen tablet users, such as allowing pen pressure to control either brush size or opacity.

The Pencil Tool

The Pencil tool used to be a separate item from the Brush tool, but with radical expansion of the Brush in Photoshop to include simulations of numerous types of pencil, the Pencil tool itself is now just a variation of the Brush tool and uses the same options palette. It’s not without its uses though.

The Pencil can be used as a secondary brush, which can save time swapping between pre-sets and can also be used to apply a stroke to work paths. You can press Shift + B to make it appear. By default it uses the 1 pixel brush size. The pencil tool is limited to hard-edged brush shapes of various sizes.

The eraser Tool

The Eraser tool (keyboard shortcut E) is a specialised variation on the brush tool and uses the same palette options. It differs from the standard brush in that it can render pixels from a layer transparent, allowing the layer beneath to show through. If used on the background layer it paints in whatever the current background colour is set to.

As well as the Brush palette options, the Eraser also has tool options including Opacity, Flow and one unique one, Erase to History, which can be used in conjunction with the History palette to selectively undo changes in layers. The Mode options for the Eraser are Brush, Pencil or Block, which is a small square-shaped eraser of fixed size and full opacity.

There are two other Eraser options available if you click and hold on the Eraser tool. Background Eraser can, as the name suggests, erase parts of the background, but it does this by converting the background into a layer. Magic Eraser simply combines the Magic Wand tool with the Eraser tool and selectively erases contiguous areas of colour.

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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