Adobe Photoshop Tutorial Part 2: Working with Colors and Painting

Painting with the Brush and Pencil Tools

The Brush and Pencil tools paint soft and hard-edged strokes, respectively. A Brush stroke is antialiased, while a Pencil stroke isn’t. Both tools normally paint using the foreground color, and can paint a line of any thickness. To paint with either of these tools, click on the canvas and drag with the mouse button held down.

A stroke of the Brush tool is soft and blends into the background, as shown below:

The stroke made by the Pencil tool is hard, with no bleeding.

Stylized tracings are popular, and they’re a good way to practice painting when you’re just beginning. To create a stylized tracing, you paint on a blank layer on top of a layer containing an existing image. Later, you can delete the background image you traced.

For example, below, a new transparent layer we called “Painting” was added over the background layer of an image.

We’re going to paint on the Painting layer, which is selected in the Layers palette.

For more information on using layers, see the section Working with Layers.

To get started, we’re going to use the Brush tool to trace some of the facial lines. Then we’ll use the same tool to apply color:

  1. On the toolbox, click on the Brush tool. The Brush and Pencil tools are grouped together on the toolbox, so if the Pencil tool is displayed, click and hold the button to reveal the flyout menu, and then select the Brush tool.

If you like, you can practice with the Pencil tool instead. You can use the same methods for both tools; the tool you choose simply depends on whether you want to achieve soft- or hard-edged effects.

  1. Make sure the foreground color in the toolbox or on the Color palette is set to black.
  2. The Options bar displays the options for the Brush tool:

The options are the same for both the Brush and Pencil tools, except for the Airbrush option, which is only available with the Brush tool.

On the Options bar, make sure the Mode is set to Normal, Opacity to 100%, and Flow to 100%.

    • The Mode refers to how the colors you paint are mixed with underlying colors in the layer on which you’re painting. Normal mode paints the foreground color on top of any existing colors on the layer.
    • Opacity refers to the opacity of the stroke.
    • Flow refers to the opacity of each spot of color produced by the brush. The Brush tool delivers continuous spots of colors, so when one spot intersects, or is painted “on top of” another spot, the resulting stroke at that point will look darker.

The icon to the right of the Flow field enables airbrush capabilities. We won’t be using an airbrush for this, but once you’ve practiced painting, you can experiment with using the airbrush, which produces a softer stroke than the normal Brush tool. For example, once we’ve drawn the lines of our face, we’ll fill in areas with different colors. You could try using the airbrush, rather than the normal brush, to fill in those areas.

Clicking the down arrow next to Brush displays a menu of brush presets and options. The Master Diameter refers to the size of the brush, measured in pixels; ours is 13 pixels. Hardness simply refers to how soft the stroke will be—that is, how much it blends into the background. All strokes made with the Brush tool are antialiased, unlike strokes made with the Pencil tool, but a hardness of 100% comes closest to a stroke made with the Pencil tool.

The list of thumbnail strokes at the bottom are presets—you can choose one of these based on its appearance. The diameter (in pixels) is given to the left of the thumbnail.


These same options are available for the Pencil tool—that is, you can use any number of brushes with the Pencil tool.

Notice that this palette also contains an options button in the upper right corner. Click it to reveal an options menu containing a list of brush sets that can be loaded, much like you can load swatches:

You can also save the brush you define (diameter and hardness) by clicking the small page icon below the options menu button.


The Brushes palette, which is normally docked in the palette well, offers you many more options for defining a brush:

  1. With the mouse, click and drag along a portion of your image:

  1. It can be difficult to control the brush stroke, but you can use the Shift key to apply a stroke as if you’re creating a dot-to-dot picture: Click where you want the stroke to begin, then press and hold the Shift key. With the Shift key held down, click at each point where you want the stroke to curve. Although the Shift key constrains the brush stroke to a straight line, clicking along the path of a curve creates the appearance of an overall curve. The more times you click along the curve, the gentler the curve will appear:

  1. To create a horizontal or perpendicular line, hold down the Shift key while dragging:

You can continue to trace using these same simple methods. A quick way to change the brush while you’re tracing is to right-click (or Control-click for Mac users). This opens the brush presets:

Make the changes and then press Enter to close the palette.

You can also use the keyboard to change the brush diameter: the left bracket ([) decreases the size of the brush, and the right bracket (]) increases the size. To quickly change the opacity using the keyboard, type a percentage in two numbers. For example, typing 50 changes the opacity to 50%, and typing 05 changes the opacity to 5%.

  1. Once you’ve finished tracing the lines of your image, you can use the Brush tool to color the different areas; this is when the brush Mode comes in handy. For example, by selecting Behind from the Mode menu on the Options bar, you can paint “behind” existing strokes, so the color only appears in transparent areas. This setting helps you to “stay within the lines” when you paint:


To make our drawing easier to work with, we duplicated the background layer and then hid it using the Layers palette. We then set the duplicate background layer to 70% opacity (also using the Layers palette). You have to either create a duplicate background and hide or delete the original background layer, or promote the background layer to a floating layer in order to edit the layer’s properties, since the background layer cannot be unlocked. For more information on layers, see the section Working with Layers.

  1. Click on the foreground color box in the Color palette, and then click on an area of your image to sample the color. Using the Brush tool in Behind mode, continue to paint in areas of the image, from dark to light:

You can experiment with other brush modes to refine your painting. For example, Darken is similar to Behind, but it paints a color onto the image only where the existing colors you’re painting on are lighter than the foreground color yo
u’re painting with. Lighten is the opposite; it paints a color only onto areas that are darker than the color you’re painting with.

For example, if we wanted to add more highlights to the image above, we could choose the highlight color we want to use, then set the brush option to the Lighten mode. Only darker areas of the image would be lightened with the color, and colors that are lighter than our new color, like the round area in the upper-right corner of our image, would be left unchanged:

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