How to Customize Bristle Tip Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

  • Thread starter KristinaW
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May 7, 2021
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I could probably set up a site that contains just information on how to customize and use brushes in Adobe Photoshop. Seriously, the topic is endless. For the average user, brushes are those things we choose a preset for and go about our business. Perhaps we adjust the size and edge softness, but that’s about it. We’ll use the brush to edit the lighting in portraits and to apply different densities of particular masks, but honestly, limiting ourselves to scratching the surface is a tragedy. Brushes are wonderful tools that should be exploited.

If you’re an illustrator or a painter, Photoshop is your friend. Actually, Adobe Illustrator is your friend, but Photoshop is a close second. And if you throw in a Wacom Pen Tablet, you’ll likely never use paper again. This is what all the pros use to get things done – and it works. You can take advantage of different types of brushes, bristle type, length, thickness, stiffness and angle. With the tablet and its pressure sensitivity, the sky’s the limit. Photoshop has come a long way since its beginnings.

In today’s post, I want to discuss bristle tip brushes. I’d like to show you how you can change your workspace in Photoshop to take advantage of them and where you can find some pretty fantastic presets. Finally, we’ll dabble with some customizations and see how they look on a white background. We’ll toy with the aspects I mentioned above – bristle type, length, etc… Basically, I want to familiarize you with the fact that these types of brushes are available and where their controls are located. It’ll be a learning experience if you’ve never used them.

Switching Workspace​

I mentioned this in my last post about brushes, but I’ll mention it again. Photoshop has multiple pre-set workspaces available for us to use, depending on what we’re doing. By default, the workspace is set to Essentials. Since we’re going to deal with brushes today, it makes sense to switch the workspace to the Painting pre-set. What this does is change some panels around so they’re more accessible as we work. There’s no reason to go fumbling about when swapping workspaces is so easy.

To accomplish this, simply click on the drop-down box that’s located in the upper right corner of the application and select Painting.


Once you do this, you’ll notice that the Color panel has been replaced with the Swatches panel, the Adjustments panel has been replaced with the Brush Presets panel and the Layers panel stayed where it originally was positioned, but pushed down a bit. These new panels will help a lot.

Now, just so you know, we didn’t lose any panels. The ones that were there are just tucked away for later use. If you aren’t familiar with how to customize your workspace in Photoshop, please check out the post I link to below. I cover it in depth.

How to Customize Your Workspace & Interface in Photoshop

Changing Preset View​

When you first make the workspace change, your brush preset list will most likely look something like this (inside the red box):


Since I’m not a fan of that view because you need to roll over and hover on top of each preset to see its descriptive name, I like to change it to something else. The view I prefer is called Small List and it can be accessed by clicking on the tiny menu icon that’s located at the top right of the Brush Presets panel.


After I select Small List from the drop-down menu, the brush preset list will look like this:


In my opinion, this list is much more informative, especially when it’s combined with what I’m about to show you next.

The Brush Panel​

Before I ever begin working with bristle brushes, there are a few areas I like to set up. First, I reveal the Brush panel. After that, I display the Live Tip Brush Preview. If you take a look at the following screenshot, you’ll see why.


Take a look at the two upper red circles in the above screenshot. Those two circled buttons control whether or not the Brush panel is open or not. Pushing either one of them does the same thing. Open and close that panel.

The button at the bottom of the Brush Presets panel controls whether or not the Live Tip Preview is on or off (inside the red box in the screenshot). If it’s on, you’ll have the ability to see what your brush would be doing if it were real. What angle it’s at, the pressure that’s being applied to it and so forth. It’s definitely worthwhile to have this option turned on. Click through different bristle brush presets to see how this preview changes.

Basically, what I’m looking for here is information. I don’t want to be painting or drawing and have to guess at what will happen when I use a specific brush or setting. The live preview coupled with the large brush preview in the Brush panel offer a lot of guidance.

Types of Bristle Brushes​

In Photoshop, there are two primary styles of bristle brushes – round and flat. I took live preview captures of the available presets.


I’ll list the name of each preset below. I’ll start at the top left and go to the right, just as if you were reading a book. After that, I’ll name the brushes in the bottom row the same way.

Top Row

– Round Blunt Medium Stiff
– Round Curve Low Bristle Percent
– Round Angle Low Stiffness
– Round Fan Stiff Thin Bristles
– Flat Point Medium Stiff
– Flat Blunt Short Stiff

Bottom Row

– Round Point Stiff
– Flat Curve Thin Stiff Bristles
– Flat Angle Low Bristle Count
– Flat Fan High Bristle Count
– Flat Angle Right Hand Pose
– Flat Angle Left Hand Pose

As you can see, there are quite a few options when it comes to painting in Photoshop. If you aren’t versed in the many types of artist paint brushes available, you can take a quick peek at this website where the author gives a nice description of each.

Within the two primary styles of brushes, there are sub-styles. These are point, blunt, curve, angle and fan. If you look at the names of each brush, you’ll see these descriptors included.

Customizing Brushes​

Before I begin, I want to let you know that what I just described above is what I’m seeing on a desktop computer with a mouse as my pointer. If I was using the Wacom Tablet, I’d have many more options, such as angle and pressure. I don’t want to push working on a tablet when illustrating too hard here.

In this section, I’d like to discuss a few areas in the Brush panel. I’m not going to go nuts here in an attempt to cover everything because, as I mentioned above, it’s pretty much endless. What I’ll limit myself to is the basics.

Choosing a Shape

With the Brush panel open, the very first thing you want to do, while a bristle type bush has been selected from the presets, is to choose a shape. The reason I say that a bristle type preset needs to be selected is because the Brush panel menus change depending on what your needs are. If you look at the screenshot below, I’ll circle the area I’m referring to.


Once a bristle preset is selected and active, you can change whichever shape you’re using via the Shape drop-down box in the Brush panel. I’ll click on that so you can see what I’m talking about here.


Choose a Size

The next thing you want to adjust in this panel is the brush size. This is done through the Size slider in the Brush panel or by simply clicking the [ and the ] keys on your keyboard. Personally, I use the keyboard shortcuts for this because it’s much faster.

Push the Sliders

The real customization comes into play when you begin pushing the following sliders around: Bristles, Length, Thickness, Stiffness, Angle and Spacing. The amount of customization you can do with this area is unreal.

I’m having difficulty keeping this post limited to this one area of customizations because all those check boxes in the Brush panel are staring straight at me. Rest assured that I’ll get to them in later posts because they’re simply too much fun to leave behind.

To demonstrate the effects of what these sliders can do, I’ll create a few different brush strokes in a graphic. Below the graphic, I’ll list the settings I used to draw the strokes.


Column #1

Size: 200px
Bristles: 20%
Length: 100%
Thickness: 1%
Stiffness: 50%
Angle: 0%
Spacing: 1%

Column #2

Size: 200px
Bristles: 80%
Length: 200%
Thickness: 1%
Stiffness: 25%
Angle: 0%
Spacing: 20%

Column #3

Size: 200px
Bristles: 50%
Length: 300%
Thickness: 5%
Stiffness: 100%
Angle: 0%
Spacing: 30%

This is a good place to stop. I encourage you to open up Photoshop and follow through what I wrote in this post to become more comfortable with the panels I used. Also, create a blank canvas and select the Brush Tool. Fool around with painting strokes for a while to get used to what each of the settings does. There’s no better way to learn than experimentation. I’ll be following this post up with future ones that delve deeper into this topic.