All About Digital Brushes: Different Brush Types & How to Use Them

by Verblio Optimize -
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Digital brushes commonly used in Adobe Photoshop and other design software have come a long way over the last few years in terms of comparing to real brushes used in traditional media. Sites such as Brusheezy.com and DeviantArt offer pack after pack of free downloadable brushes that mimic anything and everything such as mechanical pencils, watercolors, oil paints, pen and ink, vector art, and more. 

That being said, whether you're a beginner in digital art or a design professional, it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the opportunities that come with downloading as many brushes as possible. I speak from experience myself, especially as a graphic designer working in digital media from sunup to sundown. I work almost primarily in digital media making book cover designs, thrash metal album art, various marketing materials, and even come up with designs for high-quality Jackson guitars.

Every last project I've ever worked on in digital media has required me to look for different sets of brushes to meet the necessary design requirements, as well as go above and beyond expectations with each piece. Now, it is important to remember that the brushes you need and how to best use them depend entirely upon what kind of digital art you are making. In order to give you a better idea of how this works, here are a few examples of art pieces that showcase different digital brushes and their uses.

1. Standard Digital Painting Art: Concept Art, World-Building Art, Character Design, and Pieces that Mimic Traditional Media in Digital Form

This is probably the most basic starting point for those who are either beginning in Photoshop and other software or have plenty of experience and just want to create a piece for fun. The kind of art I'm referring to is one that doesn't have a lot of layers involved, and thus best mimics the process of creating art in a more traditional sense. 

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Software such as Photoshop often comes with a few different kinds of brush buttons to use, whether it's the standard brush tool, the eraser tool, the blending brush tool, or the clone stamp tool. These buttons are not brush packs per se; these are more so creative methods to use the brush packs that you download for free, and super fun to explore with any piece you make. These impact how the brushes you download are used.

For example, if you start with the blending brush tool using brush packs that are designed to specifically mimic oil painting, and keep everything you do on just a handful of layers (ideally just one layer, if you choose to mimic oil painting as closely as possible), then you are more likely to create a digital version of an oil painting, and even keep to much of the traditional methodologies in terms of brush and color usage.

The same goes for brush packs that mimic watercolor, gouache, marker, sketch, and acrylic painting. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that if you can create that art piece on a canvas or in a sketchbook, then you can use this method in digital art just as well. Practice this with quick thumbnail sketches or storyboards or even character art--you'll see what I'm talking about!

Honestly, I find the evolution of brush packs to be particularly awesome in this area, as it saves artists like you and I so much money on supplies and generates endless possibilities! Doing art like that keeps me inspired, and I know it will for you as well.

2. Matte Painting

To give a brief description of what matte painting is, this is (shall we say) native to digital art and involves the use of textures (which are also downloadable for free) in order to paint the canvas. For example, say you like a particular grassy texture for a piece of land in an image, or clouds in the sky, or water, or perhaps concrete sidewalk for a city piece. If you are aiming for realism rather than straight-up digital painting, you can use different brush packs on the clone stamp tool in Photoshop to literally paint that texture onto whatever surface in your image you want! This tool has been a life-saver for digital artists everywhere whose pieces require realism on short notice. Yes, if you have the skill level, you can paint digitally like in the section mentioned above, but the clone stamp tool is there to save you time. 

Now, as far as digital brushes themselves go, for the clone stamp tool, I recommend brushes that feather out a bit in order to make sure there are no harsh lines that "give away the secret" if you will. Keep in mind that the clone stamp tool works best when used seamlessly to keep the texture looking natural to the surface. Thus, at least in my experience, brushes that create a hard line (like in the standard brush tool), and don't blend well, are not the best to use in this type of piece. Aim for the brushes that fan out or feather out, and you'll get great results!

3. Line Work

Linework is clearly defined (pun intended) as the solid lines, or inking of a piece. This is where the standard brush tool and the hard-edged brushes are the most useful. And there are plenty of brush packs available just for creating solid line art that (as long as you do it right) won't embarrass you should you remove other layers!

I myself have brushes that allow for cartoon-style line art, brushes that mimic ballpoint pen, charcoal pencil, regular pencil, and brushes that provide a hard edge that is smooth as silk. All such brushes are perfect for creating line art that makes character designs and layouts clearly stand out. Also, as a side note, I suggest that when using such brushes, that you work on making long smooth strokes rather than short ones so that cleanup is an easier process. 

Practice Makes Perfect with Digital Brushes

These are just a few basic examples of different digital brushes and how they can work with brush tools in Photoshop to help you create fantastic digital art. As with any art form, it takes getting the necessary supplies and experimenting in order to see how things work for a particular piece. The same holds true in the world of digital art. So what are you waiting for? Start downloading different brushes and working with them today!