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Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: Introducing Bristle Tips


  1. #85 Introducing Bristle Tips

Article Description

Dan Moughamian shows you how to use Bristle Tips, and excellent painting enhancement tool in Adobe Photoshop CS5.

Photoshop CS5 provides two excellent painting enhancements: Bristle Tips and the new Mixer Brush. We'll focus on the former in this tip, then the Mixer Brush workflow in the next tip. Bristle Tips offer two primary advantages:

  • They provide a realistic simulation of real paintbrush behaviors.
  • Bristle Tip behaviors can be previewed as you paint with it.

Getting Started

Bristle Tips brushes are easily identified in the Brush panel and Brush Preset Pickers by the detailed icons they use (see the "Bristle Tips" sidebar). There are two primary types (or shapes) of Bristle Tip presets, and five sub-types for each, although you can customize them and create your own presets.

Once a brush tool is selected and one of the Bristle Tips presets chosen, open the Brush panel and have a look at the unique parameters, including: bristle shape; number of bristles (Bristles slider), bristle length, bristle thickness, bristle stiffness, bristle angle, and Spacing. Figure 85a shows the Bristle Tips "Qualities" settings.

Figure 85a

Figure 85a Bristle Tips Qualities and Preview as seen in the Brush panel.

Once you find a series of settings that you like, you can save Bristle Tips as custom presets by using the Brush panel flyout menu, choosing New Brush Preset, naming the preset, and clicking OK in the Brush Name dialog box.


Photoshop CS5 provides a floating overlay called the Bristle Brush Preview (requires a graphics card that supports OpenGL information) that sits atop the active document when activated. You can turn it on by clicking the left-most icon at the very bottom of the Brush panel. From that point, you can click its header and drag it to move the preview to any portion of your window. As you move the stylus in different ways, the preview provides real-time feedback for the brush's tilt angle, barrel rotation (requires Wacom 6D Art Pen), and the amount of pressure being placed on the brush tip. By default, the Bristle Brush Preview shows a grayscale brush, but if you press and hold the Shift key and click the overlay, a rendered 3D preview appears (Figure 85b).

Figure 85b

Figure 85b You can preview the Bristle Tips as you move the stylus, as a means of getting used to the tool and providing some visual feedback.


The best way become familiar with each Bristle Tip and setting is to turn on the Bristle Brush Preview and try them out on a few throwaway photos. Notice what happens as you change directions mid-stroke, tilt the stylus, and rotate it in different ways.