Okay, so you’ve seen some amazing work online and wondered where the artist got all those astounding background effects or how they did that cool layered effect. Well, as surprising as it may sound, some of those effects were done using a very common Photoshop preset: Brushes.

You may be asking yourself, don’t I already have brushes installed with my Photoshop CS3 (or CS2) software? Well, yes, you do. But those are the basics. There are a ton of awesome people out there in internet land who are making additional brushes (and other plugins) for you to use with your software. These plugins are very easy to download and install. I will try to give you a short rundown of what to expect when installing these brushes. For more information as to how to use them or for more detailed installation information or installation for a MAC OS, please consult the very wonderful Photoshopsupport.com, a very neat index of everything Photoshop!

(Please note: The following instructions are very, very simplistic because I wanted even the novice Photoshop user to be able to use these tools. I know there are a bunch of different ways to do these things (even some that are easier), but I wanted to put it in basic terms without all the fancy language and extra steps because I remember how it was when I first started teaching myself to use the Adobe programs. Plus, this is not intended to be a full fledged tutorial.)

The first step is to download some really cool brushes from an online provider. Some brush sets you will have to pay for, others are free with some restrictions, and others are completely free. Make sure you read the website’s policy before you use them. You can view my Photoshop CS3 (and CS2) Brushes journal entry to visit the websites where I have downloaded most of my brushes from. Most of them have free areas or are completely free and all you have to do is link back to them.

Once you have chosen the brush set to download, simply download it to your computer. Because the files are normally saved in a Zip file, I start off by downloading the file to my Desktop first and then moving them over after (this is to avoid confusion). However, if you feel comfortable unzipping them right into the proper file, then by all means go-ahead-with-your-bad-self!

After you have downloaded the Zip file to your Desktop, you will need a program (such as WinRAR, which is what I use) to unzip the file.

At this point, you may be asking where you unzip the file to? Well, inside the Zip file may be a read me (.txt) file and other junk (which may be of interest to you) and there should also be a brush (.abr) file, which is the one you want to unzip. You can unzip the brush file onto your Desktop and then move it over manually, or you can unzip it to the Photoshop directory itself. Regardless of which method yo use, your ultimate goal is to get that .abr brush file into a specific folder in your Photoshop program’s file. For brushes, the file you will want to place your .abr brush files into is the “Brush” file within the “Presets” file. So, how do you get there?

  1. Open your My Computer and find the drive which has the folder “Program FIles”.
  2. Now, open “Program Files” and then find the folder labeled “Adobe”.
  3. Next, open the “Adobe” folder and you will see ALL of the Adobe programs, which are installed on your system. Locate the “Adobe Photoshop CS3” (or CS2) folder and open it.
  4. Find the “Presets” folder and open it.
  5. Finally, you will see a folder called “Brushes”. Open it.
  6. You can now see ALL of the brushes that are installed to use with your Photoshop program. This “Brushes” folder is where you want to place all of your downloaded .abr brush files.

So, the quick breakdown to find the “Brushes” folder is:

Program Files >>> Adobe >>> Adobe Photoshop CS3 (or CS2) >>> Presets >>> Brushes

Once you have unzipped the files or drag-and-dropped them into this file folder, you can close the folders. You will also need to re-start your Photoshop program in order for the brushes to be finalized and installed and ready for use (sometimes, you have to re-start your computer as well).

After you have re-booted your software, open a blank file and click on the “Brush Tool” or simply press its keyboard shortcut ( B ) to activate it. Now, right click anywhere on the page and your brush palette should appear (this is where you control the brush size/hardness, etc.) and in the upper right hand corner you should see a little black triangle with a circle around it. Click on that little triangle/circle icon and…. whaaaaa-la! Your newly installed brushes are there just waiting for you to experiment with them! All you have to do is click on a preset and it will ask you if you would like to load those brushes. Click “Ok” and they will appear in your brush palette waiting to be used and abused! So, go have fun with your new brushes and get creative!

The last step, of course, is to add your comments below! Add your brush tips (pun intended) below so that we can all learn from each other!


Note: This update originally appeared in the BCD Red Bubble Journal.