Anything Photoshop or Photography


Painted historic image of Eel Fisher's Hut on the Bore using PS Mixer BrushesUPDATE: As of Photoshop CC2018, the information in this blog is now out-dated. Check out my newer blog to see what has changed at What Is New in the Photoshop Brushes Panel and Using the Smoothing Slider blog. For all versions older than CC2018, this blog is still relevant.

This week, as promised, I am going to try to untangle the mystery of the Tool Presets and why they are a much better way to save your favorite Photoshop brushes, and also other favorite Tool settings. This is especially important if you are actually using the brushes for digital painting. The above was digitally painted from an old photo taken between 1890 and 1900 called “Eel Fisher’s Hut on the Bore” from Wikimedia. I wish to thank Sarah Vernon for the link to this beautiful image. (Check out her blog at First Night Design for a different creative version of this image – her blog is one of my favorites and she shares lots of her Photoshop secrets.) For more details about this image, go to bottom of blog.


When I first started using Photoshop, it was hard enough for me to understand the difference between all the Brush panels and I did not even know there was a Tool Preset Panel. The Tool Preset Panel is a more advanced method of saving your brushes so that all the settings, including those in the Options Bar, are saved with the newly created brushes. The Tool Preset Panel is not just useful for saving your brushes and keeping them organized, it can save a lot of time, especially when painting. I have always loved Corel Painter because they allow you to create panels with just a few brushes being used in an image. Using the Tool Preset Panel correctly can allow you to do something similar in Photoshop – just a couple more steps. See “Painters – Create Individual Tool Sets with Only Needed Brushes for Painting” section below on how to do this.

Last week I talked about all the different options on where to find loaded brushes and and how to save ones where changes were made (see How To Save Your Favorite or Newly Created Brushes) – they save with an .abr extension on their set files. Tool presets have a .tpl extension on their set files. To find your Tool Presets – look at the first icon on the far left of the Options Bar and click on the little down arrow as shown below. Since the Current Tool Only box is checked, only the Mixer Brush Tool Presets are shown. That was the Tool I had selected in the vertical Toolbox located on the left. If I had the Burn Tool selected, only the Burn Tool Presets would be shown. All the default Photoshop Tool Presets appear as shown in the 2nd screenshot if Current Tool Only is not checked.

Info Sheet on Tool Presets Panel

Screenshot of PS Default Tools


When saving as a Tool Preset, there are only two ways to do this as shown in the top screenshot where the red arrows point to the two places to open up the New Tool Preset dialog. I am saving the same brush from last week.  (It is being saved as a Mixer Brush since the Mixer Brush Tool was selected first. More on this in a bit.)  If this is a really important brush or set of brushes, I would suggest saving just that one (or several favorites) down as a set in the Preset Manager. See section below in the “Tools Preset Manager” and the last paragraph on how to do this.


To change the Tools showing in the list, go to the panel pop-out. Several choices are located here on changing brushes. Photoshop has given you a list of Brush Tool Presets that can be loaded from the pop-out menu shown in the red square above. Select one of these groups or if you want to go back to the default settings, a warning dialog will open saying “Replace current tool presets with the tool presets from Airbrushes” for example; choose Replace Tool Presets and the dialog asks “Replace current tool presets with the default presets?”  If in both cases OK is selected, any Preset Tools you created will be over-written with the default presets shown above; if Append is selected, the Airbrush or default presets will be added to the bottom of the ones already in your Preset Panel. If you choose Reset Tool or Reset All Tools, a warning dialog appears saying “Reset tool (or all tools) to the default settings? No choice to append, just yes or no. Need to be careful with this one. The best choice is to select “Save Changes to the current tool presets before replacing them?” If you say yes, the explorer will let you save all of the Tool Presets listed with the .tpl extension. Then this old tool presets list can be reloaded later if needed (because you forgot to save a brush for example).


I had not paid much attention to this as I thought they were all the same. No they are not! The Tool Preset brushes now seem like a hidden gem to me since I was not even aware of them until recently. The categories do not overlap except with the two following similarly named sets. The PS DP Brushes (special effect brushes) contain only 6 Regular brushes while the Tool Preset DP Presets set contains 9 different Regular brushes and 3 Smudge brushes. In some cases Tool Presets are used to save the Options Bar settings but not always. See the example comparing Dry Media brushes below.

Table comparing Brush Dry Media brushes and Tool Preset Dry Media brushes

As you can see from the Tool Presets Panel image, the Tool Presets have categories also covering the Text and the Clone Tools so check these categories all out. These categories can also be loaded from the Tools Preset Manager as shown below.


Below is the the Tool Preset Manager – open it by going to the pop-out in the Tools Preset Panel and selecting Preset Manager. See Tools Preset Panel image above. Below is what you will see – all the loaded Tool Presets are listed – all of them, not just the brushes. This is a great place to organize them and delete duplicates (highlight all (CTRL+click to choose several brushes) to be deleted and click the Delete button). To remove all brushes, highlight one and then CTRL+A which selects all – press Delete button. By right clicking on a brush, you get a choice to Delete it or Rename it. Can just drag on a brush(es) to reorganize the list, which is how they will show up in the Tool Preset Panel.

Preset Manager Set to Tools ImageI find it strange that the Sort by Tool is not a choice in the Preset Manager pop-out menu – can only do that in the Tool Preset Panel pop-out.  But the Preset Manager is the only place where you decide the way the tools are displayed in the Preset Manager and the Tool Preset Panel – as Text Only, Small List or Large List, the one I like. It will show a tiny icon representing the type of tool the preset is.

It is important to save your Tool Presets as you add new favorite ones. As noted above, I try to save my favorite brushes and also back up all the Tool Presets  frequently- just CTRL+A, then Save Set so if you lose them (and PS has crashed on me several times – in fact today while trying to save a set it froze up and I had to try to reconstruct several), they can be reinstalled. For me once a month is good since I create a lot of brushes.


You can use almost any of your regular brushes as a Mixer, or for that matter a Smudge, or Burn, or Clone Stamp, etc. Just select the Tool in the vertical Toolbox, then choose a brush in the Brush Preset Picker. For my SJ Heart Leaf Brush, the Mixer Brush Tool was chosen first, then my heart brush in the Brush Preset Panel was selected.  Make any tweaks, especially in the Options Bar, and save down by clicking the icon at the bottom of the Tool Preset Panel to save all the settings.


I have been experimenting with this for a while and it seems like it is working well. Since Painter has those great panels to use, it is a shame PS does not allow you to create them. I created some great extension Panels using the Adobe Configurator that contains some of my painting brushes and PS commands using several different actions that emulates what can be done in Painter.  Unfortunately when PS disposed of Flash in PS CC2014, these panels were no longer working. (Since these panels still work in CS6, that one reason why I use it to do a lot of my painting – see my How to Create Your Own Panel for Photoshop blog.) Your favorite brushes must now be saved as Tool Preset files to be useful while painting. Some artists keep their list of tools very lean with only a few brushes, but I tend to want more than just a couple. Here is an example of what My Bird Painting Favorite Tool Presets set looks like in the Preset Manager. Note that my list also shows a couple Eraser Brushes and a Smudge Brush. Dodge and Burn Brushes can be added along with Clone Stamp Brushes and Healing Brushes – very handy indeed! These are not all brushes I would use on a regular basis, but when painting my animal and bird images, it saves a lot of time to have them all together. I also have saved Tool sets that contain favorite Erasers, Smudge Brushes, and my Signature Brushes (I always add them in the sets). I have folders on my computer that contains these special category Tool sets – a Favorite Smudge Tool file, Eraser Tool file, sets of just my brushes, beside ones for Landscape painting, Watercolor painting, and Portrait painting. And don’t forget that monthly back up file using a date so you know in the file name. You can still add in brushes you need and they will be available until you delete the Tool Presets you have loaded. Obviously I do not use all these brushes on my bird pix, but they are used on and off. Some of these brushes are used for the backgrounds in the bird pix.

Image of My Bird Favorite Tools Set


  • In pop-out menu as shown in Tool Preset Panel image, select Sort By Tool and all the different presets will set up so alphabetically and by type – if you have a lot of presets listed. This can be a quick way to organize them and remove any duplicate tools.
  • By opening the Preset Manager from the icon at bottom of the Brush Panel and the Brush Picker Panel, the Preset Type can be quickly changed from Brushes to Tools or use the Tool Shortcut keys CTRL+8 instead of using the pop-out menus.
  • Look in the Brush Panel and in the Brush Tip Shape section there is a window showing all the loaded brush tips. There are times when you will see some brush strokes that are not listed in the Brush Presets Panel – that is because the brushes loaded as Tool Presets are also shown there. Therefore there may be lots of brush strokes listed that you do not recognize.
  • By keeping the Current Tool Only turned off, you can quickly switch between Tools by just clicking on the needed Tool Preset. The Tool does not have to be selected in the vertical Toolbox or with a shortcut key.

I know this is another long blog, but it is an important subject. I hope I explained why the Tool Presets are a wonderful way to save your brushes (and Tools) exactly as you use them and how to do this. For us Digital Painters, it is also a very good time-saver to keep your favorite brushes in one place for painting. Since the Options Bar settings are saved, several iterations of the same brush can be saved for switching between similar brushes without changing the settings each time you need it. I started using the Tool Presets several years ago and it is the only way I save my brushes. I find the Preset Manager set to Preset Type Brushes is too limiting. Hope you have a good weekend!…..Digital Lady Syd

Painting Details:  This image was painted using Photoshop’s Mixer Brush Cloning Paint Setup action, one that comes in their Default set of actions. To be honest I would not have had a clue as to how to use this action correctly without Lori Jill’s tutorial called Turn Photographs into Digital Paintings Using Photoshop on Udemy (they often have great sales so watch for one if you are interested in this technique.) I believe even though the tutorial was made a while ago, it is one of the best I have seen on doing some basic painting in Photoshop. The action was created by John Derry – with CS6, the Tool Preset sets mentioned above (Airbrushes, Artists Brushes, Dry Media and Pencils Mixer Brushes) are all his brushes.  Several clean up layers were used after doing all the painting action steps. Two textures were added to the image – Melissa Gallo’s Mist on the Lake set to Overlay blend mode at 47% layer opacity and Color Bokeh Grunge Set texture 1 from 2 Lil’ Owls (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) set to Color Burn blend mode at 59% layer opacity. Last step involved using Nik Viveza 2 to drive the eye to the focal point. I am enjoying this technique very much. See my short Tidbits Blog called An Old Victorian House for another example.

12 responses

  1. Pingback: HOW TO SAVE YOUR FAVORITE OR NEWLY CREATED BRUSHES | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  2. Bless you for the shout out, Syd!

    02/21/2016 at 4:45 am

    • Sarah – I can’t say how much I appreciate your site and work! Thanks for visiting my site!

      02/23/2016 at 8:28 am

  3. Syd, this is so helpful, and such a wonderful tutorial.
    Truly, I thank you.

    P.S. Love, love, love this image.

    02/21/2016 at 8:58 pm

    • Thanks Lisa – Thanks for the nice comment. I hope everyone can use this info as a quick resource when they need to remember what to do with there brushes.

      02/23/2016 at 8:30 am

  4. Great tips. Organizing brushes is such a headache 🙂 I always think that I will remember some particular brush, but I never do. Thank you so much for sharing!

    02/23/2016 at 3:37 pm

  5. Pingback: HOW TO SAVE YOUR FONTS AS TOOL PRESETS | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  6. Pingback: CATCHING UP ON MY FLOWER PAINTING SKILLS | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  7. Pingback: A LITTLE BRUSH FUN! | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  8. Pingback: A FEW BRUSH TIPS IN PHOTOSHOP | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  9. Pingback: HOW TO CREATE MY FAVORITE BRUSH | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.