Anything Photoshop or Photography


Image of an Amur Leopard at the Jacksonville Zoo
There is something about the Smudge Tool that creates a love-hate relationship for me. Sometimes I use it all the time and sometimes I wonder why would I use it with the fabulous Mixer Tools available. This week it was used on the two images to bring out the fur details. So what is going on with the selected Smudge Tool – it helps to look at the settings to know how to use it correctly. It has been very “eye opening” to me!

Basic Smudge Tool Characteristics

A lot of PS writers feel that the Smudge Tool only smears the paint around creating an awful effect or gives an unnatural flatness when used. I guess that is why I have never used it a lot – but I am finding with the right brush tip, it is very useful. My favorite Leopard from the Jacksonville Zoo had just the right amount of hair to see what I could do to get some furry edges on his body. I will go into the brushes used on him below. First, here is what I have learned about the Smudge Tool itself.

Thanks once again to the old gold standard PS book called The Photoshop Wow Book for CS3 and CS4 by Linnea Dayton and Cristen Gillespie (this is still one of the best references every written on PS) for the tips below.

  • If Finger Painting is turned on in the Options Bar – the smear will start by using the Foreground Color when first stroked
  • If Finger Painting is turned off – each stroke starts by sampling the color under the cursor
  • If the brush tip is big enough to pick up more than one color, the Smudge Tool applies streaks from each color
  • The higher the Strength setting in the Options Bar, the farther the Smudge Tool will smear each new color it encounters
  • At 100% Strength – it applies only the first color(s) it samples (and makes longer strokes)
  • At a lower Strength the first color fades out and new ones under the cursor are picked up and smeared as the cursor goes over them
  • Keep your strokes short to sample color frequently (which happens automatically if the Strength is low)

Tips from John Paul Caponigro (one of the best PS gurus ever) from his older Adobe Photoshop Masterclass book with a bit more info on the Smudge Tool:

  • Pull the brush through a line and both sides of it will be distorted
  • Place brush in center of a line and pull the brush out – will distort one side of a line more than the other
  • Wiggle brush down the line and it becomes wavy
  • Twirl brush stroke in circles and get a Twirl Filter effect
  • Long strokes create more distortion than short strokes
  • Stroking an area multiple times creates more distortion than a single stroke.

That is probably the best I can do on this info without exploring some of the great digital painters that only do Smudge Tool  painting.

Some of my observations:

  • If you do not see any change in your image after making a stroke, make sure Sample All Layers is on. Many free Smudge Tools brushes do not have this box checked including the Adobe Smudge Tool brushes provided by Kyle Webster.
  • Lots of the brushes have the Strength at less than 100% – I see that Aaron Blaise (the great Disney drawer) likes to use 79% for his Smudge brushes. So adjust this amount to see what really works with the image you are painting.
  • Currently some professionals will use the Mixer brushes to add in color when painting, but use the Smudge Brush to do the blending instead of the Mixer Blender brushes. Might want to try this when working on your images. See last section for how I did this.

Blending Technique

For the Leopard image the Smudge Brush was chosen first and then a a soft Round brush (set to 4 pixels, 25% Spacing and Scattering at 181%, set in Options Bar the Strength to 15%) was selected in the Brush Panel – changed the settings in the Brush Settings Panel.  Paint over the sharp edges of a line with very short strokes and a very soft edge will be created showing the blended colors. Painting on a New Layer with the Sample All Layers on will create nice blended edges into a background. May need to increase the Strength a little if it is not showing up well due to a higher resolution image. You will notice it can also give a nice painterly effect. By looking at the tips above, “at a lower Strength the first color fades out and new ones are picked and smeared” applies and keeping the strokes small adds this detail.

How to Make a Smudge Tool Brush

For the White Crowned Hornbill Bird image taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm below, Kyle’s Real Oil Sargent2 Smudge Tool was used to paint over the bodies and at a small size to do their eyes but larger size for the larger feather areas. At 10 pixels I was able to get a pretty nice fine line for the beaks. Definitely have to experiment with this to get the strokes needed. I tried to find this Smudge Brush in all of Kyle’s brushes for PS but could not find it (it was from an older set by Kyle). But I was able to recreate the brush and thought you might like to try this.

  1. In the Megapak, go to the Real Oils folder and highlight the Sargent Fat 2017 regular brush (see next section on how to download these brushes). Create a New Brush by clicking on the plus sign at the bottom of the Brushes (or Brush Settings) Panel for New Brush dialog – but do not check Include Tool Settings – Say OK.
  2. Now select the Smudge Tool in the Toolbar and highlight the new brush.
  3. In the Brush Panel Settings, add these settings: Brush Tip Shape: Size 50 pixels, Angle 0 degrees, and Spacing 10%; Shape Dynamics: Size Jitter Control: Pen Pressure and Angle Jitter 100%; Scattering: Check Both Axes, Scattering 219%, Count Jitter 100% and Control Pen Pressure; and check Smoothing.
  4. On the Options Bar, set the Strength to 58% and Sample All Layer checked.
  5. Now go back and press the Plus icon at the bottom of the Brushes Settings Panel and check Include Tool Settings and name it. Say OK and you now have a Smudge Tool from a Regular Brush.

This brush looks and acts very similar to Kyles Real Oil Sargent2 Smudge Tool used in the bird picture. You can follow these same steps to create a Smudge Tool using any regular brushes and Mixers. It is a lot of fun to find some new tip shapes for these.

I always Export the new brushes for ones I am using at regular intervals so that I can reuse them later if I accidentally delete one. Highlight your brushes and go to the flyout on top right of the Brush Settings Panel and select Export Selected Brushes – name the set and save.

Image of two hornbill birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Adding Soft Fur Edges for Animal Subjects Technique

On the Leopard image, a Smudge Tool from Aaron Blaise was used to create some very subtle fur edges. Normally I would not mention the brush, but right now he has all his brush sets on sale for a $1.00 and that includes his Foliage Brush set that contains 58 brushes and are really fun in their own right. He likes to use one of his foliage brushes converted to a Smudge Tool for his animal drawings so that is what I used. Since his brushes are designated to be used with any tool, just select the Smudge Tool and then find Sampled Brush 48 3 in the Brush Panel. In the Brush Settings Panel, these are the settings I used to get some really nice smudge hairs: Brush Tip Shape: Size 90 pixels (but for the leopard used 45 pixels), Angle 90 degrees, and Spacing 48%; Shape Dynamics: Size Jitter 37% with Control: Pen Pressure, Angle 3% and Control: Direction, and check Flip X Jitter; Scattering: Scatter – Check Both Axes and set to 89%; Count 1, and Count Jitter 72%; and Smoothing on. In the Options Bar set the Strength to 98%, Angle 90 degrees (same as in Brush Tip Shape brush section), and check Sample All Layers. (Aaron originally had the Size set to 60 px, the Strength to 45% – it did not work well for me with these settings but you can try them and see if they are better for you.)

The bird image used the above brush and a slightly different type of brush to create the fur strokes. Just need to create a brush using several tiny black dots (approximately 15 or so) in a rough circle (similar to what is used to add hair to people). Once you create this simple brush by going to Edit -> Define Brush Preset, select the Smudge Tool and then select the new brush at the bottom of the Brush Panel. Just set a pixel size of 70 and a Spacing of 10% and it creates a great Fur Brush – I used a Strength of 79% and checked Sample All Layers. Very simple but great little Smudge Tool.

This same brush can be used to create very small soft hair edges as shown on their heads and chest areas. Also, a regular soft round brush was selected and the feather color was sampled to add in some detail onto the big bird’s chest – used the Aaron Blaise brush to make it look like feathers and reduced the layer opacity to 51% so it all blended in nicely. White was added to the top hairs and the same brush was used to blend it back in. It gave a very realistic effect to the feathers. By experimenting, these brushes can paint really nice strokes.

How to Download and Save the Smudge Tool Brushes from Adobe

  • Kyle Webster has lots of brushes available in his Megapack (to load them, the Brushes Panel must be open by clicking in the Options Bar the 4th icon, which shows a folder with a brush on it (or by just pressing F5), and clicking the upper right flyout icon – select Find More Brushes. Must be signed into your Adobe account to download them. To load them, double click on the .abr file name and the folder will appear at the bottom of the brush folders. Here is a Megapack PDF link that shows all the brushes in the set – look on page 7 for the Smudge Tool brushes which are located in several of the different sections.
  • I like to keep my Smudge Tools saved as Tool Presets so I can find them quickly. I do not save my regular brushes as Tool Presets anymore, but I for my Erasers and Smudge Tools since only a few are used. To save as a Tool Preset, just open the Smudge brush from the Brushes Panel and press the Options Bar 2nd icon drop down (which is a tiny arrow) – select the plus icon on right that says Create a New Preset from this Brush. Next time you select the Smudge Tool, press the Tool Preset icon and it will be in the list of those loaded.

For more info, check out How to Use the Smudge Tool blog from a while back which also included my Tidbits blog called Which Tool to Use – the Smudge Tool or the Mixer Brush Tool? What I had discovered was “It seemed it was easier to blend colors with the Mixer Brush and then smooth edges and shape color using the Smudge Tool.”

Guess this blog got a little wordy, but there is a lot going on with these Smudge Tool brushes and it easy to use and create them. Hope everyone understands them a little more – I know I do. Not sure I will paint with just the Smudge Tool brushes since I really like the Mixers, but I am finding them a lot more useful than I thought I would. Have a great week!….. Digital Lady Syd

7 responses

  1. Ann Mackay

    The leopard photograph is strikingly beautiful. I love the lighting and the drama it gives to the image. I had no idea that there was so much to the smudge tool – could come in very useful. 🙂

    08/16/2020 at 6:09 pm

    • This Leopard is a favorite of mine at the Zoo. Totally photogenic. The Smudge Tool does a pretty subtle edge look which helps when selecting an animal from its busy background. Thanks Ann!

      08/16/2020 at 8:25 pm

      • Ann Mackay

        And it could be equally useful when selecting a flower from a background… 🙂

        08/17/2020 at 12:09 pm

  2. Beautiful result. These birds are gorgeous.

    08/26/2020 at 3:52 pm

    • Thanks Inese. Wish I could get to Ireland and take some of the beautiful bird images you capture. We seem to be seeing fewer natural habitat birds in our neighborhood due to all the building going on. It is so sad.

      08/26/2020 at 4:05 pm

      • Oh Syd, the same here. Some species are seldom seen. But we have plenty of herons 🙂

        08/26/2020 at 7:03 pm

  3. Pingback: WORKING ON DIGITAL PAINTING IN PHOTOSHOP | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

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