Anything Photoshop or Photography

Posts tagged “Mixer Brushes


Painted historic image of Eel Fisher's Hut on the Bore using PS Mixer BrushesThis 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.


Image of a Blue Heron in her nest with eggThought I would just do a quick post while taking some blogging time off. Don’t forget to check in on my short Tidbits Blog though. This beautiful Heron was very busy organizing her nest at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery.This is another image I painted in Photoshop using a couple Blender Mixer Brushes, meaning no color was added – just blending and smoothing the color that was already there.

This Calvin Hollywood eye technique is one I use all the time. The bird’s eye was sharpened by selecting the eye in Quick Mode (press Q – be sure Color Indicated is set to Selected Areas and press Q again to exit Quick Mode) although any selection tool works fine, and then opening up the Exposure Adjustment Layer. Now just the eye is showing as white in a black layer – if this is backwards, just CTRL+I in mask to invert. Set the Exposure to the right a little (which lightens the exposure of the eye) and then adjust the Offset (sliding to left darkens shadow areas) and sometimes the Gamma Correction (affects the midtones of area) – watch for any milky or color shifts with the Offset slider which means you have gone too far. Go back to the Exposure slider for final adjustment. For example, my settings were Exposure +2.06, Offset -0.0100, and Gamma Correction +1.04, which means the eye was brightened by 2 exposure stops and midtones evened out a little. To further enhance the brightness of the eye, add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. Copy the Layer Mask from the Exposure Adjustment Layer by ALT+clicking on mask and dragging up – it will ask if you want to replace the mask – say yes. Adjust the Saturation slider and change the whole Hue/Sat Adjustment Layer to Luminosity blend mode so only brightness is changed in the eye.

Very little else was done to this image. Used a Curves Adjustment Layers to make a slight Vignette around the bird and to adjust the blue color in the image, and a Levels Adjustment Layer to open up the midtones a little. This is too much fun!…..Digital Lady Syd



Painted image of an underwater sceneThis week I got totally into being creative with some new Photoshop brushes recently purchased. By trying out a unique Mixer Brush technique, I ended up with this Underwater Party Scene and learning how to create a Color Palette to use for sampling with the Mixer Brush Tool. I will now try to share what I have learned.

Started this image with an 8″ X 8″ at 240 ppi new document. Initially I was just practicing a technique learned from a short You Tube video called Cool Mixer Brush Techniques for Photoshop Painting by Deviant Rahll. After taking a few notes I started playing with my new brushes and their settings, and ended up getting some pretty nice strokes from the Mixer Brush Tool. This technique created the nice background layers  needed to add my objects onto.

Regular Brush Tool Layer and Mixer Brush Tool Layer

So what is the technique? The concept was to lay down some colored strokes on a layer and then sample parts of it to paint on a New Layer above using the Mixer Brush. The colors and patterns in the sampled layer below will be reproduced in the Mixer Brush strokes above. This is different from just sampling a solid color – by sampling blended colors and/or several colors at once, it creates a bit of a clone effect within the Mixer Brush and gives a very different result.

You can see this effect in the side-by-side layers below. They were placed on a blue background so you can see that the layers are transparent except for where the paint strokes are applied. The left layer shows the strokes that were just painted down using the Regular Brush Tool with several different Regular brushes using different sizes and colors. Next, by switching to the Mixer Brush Tool and sampling (ALT+click) in the painted stroke of this layer, and then adding a New Layer above and painting, some very interesting color variations within each brush stroke occur. Each time you lift your pen or mouse, the same color pattern repeats in the next mixer stroke until you sample again in the bottom regular strokes layer. As you can see, the weed Mixer brush strokes on the right side layer picked up the colors from the left side Regular brush stroke layer. By selecting a very different brush, in this case a weed brush from Aaron Blaise, to use as a Mixer Brush was used for painting, the beautiful and color effect can be achieved in your strokes. In this case, several different areas on the left were sampled to get different color combinations in the weed brush.

Layers as they looked using the Mixer Brush

Steps to do this:

1. Paint on a New Layer with the Regular Brush (or you could use a Mixer Brush or Smudge Tool) something with the colors and blends you want to use – it already looks like a painter’s color palette once you do this

2. Then switch to the Mixer Brush Tool.

3. Create a New Layer above. In the Options Bar use these settings:

a) Turn on the icons for Load Paint After Every Stroke and Clean the Brush After Every Stroke

b) Set the Drop Down to Dry, Light Load. If any Wet is used, you get much more of a blender brush effect and either little or no color being added.

c) Set Flow to 100% to start. This is a sticky field so no matter what Brush or Tool Preset is chosen, this amount will stay the same. With some brushes if it gets too low, no strokes will show up. Do adjust the Flow some if you want a little lighter opacity to the stroke.

d) Check Sample All Layers to turn on.

4.  Go to the Brush Picker and select a brush to use as your Mixer Brush and paint on the new layer. Note that each time you lift your brush, the color and design pattern starts over until you sample in a different area. Since Sample All Layers is on, you do not need to highlight the regular layer when sampling. If turned off (because the Mixer brush is slowing down your computer), then you must switch to the regular layer to sample.

You do not have to keep the Regular Brush layer after you have used it for sampling, if it is not needed for the image – in fact you can be sampling from another document as in Example 3 below. In my image above, the Regular Brush layer was used to form the bottom of the ocean. Select a Mixer Brush – it can be any of your Regular or Mixer Brushes that are listed in the Brush Presets Panel or Mixer Tool Preset.

Example 2 below shows the same thing as Example 1 above, but this time you are seeing the two layers stacked as it would appear in Photoshop:
Another Example of the Mixer Brush useThe two layers are the original watercolors painted on the first layer (the strokes shown in lower left behind the smaller fish), and then on the next layer the fish and a shoreline were all painted in as Mixer Brushes using sampled colors from the Regular Brush layer below. It can create some really nice effects. You can see how the fish picked up the different colors in the areas sampled.

This is a pretty cool technique. I think it will be useful to me from a creative aspect. Definitely need to experiment with different types of brushes in both layers, and change their settings in the Brush Panel, to see some new results. If you watch the video linked above, you will get a better idea of this. These are the brushes were in the top image and examples: Grut NM Brash Mass brush (this was a free download-each week he offers different ones) and Aaron Blaise’s Foliage SB46-4 (size 502) was used to create the left layer in Example 1. They were selected to get some interesting edges to use for sampling. In Example 2 the watercolor area used for sampling was created with Kyle’s Real Watercolor-Big Rough Wash Small Grain, Soft Irregular Wash 150, and Soft Edge Brush were used. Mindful Pixels Watercolor Fancy Fish set was used (the fish were from a free download from years ago, but I could not find a recent link – they would not be hard to create), and for the shoreline Aaron Blaise Wet Media brush SB47-19 was used (liked how the green showed up in the upper part of the stroke). All brushes are very inexpensive but wonderful Photoshop brushes. A set of free brushes from Brusheezy called Fishing created by Hawkmont is where the hook and several of the creature strokes were found – there are some really nice free brushes for watercolor textures and all kinds of things at this site.

Remember that using a Mixer Brush at a large size can really slow down your system! I usually try to stay under 45 pixels, but try larger if you are just using it on a few strokes. If you must, try unchecking Sample All Layers to paint – that means you must highlight the layer with your sampling colors on it and then highlight the Mixer Layer to paint with the colors. As a last resort, try resizing your document in half – this will really speed up the Mixer Brush.

If you want to use a Regular or Mixer Brush located in the Tool Presets area and it is not in your list of brushes in the Brush Preset Panel, you will need to save it as a brush by clicking the Create New Brush icon at bottom of the Brush Panel or Brush Preset Panel. The brush will be listed at the bottom of your brush list. For example, I had to do this with the  Grut NM Brash Mass brush and Kyle’s Watercolor Brushes as both are downloaded as Tool Presets for the Regular Brush Tool. Since you need to paint with the Mixer Brush Tool to pick up the color and patterns, the Tool Preset Regular Brushes need to be saved as brushes in the Brush Preset so they can be converted to a Mixer Tool.

How the Rest of the Image was Put Together

Once I had the two layers above in place, the rest was easy. Kyle’s Big Rough Wash Small Grain watercolor brush was used in a light beige-orange color on a layer just above the Background to add some painter effect behind the stroke layers. This is a really wonderful set of inexpensive watercolor brushes that I have been having a lot of fun using in different way. On several different layer Mindful Pixels Fish brushes were used – in fact all 5 of the watercolor brushes provided in this set are in this image. To get the texture in the objects and plants, different settings in the Photoshop Layer Styles were applied. Even the bubbles has a little bevel and emboss on them. To get the pretty texture in the fish, the Pattern Overlay effect was used in its Layer Style of each fisher layer and watercolor patterns from Design Cuts were used. (If you have a watercolor texture that you like, open it up in Photoshop and go to Edit -> Define Pattern – it will show up at the bottom of your patterns list and can be used in the Pattern Overlay or the Bevel & Emboss Texture section in the Layer Style. Try the different blend modes and change the Scale for different effects. You can drag the pattern around to fit the layer if it is larger than the object to get fine tune the texture location. (I will blog on how to use Layer Styles very soon.)

Mixer Brush Color Palette

Screenshot of Color Palette for Mixer Brushes

Here is an example of a Color Palette I created by just using a Watercolor Brush and painting color at 100% brush opacity and 50% brush opacity and then using some color variations on top. The file was saved as a PNG document and it can be used over for use on other images. These are not pure colors, just some that resemble the basic colors. A small heart brush was created with these settings in the Brush Panel: Brush Tip Shape -Size 200 pixels and Spacing 25%: Shape Dynamics Size Jitter 93% with Control set to Pen Pressure and Angle Jitter 12%; Scattering Scatter Both Axes at 1000%, Control Pen Tilt, and Count; Color Dynamics check Apply Per Tip, Foreground/Background Jitter 8%, Hue Jitter 7%, Saturation 2%, Brightness Jitter 7%, and Purity -36%; and Transfer Opacity Jitter 20% and Flower Jitter 32%. Select this brush as a Mixer Brush using the default Dry, Heavy Load – you can see the Options Bar in the image. By going to Windows -> Tile Vertically, it is easy to go between the Color Palette file and sample the colors by ALT+clicking and going to the Heart file and painting on a layer above the the Background layer. You can see very clearly that the colors stay in the same portion of the heart strokes, even though the strokes vary in size and rotation. Pretty cool effect!

I hope you get a chance to try out this technique. It is really not that hard to do once you try it. I can see all kinds of creative possibilities – I think sampling from your favorite images to use as the Regular Brush layer might be a good way to experiment with this technique. Will be back soon!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How To Paint An Image Using Regular and Mixer Brushes in Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes
What Does the Flow Slider in the Options Bar Do?

How to Get That Creative Painterly Look

This week I decided to give a few examples of how I am getting the beautiful painterly look on images. This is the part of Photoshop I love the most – the creative part. And this is where I can take advantage of some wonderful plug-ins and textures that are now available.

I did not start out creating this fantasy painterly looking image, but I like it more the more I look at it. This image used just a basic cloud texture and Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Simplify 4 to get this dreamy effect. The image uses 5-shots taken along the road to Flagler Beach, Florida. I have always loved this house – it just looks like a Florida beach house to me. The HDR tone-mapped image was created using Photomatix Merge to 32-bit HDR in Lightroom and the resulting Tiff file was then processed. Once opened in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was selected where the Lighten preset was first applied, and then the Overall Medium Detail II preset with the sky painted out to keep it smooth looking. Shadowhouse Creations beautiful free Puff Clouds texture was added in Normal blend mode at 100% opacity. I added a layer mask and painted out the clouds and started getting this really dreamy look by only removing the clouds from the house. Next Painted Textures 2 for Friday Seafoam texture was added and set to Overlay blend mode at 50% opacity. The last step involved creating a Composite layer of all the layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and applying Topaz Simplify 4 Painting V preset to it. On a New Layer above, a Mixer Brush was used to blend in the rough edges of the clouds and give an overall painterly look. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and the Blue Channel Curve was moved to get the color of blue in the image. That was it! Not real hard but definitely a very abstract artsy look. This was a lot of fun to create!

Tips for Getting the Painterly Look:

  • If you like to get a quick painterly feel, Topaz Simplify 4 cannot be beat! The nice thing is that once you apply the filter, even though it may look somewhat canned, you can always use Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes, layer masks, and various textures to make the image your own look – that is exactly what I did on the image above. Topaz Adjust also has several presets that can also give a very nice base painting look. See my blog Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Simplify 4 for more information on this blog.
  • I cannot say enough about using the right texture. Most of the sites I listed have either free or fairly inexpensive small sets to try out to see if you like what they do. Try different textures, and when you find a few you really like, put them together in a special file so you can get to them quickly when needed. (Click on Categories Textures for several links on this topic.) If you like what the color is doing to an image at a particular blend mode, leave it in place. With a layer mask you can paint in localized areas of texture.
  • Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes just cannot be beat for getting some really nice artistic results. They are great for hiding that very contrasty background, or for smoothing out edges, or blending colors that have too sharp a transition. The pink flowers below have the whole background smoothed to get rid of a very contrasty green garden behind them. On a separate layer, a larger sized Mixer Blending Brush was used to fill in the dark contrasty areas, then a smaller size was used to smooth edges. You can always erase areas where you make a mistake since the Mixer Brush strokes are on a separate layer. A couple things to remember when using the Mixer Brushes is that (1) in the Options Bar be sure you are set to Sample All Layers and turn off the layer eyeball if you do not want to pick up color from some of the layers; (2) the Blender Brush is probably the type to be used the most and should be set to a higher Wet field in the Options Bar to work easily – at least 20% and up to 100% give really nice results; and (3) the larger the brush, the longer it takes to lay down a stroke so keep it under 75 pixels if you can. Also take History Snapshots every now and then (or add a Padlock to your base image so you cannot paint on it) so if you get on the wrong layer, which is easy to do, you can go back to a previous step without losing all your previous painting. If you want to add color with a Mixer Brush, just click on the “Load the Brush After Each Stroke” icon (5th one over) in Options Bar. Make corrections with layer masks and apply them (right click and choose Apply Mask) as you go along. Create clone and paint on layers above and merge down (CTRL_E) – then use a Mixer Brush to blend. See my blog Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes for lots more info on how to use them.
  • There are a couple other ways to get a really nice painterly effect. The brilliant Russell Brown has developed two scripts panels to use  inside Photoshop that guides you along as you paint. The oldest is called the Adobe Painting Assistant which has different download links for CS6 and CS5 versions – just keep scrolling. The newest panel is the Adobe Watercolor Assistant Panel that can only be used with CS6.  These are all free downloads at this link. The Watercolor Painting Assistant takes some practice to get a really nice result, but it will give a beautiful result. See my blog Dr. Brown’s Painting Assistant Panel for CS6 and CS5! and Think Pink! Rally for the Cure Pink Rose for more information on the older and more user-friendly Painting Assistant Panel.
  • The last effect that has proven to be a real hit the last couple of years is the new Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6, although it can be added to CS5 by using the Pixel Bender Panel. See my blog Photoshop’s CS6 (and Pixel Bender’s) Oil Paint Filter for more information on how to use this filter. It is a lot of fun and easy to do!

To create this painterly effect, the pink Belarusian flowers were brought into Photoshop and cleaned up. A New Layer was created and Fay’s Signature Watercolor Smooth Blender Brush was used to smooth out the whole contrasty background.  I have looked at lots of painting tutorials and Fay Sirkis tutorials make the most sense to me. If you are a member of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals), and you should be if you love Photoshop – best value and site for Photoshop nuts, Fay has several great webinars on line there and you can download all her brushes. Here is a link to a great article on her unique technique where she shows how she made one of her Monet Blender brushes – if you want to give it a try – Fay Sirkis: Painting Magic, Adobe Photoshop CS5. Next Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper magicfilm3 texture, which is a black scratched up texture, set to Linear Dodge blend mode at 56% opacity was added – it gives just a touch of texture without losing all the strokes from the Mixer Brushes. The Sharpen Tool was applied to the center of the two main flowers to draw the eye and a Darken Layer was added and set to 56% to emphasize edges. (See my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog for more info on this.)
The painterly effect in the Flagler Fishing Pier image was created using a solarized preset and some soft painting with the Mixer Brush. Just had to get out and do a little shooting even though it was major chilly and windy at the beach. The original image was created from 5 images put together using Photomatix 32-bit Merge to HDR for Lightroom. Once in Photoshop I added two New Layers and added my Cloud Brushes SJ Clouds 1 brush (layer set to 60% opacity) and SJ Clouds 11 brush (layer set to 35% opacity) at 5000 pixels. A New Layer was added on top and filled with black, set to Soft Light, and the opacity set to 23% to increase the overall contrast of the image. (Check out Mark S. Johnson’s  Photography Site Photoshop Workbench 374: Creating Dramatic Lighting with Blend Modes on how to do this.) A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and Auto button pressed to get a nice contrasty image. Next Topaz (for website see sidebar) Adjust 5’s Solarized Dreams III preset was applied with Detail Strength set to 0.82 and Detail Boost set to 0. A New Layer was created and Fay Signature Watercolor Smooth Blend Mixer Brush was used to smooth out details in the foreground sand. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was used and the Blues Cyan was set to +17 and Yellow to +24 – the layer mask was converted to black (CTLR+I inside the mask to invert) and the sky was painted back with a soft white brush. Another Selective Color Adjustment Layer as added to make the sand look the right color in the foreground – Yellows Cyan was set to +100, Magenta -14, and Yellow +1, and Greens Magenta +19. Next French Kiss Artiste Fauve Rainbow texture was set to Hard Light blend mode at 28% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+click between the layers) and Saturation was set to -100 to remove the color from the texture but leave the canvas look. This is one of my favorite textures to give a real painted appearance to my images. A Levels Adjustment Layer was added and the center tab set to .85 to add just a little more contrast to the midtones. I really was surprised how painted this image turned out.
This image uses Topaz Simplify 4 again and textures to get the painterly look. I decided to show this image as it is a favorite technique of mine to use the power of good textures to give that painterly effect. The basic image was very nice with to begin with and probably would have been fine with just the Lightroom tweaks, but I thought it would make a beautiful painterly piece. Topaz DeNoise was run on this image since it had a 2000 ISO setting. On a duplicate layer Topaz Simplify 4 was applied using the Watercolor II preset – in the Localized Adjustments section, the pink and white flowers were lightly painted back to bring back some detail but leaving the background with a very soft look. Once back in Photoshop the detail was still not strong enough so the DeNoise layer was duplicated and placed on top of the Simplify layer. A black layer mask was added and the flowers were softly painted back using a white low opacity brush to add a bit more localized detail to the image. Two beautiful textures from Melissa Gallo at Painted Textures were added on top: 2 for Friday Set 2 Creamsicle at Hard Light blend mode at 74% opacity, and Cyber Monday Set 1 Winter Wheat set to Linear Light blend mode at 78% opacity. On the top texture a Layer Style was opened and on the Blending Options page, the B channel was turned off. One of my new favorite textures is by French Kiss – Studio 3 White Wash – it was added using the Overlay blend mode at 65%. All of these textures are really great for getting the painterly effect. Once all these textures are added, you really have to try different blend combinations and opacities. It is not at all unusual to have to add a layer mask and paint out areas that are not working right. In this image I added a layer mask to the white wash texture and painted out just a little bit around the edges of the flowers to get them to stand out a little. In fact I had actually added a different top texture and decided I did not like it and started looking for a different texture when I came up with the white wash texture. I had to back and add a Mixer Brush layer to get rid of some distractions in the original image once the textures had been added and it looked bad. If you do not like the way the painterly effect is flowing, it probably is not quite right and you need to walk away and come back again later – it really is a work of art you are working on.

If you just want a nice painterly brush texture on top of the whole image, check out my Getting a Nice Painterly Landscape Effect with Topaz Simplify and Texture for a short workflow – this gives a nice finishing look to an image if there is not enough of a painterly effect already.

I hope you got some new ideas for creating that artsy look. Check out some of my related blogs for more examples and resource links that might help you along. This was a lot of fun to put together this week and I hope you enjoyed it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 6: Try Something New!
Photo Art Compositing For Fun
Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow
Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!
Using a Couple of My Textures
Simplifier and Simplify Filters
Topaz Adjust Using Painting Venice Preset – Beautiful Effect!
Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image!

My 100th Post! – My Favorite Things About Photoshop

Since I have reached this major milestone, I decided this week I would show a few examples of what I use the most in Photoshop and what is the most fun for me when using Photoshop. In some of these cases, I will be mentioning certain products or people but that is mainly because I really like what they do – they do not know me. Also, no external plug-ins will be discussed here.

Several things were done in Photoshop to process this image of a sailboat model of the USS Constitution located at The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida. The most important is that a 32-bit tone-mapped image was created in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, saved as a TIFF file, and then brought into Lightroom 4.1’s Develop module using the sliders to bring out all the details. This now makes Photoshop’s HDR processing on par with several of the other HDR software programs. The TIFF image goes back into Photoshop to finish up using another one of my favorite tools – Puppet Warp – to straighten out the extreme warping in the original image (it was actually applied twice). It was a difficult image to work on since it has a square glass encasement and the horizontal louvered blinds in the background. Just using the arrow keys is sometimes enough to push and pull the image pins the correct amount and Puppet Warp works much better than Lens Correction or the new Adaptive Wide Angle filters for me. Puppet Warp can be used in a Smart Object for readjusting later if needed.

I am slowly really getting into textures – they just do so much for a boring image. The texture above was created using one of the best panels you can apply to Photoshop and that is Dr. Brown’s (may be the top Photoshop guru of all time and works for Adobe) Paper Texture Panel – biggest time saver for anyone that likes to experiment with textures! This is one feature I use all the time and can’t believe I used to go through my textures individually to try them out. To really enhance this process, create a folder on your desktop that contains several sub-folders to place copies of your favorite textures. He recommends keeping these folders to around 20 textures as it takes a while to load if it is much bigger. I have sub-folder on textures I created, my favorite textures I use all the time, and a few on textures I have downloaded or bought. You can switch folders very quickly in the panel. This image used Paul Grand’s Scratches Texture and Gavin Hoey’s beautiful grunge frame 1. I am also putting a plug in here for my favorite texture guy, ShadowHouse Creations, who offers all kinds of beautiful textures for free, and I use them all the time. I reference his textures in many of my older blogs.

Those wonderful brushes in Photoshop! My very first blog featured the above image where I actually used a Photoshop Mixer Brush to paint in the petals of the flowers. This is still one of my favorite painted images – the Oleander flowers in the original were not near as pretty. The background was a Karen Sperling texture called 08Sperling (I believe this now has to be purchased – not sure how I got it) that added was a very delicate complement to the image. She is actually a Corel Painter Master and does some wonderful things in that program.

Totally indispensable! The last step I always do before I save an image. A few months ago I viewed a short video tutorial at Kelby Training called Mastering Curves: Adjusting Tonality by Ben Wilmore, another great Photoshop guru, who teaches how to use Curves correctly. (I have found the Kelby Training tutorials to be the best you can find on every aspect of photography and photoshop.) The basic thing to know about Curves is that by selecting the hand tool in the top left of the adjustment panel and dragging straight up in the image it lightens it up, and down darkens it. If you get two dots close and rather flat on a Curve line, you will lose detail.  A black layer mask can be created to target just the areas you want changed. It is a pretty simple technique but can improve an image quickly. Also you can save Curve settings if you want to apply them again. The image above of the beautiful birds in the Spring at the Rookery used several Curves Adjustment Layers to match the tones for the composite.

I have been using this Double Edge Frame layer style a lot on my images – gives a nice clean look with colors that can be sampled from the image. Also plain black borders can easily be created. To download this layer style for free or directions on how to create it, see my blog referenced above. There are many other uses for layer styles that I love, but I use the frames the most. Also a couple textures were added here with Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel.

I love the way you can go back in and fix your settings if you do not like the way they look. Most of the plug-ins I use have Smart Object capability and this is why I use them. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back into Nik’s Viveza 2 and adjusted my control points! Just another great Photoshop feature. The image above of the Hilton Time Share swimming pool on the Big Island in Hawaii used Smart Objects for both the Nik HDR Efex Pro using Granny’s Attic preset and Viveza 2. Also two Curves Adjustment Layers were used.

I could go on and on about all my favorite features I love. The above are some of the ones I use the most. I thought about writing on the new Defringe section in Lightroom 4.1 and Adobe Camera Raw that works wonders on this problem – better than any of the noiseware software available for controlling the ugly fringe problem. The new sliders in both are much improved and both now do a great job on reducing noise too. Also the Graduated Filter is much improved. Back in Photoshop I love being able to use LAB mode to sharpen some of my images selectively. Content-Aware tools cannot be beat but I still use the plain old Clone Tool the most. And the improved Sharpen Tool is fabulous for those little areas that need a detail boost. I even love the Color Replacement Tool that hardly no one uses! And all the blend modes just add so much to an image. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about Photoshop and so many ways to do things. I guess the real fun is learning new ways to use it and that is why I blog! Hope you have enjoyed some of what I have learned these past couple years!…..Digital Lady Syd

Adding a Texture for Flair!

This week I am going to discuss textures since I suggested using them in last week’s blog on “The Soft, Dreamy Look,” which created a free action to apply to your images. Textures are a very popular effect and can give a totally nice and different look to an image if applied correctly.

Basic Technique

The basic technique involves just adding a texture image (a jpg can be added to a raw, psd or tiff file at this stage) on top of your image. Do this by dragging the texture into your photo as a Smart Object from Photoshop Bridge or just open the texture file and copy and paste the layer onto the photo. At this point I usually rasterize the layer by right-clicking on the Smart Object in the Layers Palette and select Rasterize from the menu. A Smart Object is not necessary unless you are applying a filter to the texture and may want to adjust the settings at a later date. Most texture effects are achieved by changing the layer blend modes and varying layer opacities, then using layer masks to delete out areas where the texture is too obvious. The uniqueness can come from stacking several textures using different blend modes and opacities.  There are many resources available on textures and how to use them effectively. The linked article, called “Tips for Texturing Photographs,” has several great tips – some that I want to share.

  • How do you match your image subject to a texture?  Look for subjects with a soft quality like flowers, misty images, or of simple composition.
  • Figure out what you are trying to do with your picture – fill open spaces, get a painterly look, vintage feel, or grunge look?
  • If the texture does not work, try a different one. Usually match the texture strength with the subject – soft textures for flowers, stronger textures for structures.

If using textures over photos of people, please check out this short video, “Guide to Using Textures with Photos in Photoshop  (must be a member to access now),” to adjust the tone on the people and their skin. It uses the Average Filter in Photoshop instead of layer masks.

Textures can be bought or downloaded for free

There are many beautiful textures that can be bought. Florabella Collections has two very nice sets of textures. I like the Ash Textures that I purchased several years ago, but I just figured out he is no longer selling them. This is a shame since they are really nice textures. Flypaper Textures (blog linked above to Tips for Texturing Photographs) also has some very nice textures for sale. This site also has a lot of good information on textures so take a look.  Caleb Kimbrough has released several hundred textures, some of excellent quality and most are free, at his website Lost and Taken. He has also written a really nice blog entry called “How to Create Subtle Grunge Textures” that shows how to make your own interesting textures by combining several different ones.

The top image uses a very popular effect.  It is made simply by adding a worn-looking board texture at Hard Light blend mode over a flower photo (Curves Adjustment Layer on photo gives the blown out look). This particular texture is one from BittBox, another great free texture site – this particular texture can be downloaded from the Bittbox Flickr site here – just select the size you want, right click on image, and choose Save Image As to save on your hard drive.

This image was created using a brownish Ash texture layer set to Hard Light at 75% opacity and one of Caleb Kimbrough Summer textures, which I really like, set to Overlay at 73%.

The daisy image started with my “SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action” that I created in last weeks blog. The image can be cleaned up on a layer before applying the action since it does not require a labeled Background Layer to run. An Ash Texture was added using the Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity, and an OnOne PhotoTools (now OnOne Perfect Effects 3.0 – website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) layer using the HDR Enhancer effect and HiKey Color – Cool Fade preset as a second effect layer (I am getting some nice results with its stacking capabilities). The OnOne PhotoTools effect was basically a darkening of the edges and brightening in the middle, a heavy vignetting feel. Finally an OnOne PhotoFrame was added.

Textures can be found in plug-ins

As shown in the daisies above using the OnOne PhotoTools 2.6, this plug-in has many texture options as does its sister application, OnOne’s PhotoFrame, which surprisingly has many textures that can be applied with various blend modes, just like in Photoshop’s Layers Panel.  Even plug-ins like Plugin Galaxy 2.0 have some interesting effects, such as Rain-Short Streaks, Snowflake effects, and  Color Effects section, which can add some interesting textures. You just need to play around with whatever filters or plug-ins you have and start trying different settings with them.

Once again my action was applied to the Scottish home picture which starts you off with a really nice soft look (create a composite layer or CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E  layer on top of the action layers to apply the plug-in). An OnOne PhotoTools 2.6 Overlay Effect with the Antique Paper preset at Normal blend mode and 100% opacity was added. A similar look could probably be achieved by adding a final Color Fill Adjustment Layer using a golden tone or a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer using a warm color at a fairly high density, and a layer mask to reduce the color in the house area. That is all that was done to get this nice look.

This image does contain a brownish Ash texture, but any darkish brown texture would look good, set to Vivid Light at 38% but the painterly effect of the sky was achieved in Topaz Lens Effects – with the Graduated Color Blue1 preset applied. Then the layer was copied and set to 62% opacity to make the sky bolder.

Textures can be created within Photoshop itself

I want to show that a texture does not have to be some fancy texture that you have to buy or download – it can just be a really nice paintbrush effect on a layer that you create. Then just experiment with the blend modes, layer opacities, and layer masks to get the exact feel you want.

The above image of Scotland has a rather vintage feel to it. This was accomplished by running my SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action and then creating a New Layer above and using Grungetract Brushes Sample #16 by alex16 at deviantArt at 2500 pixels with a light tan color. The brushed layer’s blend mode was set to Screen, the layer opacity to 66%, and a layer mask was added using a 50% opacity brush to mask out the texture in certain areas.

In the floral photo, a coral colored Mixer Brush layer was created above the other texture layer using a 300 pixel brush, and was set to Soft Light blend mode.  (See my blog “Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes” for more information on the Mixer Brushes.) It can be quite addictive once you start playing around with the Mixer brushes and create some beautiful textures. I found that the by varying the size and the color of the same Mixer Brush, and actually painting with them by moving slightly, you can get really nice effects. I have included my favorite texture Mixer Brush that can be downloaded here (there area two brushes – same brush at different sizes) and added to your Tool Presets. (Put the file in the User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 -> Tools file. Restart Photoshop to add brushes to your Tool Presets – go to the top upper left corner icon under the Menu line and click on down arrow, click on right pointed arrow in upper corner to open fly out menu, and select Load SJ Mixer Brushes Presets. I usually Append the tools and they will appear at the bottom of the list. NOTE: You must have the Mixer Brush selected in the vertical Toolbar to get the Mixer Brush variations to appear in the Tool Preset drop-down.)

This is a very simple example of applying texture that can be done just using Photoshop. First two New Layers were created and the Mixer Brushes I created above were used, the small brush in beige on the bottom layer and the larger one with the same color on the top layer to create an interesting texture. A layer mask was added to the top layer to bring out the center part of the flower. Now here is the neat part, a New Layer was created and a gradient applied with the Gradient Tool . This image used Graphix1 Gradient Muted4 which is a white to yellow beige color, but try out different gradients to see what effect you like. In the Options Bar select the Radial Gradient icon and drag with your cursor from the center of the flower outward to create the gradient. Set the layer blend mode to Soft Light and add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style (2nd icon from left at bottom of Layer Panel) and double click the Texture option.  This image used the Fractures Pattern Overlay, which is located in the Texture Fill set of patterns that come with Photoshop CS5, and set the Scale to 555% and the Depth to +34. Create a layer mask to darken the center again so the pattern is not as apparent over the center of the flower. That’s it – a texture applied that gives a really different look. Try other patterns – you can find lots of them on the internet.

And don’t forget the nice filters that come with Photoshop to create pleasing textures.  I really like the Texturizer Filter using the Canvas texture set to Relief 3 to add a painting touch to an image.


I have tried to show that adding texture to an image can be done in many different ways and the different techniques can be combined to get some unique looks. Once again, it is just another way the versatility of Photoshop makes it so much fun to use. It is so satisfying to create your own textures that can actually go towards creating your own artistic style. Have fun creating!…..Digital Lady Syd

Playing in Photoshop!

This week I am taking a break from my usual blog topics. Instead I am just going to post a few of the images I created while trying out some of my own blog techniques. I hope you get some new ideas from viewing them.

I added a couple of textures to this image to get the soft vintage look – one an Ash Texture (these textures are no longer available but see my more recent blog “Adding a Texture for Flair!” for other texture sites) and one from OnOne Software’s PhotoFrames. This beautiful egret was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery in May, a really good place to visit in Spring if you like to take pictures of birds.


Created this image by using Caleb Kimbrough’s beautiful Summer8 texture (he has a vast assortment of really nice textures and most are free – please check them out), the Tranquility Brushes by wyckedBrush, and my SJ-Cloud Brushes.

I loved this building in Jackson, Mississippi. It was perfect for an HDR effect (used Image ->Adjustments -> HDR Toning in Photoshop CS5 on a single image) A wonderful action called “Vintage Effect – Ps Actions – by photoshop-stock” was applied afterwards to give this nice vintage feel. (This site has a number of nice actions and textures – great resource!)

I wish I had a fisheye lens, but since I do not, I used Topaz Lens Effects selecting the Fisheye Lens effect with the Extreme Fisheye preset on this Palm Tree in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. See my blog on “Topaz Lens Effects Plug-in” for more information on this fun plug-in.

More fun with text – used gradient, cloud layers using cloud brushes (can download my SJ-Cloud Brushes set here) and my blog on “How to Add Images to Text” to do this.

The image above was taken in Phoenix, Arizona at the Desert Botanical Gardens. I used mixer brushes (see my blog “Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes” and followed a tutorial on Sandstorms in the book called “Digital Painting Techniques!,” which is loaded with tutorials from various designers making all kinds of special effects.

Here is a composite of images I pulled from a video I took of the fireworks at Flagler Beach for the 4th of July celebration (video below). See my blog, “Faking Fireworks” for tips on how to create this look.

I hope you liked some of my “Playing in Photoshop” creations – it is just so much fun to make these images. Take some time out and just explore something new – may give you a whole new perspective on what you can achieve! Enjoy…..Digital Lady Syd