Photoshop’s Mixer Brush

Photoshop’s Mixer Brush

Photoshop’s Mixer Brush does a good job of simulating paint on canvas. The one major element that digital artists have a difficult time wrapping their heads around is that – the paint on the canvas can mix with the paint on the brush. This means that, whatever color is on your canvas, can be mixed in varying degrees with the color on your brush.  With the Mixer Brush, you can create some beautiful digital paintings from your photographs, that will look great printed on canvas.

I use Mixer Brush paintings to re-imagine some of my photographs and to turn pet portraits into painterly images:

The feature image on this page was painted from this photo.

The Mixer Brush can also be used to create digital backgrounds or textures.

With the Mixer Brush, you can create blurs effects that look more natural.

Below are a few pointers that can help you quickly get started on using the Mixer Brush.

Here are some resources:

Lori Jill DiBiase’s, YouTube video does a very good job of showing how the Mixer Brush settings affect the paint result.

Michelle Parsley at Elevate Your Art is an excellent source for in-depth learning. She offers courses and programs that start at the beginner level.

The versatility of the Mixer Brush is controlled by its settings. Below is a run-through of the settings I use to give you an easy reference. 

Photoshop’s Mixer Brush is accessed from the Brush Tool flyout. 

Any brush in Photoshop’s Legacy Brush set can be used as a Mixer Brush. You can also create your own brush heads for specific functions. Be aware, however, that not all third-party brushes double as Mixer Brushes. For example, the very popular Kyle’s Brush sets have specific functions. Some brushes in his set are designated as Mixer Brushes, but the functionality on most of his brushes are set for specific uses. 

Brush functions are controlled by the settings, that will appear in the tool bar when you have the Mixer Brush selected:

In order to understand the Mixer Brush, you have to understand how it uses ‘paint’.  The left brush icon toggles loading the paintbrush with the foreground colour, which can be sampled as required. The sampled colour is shown in the colour square, and it is the colour that is loaded in your brush. The brush icons toggle by clicking the icon ‘on’ and ‘off’

When the colour square is transparent, the Mixer Brush will sample from the layer it is on, or under it or both. The left brush icon toggle loads and unloads the paint. 

Note** Should you pick up a brush and it has a colour pre-loaded that you cannot get rid of (this happens with Photoshop’s Legacy brushes – they assume you want to paint with the foreground colour), click the dropdown menu next to the colour square and choose ‘Clean Brush’. Unless, of course, you want to paint with the loaded colour 🙂 

I use these 3 Mixer Brush Settings to control the brush. Wet, Load and Mix. I rarely touch Flow, as I find I can achieve what I want without it. 

‘Wet’ controls the amount of paint on your brush. It is important to note, that even if your colour square is transparent, Photoshop looks at the colour on the canvas, as the paint in your brush.

‘Load’ controls how far your brush stoke will paint before falling off.

‘Mix’ controls the degree to which the colour on your brush will mix with the colour on your canvas. (If you turn the Mix to ‘0’ paintbrush will only paint with the colour on the brush).

Some further tips:

  • You will learn a lot about how the Mixer Brush works by first playing with a white canvas and some paints, and then painting over a photograph. I hope you give this a try. I would love to see your results and hear your observations.
  • Use a Wacom tablet and stylus. You can do some basic Mixer Brush work with the mouse, but to gain control over your brush strokes you will need to switch to the Wacom.
  • Always use a new layer when painting over photographs. It will save you a lot of trouble.
  • The Mixer Brush is best controlled with a Wacom Tablet and stylus. While it is not completely necessary to use, if you want to explore the full possibilities of the Mixer Brush, you would need to enter the world of Wacom. I took the Wacom leap last year for this purpose. I can tell you that it takes some brain retraining, which comes with a learning curve, but it is surmountable.
  • You can actually improve the resolution of an image by painting over it. You just have to be careful to paint over every pixel, or you will be left with a mixed resolution patchy image. 

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Adele Buttolph

    Thanks so much for this info on the mixer brush. I was not really even aware of its potential. This is an excellent tutorial with great tips too.

    I purchased a small Wacom tablet several years ago, but never mastered using it. You are giving me the idea to think about getting an updated one that is larger than the small one that I have and giving it another try.

    1. jamuna

      There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to using the wacom, but when it comes to painting with photoshop, you can achieve must better results. Now, that I have more practice, painting with the mouse feels like using a saw to peel a potato. On the other hand, I should also say that now I use 3 devices to control my computer. Keyboard, mouse and Wacom.

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