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Install Photoshop Brushes

The preparation for creation is installation!

Accessing Photoshop brushes doesn't have to be difficult, but can certainly be a little confusing to start with. Follow these simple steps to install Photoshop brushes with ease!

Watch the video tutorial to find out the most common way of installing brush sets, using an 'abr' file. If this doesn't answer your questions, read on below for more detailed information.

Click to View Video Tutorial

The Files

There are two ways in which Photoshop brushes are distributed. The most common way is as 'abr' files, which can contain many Photoshop brushes all in one file. The problem with these files is backwards compatibility, as there can be issues with accessing the files in versions of Photoshop older than the one they were created in. To learn more about this issue, read my article on Photoshop Brush Compatibility.

The other way of distributing brush files is using 'png' files. Many people use these in standard graphics work, but they are picked here because of some of their better qualities, for example file size. Each picture file usually has a grayscale image on it, from which a single brush can be defined.

The downside to 'png' brushes is that there is only one per file, and so if the brushes come as a set you will have to individually load each one instead of just using a single 'abr' file. The advantage is that they overcome the compatibility problem between Photoshop versions.

Generally 'abr' files are preferable, but both have their merits. Below are the file icons for each. The icons used on your system might be slightly different, but these act as a general guide:

Brush File Icons

Installing 'abr' Files

To Adobe's credit, installing these 'abr' brush set files could not be much easier. You simply need to copy the file to the correct directory. If you downloaded the brush set in a zip file, you can just extract the 'abr' file straight to the right place.

That "right place" is in the 'Presets' directory of your main Photoshop program folder, under the subdirectory 'Brushes'. For example, using the default installation path for Photoshop Elements 3, my brushes reside here:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements 3.0\Presets\Brushes\

Simply copy the file there, and the next time you start Photoshop Elements, the brushes will be available from your brush set menu.

Using Brushes Without Restarting Photoshop

Sometimes you will wish to install a brush set without restarting Photoshop. It could be that you keep it in a different location and don't want it installed all the time, or that you are using many brush sets and want to view them without restarting the program.

To install a brush without restarting the program, select the brush tool, and then click the brush selection menu. Click on the circled arrow at the side to open a drop down menu, from which you can select the 'Load Brushes' option.

The Load Brush Menu

After this a dialog will appear, from which you can select an 'abr' file. Once you have chosen a file to open, the brush set you loaded will appear at the bottom of the brush set currently selected in Photoshop. Whatever brush set you were previously using will now show the loaded brush set at the bottom.

Beware, the brush set is only there temporarily. Once you change the selected brush set, the loaded brushes will disappear. This can prove to be a useful feature for temporarily using brush sets.

Installing 'png' Files

Installing brushes from individual picture files is a bit more effort. Open the 'png' file you want to make into a brush, and then select 'Define Brush' from the 'Edit' menu.

If you only wish to use part of the image as a brush, then use the selection tools to select the parts of the image you wish to use, and then select the 'Define Brush' option, and the program will pick out your selection.

Enter a name for the brush, and then press ok, and the brush will again temporarily be added to the bottom of your current brush set.

Installing Brushes Permanently

When loading or defining brushes, instead of just putting the 'abr' files in the Brushes directory, the brushes do not stay on your brush menu once you've changed the brush set you are using. For more information on how to make these changes permanent, or to create brush sets of your own, read my tutorial on Creating Brushes.

Try it out!

I hope this tutorials been helpful to you. The best way to get started is to try it out! Try installing my free set of Star Brushes, available from my Free Photoshop Brushes Download Center. You can get both the 'abr' brush set file, and the 'png' image set files, so if you wish you can try out both ways.

Kind Regards

Robert Redwood Robert Redwood - Bio
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