Interpretive edges are one of the most appealing and beautiful aspects of oil painting and watercolor techniques.
Edge control isn’t easy in traditional painting but when it comes to digital painting in Photoshop, edge control has been almost mechanically impossible.
The angle of a brush stroke is essential for sophisticated edges.
Before I designed the workflow revealed in this tutorial, I knew of only two disappointing solutions to this problem:
1.) You could spend up to $100 on a special stylus with rotation capability like the Intuos4 Art Pen (or the 6D Art Pen for older tablets and Cintiqs).
This option is really expensive considering that the rotation control isn’t always dependable.
2.) You could constantly click over to the Brush Settings Panel and rotate the Brush Tip Angle manually.
This option is clunky and incredibly disruptive to your workflow.
Today I’ll show you how to set up a custom rotation control for your Photoshop Brushes so you can quickly and smoothly change the brush angle as you’re painting.
Part One of this tutorial will work in just about any version of Photoshop. This alone can really smooth out your digital painting workflow and save you tons of time.
Part Two requires Photoshop Actions and a Wacom Tablet or Cintiq with the programmable ExpressKeys, Touch Ring or Radial Menu.
Read on for easier edge control!
Before You Begin:
If your Brush Presets and Brush Settings Panels aren’t visible, go up to the Window Menu and turn them on.
You’ll need your Actions Panel later on so you can open that now or wait until STEP 6.
Start with a brush that is NOT perfectly round.
…maybe it’s a messy texture brush, a flat brush or a brush shaped like a calligraphy pen.
I’ll be working with my own custom “Wiggles” Brush because it’s a little bit of everything.
I recommend working through this tutorial with my Wiggles Brush before you try it with your own brushes.
You can DOWNLOAD all of the Brushes and Actions created in this tutorial in a section near the end of this post.
STEP 1: Save The Brush In A Horizontal Position:
Use the Brush Tip Angle Control in the Brush Settings Panel to rotate the brush into a completely horizontal position.
*Because the default position (a 0° rotation) of my Wiggles Brush is perfectly vertical, I’ll use a 90° or -90° angle. (This might not be the same if you’re using a different brush…)
To save your first Brush Angle Preset, Go to the bottom of the Brush Presets Panel and click the little icon that looks like a piece of paper with a folded corner.
Photoshop will open a tiny window and ask you for details (image below).
Add “Angle_U_D” to the Name of this first Brush Angle Preset.
“U_D” is short for “Up & Down.”
SUPER-IMPORTANT: If, in your version of Photoshop, you see a little checkbox that says “Capture Brush Size In Preset” be CERTAIN you un-check the box BEFORE you save each brush angle!
*If you accidentally capture the brush size in the preset, your brush will pop to a different size when you rotate it. That undermines the point of this tutorial, which is to create a smoother workflow.
…which is super-annoying.
Click “OK” to save the Brush Angle Preset.
You’ll see the new brush appear at the bottom of your Brush Presets Panel.
Three more to go.
STEP 2: Save The Same Brush At A 45° Angle:
Now rotate the brush to a 45° angle like this:
Call this one “BrushName_Angle_UR_DL” which means “Up-Right” and “Down Left”
…and don’t forget to un-check the “Capture Brush Size” box!
STEP 3: Save The Brush In A Vertical Position:
Now, rotate the brush vertically.
Save this brush as “BrushName_Angle_R_L”
Of course, this means the brush angle is pointing Right and Left.
Did you click “Capture Brush Size In Preset”?
No? Good job.
We’re almost done saving brushes…
STEP 4: Save The Reverse 45° Angle:
Save your “Angle_DR_UL” for “Down Right and Up Left” and you’re done saving brush angles!
After this method “clicks” in your mind, you’ll easily be able to add more brush angles.
But let’s keep it simple for now and just use these four.
STEP 5: Try Rotating Your Brush:
Select your “L_R” Brush Angle Preset from the Brush Presets Panel.
Press the “.” or “,” key on your keyboard.
Those keys will toggle through the Previous/ Next Brush Preset.
Now you have Brush Rotation hotkeys!
Mo’ Brushes, Mo’ Problems:
You’ll probably want to set up rotation for a bunch of different brushes.
…and you’ll probably want to create more subtle “intermediate” brush angles to get more of a true rotation.
…but the more Brush Angle Presets you create, the longer your Brush Presets List is going to get.
So now, we’ll create custom Actions so you can use the Function Keys to quickly select each brush you set up for rotation.
(In part two, I’ll show you how to assign those brushes to your Wacom Express Keys, Touch Ring or Radial Menu.)
STEP 6: Create A New Action Set:
Now go to the Actions Panel and create a new Action Set by clicking on the small folder icon at the bottom.
Name the new Action Set “Brush Rotation.”
STEP 7: Create Your First Brush Angle Action:
With your new Action Set selected, Create a New Action by clicking on the little icon at the bottom of the Actions Panel. (It looks like a piece of paper with a folded corner.)
Photoshop will now ask you to specify a few details.
Just like with the brush angles, call this first one “BrushName Rotation”
Select “F1” from the first drop-down menu.
Later on, you can use the Command or Shift Modifier Keys to increase the number of rotatable brushes in your set up.
Now, go to the bottom of the Actions Panel, click “Record” and then immediately select your first Brush Angle Preset a.k.a. “BrushName_Angle_U_D” from the Brush Presets Panel.
Don’t click anything else. Ever.
Click nothing except the “Up & Down” Brush Angle Preset at the bottom of the Brush Presets Panel.
…until you click STOP. That’s the Square Icon right beside the Record button.
If you accidentally click something else, you’ll see more than one item in your “BrushName” Action Set.
If that happens, don’t worry. Just watch this tutorial by Ctrl+Paint.
STEP 8: Set Up More Brushes For Rotation:
Instead of scrolling through an endless list of similarly-named brushes to find the angle you want, you can just select one brush angle for each from your Actions Panel and then use your Previous/ Next Hotkey to rotate!
Basically, you’re using your Actions Panel as a separate Brush Presets Panel just for your Rotating Brushes.
No $100 Rotating Stylus.
No awkward Brush Tip Rotation Control.
I LOVE THIS!
Next, In Part 2:
In part two of this tutorial I’ll show you how to connect your custom rotation control to your programmable Wacom ExpressKeys or Touch Ring and select your Rotating Brushes from the Wacom Radial Menu!
*Special thanks to Joe Darkbugg and Yamagata Philippe for their help with this tutorial!
Download my Wiggles Brush and Angle Presets.
Download my Brush Angles Action Set.
Click here for part two.
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