Brushes 101: Changing the Brush Settings in Photoshop & PSE

Welcome back to the Brushes 101 Series. We are continuing to explore the world of brushes in Photoshop and PSE, both for photo editing and graphic creations.

Using the Brush Settings Menu in Photoshop and PSE

Before we go on, let’s do a recap of what we’ve covered so far.

Brush Settings Menu

Today we are going to delve deeper when using the basic brush and learn how to adjust it to suit our needs.

In Photoshop and PSE there is a Brush Settings menu, where you can customize the brush for your needs. This post is a basic introduction to the menu and one option in it – hardness, which is very beneficial in photo editing. ย The other options in the menu we will discuss in another post.


Hardness Setting to Reduce Softness of a Brush

We learned earlier that the soft brush has a strong “feather,” meaning it blends in/out the change being made. A hard brush has no feather, and has a very distinct stop-and-start area.

What if you need a brush that is some where in between totally hard and totally soft? Meaning a brush that doesn’t have a harsh edge like the hard brush, but one that doesn’t feather out quite so much. This is when you need to adjust the brush hardness in the brush settings.ย  Below is an image that illustrates the hard, 50% hardness and 0% hardness (i.e. soft).


Example of brush hardness settings.


Notice in the image above how the “halo” is very strong around the bottom stroke, the 0% hardness (i.e. soft), much less around the 50% hardness stroke and then no halo at all around the 100% hardness stroke.

When to Increase Brush Hardness

Why or when would you need to increase the hardness of a brush (in other words reduce the softness of the brush)? When you are editing a small or thin area and you don’t want the effect to bleed into another area. For instance if you are trying to whiten the trim on a house (like for architectural images), you would not want that brightened/desaturated effect to run onto other areas of the house.

TIP: A common mistake that I often see is a glowing or halo around people in images, where they have been brightened up, but the brush allowed the brightening to bleed into the area around the person. To prevent this you can increase the hardness of the brush for that edit step.

Finding the Brush Settings in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements

The Brush Settings menu is found in the Brush Option Menu in PSE 11 – 6. In Photoshop CS6-3, it is found in the Brush Settings panel (see below), but the hardness can also be changed in the Brush Option Menu.





Below is the full Brush Settings menu in Photoshop CS6, which I will talk about more later.

cs6 full brush settings menu

In the next Brushes 101 tutorial, we will be venturing away from the default brush and going to specialty brushes so stay tuned!

About Amanda

I am passionate about helping others learn how to use their DSLR cameras and editing programs. More information about me can be found at my About page, or by visiting my personal blog.


  1. says:

    Very helpful…keep me updated on this..Thanks

    • When I upgraded to PSE11 I lost the ability to use my brushes as I have in the past. Wondering if you would have any clues. It use to be my brush would stamp the exact size I had it set at. Now the brush is always smaller than the outline its showing, which makes it hard to use because you don’t get what you see on the screen. I’ve been using PSE for 15 years …. So I’m knowledgable about the settings. And I’ve tried everything! But my brushes still don’t perform as they should … Or as they always have in all these years. Any clue if something was changed in version 11 that would effect this? I’m always going back to my old version if I need to use brushes …. Quite frustrating! And adobe said it was a mac problem …. And mac said it was an adobe problem! And I’m caught in the middle! Just wondering if you had any insights! Thanks!

  2. Karen Wolff says:

    So grateful you are doing this series. I was just thinking while watching one of your workshops-“boy would I like to know more about brushes”! And here your series started! Great minds think a like I guess ha ha Thanks again!

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