Paint tools and paint strokes

The Brush tool , Clone Stamp tool , and Eraser tool are all paint tools. You use each in the Layer panel to apply paint strokes to a layer. Each paint tool applies brush marks that modify the color or transparency of an area of a layer without modifying the layer source.

Each paint stroke has its own duration bar, Stroke Options properties, and Transform properties, which you can see and modify in the Timeline panel. Each paint stroke is, by default, named for the tool that created it, with a number that indicates the order in which it was drawn.

At any time after you draw a paint stroke, you can modify and animate each of its properties using the same techniques that you use to modify the properties and duration of a layer. You can copy paint stroke path properties to and from properties for mask paths, shape layer paths, and motion paths. For even more power and flexibility, you can link these properties using expressions. (See Creating shapes and masks and Add, edit, and remove expressions.)

Note:

To specify settings for a paint stroke before you apply it, use the Paint and Brushes panels. To change and animate properties for a paint stroke after you’ve applied it, work with properties of the stroke in the Timeline panel.

Individual brush marks are distributed along each paint stroke—though the marks may appear to merge together to form a continuous stroke with the default settings. Brush settings for each brush in the Brushes panel determine the shape, spacing, and other properties of brush marks; you can also modify these Stroke Options properties for each stroke in the Timeline panel.

In After Effects, paint strokes are vector objects, which means that they can be scaled up without loss of quality. Paint strokes in some applications, such as Photoshop, are raster objects. (See About vector graphics and raster images.)

Groups of paint strokes appear in the Timeline panel as instances of the Paint effect. Each instance of the Paint effect has a Paint On Transparent option. If you select this option, the layer source image and all effects that precede this instance of the Paint effect in the effect stacking order are ignored; the paint strokes are applied on a transparent layer.

Note:

For some painting, drawing, cloning, and retouching tasks, you may want to take advantage of the sophisticated paint tools provided by Adobe Photoshop. See Working with Photoshop and After Effects.

Note:

The Roto Brush tool shares some features with the paint tools, and you can work with Roto Brush strokes in many of the same ways as paint strokes. For information about the Roto Brush tool and Roto Brush strokes, see Roto Brush strokes, spans, and base frames.

Chris and Trish Meyer give tips for using After Effects paint tools, including the Clone Stamp tool, in an article on the ProVideo Coalition website.

Common operations for paint tools and strokes

  • To show paint strokes on selected layers in the Timeline panel, press PP.
  • To select paint strokes in the Layer panel, use the Selection tool to click a paint stroke or drag a box around portions of multiple paint strokes.

Note:

To momentarily activate the Selection tool, press and hold V.

  • To show only selected paint strokes in the Timeline panel, select paint strokes and press SS.
  • To rename a paint stroke, select the paint stroke in the Timeline panel and press Enter on the main keyboard (Windows) or Return (Mac OS); or right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) the name and choose Rename.
  • To reorder paint strokes within an instance of the Paint effect, drag a Paint stroke to a new location in the stacking order in the Timeline panel.
  • To reorder an instance of the Paint effect to interleave it with other effects, drag the effect to a new location in the stacking order in the Timeline panel.
  • To target a specific instance of the Paint effect for the addition of new paint strokes, choose from the View menu at the bottom of the Layer panel.
  • To hide a paint stroke from view (and from rendered output), deselect the Video switch for the paint stroke.
  • To open or close the Paint panel and Brushes panel when a paint tool is selected, click the Toggle The Paint Panels button .

Common paint tool settings in the Paint panel

To use the Paint panel, first select a paint tool from the Tools panel.

Opacity

For Brush and Clone strokes, the maximum amount of paint applied. For Eraser strokes, the maximum amount of paint and layer color removed.

Flow

For Brush and Clone strokes, how quickly paint is applied. For Eraser strokes, how quickly paint and layer color are removed.

Mode

How pixels in the underlying image are blended with the pixels painted on by the Brush or Clone stroke. (See Blending mode reference.)

Channels

Which channels of the layer the Brush stroke or Clone stroke affect. When you choose Alpha, the stroke only affects opacity, so swatches are grayscale. Painting the alpha channel with pure black has the same result as using the Eraser tool.

Duration

The duration of the paint stroke. Constant applies the stroke from the current frame to the end of the duration of the layer. Single Frame applies the stroke to the current frame only. Custom applies the stroke to the specified number of frames, beginning with the current frame. Write On applies the stroke from the current frame to the end of the duration of the layer and animates the End property of the stroke to match the motion with which the stroke was drawn..

Note:

When you have a paint tool active, you can press 1 or 2 (on the main keyboard) to move the current-time indicator forward or backward the number of frames specified by the Duration setting in the Paint panel.

Brushes and the Brushes panel

To use the Brushes panel, first select a paint tool from the Tools panel.

  1. Choose a display mode from the Brushes panel menu: Text Only, Small Thumbnail, Large Thumbnail, Small List, or Large List.

Create and manage preset brushes

  • To create a new preset brush, specify the desired settings in the Brushes panel, and then choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu or click the Save Current Settings As New Brush button .
  • To rename a preset brush, select the brush and choose Rename Brush from the panel menu.
  • To delete a preset brush, choose Delete Brush from the panel menu or click the Delete Brush button .
  • To restore the default set of preset brushes, choose Reset Brush Tips from the Brushes panel menu. To retain the custom brushes you created, click Append when the dialog box prompts you to replace current brushes with the default brushes.

Note:

Preset brushes are saved in the preferences file, so they persist between projects.

Brush properties

Note:

Ctrl-drag (Windows) or Command-drag (Mac OS) the brush in the Layer panel to adjust Diameter; release the key and continue to drag to adjust Hardness.

Diameter

Controls the size of the brush.

Brush, diameter: Strokes with low Diameter values (left) and high Diameter values (right)
Strokes with low Diameter values (left) and high Diameter values (right)

Angle

The angle by which the long axis of an elliptical brush is rotated from horizontal.

note: Brush angles can be expressed in both positive and negative values. For example, a brush with a 45º angle is equivalent to a brush with a -135º angle.

Brush, angle: Angled brushes create chiseled strokes: 45-degree brush (left), and -45-degree brush (right)
Angled brushes create chiseled strokes: 45-degree brush (left), and -45-degree brush (right).

Roundness

The ratio between the short and long axes of a brush. A value of 100% indicates a circular brush, a value of 0% indicates a linear brush, and intermediate values indicate elliptical brushes.

Brush strokes using 100% roundness (left) and varying percentages (right)
Brush strokes using 100% roundness (left) and varying percentages (right)

Hardness

Controls the transition of a brush stroke from 100% opaque at the center to 100% transparent at the edges. Even with high Hardness settings, only the center is fully opaque.

Brush hardness settings at 100% (left) and 0% hardness (right)
Hardness settings at 100% (left) and 0% hardness (right)

Spacing

The distance between the brush marks in a stroke, measured as a percentage of the brush diameter. When this option is deselected, the speed at which you drag to create the stroke determines the spacing.

Brush, spacing
Decrease spacing for continuous strokes (left); increase spacing for dashed strokes (right).

Brush Dynamics

These settings determine how the features of a pressure-sensitive digitizing tablet—such as a Wacom pen tablet—control and affect brush marks. For each brush, you can choose Pen Pressure, Pen Tilt, or Stylus Wheel for Size, Angle, Roundness, Opacity, and Flow to indicate what features of the pen tablet you would like to use to control brush marks. For example, you can vary the thickness of brush marks by setting Size to Pen Pressure and pressing more firmly when drawing some portions of the stroke. If Size is not set to Off, Minimum Size specifies the size of the thinnest brush mark.

Paint with the Brush tool

Use the Brush tool to paint on a layer in the Layer panel with the current foreground color.

Note:

To specify settings for a paint stroke before you apply it, use the Paint and Brushes panels. To change and animate properties for a paint stroke after you’ve applied it, work with the properties of the stroke in the Timeline panel.

Select a color for the Brush tool

Do any of the following with the Brush tool active:

  • To select a foreground color with the Color Picker, click the Set Foreground Color button in the Paint panel.
  • To select a foreground color from anywhere on the screen with the eyedropper, select the eyedropper in the Paint panel and then click to sample the color under the pointer. Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) to sample the average color of a 3-pixel by 3-pixel square.

Note:

You can quickly activate the eyedropper for use within the Layer panel by pressing Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) when the pointer is in the Layer panel.

  • To switch the foreground color with the background color, press X or click the Switch Foreground And Background Colors button .
  • To reset the foreground color and background color to black and white, press D.

Note:

To change or animate the color of a brush stroke after painting, use the Color property in the Stroke Options group in the Timeline panel.

Paint with the Brush tool

  1. Select the Brush tool .
  2. Choose settings and a brush in the Paint panel and Brushes panel.
  3. In the Layer panel, drag with the Brush tool to paint on the layer.

    Each time you release the mouse button, you stop drawing a stroke. When you drag again, you create a new stroke. Shift-drag to resume drawing the previous stroke.

Paint on individual frames with the Brush tool

You can paint on individual frames over a series of frames to create an animation or to obscure unwanted details in your footage.

Note:

If your output will be interlaced, double the frame rate of your composition before painting on individual frames. (See Frame rate.)

  1. Select the Brush tool.
  2. In the Paint panel, choose Custom from the Duration menu, and specify the duration in frames. To paint on each frame, set the Duration value to 1. Set other options in the Paint panel and Brushes panel as desired.
  3. In the Layer panel, drag with the Brush tool to paint on the layer.

    Each time you release the mouse button, you stop drawing a stroke. When you drag again, you create a new stroke. Shift-drag to resume drawing the previous stroke.

  4. Press 2 on the main keyboard to advance the number of frames specified by the Custom duration setting, and then repeat the previous step.

    Note:

    To move back the Custom number of frames, press 1 on the main keyboard.

    Note:

    If you use a pen tablet, map the keyboard shortcuts to the buttons on your pen to work more efficiently. See the documentation for your pen tablet for instructions.

Clone Stamp tool

You can use the Clone Stamp tool to copy pixel values from one place and time and apply them at another place and time. For example, you can use the Clone Stamp tool to remove wires by copying from a clear patch of sky, or you can create a herd of cows from one cow in the source footage and offset the copies in time.

The Clone Stamp tool samples the pixels from a source layer and applies the sampled pixel values to a target layer; the target layer can be the same layer or a different layer in the same composition. If the source layer and target layer are the same, the Clone Stamp tool samples paint strokes and effects in the source layer, in addition to the layer source image.

This video from the After Effects: Learn By Video series shows how to combine motion tracking and the Clone Stamp tool to remove an object from a scene.

Angie Taylor provides a tutorial on the Digital Arts website that shows how to use tracking data and the Clone Stamp tool to apply copies of an object in a scene while matching a camera move.

Use the Clone Stamp tool

As with all paint tools, you use the Clone Stamp tool in the Layer panel.

Note:

If the source layer and target layer are different layers, open each layer in a different viewer. Press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+N (Windows) or Command+Option+Shift+N (Mac OS) to split and lock the current viewer.

You can identify what result a stroke will have before you make it by using the clone source overlay, a semi-transparent image of the source layer.

Displaying the clone source overlay while cloning between two different layers
Displaying the clone source overlay while cloning between two different layers

A. Clone source overlay B. Current stroke point C. Current sample point 

Note:

To specify settings for a paint stroke before you apply it, use the Paint and Brushes panels. To change and animate properties for a paint stroke after you’ve applied it, work with the properties of the stroke in the Timeline panel.

Select Aligned in the Paint panel to make the position of the sample point (Clone Position) change for subsequent strokes to match the movement of the Clone Stamp tool in the target Layer panel. In other words, with the Aligned option selected, you can use multiple strokes to paint on one copy of the sampled pixels. In contrast, deselecting the Aligned option causes the sample point to stay the same between strokes, meaning that you begin painting on pixels from the original sample point each time you drag again to create a new clone stroke.

For example, select Aligned to use multiple clone strokes to copy one whole cow—which would be difficult to do in one continuous stroke—and deselect Aligned to copy one flower into dozens of places in the target layer to make a field of flowers, using one clone stroke per copy.

Select Lock Source Time to clone a single source frame (at composition time Source Time); deselect Lock Source Time to clone subsequent frames, with a time offset (Source Time Shift) between the source frame and the target frame. The clone source time automatically loops back to the starting sample point when the current sampling point goes beyond the end of the duration of the source layer. This looping is especially helpful when you have a lot of frames to repair in the target layer but only a few good frames in the source layer.

  1. Open a composition that contains both the source layer and the target layer.
  2. Open the source layer in a Layer panel and move the current-time indicator to the frame from which to begin sampling.

    Note:

    You can manually manipulate the time and coordinates from which sampling begins by modifying the Offset, Source Time Shift, Source Position, or Source Time values in the Paint panel. You can reset them to zero with the Reset  button.

  3. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) with the Clone Stamp tool on the source layer in the Layer panel to set the sampling point.
  4. Open the target layer in a Layer panel and move the current-time indicator to the frame at which to begin painting the clone stroke.
  5. Drag in the target layer to paint on cloned pixel values from the source layer. To help you identify what the Clone Stamp tool is sampling as you apply clone strokes, a crosshair identifies the point being sampled.

    Each time you release the mouse button, you stop drawing a stroke. When you drag again, you create a new stroke. Shift-drag to resume drawing the previous stroke.

    Note:

    Click the Difference Mode button  next to the Clone Source Overlay option in the Paint panel or modify the opacity of the overlay to help you better line up elements and see the results of your clone strokes. To temporarily show the clone source overlay, press Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS). Alt+Shift-drag (Windows) or Option+Shift-drag (Mac OS) to change the position of the source layer.

Each clone stroke includes properties in the Timeline panel that are unique to the Clone Stamp tool and correspond to settings made in the Paint panel before the clone stroke is created:

Clone Source

The sampled layer.

Clone Position

The (x,y) location of the sample point within the source layer.

Clone Time

The composition time at which the source layer is sampled. This property appears only when Lock Source Time is selected.

Clone Time Shift

The time offset between the sampled frame and the target frame. This property appears only when Lock Source Time is not selected.

After clone strokes have been created, their properties in the Timeline panel can be modified and animated. For example, you can clone a bird flying across the screen by cloning it in one frame, tracking the motion of the bird, and then linking the Clone Position property to the Attach Point property of tracker with an expression.

Note:

You can set a blending mode for clone strokes, just as for other paint strokes. For example, consider using the Darken blending mode to remove light-colored scratches, and using the Lighten blending mode to remove dark-colored blemishes and dust.

Work with clone presets

Use clone presets to save and reuse clone source settings: Source Layer, Aligned, Lock Source Time, Source Time Shift, Offset, and Source Position values. Clone presets are saved in the preferences file, so they can be reused in other projects. To work with clone presets, first select the Clone Stamp tool.

  • To select a clone preset, press 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 on the main keyboard, or click a Clone Preset button in the Paint panel.
  • To modify a clone preset, select it and adjust the Clone Options settings as desired.
  • To copy the settings from one clone preset to another, select the clone preset from which to copy, and Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the Clone Preset button for the clone preset to which you want to paste the settings.

Eraser tool

If you use the Eraser tool in Layer Source & Paint or Paint Only mode, it creates Eraser strokes that can be modified and animated. In contrast, using the Eraser tool in Last Stroke Only mode only affects the last paint stroke drawn and does not create an Eraser stroke.

Note:

To temporarily use the Eraser tool in Last Stroke Only mode, Ctrl+Shift-drag (Windows) or Command+Shift-drag (Mac OS).

  1. Select the Eraser tool from the Tools panel.
  2. Choose settings in the Paint panel.
  3. Select a brush in the Brushes panel, and set brush options.
  4. Drag through the area you want to erase in the Layer panel.

    Each time you release the mouse button, you stop drawing a stroke. When you drag again, you create a new stroke. Shift-drag to resume drawing the previous stroke.

Note:

If you use a pen tablet, pressing the eraser side of the pen to the tablet temporarily activates the Eraser tool.

Animate and edit paint strokes

You animate a paint stroke by setting keyframes or expressions for its properties. After Effects animates paint stroke properties—even the Path property of a paint stroke—by interpolating values for all frames between keyframes.

By modifying and animating the Start and End properties of a paint stroke, you can control how much of a stroke is shown at any time. For example, by automatically animating the End property from 0% to 100% with the Write On setting, you can make a paint stroke appear to be drawn on over time.

As with all properties, you can link paint stroke properties to other properties using expressions. For example, you can make a paint stroke follow a moving element in your footage by tracking the moving element and then linking the Position property of the paint stroke to the Attach Point property of the tracker.

Rotoscoping is a special case of painting or drawing on individual frames in which some item in the frame is being traced. Often, rotoscoping refers to drawing animated masks rather than paint strokes. (See Rotoscoping introduction and resources.)

Scott Squires provides a pair of movies on his Effects Corner website that show how to rotoscope, both painting and masking:

Animate a paint stroke by sketching with Write On

If you choose Write On from the Duration menu in the Paint panel, the End property is automatically animated to match the motion that you used to draw the stroke.

Note:

After Effects also includes a Write-on effect. (See Write-on effect.)

  1. Select a paint tool in the Tools panel.
  2. In the Paint panel, choose Write On from the Duration menu.
  3. Drag in the Layer panel to apply a paint stroke to the layer.

    As you paint, your movements are recorded in real time and determine the rate at which the resulting stroke is drawn to the screen for output. Recording begins when you click within the layer in Layer panel. When you release the mouse button, the current time returns to the time at which you started painting; this behavior is so that you can record more paint strokes for animated playback starting from the same time.

Note:

You can animate the Trim Paths operation on a shape path to accomplish a similar result as animating a paint stroke with Write On. (See Alter shapes with path operations.)

Animate a paint stroke path

  1. Select a paint tool in the Tools panel.
  2. In the Paint panel, choose Single Frame, Constant, or Custom from the Duration menu.
  3. In the Layer panel, drag to create a paint stroke.
  4. Using the Selection tool, select the paint stroke.

    Note:

    To momentarily activate the Selection tool, press and hold V.

  5. Press SS to show the selected paint stroke in the Timeline panel.
  6. Click the triangle next to the paint stroke name to expand its list of properties.
  7. Click the stopwatch for the Path property to create an initial Path keyframe.
  8. Drag the current-time indicator to another time.
  9. While the stroke is still selected, drag in the Layer panel using a paint tool to create a paint stroke. A second Path keyframe appears in the Timeline panel.

    By creating a stroke while a stroke is selected, you replace the selected stroke, which is sometimes referred to as stroke targeting.

    Note:

    If you are not satisfied with the way that the path is interpolated, consider creating your path as a mask, using Smart Mask Interpolation to fine-tune the interpolation, and then copying the Mask Path property keyframes to the paint stroke Path property. (See Animate a mask path with Smart Mask Interpolation.)

    After Effects interpolates a paint stroke (center) between two different shapes created with the same brush (left and right)
    After Effects interpolates a paint stroke (center) between two different shapes created with the same brush (left and right).

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