The painting tools change the color of pixels in an image. The Brush tool and the Pencil tool work like traditional drawing tools by applying color with brush strokes. The Gradient tool, Fill command, and Paint Bucket tool apply color to large areas. Tools like the Eraser tool, Blur tool, and Smudge tool modify the existing colors in an image.

The power of painting in Adobe Photoshop Elements is in the options that you can set to specify how a tool applies or modifies color. You can apply color gradually, with soft edges, with large brush strokes, with various brush dynamics, with different blending properties, and with brushes of different shapes. You can simulate spraying paint with an airbrush.

About painting tools

Photoshop Elements provides various tools for applying and editing color. When you select a painting tool, the Tool Options bar displays various preset brush tips and settings for brush size, paint blending, opacity, and airbrush effects. You can create new brush presets and save them in brush libraries. You can customize the brush and settings for any of the painting and editing tools and manage them using the Preset Manager.

Brush options
Brush options in the Tool Options bar

A. Brush size slider and text box B. Brush pop‑up panel and brush thumbnail C. More menu 

The Brush tool paints smooth, anti-aliased lines. Other painting tools include the Pencil tool for making hard-edged lines and the Eraser tool for erasing color pixels from layers. The Paint Bucket tool and Fill command fill areas of your image with color or patterns. The pattern Stamp tool paints with one of the predefined patterns or a pattern that you design.

The Impressionist Brush tool affects existing color by applying stylized brush strokes. The Smudge tool also affects existing image colors by simulating the action of dragging a finger through wet paint.

The Detail Smart Brush tool automatically creates an adjustment layer as you paint. It doesn’t alter the original image layer. You can paint and change the adjustments as many times as you want without degrading your original photo. See Adjust color and tonality using the Smart Brush tools.

About foreground and background colors

You apply the foreground color when you paint with the Brush or Pencil tools, and when you fill selections with the Paint Bucket tool. The color you apply to the Background layer with the Eraser tool is called the background color. You can see and change the foreground and background colors in the two overlapping boxes at the bottom of the toolbox. The top box is the foreground color, and the bottom box is the background color. The foreground and background colors are also used together by the Gradient tool and some special effects filters.

Foreground and background color boxes
Foreground and background color boxes in toolbox

A. Foreground color box B. Click to use default colors (black and white) C. Click to switch the foreground and background colors D. Background color box 

You can change the foreground or background color in the toolbox by using the Eyedropper tool, the Color Swatches panel, or the Color Picker.

About blending modes

Blending modes control how pixels in an image are affected by a painting or editing tool. It’s helpful to think in terms of the following colors when visualizing a blending mode’s effect:

  • The base color is the original color in the image.

  • The blend color is the color applied by the painting or editing tool.

  • The result color is the color resulting from the blend.

Blending modes applied to image
The Multiply blending mode (top), Screen blending mode (center), and Luminosity blending mode (bottom) applied to the starfish layer.

You can choose any of the following blending modes from the Mode menu in the Tool Options bar:

Normal

Edits or paints each pixel to make it the result color. This is the default mode. (Normal mode is called Threshold when you’re working with an image in bitmap or indexed-color mode.)

Dissolve

Edits or paints each pixel to make it the result color. However, the result color is a random replacement of the pixels with the base color or the blend color, depending on the opacity at any pixel location. This mode works best with the brush tool and a large brush.

Behind

Edits or paints only on the transparent part of a layer. This mode works only on layers with Lock Transparency deselected, and is analogous to painting on the back of transparent areas on a sheet of glass.

Clear

Edits or paints each pixel and makes it transparent. You must be on a layer with Lock Transparency deselected in the Layers panel to use this mode.

Darken

Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color—whichever is darker—as the result color. Pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change.

Multiply

Looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color. The result color is always a darker color. Multiplying any color by black produces black. Multiplying any color by white leaves the color unchanged. When you’re painting with a color other than black or white, successive strokes with a painting tool produce progressively darker colors. The effect is similar to drawing on the image with multiple felt-tipped pens.

Color Burn

Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color. Blending with white produces no change.

Linear Burn

Looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by decreasing the brightness. Blending with white produces no change.

Darker Color

Compares the total of all channel values for the blend and base color and displays the lower value color. Darker Color does not produce a third color, which can result from the Darken blend, because it chooses the lowest channel values from both the base and the blend color to create the result color.

Lighten

Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color—whichever is lighter—as the result color. Pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change.

Screen

Looks at each channel’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the blend and base colors. The result color is always a lighter color. Screening with black leaves the color unchanged. Screening with white produces white. The effect is similar to projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other.

Color Dodge

Looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color. Blending with black produces no change.

Linear Dodge (Add)

Looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the brightness. Blending with black produces no change.

Lighter Color

Compares the total of all channel values for the blend and base color and displays the higher value color. Does not produce a third color, which can result from the Lighten blend, because it chooses the highest channel values from both the base and blend color to create the result color.

Overlay

Multiplies or screens the colors, depending on the base color. Patterns or colors overlay the existing pixels while preserving the highlights and shadows of the base color. The base color is mixed with the blend color to reflect the lightness or darkness of the original color.

Soft Light

Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area but does not result in pure black or white.

Hard Light

Multiplies or screens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a harsh spotlight on the image. If the blend color is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened. This is useful for adding highlights to an image. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened. This is useful for adding shadows to an image. Painting with pure black or white results in pure black or white.

Vivid Light

Burns or dodges the colors by increasing or decreasing the contrast, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened by decreasing the contrast. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened by increasing the contrast.

Linear Light

Burns or dodges the colors by decreasing or increasing the brightness, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened by increasing the brightness. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened by decreasing the brightness.

Pin Light

Replaces the colors, depending on the underblend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change. This mode is useful for adding special effects to an image.

Hard Mix

Reduces colors to white, black, red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, and magenta—depending on the base color and the blend color.

Difference

Looks at the color information in each channel and subtracts either the blend color from the base color or the base color from the blend color, depending on which has the greater brightness value. Blending with white inverts the base color values; blending with black produces no change.

Exclusion

Creates an effect similar to, but lower in contrast, than the Difference mode. Blending with white inverts the base color values. Blending with black produces no change.

Hue

Creates a result color with the luminance and saturation of the base color and the hue of the blend color.

Saturation

Creates a result color with the luminance and hue of the base color and the saturation of the blend color. Painting with this mode in an area with zero saturation (a neutral gray area) causes no change.

Color

Creates a result color with the luminance of the base color and the hue and saturation of the blend color. This preserves the gray levels in the image and is useful for coloring monochrome images and for tinting color images.

Using the Color blending mode
Using the Color blending mode to change the color of a shirt

Luminosity

Creates a result color with the hue and saturation of the base color and the luminance of the blend color. This mode creates an inverse effect from that of the Color mode.

Web‑safe colors

Web‑safe colors are the 216 colors used by browsers on both the Windows and Mac OS platforms. By working only with these colors, you ensure that colors in art you prepare for the web display accurately in a web browser.

You can identify web‑safe colors in the Adobe Color Picker by using either of the following methods:

  • Select Only Web Colors in the lower-left corner of the Color Picker, and then choose any color in the Color Picker. When this option is selected, any color you pick is web‑safe.

  • Choose a color in the Color Picker. If you choose a color that isn’t web‑safe, an alert cube  appears next to the color rectangle in the upper-right area of the Color Picker. Click the alert cube to select the closest web‑safe color. (If no alert cube appears, the color you chose is web‑safe.)

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