A Note About Photoshop Brushes

An article by David Brooks on October 7, 2008


Typically, I’m not a fan.

And I could leave it at that, but I think that since they are so popular I need to explain why I don’t care much for them (generally, and with many exceptions).

I think using a brush is often the easy way out. Looking around the web for packages of brushes that are inevitably used by five million other people never really seemed like a good idea to me. I wouldn’t download a package of pre-created color schemes or a CSS file with pre-defined typography and use them wholesale, so why would it make it acceptable with other parts of the design process?

Of course, there are some exceptions to my general rule. Brushes which only exist to distress your design or make it look rugged, for example, seem to be acceptable because it’s not a primary element of design (if used subtly, of course). Normally you wouldn’t recognize two sites that use the same distressing brushes, if the designer used them appropriately or unless you’re looking for particular scratches at a near forensic level. But when the entire design hinges on a specific brush that may be available elsewhere it seems to take the originality away from all of the other elements. To me it’s a lot like the role poorly chosen stock photography plays in design, you know when you see the same photo advertising two different things that are completely unrelated.

Please don’t hear me saying something like “you aren’t a designer if you use Photoshop brushes.” That’s not at all the message to be taken away from this. My point is that we need to be conscious about the way we use Photoshop brushes, or even vector sets in Illustrator for that matter. And of course, I do support creating your own Photoshop brushes and vector sets for your own work. Personally created brushes and vectors are, of course, original and unique work that can really make your design stand out.

Also note: If you’re using a brush as source material, and if you can’t tell what the original looked like… more power to you.

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David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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