Photoshop Brushes FAQ

Here at, we often talk about Photoshop brushes. And we don’t just talk about them; we find tons of free Photoshop brushes that you can download and use. So far we’re up to about 86.7 billion free Photoshop brushes (give or take a few dozen billion), which you can see, download, and use from right here to apply to all your designs and marketing material.

Questions often come up about how to install and use those Photoshop brushes. We decided to address the most common questions in article form, rather than answer the same questions over and over again in the comments of articles. (Did you know that you can comment on articles? We encourage you to do so; it makes us feel loved.)

Q: What are Photoshop brushes and brush sets?
A: Although “brush” may make you think of oil paints and watercolors, Photoshop brushes can go way beyond mimicking the look of natural media. You can use them to change lighting or add a huge variety of patterns and textures. Photoshop brushes can also take the place of clipart, enabling you to instantly add just about any object, plant, animal, person, or thing you can imagine.

The best way to see what can be in a Photoshop brush, and thus to consider what they can do for you, is look at Photoshop brushes. Click here to see the Photoshop brush collections on

Q: What version of Photoshop do I need to use brush sets?
A: Version 7 or later. Photoshop 7 was the last numbered version before the creation of the Creative Suite in 2003. Even though Adobe now refers to Photoshop as “CS5”, the old versioning numbers still exist in the background. Photoshop CS is version 8, CS2 is version 9, CS3 is version 10, CS4 is version 11, and CS5/CS5.1 is version 12.

Confusing, eh? The good news is that brushes created for Photoshop 7 or later should work in all versions after 7, including the latest.

Q: Will brush sets work with other programs?
A: Most Photoshop alternatives (Corel Photo-Paint, PaintShop Pro, GIMP, etc.) are patterned after Photoshop to some degree, and thus many can use Photoshop .ABR brush sets. I haven’t tried using .ABR files in these alternative applications, so I can’t say for sure if they work, or whether certain .ABR files will work while others won’t. My recommendation is that you check out the help file, forums, or websites for your Photoshop alternative to see if it supports .ABR files. If it does, try loading a few sets and see how it goes.

Q: How do I install .ABR brush sets?
A: Photoshop brush sets are contained inside .ABR files. It’s these .ABR files that you’ll need to install into Photoshop.

Follow these instructions to install brush sets:

1. Download or move the .ABR file to a permanent location on your computer. This could be into the Photoshop Brushes folder (full paths below) or a central location you create for Photoshop brushes. To place it in Photoshop’s existing brush folder, move or copy the .ABR file to:

Windows: C:Program FilesAdobeAdobe Photoshop CSxPresetsBrushes
Mac OSX: Applications/Adobe Photoshop CSx/Presets/Brushes/

2. Open Photoshop and select the Brush tool.
3. On the Options bar, click the down arrow beside the brush shape preview. This will open the controls for brushes.
4. From the brush control popup, click the right-facing arrow in the top right corner and select Load Brushes or Replace Brushes.
5. When the Load Brushes dialog appears, navigate to the location where you placed the .ABR file and then open that file.
6. If you chose the Replace Brushes command, Photoshop will remove any existing brushes from the Brushes palette, leaving you with only the newly loaded set. However, if you chose the Load Brushes command, Photoshop will add the new brush set to the end of the list of brushes.
7. Start brushing!

Q: What do I do with a .RAR or .ZIP file?
A: Many Photoshop brush sets are distributed within .ZIP or .RAR files for easier download and transfer. Both .ZIP and .RAR are archive file formats that contain other files (like one or more .ABR files). To get at the .ABR brush file(s), extract the .ZIP or .RAR archive. In most cases that’s simply a matter of double-clicking the .ZIP or .RAR archive, or right-clicking on it and choosing a command such as Extract or Expand.

Recent versions of both Mac OSX and Windows can extract .ZIP files natively, and many can even extract .RAR archives. If your computer doesn’t enable you to automatically extract them, however, you’ll need to install a program capable of extracting them. There are many options available, but I suggest the free RAR/WinRAR application, which extracts .RAR, .ZIP, and many other archive formats. You can download the appropriate version of RAR/WinRAR for your computer, in your preference of languages, from

Q: How do I preview the brushes before installing them?
A: Any time presents a set of Photoshop brushes for download, we try to include an image of the brushes themselves or the brushes in use. Still, you’ll often times you’ll want to see everything inside the .ABR before installing it. That’s where an .ABR viewer or previewer comes in.

There are many free and commercial viewers for both Mac OSX and Windows. Here are a couple to get you started: abrViewer.NET for Windows and BrushView QuickLook PlugIn for Mac OSX. If you don’t like the ones linked above, you can find many more options by searching Google for “ABR viewer” or “ABR preview”.

Q: Where do I find the new brushes after I add them to Photoshop?
A: Once installed, your new brushes will be in Photoshop’s Brush palette. If you appended the new brush set to your existing brushes, then the new brushes will be at the bottom of the Brush palette’s list of brushes. If you replaced your existing brushes with the new set, then the entire content of the Brush palette will be the new brushes.

You can open the Brush palette and select a brush by first switching to the Brush tool (keyboard shortcut B) and then either clicking the down arrow beside the brush preview on the Options panel or choosing Brushes from the Window menu to launch the floating Brushes panel.

Q: Will the brush set replace my existing Photoshop brushes?
A: Not if you choose the Load Brushes command from the Brush palette popup menu. New brushes will be appended to the end of your existing list of brushes. Choosing the Replace Brushes command from the Brush palette popup menu, however, will remove all existing brushes and replace them with the new .ABR set loaded.

Source: Creative Pro