I have not found good info about the Photoshop mixer brush for digital painting so after all this time practising I think it is a good idea to share.
The standard brush panel looks like this:
This is the mixer brush tool panel. There are a few more options compared to the std. brush:
Here are the settings for the mixer brush:
Next stroke square
The square shows how is the next brush stroke going to look like.
- A: If it is showing a solid color square the next stroke will be using that particular color and will be “clean”.
- B: If it is showing a square with irregular color/tone the next stroke will be using that particular “dirty” mix.
- C: If it is showing a blank square the next stroke will be a real blender with no paint added.
Regarding the settings inside the button:
- Load brush: will load the brush only for the next brush stroke (after that brush stroke it will return to the rest of the Load/Clean settings on the right).
- Clean brush: will clean the brush only for the next brush stroke (after that brush stroke it will return to the rest of the Load/Clean settings on the right).
Loads the brush after each stroke.
- Button “on” (black) so that after each stroke the brush is loaded 100% with the paint color set in the color tool.
- Button “off” (grey) the brush will not load new paint after the stroke. This is the setting for a blender. See this article about creating a blender using the mixer brush.
cleans the brush after each stroke.
- If not active (grey button) the brush gets “dirty” with the rest of the painting on the canvas. I seldom use this option, one of the few occasions where it may be useful is when I try to mix the pain on the canvas during the first stages of a painting.
- When active (black button) after each brush stroke it is auto-cleaned. I prefer this option active for most of the time.
this menu provides some “shortcuts” for the settings that will be used in Wet, Load, Mix and Flow parameters. In my opinion this menu it is not very useful and I’d rather change all parameters manually and individually in order to better understand how this tool works. I never use this menu.
set the amount of paint picked up from the canvas. To me this is the “wetness of the canvas“.
- 0% Wet: the canvas is dry paint, the brush is not mixing at all with the canvas. Each brush stroke will be pure color as set in the color tool.
- 100% Wet: the canvas is pure liquid. The brush stroke will mix a lot with the canvas (the proportion of this mix is fine tuned with the next setting: “Mix”)
set the amount of paint on the brush itself.
set the color mixing ratio per stroke. I see this as the “wetness of the canvas Vs. wetness of the brush stroke“.
Lets make some examples, as the first times this ‘Mix’ setting is somehow difficult to understand:
- 0% mix: means that the canvas is totally dry, so each brush stoke will not blend with the canvas.
- 50% mix: means that the brush is as wet as the canvas, so each brush stroke will mix nicely with the other painting on the same layer (or with the layers underneath if the “sample all layers” option is activated.
- 100% mix: means that the canvas is much more “liquid” than the bush stroke, so in practical terms the brush stroke will dilute with the canvas (so it will be difficult to see actually a brush stroke).
- Between 0 and 50% mix is the setting that gives me a more realistic blending compared to a traditional painting with oil colors and real blending.
Flow: this is exactly the same as the Flow setting of the standard brush tool. However tt is interesting to notice that there is no opacity setting for the mixer brush on the tool panel (but opacity can still be controlled via the layers panel).
Example using the mixer brush
Example using the mixer brush on a real painting
I have used the mixer brush to mix paint on the body and also the mixer brush as blender on the edges.
Sample All Layers
With “sample all layers” active I can work on a blank layer on top and still be able to mix will all the layers underneath. What for? this gives and amazing control on individual strokes instead of mixing it all on the same layer.
I use this all the time: I create a “temporary layer” on top, and then make some changes (probably erasing part to the brush stroke, changing its opacity, etc) and then merging down the layer. This gives an amazing flexibility on my workflow.
Standard brush Vs. the mixer brush
- The mixer brush blends the tone, color and texture of the painting in the same layer (if the button “sample from all layers” is deactivated) or from all the layers underneath (if the button “sample from all layers” is activated).
- The great advantage of the mixer brush is a more “realistic” feel and a better traditional media look.
- The standard brush does not blend actually, but most of the digital painters use a “visual blending” by means of:
- (i) Sampling using the eye drop tool in different points and using the brush in successive steps to obtain the desired gradation. This approach is used by the majority of digital painters (who do not care much that the painting still looks digital-made).
- (ii) Using the smudge tool for blending.
- The blending effect using the mixer brush can be similar to blending real oil painting on a canvas. The results of the blending using the mixer brush will vary a lot depending on (i) the brush itself (the tip shape and the rest of brush settings) will modify a lot the results and (ii) the settings on the mixer brush will produce a different effect.
Why is the Photoshop mixer brush not so popular?
- The mixer brush is not intuitive to use.
- Like many of other features on Photoshop, the app does not provide good “default” settings for brushes, same goes for the mixer brush.
- There are other popular apps in the market like Corel Painter where the mixer brush is really the key feature and is promoted as such. Corel Painter provides an excellent set of default brushes (probably too many).
- In any case it is important to mention that with the Photoshop mixer brush it is possible to obtain “almost” all the effects that can be achieved by using Corel Painter this app provides some “special fx” brushes that are not so easy to create using PS but still are really not useful for digital artists, at least for me. Photoshop is not as intuitive as Corel Painter for brushes.