How to Use Custom Brushes in Paint.NET

Adding Custom Brushes to Paint.NET

Custom Brushes in Paint.NET
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Editor's Note:

Paint.Net is a Windows-only application.

In this article I'm going to show you how easy it is to create and use your very own custom brushes in Paint.NET. While Paint.NET comes with a range of preset brush patterns that you can use in your work, by default there isn't an option for creating and using your own custom brushes.

However, thanks to the generosity and hard work of Simon Brown, you can download and install his free Custom Brushes plugin for Paint.NET and, in no time at all, you'll be enjoying this powerful new functionality. The plugin is, in fact, now part of a plugin pack and so you'll actually be installing several plugins that will add brand new features to this popular raster based image editor. One of these is an Editable Text feature that makes Paint.NET much more flexible when working with text and you can read my article on getting the most from this plugin in my article on How to Have Editable Text in Paint.NET.

If you're not familiar with Paint.NET, it's a popular and reasonably powerful image editor for Windows based computers that arguably offers a more user friendly interface than GIMP, the other well known free image editor. You can read more about Paint.NET in our review of the application and you'll also find a link to the download page where you can grab your own free copy.

On the following pages you'll see how to install the plugin and then how to use it so that you can use your own custom brushes in Paint.NET.

Install the Paint.NET Custom Brush Plugin

Install the Paint.NET Custom Brush Plugin
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

If you haven't already downloaded a copy of Simon Brown's plugin pack, you can grab a free copy for yourself from Simon's website.

Paint.NET doesn't include any tools in the user interface for installing and managing plugins, but you'll find full instructions, with screen shots, on the page where you downloaded your copy of the plugin pack. Once you've installed the plugin pack, you can launch Paint.NET and move onto the next step.

Create a Custom Brush

Create a Custom Brush
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

The next step is to create a file that you can use as a brush or select an image file that you want to use as a brush. You can use most common image file types to create your own brushes, including JPEGs, PNGs, GIFs and Paint.NET PDN files.

If you are going to create your own brushes from scratch, ideally you should create the image file at the maximum size that you will use the brush as increasing the size of the brush later can reduce the quality, while reducing the size will usually not be a problem. It's also worth giving consideration to the colors of your custom brush as this isn't editable at the time of use, unless you want the brush to apply just a single color.

For the purposes of this exercise, you can download a copy of a simple flower graphic that I produced in Paint.NET as a PDN file and that I used to illustrate this article:

Download: brush_master.pdn

Use a Custom Brush in Paint.NET

Use a Custom Brush in Paint.NET
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Using a custom brush in Paint.NET is relatively straightforward, but you'll see that is carried out in a dialog box rather than directly on the page.

Firstly go to Layers > Add a New Layer so that the brush work will be on its own separate layer. Then go to Effects > Tools > CreateBrushesMini to open the dialog window. The controls here are fairly simple, but do warrant some explanation. The first time that you use the plugin, you will have to add a new brush. Then all the brushes that you add will be displayed in the right hand column.

Click the Add Brush button and then navigate to the image file that you wish to use as the basis of the brush. Once you've loaded your brush, you adjust the way that the brush will act using the controls in the top bar of the dialog.

The Brush Size drop down is quite self-explanatory and ideally you should never select a size that has dimensions larger than the original brush file. The next control, labeled Brush Mode, has two settings. Color will apply the original image to the canvas, while Mask will treat the brush like a stamp, meaning that you can set a color by clicking the box to the right and the brush will then apply a solid shape that matches the brush shape but is filled with the selected color. Note that if the brush doesn't have a transparent background, the shape of the brush will be a rectangle or square, rather than the shape of the graphic. PNG, GIF and PDN files offer support for transparent backgrounds.

The Speed input box allows you to set how often the brush applies the original graphic and produces quite distinct results. A lower figure here will generally lead to the brush's impressions being more widely spaced. A high setting, such as 100, can give a very dense result that can look like a shape that has been extruded. The other controls are to Undo, Redo and Reset the image. To the bottom left are the OK button that will apply the new brush work to the image and the Cancel button that will discard any work carried out in the dialog.

As you can see in the accompanying image, you can use this plugin to build up dense areas of pattern or just apply individual images to a page. This is a very useful tool for storing and applying graphic elements that you regularly reuse in your work.