Your Essential Guide to Affinity Photo Brushes

by Dec 22, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Your Essential Guide to Affinity Photo Brushes

Are you a photographer who wants to make the most of Affinity Photo‘s Brush Tool? Understanding the essential brush controls of this powerful editing software is key to producing your best photography. In this article, I‘ll explain the features and capabilities of Affinity Photo‘s Brush Tool, so you can use them to create professionallevel edits.

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The Brushes Studio Panel

The Affinity Photo Brushes Studio Panel is where we select the brushes to use. You can see a screenshot of this below, showing some of the Brushes in the Basic category.

Affinity Photo Brushes Studio Panel

I’ve found that some people are surprised when I point out this is only the Basic category and that there are others. If you click the dropdown list at the top of the panel, you’ll see the other categories as shown in the screenshot below. This screenshot was taken using Affinity Photo 2.

Adffinity Photo Brushes categories

By default, Affinity Photo comes with various categories and brushes. As shown in the screenshot, many categories relate to artistic media like oils and watercolours, but the brushes are great for editing photographs as well.

When you select a Brush from the Studio Panel, it configures the settings of the Paint Brush Tool. We’ll be looking at some of the more advanced settings later but first, let’s understand the general settings.

The General Paint Brush Settings

Several commonly used Brush settings are displayed in the Affinity Photo toolbar when the Paint Brush Tool is selected. You can see these in the screenshot below.

Affinity Photo Toolbar showing the Brush settings

You may already be familiar with these, but I know there is also a lot of confusion amongst users, so let’s clear that up now.

The Width slider lets you change the size of the Brush the higher the setting, the wider the Brush will be. You can also use the square bracket keys [ to reduce the width and ] to increase it.

The Hardness slider controls the edge of the Brush to make it harder or softer. When it’s set to 100% the brush has a hard edge but at 0% it’s soft.

Finally, there’s the Opacity and Flow settings which are often confused. Let‘s look at an example to help explain the difference between the two.

Understanding the Flow and Opacity Settings

We’ll start by using one of the Basic round Brushes to paint a black disk (1). This has the Brush settings shown in the previous screenshot. The Brush is 128 pixels wide, has a hard edge and the Flow and Opacity are both set to 100%. When clicked once on an image it produced the black disk below (1).

Example Brush Strokes using different settings

This is a clean, black circle with a hard edge. The next, light grey circle (2) was produced using the same settings, but the Opacity was reduced to 10%. Then the third circle (3) is the same as the second and was produced with the Opacity set to 100% and Flow 10%.

Confusing, right? It can be hard to tell the difference between Opacity and Flow. To help, let‘s look at another example.

The difference between the Opacity and Flow brush settings

Here, illustration 1 was produced using a setting of Opacity = 10% and Flow = 100%. A single brushstroke was added by clicking and holding the mouse button whilst moving the mouse in a circle. The mouse button was then released, and a second brush stroke applied in the centre of the first. A third brush stroke was then applied to the centre of that. Notice how each new brush stroke builds up the grey to make it darker.

Illustration 2 was created with the Opacity set to 100% and Flow to 10%. This time it’s a single brush stroke drawn whilst holding down the mouse button. Notice how the depth of grey builds up in the centre as the brush stroke passes over itself.

What’s happening is that the flow controls how the paint is laid down by the brush stroke. When it’s at 100% the brush stroke is applied at maximum strength immediately. But where it’s less than 100% it builds up gradually as you paint over the same area.

What determines the maximum depth of colour or darkness of grey is the Opacity setting. When this is at 100%, it produces black. But if we reduce the Opacity, the darkest a single brush stroke can be is grey. Of course, if we paint using a colour other than black, it will produce that colour in various shades.

Now let’s look at another setting most photographer’s don’t realise exists.

Brush Spacing

Something you may have noticed in the previous examples is that even though I applied one brush stroke, it isn’t a smooth, continuous stroke. Instead, you see overlapping circles. You can probably see this easier in the following example (1).

Brush Stroke spacing example in Affinity Photo

Here, the mouse button was clicked and held down whilst the mouse was moved in a circle. Notice how this produces a series of overlapping circles. This is because there’s a space between each application of the brush as it’s moved. In the second example (2) the same settings were applied but the Hardness slider was set to 0% to produce a soft edge. This has helped blend the circles together. But there’s another way we can change the result, which is by modifying the Spacing setting of the brush.

More Brush Settings

If you look back to the settings in the Affinity Photo toolbar, you will find a “More” button to the right of the Hardness setting. Click this and it opens a dialog with further settings you can use to control the Brush.

More brush settings in Affinity Photo

This includes a Spacing setting which is set to 25% for the Brush I was using in the examples.

When the spacing is set to 25%, a new circle is painted every time I move the brush by 25% of it’s width. You can see this more clearly when I draw a straight line (1) using the brush with the Flow set to 10%.

The effect of different spacing settings

Notice how the fourth circle in this line is edge to edge with the first. But look what happens in the second line (2) when I reduce the spacing to 1%. Now I only move the mouse by 1% of the brush width before the next circle is painted. This produces a smooth looking line because the circles are so close together. It’s also why the line looks much darker because there are so many overlapping circles.

Brush Dynamics

Whilst clicking the More button has given us many more settings, there are other tabs in the dialog. When you’re using a circular brush like in the example above, you might not realise what these do. You can see a screenshot below showing the Dynamics tab. The left image shows all the settings at 0% which is for the regular circular brush.

Setting the Brush Dynamics

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Now compare this to the brush settings on the right. Rather than having a round brush tip, this has a tip that looks like speckled paint. Notice how different this looks, producing a brush stroke that looks like painting with Oils on canvas. It’s all achieved using the settings in the General and Dynamics tab.

If you want to know more, watch the short video below which demonstrates everything in this article and a little more.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

So next time you are using the Affinity Photo Brushes for something like Dodging & Burning, be sure you spend time configuring the brush settings to achieve the best results.

More Affinity Photo Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Affinity Photo Tutorials page.

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