How to Use Custom Brushes in Paint.NET

A free downloadable plug-in makes custom brushes a breeze to use

Paint.NET is a Windows PC application for editing images and photographs. 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 a review of the Paint.NET application and find a link to the download page where you can grab your own free copy.

Here you'll see how easy it is to create and use your own custom brushes in Paint.NET. 

01
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Adding Custom Brushes to Paint.NET

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

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 plug-in for Paint.NET. In no time at all, you'll be enjoying this powerful new functionality.

The plug-in is now part of a plug-in pack that includes several plug-ins that 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.

02
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Install the Paint.NET Custom Brush Plug-In

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

If you haven't already downloaded a copy of Simon Brown's plug-in 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 plug-ins, but you'll find full instructions, with screen shots, on the page where you downloaded your copy of the plug-in pack.

Once you've installed the plug-in pack, you can launch Paint.NET and move onto the next step.

03
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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; reducing the size of the brush is usually not a problem.

Also give 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.

04
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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 is carried out in a dialog box rather than directly on the page.

  1. Go to Layers > Add a New Layer. This sets up the brush work to be on its own layer. 
  2. Go to Effects > Tools > CreateBrushesMini to open the dialog window. The first time that you use the plug-in, you will have to add a new brush. Then all the brushes that you add will be displayed in the right-hand column.
  3. Click the Add Brush button and then navigate to the image file that you wish to use as the basis of the brush.
  4. 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 dropdown is quite self-explanatory, and ideally you should never select a size that has dimensions larger than the original brush file.

Brush Mode has two settings: 

  • Color applies the original image to the canvas
  • Mask treats the brush like a stamp, meaning that you can set a color by clicking the box to the right and the brush then applies a solid shape that matches the brush shape 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. A lower speed setting here will generally lead to the brush's impressions being more widely spaced. A higher setting, such as 100, can give a very dense result that can look like a shape that has been extruded.

The other controls let you Undo your last action, Redo an action you just undid, and Reset the image to its original state.

The OK button applies the new brush work to the image. The Cancel button discards any work carried out in the dialog.

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