How to Use Photoshop Brushes in GIMP

Digital camera and photographs next to laptop
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GIMP, the popular free pixel-based image editor, comes with a few decent brushes, but they're rather limited if you want to do anything more than the basics. Fortunately, GIMP makes installing and using Photoshop brushes very easy in versions 2.4 and beyond. All you have to do is place the brush file in the proper folder. 

For GIMP versions older than 2.4, however, you have to convert Photoshop brushes manually, and instructions are still available. A better approach, however, is to download the latest version; the program remains free, and updates typically enhance stability and capabilities. One major improvement over old versions, for example, is the ability to organize and tag your brushes so they're easier to use and find. Installing a Photoshop brush is quick and effortless, and once you know how, you might find the practice addictive.

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Choose Some Photoshop Brushes

You'll need some Photoshop brushes, of course, before you learn how to use them in GIMP. A huge variety is available online, and many are free to download.

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Copy Brushes to the Brushes Folder (Windows)

GIMP stores brushes in a specific folder. In Windows, this is the Brushes folder, which is inside the GIMP installation folder. GIMP loads any compatible brushes in this folder automatically when the program launches. Simply copy or move the brushes you've downloaded directly into this folder. You might need to extract the file if you've downloaded it in a compressed format such as ZIP. 

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Copy Brushes to the Brushes Folder (OS X/Linux)

The process for Mac OS is slightly different, but you're still simply moving the brush to the appropriate place:

  1. Right-click on GIMP within the Applications folder on OS X.
  2. Select Show Package Contents.
  3. Navigate through Resources > Share > gimp > 2.0 on Mac to find the Brushes folder.

In Linux, navigate to the GIMP brushes folder from the Home directory. You may need to make hidden folders visible using Ctrl+H to show the .gimp-2 folder.

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Refresh the Brushes

GIMP automatically loads brushes when it's launched, but only then — so you must manually refresh the list of those you've installed. You do this from within GIMP. Go to WindowsDockable Dialogs > Brushes and click Refresh at the right side of the bottom bar in the Brushes dialog. You'll see your newly installed brushes displayed and ready for use.