Photoshop Brush Engine - Faster, More Intuitive


I’m addressing this to all Photoshop users out there. I need you help in finding methods of using the brush engine in this program faster and more intuitively.

Some of the most commonly used adjustments, like Brush Size (Ctrl+Alt+Right Click and drag), Normal and Clear mode switching to quickly carve out a brush stroke (Alt+Shift+N and Alt+Shift+R mapped to one button clicks on a tablet) or color picking with Alt, to name a few, are enormous time savers, but others can’t be bound to shortcuts and don’t appear when recording Actions. :argh: When I have to paint something that requires a certain type of stroke and brush behavior, it takes so long to capture a texture and make all the adjustments, or look online for some free or commercial brush that could potentially behave like I need, that it kills the creative flow. Most of the times I just paint it by hand with the few brushes I know well, but it just feels I’m not taking full advantage of working digitally.

Possible solutions

  1. Macro recording of Brush Panel adjustments

Software like JitBit Macro Recorder, Pulover’s Macro Creator or QuickMacros, allow to record the annoyingly repetitive mouse clicks and keyboard inputs it takes to adjust parameters. AutoHotKey and AutoIt seemed like good solutions too, but they require scripting and I only have one life.

Triggering the macros. Some of the ideas I had were:

  • Using the same keyboard

A key press on the same keyboard can perform different actions. Programs like HIDMacros can assign these actions and store them in different profiles, switching between profiles can be made using macros. Setting the brush to 25% scatter for example, could be achieved with 6 subsequent key presses: 1 to activate a profile picker mode, 2 to activate the required profile (in this case the Brush Engine), 3 to pick what will be modified (Scattering), 4 and 5 to set the numeric value and 6 to commit.

That might seem like too many keypresses, but in time, muscle memory can increase speed. Learning to navigate the menus can be helped by having text displayed while navigating indicating the keys to press.

  • Using additional regular keyboard(s)

The actions can be mapped to additional keyboards, to reduce the number of key presses, but the inconvenience is having another keyboard in the workspace

  • Using a more specialized keyboard instead of the main one.

Gaming keyboards from Razer, Steelseries, Logitech, Corsair etc, allow to assign macros and change profiles to a part or all keys. Razer Deathslaker Ultimate even has 10 keys with LCD displays inside them and a small LCD screen under, which can update in real time to assist in navigating the profiles. A very expensive version of this is the Optimus Popularis keyboard, on which all keyboards have LCD screens.

  • Using a wacky setup were the same keyboard or a secondary one is being projected on. The area of each key receives real time information (text or icon) about what it does if pressed, to assist with navigating the profiles. This would be the poor man’s version of an Optimus Popularis. Possible difficulty: fingers obscuring projection.

Problems with macros.

The main difficulty is that if the system resource usage varies, the delays between actions may not be long enough to perform the macros smoothly. If the actions in a macro are requested faster than the computer can perform them, it simply skips those altogether. Don’t know if there’s a way around this.

Another thing is that the Panel upon which mouse click are performed (in this case the Brush Panel) needs to be in the same position as when those macros were recorded. Mouse clicks can be performed relative to a window, but the brush panel doesn’t register as a window. Luckily, Photoshop allows snapping panels to edges of the main interface.

  1. Macro recording all possible variables of a captured brush

Often times I download brushes (I really like Kyle Webster and Grut brushes) and test them out with different settings. It would save a lot of time if I could apply a macro that tests the brush and outputs an all encompassing chart of its capabilities so that I know just by looking at it if it can solve the design challenge I need it for. This brush testing macro can be useful as a more intuitively iterative tool when designing brushes from scratch too. By seeing the result, I would adjust the input and redo the test until I get exactly what I need.

  1. Emulation of Photoshop brush engine in After Effects

This would be similar to solution 2, but in After Effects, and hopefully closer to a real time solution. I don’t know if it’s actually possible, but basically have a mega complicated composition that allows to input a grayscale image on one end and show brush strokes at the other, in various simulated digitizer input scenarios encompassing every variation the user can perform with a stylus in as few marks as possible.

  1. Scripted version of solutions 1 and 2. Advantages: faster, not dependent on panel position, doesn’t skip ahead when system resources are too low. Disadvantage: having to pay a programmer.

I would greatly appreciate any opinions or suggestions you might have, even if to say that I’m a technologically spoiled.