An Essential Guide (+ 5 Tips)

What is the Lightroom Brush Tool? How it works? And how can you use it to improve your photos?

The adjustment brush is one of Lightroom’s most powerful tools. it can help you improve image sharpness, add stunning colors, adjust tone and much more.

In this article, I explain everything you need to know about Lightroom’s Brush tool. I discuss the main brush applications, share step-by-step instructions for ensuring great results, and offer plenty of tips and tricks along the way.

So if you’re ready to improve your editing, let’s dive in!

The Lightroom Brush Tool, also known as the Adjustment Brush Tool, works like a regular old brush: you use it to “paint” over your image. And where the brush touches, the changes are applied.

lightroom brush tool

In other words, the Brush tool is designed to target editing. You use it to make adjustments to small parts of the frame, not to the whole image. (If you want to modify the whole image, i.e. apply a overall edit – you can adjust Lightroom’s sliders.)

Note that you can use the Brush tool to add many different edits to an image. A brush allows you:

lightroom brush tool
The Lightroom Brush tool editing options.

However, you cannot use the Brush tool to selectively apply everything Lightroom adjustment options. For example, the Brush tool does not allow you to add color grading to parts of an image, or make targeted color grading adjustments.

The Brush tool applies edits to parts of an image while leaving other areas untouched. This can be useful if you want to:

  • Darken or desaturate background distractions
  • Brighten or saturate your main subject
  • Dodge and burn for enhanced three-dimensionality
  • Selectively sharpen parts of the image
  • Selectively soften parts of the image
  • Selectively darken the sky

Really, the applications of the Brush tool are limitless and you can often get great results just by experimenting. For example, you can use the brush to warm up just The sky. Or you can use the brush to change the color of a flower or to bring out the irises in a portrait photo.

Working with the Brush tool is quite simple. Start by opening an image in the Lightroom Develop module, then click the Masking option:

lightroom brush tool

The drop-down menu will offer a host of options, including linear gradient and radial gradient, but you need to click on the Brush option:

lightroom brush tool

You’ll see the Lightroom Brush panel appear and your cursor will turn into two concentric circles with a “+” inside:

lightroom brush tool

At the top of the Brush panel, you can adjust your brush properties: Size, Pen, Flow, and Density. The Size slider enlarges and shrinks the brush, while the Feather slider softens or hardens the edges of the brush. The Flow slider determines the amount of editing effect applied to each stroke, while Density reduces the overall editing effect.

lightroom brush tool

(If you want to apply very subtle changes, set the Feather to 100 and drop the Flow below 50. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a heavy effect, keep the Feather low and the Flow high.)

Under brush properties you will find your editing sliders. These work like standard Lightroom sliders, except they will only be applied to places you paint with your brush. Go ahead and adjust the sliders as desired. Then paint over the areas you want to adjust.

If you are wrong, go ahead and click on the Wipe off the option (or press the option Alt/Opt button) and return to the offending areas.

lightroom brush tool

Once you are done using a brush, just click on the Do button at the bottom of the screen, and you can continue editing your image as usual. If you later decide to change your brushstroke, you can select the Masking again, then click on your brush edit in the masking panel. You’ll instantly have access to your Brush panel – with all your original edits intact – and you can modify the sliders or paint over the image as needed.

lightroom brush tool

You also have the option of creating additional brushes; just click on the More in the Masking panel, select the icon Brush option, and follow the process detailed above!

Now that you know how to use brushes, let’s look at some tips and tricks to improve your edits:

1. Use the A/B option to switch between different versions of Brush

Each time you select a new brush (or brush mask), you actually have the option of creating multiple versions of the brush: an A version and a B version.

lightroom brush tool

These brush versions don’t assign your actual edit cursors; instead, they allow you to create two different brushes with two separate sets of brush properties.

In my experience, this A/B Brush option is incredibly useful. I often need more than one brush to make the necessary adjustments. So I just create an A brush and a B brush and then alternate as I work.

(Pro Tip: You can switch between the two versions of Brush by pressing the slash key: /.)

For example, I can create a small hard-edged brush to edit small details in my image. And I could create a large brush with soft edges to handle larger subjects.

For this next image, I used a large brush to adjust the background, and I used a smaller brush on the flower petals:

lightroom brush tool

2. Create Custom Brush Presets

Brush presets allow you to save editing effects for future use. And they’re a great way to speed up your workflow if you find yourself making the same brush edits over and over again.

Lightroom already offers a handful of default brush presets, which you can access by clicking on the Effect scrolling menu. For example, there is a preset to soften skin, a preset to whiten teeth, and a preset to enhance irises.

lightroom brush tool

But if you want to create your own presets, which I highly recommend! – just create a brush and adjust the sliders. Click it Effect drop-down menu, then choose Save current settings as a new preset.

lightroom brush tool

You will be given the option to name your preset. Then click Create and you’re done!

For example, I often like to apply a bit of sharpness while reducing noise. So I created a custom preset that increased the Sharpness slider while decreasing the Noise slider. I also created custom skin smoothing and teeth whitening presets that are different from the default Lightroom settings. This way I can switch to brushes as needed and don’t have to configure sliders from scratch every time.

3. Use a brush to add color to your photos

If you want to enhance your photos with creative edits, you will love this trick.

Create a brush, then select a color:

lightroom brush tool

And apply the color directly to your image!

For a realistic effect, I recommend keeping the color saturation low (in other words, select an area near the bottom of the color menu). And it’s a good idea to experiment with different colors, so try selecting a handful of different colors – with different levels of saturation – and see what you think!

I used this technique to add a subtle pop of color to the baby’s face:

lightroom brush tool

But you can also use it on a much larger scale – to change the color of flower petals or to drastically alter the eyes of a portrait subject, for example.

4. Use Auto Mask to Limit the Brush to Specific Areas

One of the most frustrating things about the Adjustment Brush tool is that, unlike regular brushes, it only has one shape: a circle.

And when you edit photos with hard lines and edges, it can be a problem. How do you limit your Brush edits to a specific area?

Enter the auto-mask feature! Check the Auto Mask box and Lightroom will do its best to identify the edges and prevent brush strokes from wandering away from the lines. It is extremely useful when editing portraits, wildlife, birds, etc.

lightroom brush tool

For this next image, I used the Auto Mask option to keep my brush edits inside the flower petals:

lightroom brush tool

Check out the red overlay, which matches my brush strokes:

lightroom brush tool

5. Use handy shortcuts to speed up your workflow

The adjustment brush is powerful, but it can be slow; after all, you need to set all your brush parameters, adjust your editing sliders, and carefully paint over your image. That’s why I encourage you to speed things up with some useful Lightroom shortcuts:

  • To create a new brush, tap K on your keyboard
  • To reset all your cursors, double click on the word Effect at the top of the panel
  • To quickly change the size of the brush, adjust your mouse scroll wheel up and down

As I mentioned above, you can also create brush presets, which you can rely on when needed. And don’t forget the A/B Brush switching too!

Well, now you have it:

Everything you need to know to create beautiful edits with the adjustment brush.

If you have trouble using the brush at first, don’t give up. Just test different options, play around with new modifications, and create all kinds of wild results. Soon you will be a brush master!

How do you plan to edit your photos with the Lightroom brush tool? Share your opinion in the comments below!

Leave a Comment