Introduction to Using Brushes in Gimp

I've had a few people ask me how to get brushes working in Gimp, so here is a quick and easy tutorial. First of all, what is a brush? A brush is simply the shape of your tool when used on your canvas. Brush shapes can be used for the typical paintbrush tool as well as many others, such as airbrush, the eraser, clone, heal, pencil, and many more. Whenever you use a tool that manipulates by single-point mouse-clicks, typically you can use different brushes. Instead of using a plain old circle for your paintbrush tool, a brush lets you use a different, often much more complex shape. You can adjust the size and opacity of it as well. You can download many brushes of different shapes and quickly create background textures, shapes, strokes, stamps, and patterns from your library of brushes. Here is an example of my brush dialog open in Gimp:

Example Brush Dialog

So how do you add brushes to Gimp? The first thing you need to do is go download some! There are many places online where you can download them for free. When obtaining free brushes, please be sure to view the owner's license information. Many brush authors require credit given or payment if the brush set is used commercially. All Brushes on texturemate are completely free.

When downloading brushes, you will most commonly come across brush sets in .abr format. A single .abr file can contain many brushes. If you use Gimp 2.4 or later, you can use .abr files just fine. The .abr extension comes from Adobe Photoshop and Gimp used .gbr files in the pre-2.4 era. It is nice that nowadays, you can have a single brush library of .abr files that both Gimp and Adobe Photoshop or Elements can use.

Once you collect some brushes, you need to decide where to store them on your PC. You can use Gimp's default directory, or create your own anywhere on your PC. You can sort your brushes with subfolders as well, since Gimp will recurse into each folder when hunting for brushes. The default brush folder for Gimp is under its installation directory, which would typically be something like C:\Program Files\GIMP-2.0\share\gimp\2.0\brushes. You can add other folders by navigating to Edit - Prefences - Folders - Brushes. Here, you can add multiple folders for Gimp to use for its brush library:

Brush Folders Preferences

Once you add new folders to your Gimp preferences, or add new brushes to currently used folders, you must either restart Gimp or click the refresh button in the Brush Dialog for Gimp to refresh its brushes. If all goes well, you should now have a new set of brushes to use for your artwork! To show you the power of brushes, I will lay down a few grunge texturemate brushes over a grey background. Here is my completely new background texture in under a minute of work:

Example Texture Made from Brushes

Now go try!