organizing photoshop brushes

Hi everyone! So happy to see such a response from the Get It Scrapped blog hop–hope y’all got to enjoy the great deals from past issues. I’m still freaked out and in disbelief that I’m part of the Creative Team. Still, I’m tickled that I can learn so much more about scrapbooking, because I’d been struggling with feelings of redundancy and inadequacy for about a year. I realized early this year that what helps me A LOT is to continually keep learning, and wanting to learn and then sharing what I learned.

Which brings me to this (sort of) tutorial. Lexfact #338: I like organizing, once I’m past the hump of OMGidon’twannasomuchtodooooooo. Then my problem becomes I keep going and going and oh dear I need to stop. I have fun organizing, especially when I discover a system that works for me. So, some people may find organizing their Photoshop brushes to be as dull as hell. Me? So tickled and happy :)

Why Should I Even Do That??
Well, if you’ve become as addicted to Photoshop brushes (.ABR files) as I have, you can go a little nutty trying to find the brush you want to use for your layouts, as they tend to just be a mess in the brush palette of PS. Also, I have always been a little backwards in that I much prefer my brushes to be PNG files instead of ABR files. Whenever I use an ABR file and have to “stamp” it unto a layer, I always forget to make a new layer. Always. So I end up stamping unto another element and then have to double-back or erase or GAH.

So I prefer using PNG files, which I drag unto my canvas and they become their own layer. I can always play with their opacities and colors after. Or delete the freaking layer if I want.

However, there are designers and resource websites that don’t offer PNG file versions of brushes. This is especially true of brushes made by a site like Creative Market, or the community at Deviantart.com. That place is just a treasure trove of amazing stuff. (Disclaimer: please always double-check the TOU of brushes. They are always different. If you aren’t sure of how you can use something, ASK.)

Since I prefer to work with PNGs, I converted all my ABR brush files into PNGs. While it seems a little excessive to do that, I’d like to offer a few other reasons:
Having too many brushes loaded into PS will slow it down (as is having too many fonts)
Having PNG versions of your brushes means you can use them in other programs (aside from Adobe ones)
Viewing PNG files makes it far easier to see what kinds of brushes you have, and find the one/s you want
It made it way easier to keep track of which brushes I have!
Best of all, I could tag these brush packs that otherwise would’ve just been buried in my MISC folder. Tagging them in Lightroom meant I could view and use them in a more organized way.

Converting ABRs to PNGs
There are specific programs that can do this:

For Macs: BrushPilot ($25)
For PCs: ABRMate (free)

Yes, it sucks that Mac users have to shell out a chunk of cash for this! So a possible workaround could be installing ABRmate on a PC (if you own one or a family member does) and converting your ABR files. Both programs can view brushes in thumbnail or preview formats, convert to PNGs, or even install brushes directly into PS. I’ve also been looking for an online converter, but no luck so far. Any developers wanna make such a thing? I really did have enough brush files to (in my opinion) justify the cost. I mean, I wanted to use my brushes, but that wouldn’t happen if they were in ABR files.

Here’s how I use BrushPilot to organize my brush files:
When you launch BrushPilot, it automatically looks for all the ABR files you have in your laptop! Since I’ve converted a ton of files and moved a lot of them into my EHD, I don’t have as many residing in my harddrive. Even cooler, the program even identifies which ABR files you have installed in PS (and I still have some).

I’m going to convert a brush set I got from Lileya.deviantart.com of awesome trees with birds. I think they’d look amazing on some art journaling layouts. So I can click on the actual ABR file and instantly preview the brushes. (You can also change the size of the preview thumbnails)

Exporting to PNG is easy-peasy. Click the “Export” button and you’ll get a pop-up window asking you where to save your PNG files. I usually choose the folder the ABR file is, because even after converting them, I don’t delete my ABR files. Click “Save” and you’re done!

Now in your original folder with the brush is a new one, with the PNGs.

This is an extra step I do because I tag my supplies in Lightroom, which doesn’t allow for tags in PNGs. So I create my own “preview” for the brush set by enlarging the PNG thumbnails (in Finder) and then taking a screenshot (Cmd + Shift + 4) which becomes a JPG. Then when I do my tagging, I just tag the preview.

Alternative Organizing Without Conversion
So, say you’re like “Lex, looks nice but OMG I don’t wanna convert my ABRs. I like ‘em!” That’s cool, and no worries. What if you just want to view your ABR files without going into PS? Or create your own previews for brush packs that don’t have them?

I found this cool plugin that works with a Mac’s Quick Look function in Finder and allows you to view ABR files right in Finder! And here’s another one, too. So what I do sometimes is use my Mac’s Quick Look to view ABRs, then screenshot THAT window. Instant preview image made, that I can tag in Lightroom!


So I hope this wasn’t too convoluted or technical or confusing. Let me know if you have any questions, or if you have other methods of organizing your brush files. I’d love to hear them! :)