Managing Your Photoshop Brushes

Photoshop Brush Presets

Viewing Your Brushes

It can be frustrating having a lot of brushes, but not remembering where they are or what they are. As you can see from the view of the Photoshop Presets Editor above, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly what a brush looks like even with the large previews. (OK, the butterflies shown are easy, but little text or grunge brushes can be difficult!) It’s also difficult to remember what brushes you have that aren’t loaded. Here are a few suggestions for easier ways to view and find your brushes.

Applications For Viewing Brushes

There are quite a few applications available that are a big help in finding and previewing your brushes.

Mac Application

Brush Pilot

Brush Pilot, a Mac application


Brush Pilot is a nifty little application for Mac users that allows you to preview all your Photoshop brushes. When installed, it will automatically find all instances of brushes on your computer and even on external hard drives. It shows you where the brush is located as well. Have a look at the screenshots to see more features in action.

If I had one feature on my Wish List for this app, it would be a way to also tag brushes so you could find them by subject easier. Having a file structure for your brushes could handle this.

I do always recommend storing your brushes in a folder outside of the Photoshop application. This makes it easier to back up your brushes and if Photoshop loses it’s presets  your brushes won’t be lost.

Another handy feature about this app is that it will allow you to export brushes to .png format. If you are someone who prefers using .png overlays and you get brushes that do not come with them, this is a time-saver. In fact, I’m hoping this will be a great addition to my own workflow!

PC Applications

If you are on the PC platform, a quick search turned up these freeware programs, abrMate and BrushView. I haven’t used these, so if you have any experience with them or another application, please leave a comment!

An Alternative Method

Another way to organize and view your brushes would be using the .png files that come with many brushes and either viewing them in Adobe Bridge, or even better, an image database program. With an image database program, the advantage is that these images would be organized with your other stock assets and you can give them keywords.

Note that some image browsers and image databases don’t handle transparent .png files very well or at all.

Adobe Lightroom (pre Lightroom 5) for example does not support .png files. If you want to import the .png files into earlier versions of Lightroom, you’ll need to convert them to Photoshop or Tiff files.

Update: Lightroom 5 does support .pngs – yay!

Also, I’ve had reports that the Photoshop Elements Organizer doesn’t see the transparent .pngs very well. Check out ACDSee for database programs that handle transparant .png files very nicely. These programs are often used by Scrapbookers as they generally have a lot of .png files. While I use Lightroom for my photography and Raw processing, my own plan is to create a separate database using either ACDSee or Canto’s Cumulus single user edition (this program is expensive, but I already have a license, and I like this database) for my graphics. The nice thing about this method is that I could then see all my .png files and I could also have my stock and graphics catalog open at the same time as Lightroom. I just like the idea of having my stock graphics in a separate catalog from my photographs. The keywords are different and I like to keep 3rd party graphics clearly separate from my own.

Complimentary Methods

Using one of the brush viewers above would be a nice compliment to database method for finding brushes and for creating .png files if your brush set does not come with one.

What about you? How do you tame your Photoshop brushes?


Check the brushes you see above or my other Photoshop brushes. I also have a few free brush sets. Check the Freebies category.

Shop For Brushes

9 Responses to Managing Your Photoshop Brushes

  1. Tony Bruguiere September 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    The new Lightroom 5 supports .png

  2. Jenny Lens September 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Leslie,as Tony wrote, Lightroom 5 DOES handle pngs. I have not upgraded because it requires Lion, and I’m still on Snow Leopard. LR 4 works (great for me) as a visual database. I make a jpg copy of pngs quickly using Yellow Mug’s Easy Batch. I indicate on the folder name ‘png jpg’ so I know png reside in that folder and what it looks like. Not just overlays, but I capture screen shots and a variety of png files. I open the file from the desktop to use in Photoshop. I use BrushPilot, but it is woefully lacking in organizational abilities like tagging, searching. If you collect and make tons of brushes as I, it’s alarming we have no effective brush organization tools. I always make backups of all my LR and Pshop presets, actions, etc. I’ve purchased or downloaded free tools like crazy. I can’t imagine replicating all that work. Thanks always for your wonderful ideas and art.

    • Leslie Nicole September 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks for reminding me, Jenny that I haven’t updated this post. Off to do it now. Thanks!

  3. Lois September 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    On the PC, I also use ACDSee to organize and catalog my brushes and other design files such as textures. I have an additional utility that is absolutely super for previewing such files. It is called Argus, from a little company named Tumasoft. (

    It shows the preview for not only brushes but Photoshop custom shapes, patterns and layer styles. It is not free, but very affordable.

    Hope it is permissible to have included the link; if not, I am sorry…

    • Leslie Nicole September 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      Thanks for the info, Lois! Links are always welcome when they enrich the conversation. xx

  4. Carol October 11, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    You can easily view transparent .png files in Piccasa too.

  5. Linda Austin March 1, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    When I looked up Brushview it only operates on MAC not PCs. I have abr but it’s not very convenient. Too bad that the developer of Brush Pilot has no plans for a PC version. I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time organizing. I know where everything is but am trying to streamline. A computer crash/burn & a backup burned at the same time did not help. I also am using Elements 15 with Elements XXL plugin which provides more photoshop qualities. Brush Pilot for one will not work in Elements, nor will Magic Squire. I’m still looking for a color wheel plugin like Painter for Elements 15.

    • Leslie Nicole April 26, 2017 at 9:44 am #

      Hi Linda,
      There is the free PC abrMate app as well. Brush Pilot does not work within Photoshop or Elements, it is a stand-alone app.

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