How To Draw Smooth Brush Strokes In Photoshop

While Photoshop’s brushes are simple enough to use, you may find some difficulty creating nice, smooth brush strokes. Especially while using a mouse, drawing smooth lines is a lot harder than it seems.

This is largely due to the fact that Photoshop’s brush tools are not based on mathematics – they simply lay down the pixels based on the path you make with your cursor. 

For this reason, Photoshop does not automatically smooth out the natural unevenness due to hand-shake when you make a brush stroke using your mouse or editing tablet.

Luckily, there are some easy ways to ensure your brush strokes appear smooth instead of uneven and bumpy. Even if you’re a total beginner!

How To Smooth Brush Strokes In Photoshop

To smooth brush strokes in Photoshop, select the Brush Tool, then increase the Smoothing percentage in the upper settings bar. To create smooth brush strokes without too much lag, set the smoothing amount to 10% – 45% for optimal performance. Now your next brush stroke will appear smoother.

Let’s break that down a bit further.

If you’re looking to draw smooth lines, one of the major features that will help is Photoshop’s smoothing scale. This will determine how much Photoshop automatically smoothes the lines you make. To observe the smoothing scale in action, navigate to the brush tool (B).

You’ll see the smoothing settings in the top bar once the brush tool is active.

Click the dropdown arrow and you’ll see a slider where you can increase or decrease the smoothing. 

If you set the smoothing at 0%, the line you draw will most likely be a bit bumpy due to hand-shake. This is something very common amongst beginner artists as better hand dexterity only comes with time and practice.

However, by increasing the percentage, you can create a much cleaner version of the line. Even 45% makes a massive difference.

The benefit to this tool is that it’s super quick and easy to use, but if you’re attempting to draw a complex shape, much of it could be lost to the automatic smoothing process. 

There is a somewhat bothersome lag when drawing the line that can disrupt the drawing you’re trying to make. However, this makes sense when you think about the fact that Photoshop is performing mathematical equations to smooth out any imperfections in your line as you draw. A trade-off for a cleaner-looking line I suppose.

So if you want to draw a complex shape, you’ll need to draw slowly and with added precision to create the shape you want.

Brush Smoothing Settings Explained

There are a few other smoothing settings that will help you create smooth, precise lines. Next to the Smoothing percentage, you’ll notice a gear icon. Click this, and you’ll see a few more settings that will have a different overall effect on the line you draw.

The Pulled String Mode will show a circle when you click, and your line will be drawn only once you drag your cursor outside of the circle. 

In some cases, this can make a smoother, more precise line, because the lag of the cursor from the center of the circle to the line being drawn offers time to choose exactly where you’d like your line to go. 

You can also increase or decrease the size of this circle using the Smoothing slider. This mode comes in handy for times when your device might not be steady, such as when you’re in a moving vehicle.

With Stroke Catch-up enabled, you’ll notice the line follows the cursor more closely the slower you draw, and trails a bit farther behind the faster you draw. Here you can see your cursor guiding the line, giving you the illusion of extra precision. This is particularly useful when drawing fine details or sharp curves and corners.

Catch-up on Stroke End will give the opposite effect, as your line will always be close to your cursor. Some people prefer this mode as too much of a lag can be distracting.

Adjust for Zoom will adjust the smoothing effect depending on how zoomed in you are to your canvas. For instance, if smoothing is set to 20% with the canvas at 150% zoom, the smoothing effect won’t be as strong as if you drew a line at, say, 75% zoom. 

At 150% zoom:

At 75% zoom:

I recommend keeping the Stroke Catch-up and Adjust for Zoom features selected, as they offer you the most precision when drawing your line. 

Catch-up on Stroke End is usually unnecessary, while Pulled String Mode is really only useful in the situations mentioned above (and will make the other options unavailable when selected).

Types Of Photoshop Brushes To Help With Smooth Brush Strokes

Another way to ensure your brush strokes are smooth is to select the correct type of brush. This is an important step, as Photoshop has a wide range of brush options and some are naturally smoother than others. You wouldn’t want to use the airbrush, for instance, as its nature is to create an uneven, “messy” effect.

To find the brush options, select the Brush Tool (B).

To see the different brush options you have, click the drop-down arrow next to the brush-tip to reveal your brush tip presets.

The pencil brush tip tends to create the smoothest lines, particularly when the hardness setting is low and the size is small. To change the brush to a pencil, click and hold the brush icon in the toolbar and select Pencil Tool. You’ll notice the icon changes to a pencil.

Let’s compare the pencil to the hard round brush tool.

If we look at the line created with the pencil (top line) compared with a line created with the hard round brush (bottom line), both set to 40% smoothing, you can notice the pencil line is smoother than the hard round line.

We can also see that hardness has an effect on the smoothness of your lines. Look at the lines created by the hard and soft round brushes, below.

With smoothing set to 40% for both brushes, you can see the soft round brush appears smoother. If you’re not concerned with creating a hard line, it would be best, then, to use less brush hardness. If you would like to create a hard line and avoid the soft edges, the pencil-tipped brush would be best.

How To Draw Smooth Straight Lines In Photoshop

To draw smooth straight lines in Photoshop, select the Brush Tool by pressing B and click once on your canvas to set the starting point of your line. Now hold Shift and click on another area of your Canvas. Photoshop will automatically connect the two points with a perfectly straight brush stroke.

Let me give you a more in-depth example.

This is what happens when I draw a straight line freehand using the Pencil brush tip.

Not great-looking. However, if I hold down Shift and click two points, Photoshop will create a perfectly straight line between those points.

The only thing you’ll notice is some pixelation as the line is straight but angled. To get rid of any pixelation, hold Shift before you draw your line. When you go to draw the line, you’ll notice the line is drawn perfectly horizontal or vertical, depending on the direction you’re drawing in. 

Obviously, this limits you to strictly vertical or horizontal lines, but at least the lines will not be pixelated. However, you can somewhat create smooth curves with this method by holding Shift and clicking in small increments to form a curved shape. It’s a bit inefficient but it works!

Smooth brush strokes (or lack thereof) can massively affect the overall appearance of whatever you set out to create in Photoshop. The settings and features detailed above will help you keep your lines smooth regardless of factors like hand-shake, making your strokes appear clean and intentional instead of messy and uneven. 

Happy Drawing!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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