Photoshop tips to boost your skills: Scratch Disk, Image Fill, Masks, Brushes, Vignettes

Take your image editing in new directions.

Credit: Rob Schultz

When you're ready to boost your Adobe Photoshop skills, try one of these features to work some magic with your images. We start with what to do when your Scratch Disk fills up, then dive right into tips for getting started with Content-Aware Fill, Clipping Mask, Brushes, and Vignettes. 

The Photoshop Scratch Disk is full

Photoshop uses the Scratch Disk to store its temporary files, such as the working and history files. If your Scratch Disk is full, save your file, then restart Photoshop. The Scratch Disk is cleared when you exit the program.

The default Scratch Disk is the C:\ drive. Adobe advises against using the operating system drive for your Scratch Disk unless it’s the only drive available. Here’s how to select another drive for the Scratch Disk.

1. To edit or change the Scratch Disk, select Edit > Preferences > Scratch Disks.

2. Because C:\ is the default Scratch Disk drive, it’s listed first and checked off in the Active column. If you have multiple drives they will also be listed, but not checked.

Note: Do not use external drives or network drives for your Scratch Disk.

3. Check the boxes for the additional drives you want to use for Scratch Disks.

4. Next, highlight the C:\ drive and use the up and down arrows on the right side of this panel to move the C:\ drive down and to rearrange the order of the additional drives.

5. Then click OK and restart Photoshop.

01 scratch disks JD Sartain / IDG

When the Photoshop Scratch Disk is full, save your work and exit Photoshop to clear the space. 

How to use Photoshop Content-Aware fill

Use the Content-Aware fill feature to remove an object from an image, then fill that area with the surrounding pixels. 

It’s like magic, but it works best with images that are fairly simple. Photos with a lot of objects and detail may require additional touch-up editing.

For example, in our photograph:

1. Use the Lasso to select the gray duck at the top of the picture.

2. Next, choose Edit > Fill.

3. In the Fill dialog box, choose Content-Aware from the Contents field dropdown list.

4. Select the Blending Mode from the dropdown list. The default is Normal,  but experiment with the other 26 options to ensure the best results.

5. Select the percentage of Opacity, then click OK.

Photoshop removes the selected object, and the surrounding pixels of the pond water fills into the deleted space.

02 content aware JD Sartain / IDG

How to use Photoshop content-aware fill

How to create a clipping mask in Photoshop

A clipping mask is basically a stencil with an image behind it. In spite of how some tutorials make it seem so difficult, it’s actually a simple four-step process in Photoshop.

1. On a blank canvas, type a phrase (such as the name of your company) in large, bold letters. Use a nice, fat font such as Impact, Arial Black, or Gil Sans Bold.

2. Open the image file that you want to show through the stenciled letters.

3. Copy the image to your text file and ensure that the picture layer is on top of the text layer.

4. Right-click that image layer in the Layers panel (not on the picture itself), then choose Clipping Mask from the drop-down list. And that’s it!

A couple of follow-up tips to refine the results:

  • Use the pointer cursor to move the image around under the text to get the best parts of the picture showing through the text.
  • Select the text layer, right-click, and choose Blending Options > Stroke (black, 6 pixels) to add some flair and make the text stand out more

If you don’t like the results, simply delete the image layer and insert another picture on top of the text layer.

03 clipping masks screens JD Sartain / IDG

How to create a clipping mask in Photoshop

How to add brushes to Photoshop

There are three ways to get more brushes in Photoshop: Import Brushes; Get More Brushes; and Create Custom Brushes.

1. Place your cursor on the Brush tool in the Tools palette.

2. In the menu groups across the top, look for the picture of a brush (a blurry dot) with a number beneath it, just beside the brush icon.

3. Click the tiny arrow beside the number and a Brush dialog box opens. Click the gear icon (top right), and a menu list drops down.

4. Choose Get More Brushes, and Adobe opens its Photoshop Brushes website, which displays a big log-in screen.

5. Sign in, and Adobe provides download buttons for “A Thousand Brushes.”

6. Scroll through the sample boxes, choose the brushes you like, then click the Download button.

7. Once downloaded, you must move the brushes from your Download folder to the Adobe Brush folder at: C:\Users\[your user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop 2020\Presets\Brushes. If the files are zipped, unzip them first, then move.

Note: The easiest way to do this is open the Brush folder at the location mentioned in number 7, then open the Downloads folder, then drag the brushes from one to the other.

8. Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 above, then choose Import Brushes from the dropdown.

9. Select one of the brushes from the list, then click the Load button (it won’t let you select and load multiple brushes at a time).

10. The imported brushes are added to your Brushes Palette.

Notice that some of the brushes have a brush icon beside them, and others have the smudge tool icon. The brushes paint, and the Smudge tool smudges areas that are already painted.

11. You can also download brushes directly from third-party sites such as Brusheezy, Brushlovers, and Deviant Art Brushes, to name a few. There are thousands of brushes available on the Internet, and most are free. (Most of these sites also offer free patterns, gradients, textures, shapes, symbols, and styles.) After you download these additional brushes, follow steps 1 through 9 above to add them to your Brushes Palette.

04 add brushes JD Sartain / IDG

How to add brushes to Photoshop

How to create custom brushes in Photoshop

Basic custom brushes are easy to create; it’s the added “effects” that get complicated. For this tutorial, we’ll create a “picture” brush (process is the same for all brushes). For starters, locate a picture that you’d like to convert into a brush. We chose a tiny dancer.

1. Open the picture file.

2. Choose Image > Adjustments > Invert (Ctrl + I) to make the image a negative.

Note: Brushes must be converted to negative images in order to display as positive images when used. Also note that it is not necessary to remove the color (Desaturate) the image before converting it into a brush. All brushes in Photoshop are grayscale until you add color to the brush layer. Brushes in Photoshop are not the same as Picture Tubes in Paint Shop Pro.

3. Use the Magic Wand to select the background, then choose Select > Invert to reverse the background with the foreground and select the foreground image.

4. Use the Polygonal tool to clean up the selected image and smooth out any jagged or missing pixels.

Note: If there are colors in the image that are the same as the background color, those pieces of the image may blend with the background, which means they won’t be included in your brush image.

5. With the foreground image still selected, choose Edit > Define Brush Preset. Enter a name for your brush in the Brush Name dialog, then click OK.

And that’s it! Brush created, unless you want to add some special effects.

6. With the Brush tool still selected, click the paintbrush on the file folder icon at the top menu to open the Brush Settings menu.

7. Play around with these settings until you’re happy with the results. Check the boxes to view the different effects. Notice that the options in the right panel change based on which effect is highlighted, such as the Texture effect.

8. The brush must be in its own layer if you want to change the brush color, but note that unless you use a pattern or gradient, the brush will still be just a single color.

Note: On the Brush menu, the number below the brush is the pixel size of the original brush you created. It’s better to create large brushes that you can size down when used, than create small brushes and attempt to enlarge them. Enlarging brushes, images, patterns, or anything else in Photoshop compromises the image/brush quality.

05 custom brushes JD Sartain / IDG

How to create custom brushes in Photoshop

How to add a vignette in Photoshop

There are lots of ways to create vignettes in Photoshop; the following process is really easy. One suggestion, however, for best results: Choose photos with objects, animals, or people that are centered and mostly fill the image frame. If this is not possible, enlarge and crop the photo to meet these specifications.

1. Select a photo.

2. For a circular vignette, choose the Elliptical Marquee tool.

3. Place your cursor on the background area, then click and drag the circle out and around the subject.

Note: Hold down the Shift key (while dragging) to constrain the marquee. Hold down the Alt key to drag the marquee from its center.

4. If your circle is not centered, place the cursor on the circle line until it changes to a pointer, then drag the circle wherever you want it.

5. To enlarge or reduce the size of the circle, choose Select > Transform Selection.

6. Place your cursor over one of the sizing handles and, when it changes to a double arrow, hold down the left mouse button and drag the marquee to the size you want, then press Enter.

7. To create the vignette, change the selected area to the background; choose Select> Inverse (Shift- Ctrl+ I).

8. The rest depends on the type of vignette you want. The easiest way is to blur out the background, then add a color, gradient, pattern, or design to the blurred area.

9. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur; adjust the Radius to 1000.0 pixels (or move the slider all the way to the right), and click OK.

10. With the background layer still selected, experiment with different fill options. Choose Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient, then click OK in the New Layer dialog.

11. In the Gradient Fill dialog, choose a color, then scroll through the options and make a selection. Notice that as you cursor through the colors, the changes appear on the screen so you can see what your selection looks like before you choose.

12. For our example, we chose the Gray color, the gray and black gradient, and selected the Radial Style, at a 90-degree angle; We scaled it to 177 percent, so the gray is around the subject, then fades to black as it moves out to the edges of the frame.

06 vignette JD Sartain / IDG

How to add a vignette in Photoshop

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JD Sartain

PC World (US online)
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