GIMP’s powerful image editing tools rely heavily on brushes for flexibility and easy customization. While you can create your own custom brushes (be sure to check out our tutorial on how to make GIMP brushes), why spend your time reinventing brushes that have already been made?
Choosing the best GIMP brushes to upgrade your editing capabilities can be a time-consuming process, but I’ve sorted through some of the best brush packs that are available, including some brushes that are actually intended for use with Adobe Photoshop.
Yes, that’s right – GIMP can use Photoshop brushes, as well as its own native brush formats! This means that almost all of the most popular brushes available online can be used with GIMP, as long as it’s in the ABR format, so let’s cut right to the chase and see what’s out there.
(If you’re not sure how to install GIMP brushes, I’ll include a quick guide at the end of the list.)
- 1. Special Media Brushes
- 2. Effect Brushes
- 3. Abstract Brushes
- 4. Object Brushes
- The Quick Guide to Installing GIMP Brushes
- Creating Custom Brushes
- Even More GIMP Brushes
1. Special Media Brushes
These brushes are designed to recreate the effect of a particular medium, whether it’s pastel on paper or a dry ink calligraphy brush. There is a huge range of options available so I’ve had a tough time choosing which to include, but I think these packs cover the most artistic styles.
This brush pack is originally designed for Photoshop, but the vast majority of the brushes (over 300) are in the ABR format which is compatible with GIMP. The pack covers a huge range of oil and acrylic styles to take your next brush painting project to whole a whole new level.
Free Ink Brushes
Most of these packs don’t have their own distinct and creative names, but they’re still jammed full of useful ink brushes in a huge variety of widths and dryness levels – 192 different options, in this case.
Again, don’t be thrown off that they’re intended for Photoshop – they’ll work just fine with GIMP as well, and they’re free for use in any project without crediting the original artist. Download the pack here.
Realistic Pencil Brush
No list of realistic brushes would be complete without a proper pencil sketching brush, and Realistic Pencil Brush does the trick quite nicely. It’s available free on DeviantArt, although it hasn’t been updated in quite some time so don’t expect the selection to be expanded any further.
2. Effect Brushes
Catchlights by Redheadstock / ObsidianDawn
If you’re a portrait photographer, you’re probably keenly aware of how catchlights can impact your presentation of your subject. The eyes are the windows to the soul, or so they say.
These unique brushes allow you to easily create various catchlight effects without needing a huge and expensive collection of different lighting equipment.
Download the pack free for personal use here, or fork over a whopping $3 for an attribution-free license. ObsidianDawn also has a huge collection of other Photoshop & GIMP brushes that are definitely worth a look – there are also a few others included in this list.
60 Bokeh Brushes by Reto Scheiwiller
Bokeh is the technical term for the beautiful blurring effect created by certain photographic lenses in areas that are out of focus. Typically created by more expensive lenses, bokeh-style effects can be created with the right brushes and layering effects.
You can buy the pack of 60 different bokeh effects for commercial usage, but they’re also available free on DeviantArt for personal use. Just please, for everyone’s sake, use them sparingly – this is definitely a ‘less is more’ situation.
3. Abstract Brushes
Abstract brushes tend to be swirls, spatters, curves, and other shapes that used as accents in larger compositions. I’m generally a fan of creating my own brushes for that kind of usage, but some of these brushes are good enough that I’m tempted to change my habits.
Redheadstock has a few entries in this list of GIMP brushes, and with good reason. A huge library of brushes isn’t complete without a few flourishes, however, and these can be combined in various ways to create entirely unique designs.
Gradient shapes are one of those design features that never seem to disappear, but GIMP’s built-in gradient support is a bit rudimentary. Expand your capabilities with this pack of 13 different gradient brushes from Fresh eMedia, free for personal and commercial use.
I love a good splatter brush pack, but I’ve tried to hold myself back from filling the whole list with them since they’re not actually useful very often – plus it’s easy to make your own. The same isn’t true of these beautiful watercolor splatters, since the paper and pigment gradients are almost unique to watercolor and ink.
I’m not sure if I just love the name or the colors and textures used in the thumbnail that grabbed me on this pack, but it can create some beautiful abstract shapes. Available for free on DeviantArt, brush creator Axelraider70 also has a huge set of other GIMP-friendly brush packs available.
4. Object Brushes
If you’ve ever wanted to adjust a sky in one of your photos, you’ve probably discovered how hard it can be to draw photorealistic clouds. With these brushes, suddenly you’ve got a headstart. 20 different cloud styles, although this pack is mostly the kind of fluffy cumulus cloud seen on beautiful summer days.
These brushes are available for free on DeviantArt but must be credited when used, or you can buy a license for a few dollars.
Sankyaku’s Grass Brushes
These image hose brushes are a unique type of GIMP brush that actually contain several different images. When painting with an image hose brush, one of the images is randomly chosen for each imprint of the brush, usually with its own random angle, size, and position.
I was hoping to include more animated/active brushes in this list, but the incredible attention to detail that is required to make high-quality image hose brushes seems to put most people off.
The result of all that work allows you to create neatly randomized pattern effects with a minimal amount of effort. Sankyaku also has an active brush for fall leaves, which is linked on the DA page for these complex grass brushes.
The Quick Guide to Installing GIMP Brushes
Installing your fancy new brushes in GIMP is just as easy as downloading them. You can extract them into a custom folder on your desktop for easy access and tell GIMP where to find them, or you can place the brush files into the brushes folder of your GIMP installation in five steps.
Step 1: Select a brush pack from the list above, and download it from the artist’s website. Most brush packs are available as a compressed file, so open it in your program of choice. Leave this window open for now, and we’ll come back to it later.
Step 2: Open GIMP, and open the Preferences window from the Edit menu (find it in the GIMP application menu on macOS).
Step 3: In the left pane of the Preferences window, scroll to find Folders and click the + icon to expand it. Select Brushes from the expanded Folders list and GIMP will display all the locations that it checks for brushes during startup.
Step 4: Select the folder marked as Writable, which should be your user profile’s custom GIMP folder for installing any new GIMP brushes, and click the button Show file location in the file manager in the top right.
Step 5: A new window opens showing the selected Brushes folder. Switch back to the window containing your compressed file, and drag and drop the brush files from that window into the Brushes window you just opened.
This will extract them from the compressed file into the Brushes folder, ready for use.
GIMP will load your new brushes the next time it starts, but if you don’t want to restart the program, you can also go to the Brushes panel in the main GIMP window and click the small circular arrow icon Refresh brushes, and GIMP will recheck the Brushes folder immediately.
Creating Custom Brushes
If you’re really interested in creating your own custom brushes, it’s actually easier than you think. There are a couple of different ways to do it: a quick way that’s a bit limited in terms of options, and a much longer way that gives you the ultimate control over your brush shape and effects.
The Quick Method
Find the Brushes panel, which is located in the upper right corner of the GIMP interface by default. A row of buttons runs along the bottom of the panel, including one labeled Create new brush which opens the Brush Editor for you to create and customize a new brush.
You’re limited to a few basic shapes when using this method, but it can still be useful for creating custom sizes that you use again and again in your work. Name it, and it will automatically be saved into your Brushes panel (though you may have to click Refresh brushes to see it).
The Long Method
The long method for creating custom brushes is actually a bit too long to include in this article. It doesn’t use the brush editor at all, but uses a whole separate image as the brush source, giving you complete control over its design. It takes a bit longer to do, but it’s far more flexible.
Read the complete tutorial on how to make custom brushes in GIMP here.
Even More GIMP Brushes
As you’ve probably noticed, the number of GIMP brushes that are available online seems almost limitless. While I’ve been careful to select popular GIMP brushes that I think you’ll actually have a use for in your work, there are far more good brushes available out there than I can fit into this list.
One of the best sources of new GIMP brushes is the online art community named DeviantArt. One of the oldest art hosting websites on the net, DA has a huge community of active artists who create and release new brushes regularly for a range of different programs.
Pay close attention to any licensing and attribution requirements. If the brush creator asks to be acknowledged, be sure to respect their wishes when exhibiting the work you’ve created with their brushes. This isn’t always necessary, but check to make sure on the downloads page or included documentation.
And don’t forget – almost all Photoshop brushes can be used in GIMP too, so don’t pass over them just because you’re worried about compatibility issues!About Thomas Boldt