One of the most exciting features of GIMP is the ability to use custom brushes. Custom brushes let you completely change the way your drawing and editing tools work, providing new texture, style, and more. You can even create your own brushes to really unleash your creative vision.
It’s actually pretty simple to install new brushes in GIMP. All you have to do is copy your brush file into the proper brush folder, and click the Refresh Brushes button in the Brushes palette window. The only trick is knowing where to copy your files, and that depends on your platform.
But instead of trying to navigate your way through a maze of confusing directories, the simplest way to find your Brushes folder is through the GIMP Preferences window. This method is best because it will always show you the correct path, even if you installed GIMP in a custom location.
Open GIMP, then open the Edit menu and choose Preferences. In the left pane of the Preferences window, expand the Folders category by clicking the small ‘+’ sign if it’s not already opened, and then choose Brushes. The right pane will update with your brush folders.
Like in my example, you’ll probably have two entries in the list. One is the system directory, and the other is your personal directory, highlighted as ‘Writable’ next to it. Select the writable folder, then click the small ‘file drawer’ icon in the upper right, Show file location in file manager.
On Windows and Linux, a new window will appear showing you the Brushes folder. Copy your new brush file into the Brushes folder, and then return to your GIMP window. Click the Refresh brushes button in the Brushes palette, and you’re good to go!
On macOS, the directory isn’t created until you create and save a brush, so this trick doesn’t work. Here’s where you can find the proper location and then create the new directory yourself. This seems like an oddly shortsighted move by the devs, but perhaps it was just an oversight.
That’s the quick version of how to install brushes in GIMP, but there’s a bit more to go over if you really want to master one of the most powerful features GIMP has to offer.
Note: All these instructions are for GIMP 2.10 and above, as some of the processes and paths have changed since previous versions. GIMP is free, so you may as well stay up-to-date!
Finding the Brushes Palette
By default, the Brushes palette is open in the upper right corner of your GIMP window. But it’s pretty easy to accidentally relocate it, close it, or maybe the latest version release will change the default interface layout.
If you can’t find the Brushes palette on your screen, don’t worry – it’s easy to enable it. Open the Windows menu in the GIMP menu bar, choose the Dockable Dialogs sub-menu, then click Brushes. The shortcut Shift + Ctrl + B also opens the same palette (Shift + Command + B on Mac).
GIMP Brush Formats
The default GIMP brush format uses the GBR extension, but there are actually quite a few different types of brush files that you can install in GIMP. GBR files cover basic image brushes using simple shapes and textures like those shown above, but that’s not all GIMP can do.
GIMP has another type of brush called an ‘image hose’, also known as an animated brush, with the file extension GIH. These brushes allow you to randomize the brush content as you paint with it, creating amazing effects that can also help hide the more repetitive signs of brush usage.
The default brush featuring the GIMP mascot, Wilber, shows off the image hose format. Each time the image stamps on the page, Wilber has a different object in its teeth. If you were to use the same effect on a texture brush, you could create
If you want to learn more about creating your own brushes, you can find the separate guide I wrote about the whole process here.
Perhaps the most exciting GIMP brush format isn’t actually a GIMP format at all. As of version 2.2.6, GIMP gained the ability to use Photoshop’s ABR brush format as easily as its own native formats.
Photoshop brushes are extremely popular, and the ability to use them really expands what you can do with GIMP. You install them the same way as you learned earlier, but remember that any new brush features Adobe adds in the future may cause unexpected issues until GIMP updates.
Default GIMP Brush Directories
If you just want to know the direct folder path, the default Brushes folders are found at these locations:
- Windows – C:\Users\Your User Folder\AppData\Roaming\GIMP\2.10\brushes
- macOS – Users > Your User Name > Library > Application Support > GIMP > 2.10 > Brushes
- Linux – /home/Your User Name/.gimp-2.10/brushes
Depending on your system settings, these folders (or some of the ones along the way) may be hidden by default. If you can’t seem to find them, here’s how to enable hidden folder display on each operating system:
- On Windows, open File Explorer, then click View in the ribbon along the top. Check the box marked Hidden items, and you should be able to find the right folder.
- On Mac, open Finder and navigate to your Users > Your User Name directory. The keyboard shortcut Command + Shift + . (that’s a period) should make the hidden Library folder visible, although you’ll have to do this each time.
- On Linux, open your File Manager and press Ctrl + H to show hidden files and folders.
At this point, you’re a master of how to install brushes in GIMP – but there’s still more to learn about brushes! Creating your own brushes really unlocks the power of this tool, and it’s pretty simple once you get the basic process – follow along with my guide here.About Thomas Boldt