How to Install Brushes in GIMP

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!

The almost-hidden Refresh brushes button

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
I’ve been working with digital images since the year 2000 or so, when I got my first digital camera. I've tried many image editing programs. GIMP is a free and powerful software, but not exactly user-friendly until you get comfortable with it, and I wanted to make the learning process easier for you here.

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  • LMB

    Thanks so much for this clear step-by-step. For some reason, the official documentation entirely dances around the dang point whereas this got me right where I needed to be.

    • Thomas Boldt

      You’re welcome! The GIMP documentation is a bit vague in some places, and sometimes it was just never written in the first place – but that means I can help out with this website, which I enjoy a lot =)

  • Pete Porchos

    GIMP 2.10.34 (revision 1)
    MacOS Ventura 13.5.1

    Brushes is a great feature. I enjoy making them! And made quite a few a while back. I made folders (people, trees etc) installed the brushes in these folders as you detail and they appeared in the top right pane. Installing them in folders like this means you don’t have to scroll through hundreds scattered all over the place in that pane. Control+left click on the little arrow makes the folders visible, and then you can select the required folder and only those brushes are visible. Reverse this to get the whole lot back in the pane. Well, this used to work. But not any more. It’s now alarmingly easy to lose the whole lot! Have you got any thoughts on this? (aside from the whole process being astoundingly unintuitive!)

    I always find what you write helpful. Thanks.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Pete, I’m sorry to hear that it doesn’t work anymore! Did the latest GIMP update mess up your brush folder configurations in the Preferences panel, maybe?

      If you can’t just re-add the brush folders you created, there’s another option for sorting your brushes, but it’s extremely tedious when compared to the folder option: you can use GIMP’s brush tagging system.

      Select one of GIMP’s default brushes, and you’ll see that it already has a tag. For example, there’s a Wilber brush tagged ‘Fun’ and several other tag options.

      If you select each of your brushes, you can add new tags using the text box at the bottom of the Brushes panel. Unfortunately, because you can’t select multiple brushes at once, there’s no way to quickly add the same tag to a whole bunch of brushes – so if you have hundreds, it will take a very long time to tag them all!

      I’m hoping that the next version of GIMP will improve many of these quality-of-life issues, but until that happens, this is the only other option I know of!

      • Pete Porchos

        Hi there Thomas,

        Thanks for your reply. No, my brushes are still in their folders, where I put them. (Although not in the folder you mention above – I found the path by right clicking on the brush in the brushes panel and then choosing ‘show in file manager’)

        The issue I have had since I updated my OS is that the way you show a particular folder full of brushes (eg Fun, which has three default brushes in it) has changed. I think I have cracked what to do now.

        – [ ] Command+right click on the little arrow top right of brush panel – a list of the folders my brushes are in appears.
        – [ ] Left click the folder you want and this highlights the folder
        – [ ] Press command and the brushes in that folder appear in the panel
        – [ ] To get back to the panel with all the brushes in its command+left click on the little arrow – this brings up a pane with just the one folder (eg Fun) highlighted.
        – [ ] Left click on that highlighted folder and all of the brushes are displayed in the pane again.
        What a palaver. GIMP is great (and free) but it does test your tenacity.

    • Thomas Boldt

      **Follow-up: I discovered that it is possible to tag multiple brushes at once, just not when the View as Grid layout option is selected in the Brushes panel. Change the Brushes panel to View as List instead, and for some reason, GIMP will then let you select multiple brushes and tag them all at once. I hope that helps!

  • Jami

    By the way, great well laid out tutorial.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Thanks, glad you found it helpful!

  • Jami

    Is there any way to get rid of unused default brushes and / or rearrange the brushes in the palette?

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Jami, unfortunately, there’s no real brush management system in GIMP, so there’s no easy to way to do what you’re asking. You could sort of fake it using your operating system’s file manager: create a few different subfolders to categorize your brush files, and keep them all *outside* of the GIMP brushes folder. Then when you need to use a certain brush for a project, temporarily move the brush files into the GIMP brushes folder.

      It’s a very clumsy solution, but it’s the only way I know of. I guess you could always just delete the brush files that you don’t want to use, but if you ever change your mind, you’d have to redownload them or reinstall GIMP.

      Hopefully there will be a brush management system in GIMP 3 when it’s finally released!