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Photoshop CS4: Drag-resizing Cursors




What is it?

I can almost always gauge someone’s Photoshop skill level by the way they change their Brush size. This created two neat categories.
Beginner Photoshop Users use the Brush Preset Picker to select a brush, hover their mouse over the image to gauge brush size then return to the Brush Preset Picker to adjust the brush size and so on.
Advanced Users use the bracket keys ([,]) to change the brush size or add the Shift key to the mix to change the Brush Hardness.

Photoshop CS4 adds a new method of adjusting brush size breaking my two easy classifications. The Drag-Resizing Cursors which allow you to click and drag on your image to resize your brush using a special keyboard shortcut. In Photoshop CS4, with the brush tool selected, hold the Control/Option keys (Mac) or Right-click+Alt (Win) while clicking and dragging the mouse. Move the mouse down for a larger brush and up for a smaller brush. A red overlay will temporarily appear to show the size and hardness of the brush.

Why is it important?

The two classifications of Photoshop users aren’t meant to be pejorative. Instead, they’re based on practical experience. People who use Photoshop (or any application for that matter) gravitate toward the fastest, and most efficient way to work. In order to perform their work effectively, and not get bogged down in the maze of pull-down menus, dialog boxes and options, master users let their fingers do the walking, fluidly jumping back and forth between tools, changing brush sizes and generally working their magic on images without breaking rhythm.



If you want to work more efficiently, try learning the keyboard shortcuts for the tasks you perform every day. It will take a little while to memorize them, but after a short period, you’ll find yourself forgetting to remember, your fingers select the correct tool automatically without thought or attention.

Welcome to the Master-level. I’m glad you could join us.

Bonus Tip: To get into the Ninja-level, use the following keyboard shortcuts to drag-resize brush hardness. Control/Option/Command while clicking and dragging on the Mac or Shift/Right-click/Alt on Windows.


10 comments for “Photoshop CS4: Drag-resizing Cursors”

  1. I’m sorry, but I know most of photoshop shortcuts and this change is very bad for my work :
    normally (photoshop 7) ctrl+alt+right click is for quick layer selection, and know with this quick brush resize option I can’t change to another layer without change the current tool.
    So I buy cs4 to use photoshop 7…
    Because no toogle function.

    Posted by mauvoisin | April 26, 2009, 3:24 pm
  2. Mauvoisin,

    Thanks for your note. You can always change Photoshop’s default Keyboard Shortcuts. Under the Edit menu, select Keyboard Shortcuts. You should be able to return the ctrl+alt-right-click function to Photoshop 7’s behavior.


    Posted by jay | April 27, 2009, 9:06 am
  3. I love the ctrl+alt+right click (the mac version preferred) but found the tone of the tip a bit condescending. Master level? It’s merely a shortcut.

    Posted by dmitry | April 27, 2009, 1:50 pm
  4. Dmitry,

    Thanks for your note. I’m sorry you found the term “master level” to be condescending. I will be more careful of my use of terms in the future.

    Posted by jay | April 27, 2009, 2:04 pm
  5. Cheerio, and keep the tips coming!

    Posted by Dmitry | May 2, 2009, 6:19 pm
  6. The red indicator isn’t showing when resizing or adjusting hardness…help please?


    Posted by Nicholas | February 3, 2010, 9:33 am
  7. Nicholas,

    Make sure you’re using the correct sequence of keys to make the red overlay appear. On the Mac, it is CTRL-Option (Not CMD-Option as is most shortcuts) and on Windows right click+alt.

    You might also check to see whether or not the caps lock is depressed. Often that will change the visibility of brushes, though it didn’t affect the usage of this shortcut on Mac.

    If you’re still experiencing problems, you might try deleting your preferences and relaunching Photoshop.


    Posted by jay | February 3, 2010, 10:36 am
  8. JAY – THANK YOU!!! I have been SO frustrated by sometimes not being able to change my brush size when using the healing tool and I could never figure out what button I accidentally pressed to make it lock! It IS the caps lock! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

    Posted by Kelly | January 1, 2012, 11:35 pm
  9. Kelly,

    Glad I could help. Happy Photoshopping!

    Posted by Jay | January 2, 2012, 4:19 pm
  10. Oh my, I am using Photoshop for 8 years and I only encountered this on your site! Great job on this one!

    Posted by Jhun | December 13, 2012, 7:44 am

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