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Brushes Painting App for iPhone and iPod Touch

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


The brush options screen in Brushes for iPhone.

The brush options screen in Brushes for iPhone.

© Steve Sprang

The Bottom Line

Brushes is a painting app for the iPhone and iPod touch which features a number of brush styles, and the ability to export higher resolution images using the Brushes Viewer desktop application for Mac OS X. Brushes made national news as the app used to paint the cover of The New Yorker magazine's June 2009 issue. Brushes is certainly well-designed, easy to use, and capable of producing magazine-cover-worthy art--it just needs a few more features to keep it in line with the competition.


  • Includes 11 brush tips, shared by the paint brush and eraser tools.
  • Gesture based shortcuts for undo/redo, brush size, eraser/brush toggle.
  • Good zoom control and generous undo/redo buffer.
  • Good documentation in the form of a PDF User's Guide and in-app tips.


  • Layers can't be moved or scaled. No way to export layers.
  • Does not have a blend or smudge tool.
  • No offset painting mode.
  • Brushes Viewer for exporting high resolution files works on Mac only.
  • No square canvas option--only 320x480 pixels.


  • Paint with 11 brush styles using a paint brush or eraser. Adjust brush spacing, size, and color transparency.

  • Select colors from color wheel and brightness ramp with swatches for white and black, plus old and new colors.

  • Use up to four layers, which can be re-ordered, deleted, merged, copied between paintings, filled, and opacity adjusted.

  • Double tap in the corners for quick shortcuts to undo/redo, adjust brush size, and swap between eraser and paint tool.

  • Zoom 70% to 1600%. Zoom snaps to 100% and canvas can be pulled away from the edge of the screen.

  • Tap to hide or show toolbars, double tap to quickly zoom in or out.

  • Large undo/redo buffer. This is not quantified as a specific number, and undo history is not saved between launches.

  • Import from photos. Export to photos or email. Duplicate paintings. Save PNG or *.brushes file via web server.

  • Brushes Viewer for Mac OS X lets you play back paintings, export resolutions up to 1920x2880,or export QuickTime movies.

  • Brushes is regularly priced at $4.99 from the iTunes App Store.

Guide Review - Brushes Painting App for iPhone and iPod Touch

Brushes is straightforward enough to learn without extensive help, but a detailed User Guide is available from the Brushes website, and in-app tips help with less-obvious features.

Brushes allows you to work with up to 4 layers and offers 11 brush styles which are shared between the paintbrush and eraser tool. There is no smudge or blending tool. The brush styles include hard and soft round brushes, and a variety of textured brushes. It would be great if users could add their own brush tips (I wanted a hard, square one). An offset painting mode would also be welcome.

Zooming is particularly smooth in Brushes. It will snap to 100% when you zoom close to 100%, and you can quickly zoom in and out with a double-tap gesture. You can drag the canvas away from the edge of the screen for painting near the edges. Colors can be picked up from the canvas by a long touch, or by using the eyedropper tool from the toolbar.

Brushes' toolbars can be toggled off and on by double-tapping the center of the screen, which I prefer to an auto-hiding toolbar. Double tapping on the corners provides handy shortcuts for undo/redo, brush size, and brush/eraser toggle. The toolbar also gives visual cues to the state of your tools and layers--such as which tool is active, how many layers you have, and active layer.

The interface for working with layers is also straightforward, although I'd like to see options for moving and scaling layer content. Layers are displayed like a fan, and can be dragged to change the stacking order. The Layers toolbar provides options for filling a layer, merging layers, undo/redo, delete, and add. You can import a photo from your device as a layer. Above the layer stack is a preview of the merged painting.

One neat capability of Brushes is that it can function as a web server, allowing you to access the Brushes gallery from any computer on the same network using just a web browser. Sadly, Windows users can only retrieve low-res PNG files.

If you have a Mac, you can install the free Brushes Viewer and export high resolution PNG, JPEG, or TIFF files up to 1920x2880 pixels. You can also play back your paintings, and export them as QuickTime movies. An option to rotate is provided, in case you did the painting in landscape orientation. I tested the Brushes Viewer on my Mac and it worked flawlessly.

All in all, I enjoyed working with Brushes, but I am less satisfied with creations I made with this app than with those I produced using other painting apps. I think this is primarily due to the lack of blending tools in Brushes. It's possible to achieve blending effects using brush transparency, but it's tedious. Brushes is certainly well-designed, easy to use, and capable of producing magazine-cover-worthy art--it just needs a few more features to keep it in line with the competition.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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