Aug 06, 2015

The Difference Between Flow and Opacity in Photoshop

Today’s episode is all about the Difference between Flow and Opacity in Photoshop.  Both Flow and Opacity are settings used for the Brush Tool.  The Brush Tool is one of the most commonly used Tool in Photoshop.  Knowing the Difference between Flow and Opacity while using the Brush Tool will make your life so much easier when editing.  There are moments when using Flow is the perfect choice, and there are moments when it might not the best option.  Today we will discuss both settings, as well as show you a few different examples.

Flow vs Opacity, round 1!

So let’s break this down.

  • FLOW: Flow allows you to build up ink over and over again.  A lot like ink on a piece of paper.  The more times you go over something with Flow as your setting while using your Brush Tool in Photoshop, the more ink you are building us.  Imagine the effect a marker has on a piece of paper.  Every Stroke lays down more in.
  • OPACITY:  Opacity is more of a computer generated way of painting.  If you painted a canvas with 50% Opacity, you couldn’t lay more ink down on your canvas until you picked up your brush and applied it again.  This method can be super useful in some cases, in others it might be extremely limiting.

So both Flow and Opacity can be great settings for the Brush Tool.  The key is to know when to use which setting and why.

And the Winner is…

It’s a tie!  Both settings are extremely helpful when using the Brush Tool.  Now get out there and master them both!



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(will not be published)

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    Barnia Scruggs

    Thanks, Aaron.

    What about a studio tour? We have been waiting to see the new studio since the move!!


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    The numbers on the measuring tape drive me. did any one else notice them?

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      David A Rogers

      Yes, I noticed them. Theres no way she has a waistline close to 50in.
      Next tutorial. How to fix a stylists error.

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    [email protected]

    Hi Phlearn,

    Nice tut again.
    Little point of attention:
    As you have seen in this great vid ,
    if you use for example 70% of Opacity and 10% of Flow and use the paintbrush for dodging and burning or just paint something that need a flow in color depth, mind that while you are building it up and YOU OVERDUE , CTRL -Z will get no back to the starting point. So it is wise to lift the pen or mouse button once in a while 😉

    Happy Photoshopping

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      Also, you can press command+shift+f and opacitate your last move down. This has been one of my favorite little secrets about photoshop so far.

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    Great episode, thanks! Maybe could you make an episode about the differences between Spot healing brush, Healing brush and Patch tool in a future?

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    Hey Aaron , Can you offer up some techniques/suggestions for capture and adjusting pictures of the stars?

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    R. N. Shruti

    Wow! very interesting to know abt flow and opacity in such a clear way. Thank you : )

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    I want to suggest you to create a tutorial explaining the Zone system and ways of taking advantage of it through Photoshop.

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    Angie Agostino/AgostinoCreative

    Hi saw the great tutorial on Opacity and Flow. So much great information. My question is why wouldn’t I use the actual Dodge and Burn tool in Photoshop, rather than the brush?

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      Not sure if you will see this, but Dodge and Burn have the following options, Midtones, shadows, highlights. This could be very good with things with a lot of texture. Because if you were to use a brush, you would have to apply black and white to certain areas which is time consuming. What you can do with dodge and burn is set it to a value of the three options. For example, lets say i wanna brighten up some of the highlights in something. Use dodge and set it to highlight. It will effect more of the highlights of the image and hardly effect the shadows.

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    Libby Petrie

    I really learned something today with Flow and Opacity. Thank you, I like the way you teach. Since I am new to your site I look forward to future episodes.

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    Bob Sampson

    As someone old enough to learn retouching using a real airbrush, I already know about flow and opacity and have been using them since the early incarnations of Photoshop.

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    Dingaani Shawa

    Very helpful, I use Opacity and flow and never really understood what I was doing. this opens my eyes. Thanks and great lesson.

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    Dear Aaron Sir,

    Very nice tutorial , i want teach retouching if your provide so pl provide .


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    Gagandeep Singh

    i never really understand difference between them thanks for clearing it out.

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    I noticed you did not have you brush tool set to “pressure sensitive”. Why? That makes a BIG difference in the way the brush works along with the “Opacity” and “Flow” settings.