Photoshop Brush Not Working – Here’s Why!

Whether you are a graphic designer or a hobby photographer, Photoshop is an amazing asset to improve your images. But when a tool is not working this can absorb all your time trying to figure out what’s wrong. I’m a graphic designer for 25 years. Let me show you how to get the brush working again.

The most common causes for Photoshop Brush Tool not working include:

  • Incorrect Mode Selected
  • Incorrect Layer Selection
  • Brush Preset Problem
  • Reset or Update Required

In this article, we’ll look at why the Brush Tool is not working, ways to diagnose the problem, and how to fix it.

Incorrect Mode Selected

The most common reason your Brush Tool is not working is you are in the incorrect mode.

What is a Blend Mode?

Blend modes allow you to alter layers that sit next to each other without having to merge them. There are an overwhelming amount of blend modes available – 27 in total – but in reality, we only ever use about four or five of them. Normal – Color – Screen – Overlay.

It’s the ‘Normal’ mode that we need to concentrate on if we are using the Brush Tool. If any other mode is selected your Brush Tool won’t be available.

Select your Brush Tool and either in the top panel or in the Layers Panel, select Normal.

If the Blend Mode is greyed out it’s because you only have one layer in your document. If this is the case then this is not the cause of your Brush Tool problems. Let’s look at another reason.

Incorrect Layer Selection

Incorrect Layer Selection is another common reason why your Brush Tool is not working. If you have multiple layers it can be a bit confusing as to what layer you’re currently working on.

Select the layer that you want to add to and then Select your Brush Tool.

If you are on a layer that is below another layer you might not be able to see what your Brush Tool is doing as it’s obscured by another layer item.

Layer Mask

Changing sections of a layer is done using the marquee tool or a Layer Mask. The layer mask is a better option as it gives you more control over your file. By clicking on the Vector Mask at the bottom of the Layers Panel we create a new mask for that layer.

This generates a new linked box on this layer. When you select your Brush Tool the only colors available are Black and White.

These are essentially not colors but adding and subtracting parts of your image through the mask layer.

The reason I’ve explained this is if you can’t figure out why your Brush Tool is only available in Black and White, check if you have a Layer Mask selected. Once you click back on the original image in that layer your Brush Tool colors will be available again.

Smart Object

The same can be said for a Smart Object. A Smart Object protects all of the image’s elements, such as resolution. You can add filters and adjust the size of the image and still return to the original by simply removing all the elements.

If you rasterize the image and remove the smart object feature, you can no longer return to the original. Once you change it, it stays that way.

Again this can be a reason why your Brush Tool is not working as you want it to. You have a Smart Object layer selected. Go back to the layers panel and again click on the original image layer and your Brush Tool will now work.

Brush Preset at Incorrect Size

Adobe offers the facility to create your own brushes by generating a Preset. This is quite niche I think, and I’m not sure how many people actually used this facility on a regular basis. But if you do, and your preset is not working it is because your image board is too big.

Presets will only work on layouts up to 2500 x 2500 pixels. If your image is bigger than this you’ll have to reduce the overall size for your preset to work and in turn your Brush Tool to activate.

Reset or Update Required

Reset Tool

If you have tried all of the above and still are having brush tool issues you can reset the tool. This will bring the tool back to default settings and refresh it.

To do this click on the tools panel. Right-click on the Brush Tool. A pop-out window will appear. Scroll to Reset Tool.

This will clear any glitches in your Brush Tool.

Reset Preferences

By resetting the preferences this will restore your Photoshop back to its default settings. This is done by going to

Edit – Preferences – General

Click on Reset Preferences on Quit. Click Ok and Restart Photoshop.

App Updates

If you’re still experiencing problems and I hope you’re not, but if you are then you may require an Update to the App. Updates happen quite regularly and it’s always best to have the AutoUpdate selected in Adobe CC.

This means that you don’t have to think about whether an update is available.

To check go to Adobe CC. If an update is available, click on the tab ‘Update’.

This will bring your App completely up to the latest version.

Reinstall Photoshop

So why would you need a reinstall if you have Auto Updates clicked? Adobe CC is an OTA (over-the-air) app. This requires WiFi. And on occasion during an update things don’t go fully to plan. Your computer might temporarily lose connection and then regain connection.

The installation looks fine and says 100% complete but it can act a bit glitchy. As a last solution to your Brush problem complete a full ‘Uninstall’ and then ‘Install’.

This is done through your Adobe CC.

If you have any specific preferences or presets you need to make a copy of these before you overwrite with a new installation.

I have written other posts on Photoshop problems.

Why Can’t I type in Photoshop?

Why Won’t My Clone Stamp Work?

Why Does My Photoshop have a Yellow Tint?

If you are curious about Photoshop in general check out our Photoshop FAQs page

Tara Cunningham

My name is Tara. I am a Graphic Designer for the last 25+ years. Designing everything from Wedding stationery to Magazines. I have been using Adobe products since I was in college and know all the tips and tricks that make life a little easier when completing a project. Hopefully you will find the answer to your question on

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