Changing the Brush Size and Hardness in Photoshop CS6

Adobe Photoshop

Update! Click here (20 Brush and Painting Tool Shortcuts in Photoshop CC) to see twenty of my favorite tips related to brushes and painting in Photoshop CC in a single post.

With a painting tool selected, Control + Option (Mac) – drag left/right in order to decrease/ increase brush size. Control + Option (Mac) – drag up/down to decrease/ increase brush hardness.

On Windows,  Alt +  Right Mouse -drag left right to decrease/ increase brush size and up/down decrease/ increase brush hardness.

I prefer these shortcuts – even though they are a bit more complex than tapping the left or right bracket keys, as many international keyboards do not have brackets. Of course you can always customize the keys used to increase/decrease brush size and Hardness under Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts – choose “Shortcuts For : Tools”, scroll down (almost the bottom of the list) and enter any single character to set a new shortcut for Decreasing/Increasing Brush Size.

Adobe Photoshop

Posted on 07-18-2012


  • By Gregg Mack - 9:55 AM on July 18, 2012  

    Julieanne, that is an excellent tip, but I find on my Windows 7 PC, running PS CS5, that I do not need to include the Shift key for adjusting either the brush size or the brush hardness.

    • By Julieanne Kost - 10:08 AM on July 18, 2012  

      You are absolutely right Gregg. Thanks for letting me know!

  • By Steve Campbell - 7:28 AM on October 13, 2012  

    Bracket Keys Stop Working (sometimes)

    If I select a tool, like the Burn Tool, the brackets keys work fine for adjusting the brush size. But if I change the Range (like to Midtones) or the Mode in Clone Stamp, the brackets keys stop working. I have to select another tool, then come back to that tool. Then the brackets keys work fine again.

    What am I doing wrong?

    • By Julieanne Kost - 7:45 AM on October 24, 2012  

      Steve, the bracket keys are working for me when I change the Range. Is it possible that you are changing both the Range and the Exposure? If there Exposure field is highlighted then then they don’t work (because the focus is set in the text block). Tapping return or enter should move the focus out of the exposure filed. If this isn’t the issue, then I would suggest that you post the issue to either of these forums to see if other customers are experiencing the same problem and if so, if they have found a solution.

  • By Kellie - 8:40 AM on October 17, 2012  

    I am having a problem with adjusting the brush size in quick selection tool using cs6. When i use the brackets to increase or decrease size i get a weird x or multiple ovals instead of the circle getting bigger or smaller. I checked the Key command and it is set to [ ] the brackets.

    • By Julieanne Kost - 7:19 AM on October 18, 2012  

      It might be due to the drivers for your video card. I would go to the Adobe Forums ( and search for brush curser or video card drivers…

  • By Kellie - 5:23 PM on October 18, 2012  

    thanks! 🙂

  • By Shalom Ormsby - 12:19 PM on February 8, 2013  

    That’s great. I programmed Contol + Option onto one of my Wacom ExpressKey, and it works a charm – very efficient. Thanks for the helpful tip!

  • By Ron - 8:15 PM on February 12, 2013  

    The bracket keys work to readjust the brush size but I can’t get anything to work for dragging the size adjustment. I’m using Windows 7 x64. When I use Ctrl + Alt and right click my mouse or Wacom pen tablet I just get a small double black and white pointer. No brush size indication. I just downloaded and install PS CS6 a couple of days ago.

    Is there something I can set to make this work, or even better, I would like to just press the Ctrl key or Ctrl + right click.

  • By Ron - 2:53 PM on February 13, 2013  

    I figured it out. Hold the Alt down then either right click the mouse or Pen. The cursor needs to be over the picture, it won’t work if off to the side. When using a Pen tablet, the cursor will first change to a color sample circle then to the brush size outline. Moving it left or right changes the size while up and down changes the opacity.

  • By david - 6:18 AM on February 19, 2013  

    when holding cntrl + option, I can change size by dragging left/right, but up/down changes opacity… any way to switch it to hardness? Cant find the controls in any of the shortcut menus. Thanks

    • By Julieanne Kost - 10:29 PM on February 19, 2013  

      Go to Preferences > General > Vary Round Brush Hardness Based on HUD Vertical Movement

  • By BigPaw - 6:22 AM on April 21, 2013  

    Is there a way to use tools without the use of the keyboard? For example, I can’t use the Clone Stomp Tool without being required to use the ‘Alt’ key. Is there a work around for this?

  • By TERRI - 4:47 AM on May 2, 2013  

    when i am useing the brush tool when i click on the brush i want to use and place it over my work area there is a outline of the brush so u can see where to place it then all of a sudden it changes to where i put the brush over the work area and its only a little x how do i get it to the outline of your brush i do not know thank you

  • By Johnny Santoso - 9:26 AM on June 25, 2013  

    This is what read above :
    On Windows, Control + Alt + Right Mouse -drag left right to decrease/ increase brush size and up/down decrease/ increase brush hardness.

    I found on my PS Cs6 = Alt + Right Mouse -drag left right to decrease/ increase brush size and up/down decrease/ increase brush hardness.
    No need to press Control .

    Please correct me if I am wrong , thanks

  • By mark - 7:42 AM on June 28, 2013  

    ctrl+alt right click horizontal and vertical brush size

    Using both Photoshop cs 6 and cc on Mac.

    The alt + ctrl + right click whilst dragging both vertical and horizontal to change the size and hardness of brush no longer functions.

    In CC when I alt + ctrl + right click the entire document frame moves.

    I have tried resetting my preferences to no avail and I am now desperate for a solution to this problem so I can restore photoshop to it’s original state.

    Kind Regards

    • By lmn - 6:31 AM on August 26, 2013  

      Same problem here.
      It work well on my Mac mini + Mountain Lion + CS6 + Intuos 4
      and it’s not working on my Mac Book Pro retina + Mountain Lion + CS6 or CC + Bamboo

      when I Alt + Ctrl + click, the entire application window is moving.

      need help it’s making me crazy 🙁

  • By Tom - 2:18 AM on July 2, 2013  

    HI have been using Alt/Cnlt right click to alter brush size/hardness for quite a while now. Now when I try this a panel appears for me to alter brush using sliders. How can restore it back to original method – I have altered nothing to my knowledge. I have tried resetting preferences to no avail. Mac CS 6.

  • By John - 10:43 PM on July 24, 2013  

    A tip that, as far as I’m aware, works on every slider command and has done on every version of Photoshop, windows or mac that I’ve ever used.

    Go to the slider command you want to use
    At one end there will be a number to show the value of the command, usually measured in ‘px’
    Hover the mouse over the number and a box outline will appear with a tooltip.
    Click the box just once once and the number will be selected. The box border usually goes blue and the curser will flash inside the box.
    With the number still selected like this, the up arrow on the keyboard will now increase that value and the down arrow will decrease it.
    That’s all you ever need to do.
    Hope that helps

  • By Tom Heine - 10:18 PM on July 25, 2013  

    Tom, I recently changed from PsCS6 on Windows (where the shortcut worked like a charm) to CS6 on Mac, where CTRL-CMD +click&drag does nothing.
    CTRL +left click opens the slider dialog.

    I tried CTRL-ALT +leftclick and woooohoo! it works there ; )

    Maybe it’s an issue with the Magic Mouse (if you’re using that one)…

  • By Snowmara - 5:03 AM on August 25, 2013  

    Thank you! I’ve been pulling my hair out for about 30 minutes!