Tuesday, 4 June 2019


I thought it might be informative to focus on a tool in Adobe Photoshop and see what its uses might be for digital scrapbooking. This month, let’s pick the Burn Tool and see what fun we can have with it.

As you might expect, the Burn tool can be used to darken parts of an element, paper or a photo. The Burn tool icon looks like a hand making a circle and it is nested with the Dodge tool and Sponge tool. It can also be accessed by using the O key as a shortcut.

Let’s take a look at the available settings for the tool:

1 - Select a brush, often a soft round brush gives the most subtle effect

2 - Range – Shadows darkens dark areas, Midtones darkens average/middle toned areas, Highlights darkens light areas

3 - Exposure – brush strength, kind of like opacity

4 – Airbrush, so that it will brush continuously

5 – Protect tones prevents pixel clipping

I must stress that using the Burn tool is usually DESTRUCTIVE because you actually paint or brush ON the paper/element/photo instead of on a layer above it. This is the perfect opportunity to make use of that history panel or the undo buttons, but be careful!

Now that we know HOW to use it, WHY would we want to? Let’s talk about a few situations where it might come in handy for your digital scrapbooking.

To add contrast only on the edges of this photo, I used a soft round brush size 600, with Midtones and 50% exposure and painted in multiple layers until I got the effect I wanted.


Thanks to several mind-blowing tutorials that came out after the washi tape craze started, we know we can make tape look more realistically “stuck down” using the Burn tool in combination with the Dodge tool. There’s a great tutorial https://pinkreptiledesigns.blogspot.com/2016/11/tutorial-realistic-digital-tape.html from Jenn showing how she shadows tape.

For the light colored tape in my example, I put a tiny 1 px drop shadow on my tape layer and then grabbed the Burn tool. I zoomed in and brushed on the very edge of the frame with Midtones using a 25 px soft round brush with exposure at 35% for 2 or 3 passes. Then I switched to a 10 px size for a couple of passes. After that, I’ll repeat the process with the Dodge tool. I always remember the mantra “dodge above and burn below” to remind myself to Dodge ABOVE the tape and BURN on it. This helps with realism.

You can see the differences between the dark tape and the light as well as un-burned versions included for comparison.

The original element is very clean. To achieve the aged look, I used the Burn tool in two ways. Because the element is white, I used the Highlight range to be able to darken it. I used a soft round brush set to about size 50 with exposure at 30% and painted over the edges. Then to further define small areas along the edges, I decreased the brush size, zoomed in and continued painting and pulling in at the corners. To weather the center portion of the element, I switched to Midtones, increased exposure to 45% and a large brush and painted randomly just a few times over the center portions.

To ink the edges of this flower I used a very small brush size, Highlights range because the flower is light with high exposure and then just zoomed WAY IN and painted the tiny edges.


Like so many other tools in Photoshop, holding down the shift key while using the Burn tool will make it go in a straight line so you can have perfectly straight edges. If you wanted to darken the edges of papers for a decorative inked border, this will definitely help shorten the time. On the down side, the lines are almost “too perfect”. In this example, I have over 50 layers of Burn tool with Highlights and a soft brush with really high exposure (to achieve a dark color) going back and forth over each edge while holding down the shift key. I switched to a smaller sized hard round brush for several more passes for a more distinct line. Then to add in a bit of randomness, I stopped using the shift key and deliberately tucked on and off the edge of the page while burning.

If I only wanted to add a darker orange color to my edges I would use the Midtones range instead. That would also be perfect for burning to showcase the lines on a torn/worn/crinkled paper.


Using the Burn tool on this worn paper strip, I was able to bring out the weathered touches in it. I used Midtones because the element itself is average in color but kept the opacity between 10 and 15% so that I could build upon the effect in a subtle manner. I also kept the brush soft and fairly small painting over the tiny imperfections and folds to bring out their texture.


First, I assembled the cluster where I wanted everything. I placed the paperclip layer above the other elements deciding which parts would be hidden. Then I went to the pink arrow tab layer and used the Burn tool with a very small 6 px brush, Highlights range and 9% exposure and burned on the very edges of the paper clip where I wanted it to be UNDER the pink tag. Then I dodged on the center line on top of the paper clip. I did the very same steps on the kraft tag, burning the very sides of the paperclip and dodging down the center. Final step is to add a layer mask to the paperclip and brush on it using black to “erase” the portion of the paperclip that will be under the tags.

Of course, these are only a few ways that the Burn tool can be used while scrapbooking. (kits used for examples are Pure & Simple and You Can Do This)

So to recap, choose your Range based on the color of the item you want to burn, start off with fairly low Exposure and then build upon it, and select your type and size of Brush based on the task at hand. Then, save your page before you get started using the Burn tool. If things go awry and you don’t get the effect you’re hoping for, just undo or go back in your History panel to start over.

Tell me… what’s YOUR favorite use for the Burn tool?

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