Photoshop’s brushes are simultaneously one of the easiest tools to understand and one of the most difficult to master. After all, putting brushes to their best use involves a level of freehand skill that may be second nature to painters but isn’t necessarily a photographer’s strong suit. The problem gets more pronounced when you try to make a smooth brushstroke and Photoshop seems to be working against you. Aside from the benefits you’ll find switching from a clumsy tool such as a mouse to a more elegant pen and tablet, often there’s a single setting in Photoshop’s brush settings that’s preventing you from making smooth brush strokes. You can easily fix Photoshop’s jagged brush strokes by changing the spacing.
Circle patterns (or, more accurately, distinct brush-shaped patterns) are most pronounced when working with a hard-edged round brush, but they can occur with soft edges and any brush shape. If you set a brush to a hard opacity and click and drag a brushstroke, you won’t see one long, smooth, natural edge because Photoshop is essentially applying a series of brush shapes one after the next rather than one truly continuous stroke. The result is a succession of overlapping circles that can look like an almost deliberately scalloped edge. This makes it very difficult to create refined edges whether you’re cloning, painting or masking.
To eliminate the issue by adjusting the brush’s spacing, start by clicking on the Brush menu found under the Window dropdown menu (also accessible by the Brush Palette icon to the right of the brush size indicator in the options bar) and go to Brush Tip Shape atop the Brush palette. Near the bottom of this palette you’ll see a mockup of what the current brushstroke will look like in use, and just above that is a checkbox and slider for adjusting the Spacing. Lower spacing makes for a smoother stroke, while higher spacing places those brush-shaped marks farther apart. 100% spacing, for instance, will move 100% of the size of the brush before making another mark on the canvas. 1% spacing will move almost imperceptibly before making its next mark. Best of all, as you adjust these settings, the preview just below will show the effect it’s having on the brush. So, if you’re seeing pronounced circles when you click and drag with a round brush, dial down the spacing here for a very smooth stroke.
Be aware, however, that the lower the spacing, the slower the stroke will be. This means you’ll have to work at a slower pace to allow Photoshop to keep up lest the brush lag far behind the cursor. With little to no spacing, you’ll eliminate the brush’s ability to work subtly when set to a lower flow as well. All that means when I want a smoother brushstroke, I typically set the spacing between 5% and 15% or low enough that I no longer see that staggered, scalloped edge.