Tutorial: How to Create an Adobe Illustrator Brush

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Both Illustrator brushes and Photoshop brushes can be extremely valuable resources for graphic designers, whether you are creating your own or using those created by someone else. There are several good tutorials out there for creating various types of Photoshop brushes (see How to Make a Photoshop Brush Set), but unfortunately, there are not very many tutorials for creating Illustrator brushes.

If you’re more familiar with using brushes in Photoshop as compared to Illustrator the first thing to understand is that there are a few different types of brushes in Illustrator. For this tutorial, we will be creating “art brushes”. In Illustrator you can apply the brush to a path that has been created. It could be a straight line, the outline of a shape, or some other type of path. This makes Illustrator’s brushes very versatile.

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In addition to art brushes there are also calligraphic brushes, scatter brushes, bristle brushes, and pattern brushes.

To improve your skills with Illustrator, see Learn Adobe Illustrator.

How to Create an Illustrator Brush

Here is a look at the brush that we will be creating in this tutorial:

Tutorial: How to Create an Adobe Illustrator Brush

This brush is part of a huge set of 55 brush strokes brushes that is available in our shop.

Things you will need to follow this tutorial:

  • Paper (preferably photo paper or heavy white paper)
  • Black paint (I’m using acrylic)
  • A paint brush
  • A scanner
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Inkscape (optional)

Ok, let’s get started.

Step 1: Creating the Brush Stroke

The first thing we’ll need to do is to create the brush strokes. Take your brush, paint, and paper and apply some simple brush strokes. Allow plenty of time for the paint to dry before scanning. The amount of time will depend on the type of paint and how thick it is, but generally, you should wait at least 24 hours.

Step 2: Scanning

Once the paint is completely dry you can scan the image at 300 DPI. Here is a look at the image that I have scanned.

Scanned image of brush strokes that will be used to create an Illustrator brush

Step 3: Cleaning Up the Image in Photoshop

As you can see from the image above, our scan is not perfect. There are some gray areas that we will need to eliminate and we’ll also want to clean up some stray black marks from the paint. Our scanned image includes 6 different brush strokes which can each be used to create an Illustrator brush, but for this tutorial, we will be working with the one on the far left.

Let’s work on getting rid of the gray areas from the scan. Go to Image – Adjustments – Levels.

Levels options in Photoshop at the default values

To turn the gray areas to white we will simply adjust the level on the right by bringing it into about 150 (the exact numbers will vary depending on your image, so just experiment to see what works best). The black level on the left will be changed to 50, this makes the darker areas black.

Levels adjusted to remove the gray areas in the scan

Now we’ll separate the left brush stroke from the others so it’s easier to work with. You can either crop it or use the rectangular marquee to select that area and paste it into a new file.

Brush stroke after the gray areas have been removed.

Adjusting the levels does most of the work that will need to be done in Photoshop, but we’ll also look for stray marks that should be cleaned up. Using a small brush tip with the foreground color set to #ffffff (white), cover up any blemishes that you find. It will help to view the image at 300% – 400% so you can see it better. The image below is shown at 300%. If you’d like, you can skip this step and rely on the trace to remove these unwanted marks, but I personally prefer a couple of minutes of work to manually clean it up.

Stray marks that need to be cleaned up

If you’d like, you can also use a black brush tip to color over some of the lighter areas in the brush stroke. When you’re done, save your image as a JPG.

Step 4: Creating the Vector

I’ll be using Inkscape, a free vector graphics editor, to do the tracing and to create the vector, but you can also do the same thing in Illustrator if you prefer.

Open the JPG in Inkscape.

Opening the file in Inkscape

Go to Path – Trace Bitmap.

Trace bitmap in Inkscape

You will be presented with a lot of options for the trace. I recommend that you start with the default settings and then if you want to you can go back later and experiment to see how they impact the outcome of the trace. So to move forward with the default settings just click “ok” and then X out of that box.

You’ll now have your trace on top of the original image, so drag the trace to the side.

Bitmap and vector versions side-by-side

Then select the original image and delete it. Then save the trace as an SVG. You now have a vector graphic of the brush stroke!

For more design tutorials, please see:

Step 5: Creating the Brush in Illustrator

Now that we have a vector graphic we will open it in Illustrator and turn it into a brush.

Vector graphic opened in Illustrator

Use the selection tool to select the brush stroke.

Selecting the brush stroke

Open the brushes palette, then click on the down arrow to bring up the menu.

Opening the brushes palette

Select “New Brush”.

Selecting new brush

Then choose “art brush”.

Choosing art brush as the type of brush

You can give your brush a name. We’ll select “scale proportionately” to keep this brush looking like it is in proper proportion when it is used, but for other types of brushes, you may want to select a different option. We’ll also choose “tints” for the colorization method, which will allow you to use any color with the brush by changing the stroke color.

Art brush options

You’ve now created your brush and it should show up in your brushes palette.

Where to find your new brush in the brushes palette

To try it out you can select the brush tool, and select your new brush in the Brushes palette. Create a path with the brush tool and your brush should be applied. A straight path will look like this.

Applying the brush in Illustrator

Create another path with some curves.

A curvy path using the brush

If you want to change the color of the brush stroke simply change the path’s stroke color.

Changing the color of the brush stroke

And there you have it, you now have a versatile Illustrator brush. If you wanted to continue to create a full set of brushes, create them one at a time place them all in the same workspace and save it as a .ai file. Then when you want to use them you can open them up by going to the Brushes palette, “Open Brush Library”, “Other Library”, and find the file on your computer.

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