How to Create a Set of Marker Brushes for Illustrator

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Today we’ll be going through the process of creating a set of Adobe Illustrator brushes that will allow you to easily duplicate the look of a marker stroke.

Marker Brushes for Adobe Illustrator

Create a Set of Marker Brushes for Illustrator

What you’ll need:

  • A piece of thick white paper or photo paper
  • A dark marker
  • A scanner
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator

We’ll be making these Illustrator brushes by creating some strokes with the marker on paper. Then we will scan them and do some basic editing in Photoshop before moving to Illustrator to vectorize the image and create the brushes. At the end, we’ll show you how to compile the brushes and save them as a set that can be easily distributed or stored for your own use at a later time.

Step 1: Creating the Strokes

I’ll be using a dark blue Sharpie chisel tip marker that you can purchase just about anywhere that sells office supplies or art supplies. Take your marker and create several strokes on one sheet of paper. Then scan it and open it in Photoshop. Mine looks like this.

Creating strokes

Step 2: Adjustments in Photoshop

For the purposes of this tutorial, we will just be going through the process of creating a brush with one of the strokes. If you want to create a set of brushes you will simply duplicate the steps for each brush, and then we’ll go over how to save them as a set.

So here is the marker stroke that we will be working with throughout this tutorial.

Sample marker stroke

The first thing we will do is take the color out of the image by desaturating it. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Desaturated marker stroke

Depending on the darkness of your marker stroke you may or may not need to desaturate the image, and the following step may also not be needed if your marker stroke is already very dark. Illustrator’s Live Trace usually does the trick on it’s own, but if you want more control you can edit in Photoshop first, or experiment with the trace options. We’ll go through these steps just so you’ll know what needs to be done if your image requires editing in Photoshop.

Next, we want to make the marker stroke darker. There are a few different ways you can do this, but we will be using levels for this tutorial (adjusting brightness and contrast is another option). So go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.

Adjusting the levels in Photoshop

We’ll bring the white level (on the right) in towards the middle just a little bit, and we’ll be moving the gray level (in the middle) to the right to make the gray stroke darker.

Adjusting the mid tone level

If there are any stray marks around your stroke you can quickly cover them up by using a white brush. Then save your image as a JPG file.

Step 3: Creating the Brush in Illustrator

Open the JPG in Illustrator.

Opening the image in Adobe Illustrator

Next, we will be using Illustrator’s Live Trace feature to convert the JPG to vector format, and from there we will be able to create the brush. Before we create the trace, open a blank file that will be used to store the brushes that we are creating.

Now we’re ready to run the Live Trace. Click the down arrow next to live trace and select “Tracing Options”.

Starting the Live Trace

You should then see the tracing options.

Tracing options

We’re going to make a few changes. The specifics may vary from one trace to the next, but you can experiment and see what works best for you.

First, we’ll lower the threshold from 128 to 78. The threshold determines how dark of an area is needed to be converted to black after the trace. Second, we want to check the box for “ignore white.”

Ignore white

If you plan to use the same settings on several items that you will be tracing (as is the case when you are creating a set of similar items like marker brushes) you can save it. So once you have the settings changed, click on “Save Preset” and give it a name.

Saving the brush preset

When you’re ready to run the trace, click on the “Trace” button. After the trace is run, click on the “Expand” button.

Expand button

Now you’ll see something like this.

Selected marker stroke vector

We now have a vector that we can work with to create the brush. So go to Edit > Copy and then switch over to the blank file that we created. Go to Edit > Paste to get the vector stroke in the new file. We’ll be using this file to hold all of the brushes that we’ll be creating.

To create the brush, with the vector marker stroke still selected, open the brushes palette and click on the down arrow and click on “new brush”.

Brush palette

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Then check the radio button for “art brush” and click ok. You should now see the Art Brush Options.

Art brush options

So give your brush a name, check the radio box for “scale proportionately”, and change the colorization method to “tints”.

Changing the method to tints

Click “Ok” and your brush has been created. If you want to continue to create more brushes in your set you will just duplicate the steps we have done so far.

I’ve created more brushes using the same steps and added them to my document. To run the Live Trace after I have saved the settings, all I have to do is click on the down arrow and select the one that I just saved.

Selecting the Illustrator brush

My document now includes 5 marker brushes.

5 new brushes

In order to save this set so it can be used later or distributed to others, go into the brushes palette and delete the brushes aside from the ones you just created.

Saving a brush set

Then save the document that contains your brushes as an Illustrator (.ai) file. Now that you have that file saved you can use the brushes any time you want. To test it out, open a new Illustrator file. Then click on the down arrow in the brushes palette and select “Open Brush Library > Other Library” and find the file on your computer.

Open brush library

A new brush palette will open up and you can use any of the brushes.

Brush palette

Just select the brush you want to use, choose a stroke color, and draw something with the brush.

Brush strokes in 4 different colors, created with the brushes
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