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Mastering Vector Design: Drawing with Illustrator Paintbrushes

Article Description

David Karlins explores the multi-varied world of Adobe Illustrator's Paintbrush tool, showing how to customize the built-in brushes and even create unique and eye-catching new strokes of your own.

Stepping Back: Four Types of Paintbrushes and How to Apply Them

As I mentioned, four types of Paintbrushes are available in Illustrator. All four come with sets of predefined brushes, and you can define your own brushes for all four types. Let’s quickly look at how the four types of brushes do their magic.

  • Calligraphic brushes apply strokes that look like ink calligraphy.
  • Art brushes work very differently: They stretch a single image along the entire length of a path. For example, you might draw a flower with an art brush, and then use the Paintbrush tool to draw flowers of different shapes and sizes, but all with the same flower brush (see Figure 4).
    Figure 4

    Figure 4 Drawing a set of flowers with an artistic paintbrush.

  • Scatter brushes "scatter" patterns like an aerosol paint can.
  • Pattern brushes can include up to five tiles that interactively apply to sides, corners, and endpoints of a stroke. Pattern brushes are often used to draw resizable frames quickly.

You’ve already seen how to draw with the Paintbrush tool. To apply a brush to an existing path, select the path with the Illustrator Selection tool, and then click on a brush stroke in the Brushes panel (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Figure 5 Applying a preset brush stroke to a rectangle.

We’ll spend most of the rest of this article exploring how to create brush strokes and save them in the Brushes panel. But you can experiment at any time with Illustrator’s set of pre-made brushes by choosing Window > Brush Libraries and choosing among the sets of available libraries of brushes. Then just select an existing path on the Illustrator artboard, and click on a brush stroke to apply it.

The bottom of the Brushes panel includes five buttons that allow you to access the paintbrush libraries, remove a paintbrush stroke, define options for the selected object, create a new paintbrush, or delete the selected paintbrush (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6 Buttons on the Brushes panel.

To remove a paintbrush stroke from a selected path, click the Remove Brush Stroke button at the bottom of the Brushes panel menu. The Options of Selected Object button opens a different set of options for each type of paintbrush. The New Brush button allows you to define a custom brush. (Both of these choices will be explained shortly.) The Delete Brush button removes a brush from the panel.

The Brush Libraries Menu button is new to Illustrator CS3. It provides access to five sets of paintbrushes, as well as additional paintbrush libraries and the ability to save your current set of paintbrushes (as part of your Illustrator document).

3. Defining Pressure-Sensitive Calligraphic Brushes for Tablets | Next Section Previous Section