The Bristle Brush Tool (AICS5)
When Adobe introduced the Calligraphic brush to Illustrator, my friend Sandee Cohen (author of Peacphit’s InDesign CS6: Visual QuickStart Guide) informed me that Illustrator brushes would change my life, and she wasn’t exaggerating.
With the introduction of Calligraphic, and soon after Art brushes, I was finally able to use Illustrator for my personal fine art work as well as commercial work. But when Illustrator introduced Bristle brushes in CS5, everything changed once again. Although I’ll still use Photoshop for collaging, retouching, and color work, more and more I am finding that if I want to paint using digital tools, I’m using Illustrator’s Bristle brushes.
Just as in Photoshop, Illustrator Bristle brushes are most powerful when using a pressure-sensitive tablet and pen. As with Photoshop, you can also use the bracket key [ to decrease the size of the mark, and ] to increase the size, and the number keys to adjust opacity (1 for almost transparent, 9 to almost opaque—0 eliminates the subtleties of the brush entirely).
Depending on your computer memory and the complexity of your imagery, it is possible to max out Illustrator’s ability to handle output of the image without pre-rasterizing it, but I haven’t yet hit that limit. If you merely think of Illustrator with Bristle brushes as a sketching tool, I bet you’ll be amazed.
One of the most astounding things about this tool is that every individual mark that you have already made can continue to be modified. Because these are actually vector marks, you can use any of your vector editing tools or functions, including smoothing, adding points, deleting points, moving points, reshaping, scaling, reordering in the stacking order, etc. But wait, there’s more. As long as you have the Paintbrush tool selected in the Tools panel, you can also change which brush is applied to a mark, adjust the color of the mark, and even continue to adjust the size of mark using the bracket keys, and the opacity using the number keys.
Unlike any other medium, traditional or digital, because every single mark and each group of marks remains infinitely editable, the Bristle brush has become a game-changing tool for me. Figure 2 shows a few samples of Bristle brush artwork featured in The Adobe Illustrator CS6 WOW! Book.