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This chapter is from the book

Unleashing the Power of Brushes

Each version of Illustrator brings new features and tools to the hands of designers. Some are cool effects, and some add useful functionality. And every once in a while, a feature is introduced that is so unique and powerful that it changes everything. The brushes in Illustrator are such a feature.

The concept is simple: Instead of drawing a predictable, boring line using the Pencil tool, the Paintbrush tool can create flourishes, lines with tapered ends, and artsy elements that mimic the strokes you can create with Speedball or calligraphy pens. More powerful than you might think, brushes support pressure-sensitive tablets and can even distribute art and patterns along a drawn path. By using brushes, you can streamline your work by creating complex artwork with just a few paths. Brushes are also easy to modify.

Under the hood, the Paintbrush tool functions exactly like the Pencil tool and allows you to click and drag to create a vector path. The difference is in the appearance of the path it creates. The Paintbrush tool applies vector artwork to the paths you draw. When using a pressure-sensitive tablet, you can also control how the artwork is applied to the vector paths.

Exploring the Illustrator Brush Quintet

Illustrator has five kinds of brushes; each offers a different kind of behavior in which art is applied to a path:

  • Calligraphic brush. The Calligraphic brush allows you to define a nib, or tip, of a pen. The art that is drawn with a Calligraphic brush takes into account the angle and shape of the nib, resulting in natural thicks and thins and variable thickness ( Figure 4.21).
    Figure 4.21

    Figure 4.21 With the help of a pressure-sensitive tablet, the Calligraphic brush can create strokes with natural thicks and thins to achieve a hand-drawn look and feel, as in this illustration of a skier.

  • Scatter brush. The Scatter brush allows you to define any vector art as a brush (except the ones listed in the sidebar "What's in a Brush?"). The art that is drawn with a Scatter brush consists of copies of the art, scattered across the vector path. You can control the way art is scattered in each brush's settings ( Figure 4.22).
    Figure 4.22

    Figure 4.22 You can use a Scatter brush to create consistent borders or to quickly fill an illustration with random art, such as the sparkles in this illustration.

  • Art brush. The Art brush allows you to define any vector art as a brush (except the ones listed in the sidebar "What's in a Brush?"). The art drawn with an Art brush is stretched across the entire length of the path, resulting in the controlled distortion of art along a vector path ( Figure 4.23).
    Figure 4.23

    Figure 4.23 You can use an Art brush to apply artistic brush strokes or to stretch art along a path.

  • Bristle brush. The Bristle brush allows you to simulate real paintbrush strokes. Using a variety of brush tip shapes and fine-tuned bristle controls, the Bristle brush can create painterly artwork in various styles from watercolor textures to Japanese calligraphy ( Figure 4.24).
    Figure 4.24

    Figure 4.24 With the powerful Bristle brush settings, you can simulate a wide range of natural media. In this example, both the textured leaves and the painterly sky were created with the Bristle brush.

  • Pattern brush. The Pattern brush allows you to specify up to five predefined patterns as a brush. The art that is drawn with a Pattern brush is distributed along a vector path based on the brush's settings, resulting in perfect corners and art that is contoured to the vector path ( Figure 4.25).
    Figure 4.25

    Figure 4.25 A Pattern brush can bend art to match the curve of a path and can also contain a variety of settings that change based on the makeup of the path.

Applying Brush Strokes

To paint with a brush, choose the Paintbrush tool in the Tools panel, and then select a brush from the Brushes panel. You create brush strokes the same way you create paths with the Pencil tool, so once you've selected a brush to use, click and drag on the artboard to define a path. When you release the mouse button, Illustrator applies the brush stroke to the newly created vector path (Figure 4.26). Illustrator also indicates the applied brush stroke in the Appearance panel, making it easy to identify when a particular brush has been used (Figure 4.27).

Figure 4.26

Figure 4.26 When you create a brush stroke, a single vector path is defined, and the appearance of that path displays the brush art.

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27 By identifying the brush applied to a path, the Appearance panel gives yet another reason for why it should always be open and visible on your screen.

You don't have to use the Paintbrush tool to apply a brush stroke to a vector path. Simply selecting a vector path and clicking a brush in the Brushes panel applies the brush to the selected path. The only benefit you gain by using the Paintbrush tool is the ability to define a brush shape using a pressure-sensitive tablet (see the sidebar "Can You Handle the Pressure?").

Defining a Calligraphic Brush

To define a new Calligraphic brush, click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel, or choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu. Select New Calligraphic Brush in the New Brush dialog box, and click OK to open the Calligraphic Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.28 on the following page).

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28 The Calligraphic Brush Options dialog box lets you click and drag the nib shape in the preview area to define its settings.

The Calligraphic Brush Options dialog box allows you to specify the shape and behavior of the nib using three settings:

  • Angle. You can set the angle of a Calligraphic brush to a fixed angle or to a random number. When the Roundness setting is set to 100%, the Angle setting does not produce any noticeable change in the shape of the brush. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the angle to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the Variation slider allows you to specify a range that the angle can change, which you can also see in the preview area of the dialog box.
  • Roundness. You can set the roundness of a Calligraphic brush to a fixed or random number. When the roundness is set closer to 100%, the tip of the nib becomes circular in shape (like a traditional ink pen). When the roundness is set closer to 0%, the tip of the nib becomes flat (like a traditional calligraphy pen). With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the roundness to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the Variation slider lets you specify a range that the roundness can change, which you can also see in the preview area of the dialog box.
  • Diameter. You can set the diameter, or size, of a Calligraphic brush to a fixed or random number. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the diameter to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the Variation slider allows you to specify a range that the diameter can change, which you can also see in the preview area of the dialog box.

Defining a Scatter Brush

To define a new Scatter brush, start by creating the art for the brush on the artboard. Once it is complete, drag the artwork directly to the Brushes panel. Alternatively, you can select the art and click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel or choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu. Select New Scatter Brush in the New Brush dialog box, and click OK to open the Scatter Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.29).

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.29 The Scatter Brush Options dialog box presents a plethora of settings you can use to create a wide variety of results.

You can fine-tune the Scatter brush with the following settings:

  • Size. The Size setting can be a fixed or random number; this setting determines how big or small the art is drawn on the path, relative to the actual size of the art used to define the brush. For example, if you create a design that is 1 inch tall and use it to define a Scatter brush, a Size setting of 50% results in a Scatter brush that creates designs that are .5 inches tall. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the size to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you are not using the Fixed option, the two values determine the range that the size can change.
  • Spacing. The Spacing setting can be a fixed or random number; this setting determines the amount of space that appears between each instance of art that is drawn on the path. Higher values add more space between each copy of the art, and lower values make the copies of art appear closer together. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the spacing to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the two values determine the range that the spacing can change.
  • Scatter. The Scatter setting can be a fixed or random number; this setting determines how far away each instance of art that is drawn deviates from the path. Negative values shift art lower and to the left of the path; positive values shift art higher and to the right of the path. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the scatter to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the two values determine the range that the scatter can change.
  • Rotation. The Rotation setting can be a fixed or random number; this setting determines the angle that each instance of art is drawn on the path. With pressure-sensitive tablets, you can set the rotation to change based on pressure, stylus wheel, tilt, bearing, or rotation. When you're not using the Fixed option, the two values determine the range that the rotation can change.
  • Rotation relative to. You can set the rotation so that it is relative either to the page, in which case all instances of the art appear consistent, or to the path, in which case all instances of the art rotate in accordance with the direction of the path ( Figure 4.30).
    Figure 4.30

    Figure 4.30 Depending on your desired result, you can specify art to rotate in relation to the page (top) or the path (bottom).

  • Colorization. The Colorization option lets you choose from one of four settings. If you choose the None setting, the Scatter brush creates art in the same color that is used to define it. If you choose the Tints setting, the Scatter brush creates art in varying tints of the current stroke color. If you choose the Tints and Shades setting, the Scatter brush creates art in varying tints of the current stroke color while preserving black objects. If you choose the Hue Shift setting, the Scatter brush creates art and changes the key color of the art to the current stroke color. To define a key color, click the Eyedropper icon in the dialog box, and click part of the art in the preview area.

Defining an Art Brush

To define a new Art brush, start by creating the art for the brush on the artboard. Once it's complete, drag the artwork directly into the Brushes panel. Alternatively, you can select the art and click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel or choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu. Select New Art Brush in the New Brush dialog box, and click OK to open the Art Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.31).

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31 The Art Brush Options dialog box gives you a visual preview of the direction of the art in relation to the path.

You can fine-tune the Art brush with the following settings:

  • Width. The Width setting determines how big or small the art is drawn on the path relative to the actual size of the art that was used to define the brush. For example, if you create a design that is 1 inch tall and use it to define an Art brush, a Size setting of 50% results in an Art brush that creates designs .5 inches tall. If you're using a pressure-sensitive tablet, you can specify a variable width setting by choosing any option other than Fixed from the pop-up menu.
  • Brush Scale Options. The Brush Scale Option offers three ways to control how the brush artwork is distributed along the path. Scale Proportionately will enlarge or reduce the entire artwork in proportion along the path; Stretch to Fit Stroke Length will scale the artwork horizontally along the entire path; and Stretch Between Guides will intelligently stretch the artwork according to your specification. When Stretch Between Guides is selected, you can drag the two guides that appear in the preview window to control how the artwork will scale along the path. The segment of the art that appears between the guides will scale, whereas the artwork that appears to the left and right of the guides will not scale.
  • Direction. The Direction setting determines the orientation of the art with respect to the path to which the brush is applied. A blue arrow appears in the preview area, allowing you to visually understand how the art will be drawn on a path.
  • Flip. The Flip Along and Flip Across options enable you to reflect the artwork on both the horizontal and vertical axes.
  • Colorization. The Colorization option lets you choose from one of four settings. When you choose None, the Art brush creates art in the same color that is used to define it. If you choose Tints, the Art brush creates art in varying tints of the current stroke color. If you choose Tints and Shades, the Art brush creates art in varying tints of the current stroke color while preserving black objects. If you choose Hue Shift, the Art brush creates art and changes the key color of the art to the current stroke color. To define a key color, click the Eyedropper icon in the dialog box and click part of the art in the preview area.
  • Overlap. The Overlap setting lets you specify whether you want Illustrator to try to adjust the artwork for the best appearance when the underlying path contains acute angles or complex geometry.

Defining a Bristle Brush

The Bristle brush is arguably one of the most innovative features you'll find in Illustrator. Unlike other brushes that apply predefined artwork along a path, the Bristle brush uses a physics engine to simulate the bristles of an artist's paintbrush as you paint with the tool. Each brush can be defined with different tip shapes, and you can precisely adjust the characteristics of the bristles themselves.

To define a new Bristle brush, click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel, or choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu. Select Bristle Brush in the New Brush dialog box, and click OK to open the Bristle Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.32).

Figure 4.32

Figure 4.32 The Bristle Brush Options dialog box provides a helpful preview that displays a sample stroke so that you can visualize the result as you adjust the bristle settings.

Once you've named your brush, you can modify its settings in any of the following ways:

  • Shape. Illustrator can simulate up to five different brush tip shapes (point, blunt, curve, angle, and fan) for both round and flat brushes, for a total of ten possible tip shapes. If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, you'll be able to see the shape of the bristles on your screen as you move the cursor around your document (Figure 4.33).
    Figure 4.33

    Figure 4.33 Using a pressure-sensitive tablet, you can preview how the bristles of your brush will align to the page as you paint strokes with the Paintbrush tool.

  • Size. You can set the size of your brush anywhere from 1mm to 10mm, although you can also increase and decrease the size of your brush as you're painting strokes on the artboard by pressing the square bracket keys on your keyboard (similar to adjusting brush size in Photoshop).
  • Bristle Length. Increasing the length of the bristles in a brush will allow the brush to meet more surface area on the artboard when pressure is applied. While longer bristles might work well when trying to simulate brushes used for Japanese calligraphy, shorter bristles will add more texture.
  • Bristle Density. A high bristle density means there's less space between each bristle, while a low bristle density translates to bristles that are spread further apart. With a really low bristle density setting, you'll be able to distinguish bristle texture as you paint with the brush.
  • Bristle Thickness. Coarse bristles will result in heavier appearances in your strokes, while fine bristles will produce subtle textures in your artwork.
  • Paint Opacity. Bristle brush strokes are vector, and simulating wet paint isn't possible. Illustrator uses opacity settings to simulate the appearance of bristle textures. When different-colored strokes overlap on your artboard, the appearance of mixed ink colors becomes possible. With an Opacity setting of 100 percent, Bristle brush does not use any transparency in the brush stroke, resulting in artwork that prints without requiring transparency flattening. See "Expanding Brush Art" later in this chapter for more detail.
  • Stiffness. Flexible bristles create more surface area when pressure is applied, while rigid bristles usually result in brush strokes with individual bristles that are more noticeable in your artwork.

Defining a Pattern Brush

To define a new Pattern brush, it's easier to first define the pattern swatches that will be used in the brush (defining pattern swatches is covered in Chapter 6, "Coloring Artwork"). A Pattern brush can contain up to five different pattern tiles, which are used for different parts of a path (see the "Pattern tiles" bullet in the following list). Once you've defined the necessary pattern swatches, click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel, or choose New Brush from the Brushes panel menu. Select New Pattern Brush in the New Brush dialog box, and click OK to open the Pattern Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.34).

Figure 4.34

Figure 4.34 Though it might appear complicated at first, the Pattern Brush Options dialog box makes it easy to define powerful Pattern brushes.

The various settings of the Pattern Brush Options dialog box are as follows:

  • Scale. The Scale setting determines how big or small the pattern swatch is drawn on the path, relative to the actual size of the art that was used to define the pattern (by default, a Pattern brush applies art at the size the art was originally created). For example, if you create art that is 1 inch tall and use it to define a pattern swatch, a Scale setting of 50% results in a Pattern brush that creates tiles that are .5 inches tall. If you have a pressure-sensitive tablet, you can set a variable width based on one of the tablet attributes, such as pressure.
  • Spacing. The Spacing setting determines the amount of space that appears between each pattern tile that is drawn on the path. By default, all pattern tiles touch each other, and specifying higher values adds more space between them.
  • Pattern tiles. A Pattern brush can use up to five pattern tiles for the different parts of a drawn path. The side tile is used along the middle of the path, the outer and inner corner tiles are used whenever the path encounters a corner anchor point at 90 degrees, and the start and end tiles are used at the beginning and end of an open path. We'll cover each tile type in detail later in this chapter. To set a tile, click the preview box above each tile, and choose from the list of defined pattern swatches that appears. Only pattern swatches from the current document appear in the list. It is not necessary to assign a pattern swatch to every tile in order to define a Pattern brush. For example, some Pattern brushes do not have start or end tiles defined.
  • Flip. The Flip Along and Flip Across settings enable you to reflect the pattern tiles on both the horizontal and vertical axes.
  • Fit. The Fit setting, arguably one of most powerful settings among all the brushes, allows you to specify how pattern tiles are drawn on a path. The "Stretch to fit" option modifies the brush's Scale setting to ensure a perfect fit across the entire path, with no spaces between tiles. The "Add space to fit" option modifies the brush's Spacing setting to ensure the tiles fit evenly across an entire path. The "Approximate path" option actually changes the size of the path so that it fits to the size of the pattern tiles.
  • Colorization. The Colorization option lets you choose from one of four settings. When you choose None, the Pattern brush creates tiles in the same color used when the pattern swatches are defined. If you choose Tints, the Pattern brush creates tiles in varying tints of the current stroke color. If you choose Tints and Shades, the Pattern brush creates tiles in varying tints of the current stroke color while preserving black objects. When you choose Hue Shift, the Pattern brush creates tiles and changes the key color of the tiles to the current stroke color. To define a key color, click the Eyedropper icon in the dialog box, and click part of the tile in the preview area (which is extremely difficult considering how small the previews for each tile are).

These next options let you define the five parts of a Pattern brush. Pattern brushes comprise up to five different individual pattern tiles: side, outer corner, inner corner, start, and end. It's rare you would define a single Pattern brush with all five of these types of tiles, though, because the corner tiles are mostly beneficial when creating borders, which are closed paths and therefore have no need for start or end tiles. Likewise, Pattern brushes with start and end tiles are generally applied to open paths that may not require corner tiles.

  • Side tiles. The most common type of tile used, the side tile simply repeats itself along the path to which it is applied ( Figure 4.35).
    Figure 4.35

    Figure 4.35 This is a Pattern brush comprised of just a side tile (inset) to simulate stitching as it might appear on a baseball. The stitches follow the contour of the path and appear seamless.

  • Outer corner and inner corner tiles. The terms inner corner and outer corner refer to the corners of a clockwise path. On such a path, the corners that point outward will use the outer corner tile, and the corners that point inward will use the inner corner tile. On counterclockwise paths, these roles will be reversed.If a rectangle is created by dragging it from top left to bottom right, or vice versa, the top of the rectangle runs from left to right, and all corners will use the outer corner tile. If the rectangle is drawn by dragging between the top-right and bottom-left corners, then the bottom of the rectangle runs from left to right. Thus, the brush pattern as displayed along the top of the rectangle will be upside down, and all corners will use the inner corner tile ( Figure 4.36).
    Figure 4.36

    Figure 4.36 The arrows that appear within the rectangles indicate the direction in which they were drawn, whereas the arrows that appear along the outside of the rectangles indicate the direction the paths run in. The rectangle on the left runs clockwise and uses the outer corner tile, whereas the rectangle on the right runs counterclockwise and uses the inner corner tile.

  • Start and end tiles. Start and end tiles appear, respectively, at the beginning and end of an open path. If a brush does not have start or end tiles defined, then the side tile will be used instead.

A few things are somewhat confusing with regard to how Illustrator displays pattern tiles in the user interface. For example, the tiles appear in one particular order when listed in the Pattern Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.37), yet they appear listed in a completely different order when viewed in the Brushes panel (Figure 4.38). Although the order doesn't really make a difference, it's easy to get confused when you're assigning patterns to each tile.

Figure 4.37

Figure 4.37 The order in which Pattern brushes appear within the Pattern Brush Options dialog box. A diagonal line (slash) means there is no pattern specified for that tile.

Figure 4.38

Figure 4.38 The order in which Pattern brush tiles appear within the Brushes panel.

In addition, because of the way inner corner tiles are drawn along paths, they are flipped (or reflected) –45 degrees, which means you need to compensate for that when defining the artwork for such tiles. It gets confusing because the Brushes panel shows a preview of the tile as though it appears correct, but the same tile appears reflected when viewed in the Pattern Brush Options dialog box (Figure 4.39). So that you remain sane, it's best to draw your pattern art normally and simply reflect it 45 degrees before defining it as a pattern.

Figure 4.39

Figure 4.39 In the Pattern Brush Options dialog box, the inner corner tile appears flipped, compared to the same tile that appears in the Brushes panel (inset).

Modifying Brush Strokes

Double-click any brush in the Brushes panel to specify or change its settings. Alternatively, you can hold the Option (Alt) key while dragging vector art from the artboard onto an existing Art or Scatter brush to modify or replace the brush. When you do, a thick black line appears around the brush icon indicating that you are about to modify it.

When you're about to modify a brush, Illustrator checks to see whether the existing brush has already been applied to objects in your document. If it finds such objects, Illustrator asks whether you want the existing paths to now take on the appearance of the modified brush or whether you want to leave them intact (Figure 4.40). If you want to leave them intact, Illustrator makes the change just to the selected objects.

Figure 4.40

Figure 4.40 Always watching what you're doing, Illustrator alerts you if your edits will affect objects that have already been drawn.

You can delete brushes from a document by dragging them to the trash can icon in the Brushes panel.

Expanding Brush Art

When you apply a brush stroke to a path, only the vector path is editable. The art that makes up the brush stroke cannot be edited or otherwise tinkered with. However, you can easily reduce any brush stroke to editable vector art by choosing Object > Expand Appearance. Doing so removes the link to the brush, and the path no longer updates if the brush swatch is updated (Figure 4.41).

Figure 4.41

Figure 4.41 When viewed in Outline mode, brush strokes appear as open paths (left). Once expanded, the paths form closed shapes that can be edited as needed (center). In Preview mode, however, live and expanded brush strokes appear identical (right).

Additionally, you can always access the original art that was used to create an Art, Scatter, or Pattern brush by dragging the brush from the Brushes panel to a blank area on the artboard.

Certain Bristle brush artwork (where Paint Opacity is set to anything other than 100 percent) can create complex images that could result in extremely long print and save times. This is mainly due to the number of objects that are generated when transparency flattening is applied (refer to Chapter 13, "Prepress and Printing," for detailed information on when this is necessary). Adobe suggests that in such cases it makes sense to rasterize your artwork before printing or saving (Figure 4.42). You can do this either of two ways: Select the artwork and choose Object > Rasterize, or select the artwork and choose Effect > Rasterize. By using an Effect, you can keep the Bristle brush artwork editable in Illustrator, but it will print or export as a raster image at the resolution that you specify.

Figure 4.42

Figure 4.42 If Illustrator senses there are enough Bristle brush strokes in your document to cause printing issues, you'll see this message.

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