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Expressive Strokes

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In this sample chapter from The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, 2nd Edition, author Sharon Steuer shows you how to create organic strokes, hand-drawn lines, painterly effects, shading, and much more.

This chapter is from the book

Illustrator gives you an abundance of ways to create Strokes with organic, hand-drawn lines, painterly effects, shading, and much more. You can manually adjust the contours of a path with the Width tool to emulate calligraphy and save its form (profile) in the Stroke panel to apply to another path. You can specify precisely where the middle section of an art brush will stretch along a path and where the ends (such as arrowheads) will be protected from distortion. You have control over how pattern brushes and dashed lines fit around corners. You can use “natural media” bristle brushes to make complex and painterly marks, emulating airbrush, pastel, and wet paint, and using traditional brush shapes like flat or fan. And symbols can be sprayed and manipulated using a special set of Symbolism tools.


Creating discontinuous curves from continuous curves with the Width tool when creating a flag

Width Tool and Stroke Profiles

The Width tool (Shift-W) varies the width of strokes created with the drawing and geometric shape tools or art and pattern brushes. The path doesn’t have to be selected; hover over it with the Width tool and the path will highlight, along with hollow diamonds indicating existing width points that were set automatically, such as the end points of a path or that you have set. As you move your cursor over the path, still hovering, a hollow diamond moves with your cursor, ready to become a width point at whatever location along the path you click. You can modify paths between two existing width points, and can create either a flowing, continuous curve or a discontinuous one with a sharp break between sections.

If width points are spaced apart, the path gradually gets wider or narrower from one point to the next in a continuous curve. If width points are placed on top of each other, you create a sharp break between the two widths, causing the curve to abruptly widen or narrow, much like adding an arrowhead to the path. Modify strokes on either side of the path by either adjusting the stroke weight evenly along the path or placing more weight on one side of the path than the other. Your custom stroke profile is temporarily stored in the Stroke panel, making it possible to apply the same stroke to as many paths in the document as you wish. An asterisk in the Appearance panel beside Stroke denotes a width profile. You can also save a custom profile as part of a Graphic Style and/or to the Profiles list using the Save icon at the bottom of the Stroke panel list. The Reset icon restores the default width profiles, replacing any custom profiles you’ve saved; see the Warning Tip (on the previous page) “Save those width profiles.” You can modify width points in a variety of ways with the Width tool:

  • To numerically adjust a Width Point, double-click on a path or existing width point to open the Width Point Edit dialog. Enter the stroke weight for each side of the path, and/or choose to have adjoining width points adjusted at the same time.

  • To interactively adjust the width point, click-drag on a handle to symmetrically adjust the stroke width.

  • To adjust one side of a stroke, press Option/Alt while dragging on a handle.

  • To adjust or move multiple width points, Shift-click to select the points (not anchors) you want to alter and then drag on one point or handle to adjust the others with it.

  • To adjust or move all adjoining width points (up to the next corner anchor point), hold Shift while dragging.

  • To copy selected points, hold Option/Alt as you drag.

  • To delete a selected width point, press the Delete key.

  • To deselect a width point, click on an empty space away from the path, or press the Esc key.


(Top) The starting stroke with width points already added and adjusted; (middle) the width point at the right end adjusted again to make the end wider and Adjust Adjoining Width Points disabled; (bottom) with Adjust Adjoining Width Points enabled when adjusting the same original right-end width point—starting stroke shown for clarity in red on top of both adjusted strokes


Shift-selecting just some contiguous (shown) or non-contiguous (not shown) width points on a pattern brushstroke, releasing Shift, then moving them all at once

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