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Create an Art Brush in Illustrator

Beth R March 28, 2024 · 6 min read

If you’ve ever used art brushes in Adobe Illustrator, you know first-hand how they can be used to easily transform vector artwork into something that looks charmingly handmade. In this display shot of my product, The Brush Studio, handmade chalk brushes are applied to borders, ornaments, and stroke-editable text.

An art brush applies vector artwork to a path or shape in Illustrator. Adobe Illustrator comes with many different libraries of art brushes, including pencil, ink, and chalk. Additionally, you can find loads of fantastic art brushes on Creative Market (such as the Brush Studio), which you can install in Illustrator. Today, I’m going to take you into my brush creation process, so you can learn how to create your own unique art brushes from scratch.

What You’ll Need:

  • Adobe Photoshop (any version)
  • Adobe Illustrator (any version with the live trace feature)
  • Your choice of media (e.g. pencil, charcoal, ink, crayons, etc)
  • A piece of blank white paper or card stock
  • A scanner or camera

1. Decorate Your Blank White Paper With Straight Lines

Draw them as neatly and straight as you can. Media-Examples I’m going to be experimenting with several different types of media, including sharpie, ink pens, lead pencil, colored pencils, oil pastel, and charcoal. Since future projects may call for art brushes of all different lengths and widths, I’ve tried to vary the length and heaviness of my hand-drawn lines by using different techniques. For example, lightly pressing with the corner of my fresh charcoal produces a thin, precise line. If I use more pressure, I’ll get a thicker, bolder line. The possibilities here are endless.

2. Digitize Your Artwork, Using Your Camera or Scanner

In order to get the highest possible quality, I’m going to be using my scanner and scan in my artwork between 400-600dpi in a lossless file format (e.g. PNG, PDF, etc.). Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 3.06.59 PM If you’re using a camera, I recommend using a tripod and setting your camera aperture very small. To make sure everything is in focus, your camera should be exactly 90 degrees perpendicular to the artwork. Once you’ve finished capturing the handmade artwork, you’re ready to bring it into Photoshop. Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 3.09.52 PM

3. Reset the White Point

After bringing my digital file into Photoshop, the first thing I notice is that I need to reset the white point of my background. To do this, create a new Levels Adjustment Layer in the layers panel. Choosing the white point option, click on the darkest area you would like to be white. BeforeAfterLevels

4. Increase the Contrast

I’m also going to adjust contrast so I get the clearest, sharpest image possible. Create a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer and adjust the contrast until you are satisfied. For this tutorial, I’m going to be focusing on the thick charcoal line at the very top. Keep in mind that different media types will require unique settings during post-processing. BeforeAfterBrightness

5. Clean Up

If necessary, use the eraser tool to eliminate dust, stray artwork, etc. You want the end result to be as pristine as possible.

6. Resample and Save

When you are satisfied with your artwork, resample the artwork to 72 dpi and save it as a PSD. After saving the file, flatten the image and use the rectangular marquee tool to select artwork, one media at a time. Different media will be handled differently in Illustrator. I’ll start by selecting my charcoal, copying the artwork, and pasting it into a new document in Illustrator. BeforeLiveTrace

7. Live Trace

Once I’ve pasted the artwork into Illustrator, I’m going to select the artwork and click the Live Trace feature near the top of the screen (circled in red below.) When the image has been traced, visit the settings on the top menu bar. LiveTraceBar In CS6, there’s actually a Live Trace panel that you can use to adjust trace settings. With Preview checked, I’ll adjust settings until Live Trace has satisfactorily rendered the artwork. Since my charcoal is basically one color, I’m going to use the black and white mode and check Ignore White. LiveTracedCharcoal

8. Expand

After I’m satisfied with the results of the live trace, I’ll click Trace and go up to Expand on the tracing menu. Expand Now my image has been converted to vector paths! Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.02.51 PM

9. Delete Stray Paths

Now I’m going to delete all the stray paths with a transparent fill. With my fill and stroke both set to blank, go to Select > Same > Fill & Stroke, then delete all the selected paths. Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.04.24 PM I’m now left with only the black-filled artwork. Delete all other unnecessary stray paths, then select all (Command+A) and create a compound path (Command+8). Now you’ve got a clean source path with which to make art brushes.

10. Straighten Your Lines

You’ve probably noticed how some of your hand-drawn lines aren’t completely straight. I’ve created a guideline to see how straight the line is, and I’ve noticed it needs to be straightened out and rotated a bit. Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.08.07 PM With the guide in place, I’ll select the artwork and rotate it with the Rotate tool. Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.09.00 PM Next, I’ll go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh. By creating a simple envelope, I can adjust the line so it is straight. My mesh settings: Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.10.59 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.12.19 PM After making a few minor adjustments, the brush looks a little straighter. After you’re done adjusting, go to Object > Expand. With Object checked, click OK.

11. Fix Overlapping Issues

With your brush selected, visit the Attributes panel and click the attribute called Use Non-Zero Winding Fill Rule. Non-ZeroAttribute This little attribute will prevent your paths from this crazy overlapping “effect” when you try to use your brush: Rules Congratulations! You’re ready for the final step: creating the brush.

12. Create the Brush

Now, my brush is pretty big, so I’m going to make it about 1/3 the original size. With the artwork selected, visit your brushes panel and create a new brush. NewBrush1 Choose Art Brush and click OK. Your art brush menu will come up: Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.29.15 PM The only change I made was to change the colorization method to Hue Shift so my brush can assume any color applied to the path stroke.

All Finished

Great job! You’ve just created your very own art brush completely from scratch. Now you’re armed and ready for your next handmade vector design! Display3 Love art brushes but running short on time? Check out the Brush Studio, a collection of high-quality art brushes, handmade patterns, and rustic styles. Have you ever created an art brush? What have you created with art brushes?

Beth Rufener, the shop owner of Ornaments of Grace, is a wife, mom of two, graphic designer, amateur photographer, aspiring foodie, occasional musician, and avid collector of fonts. She and her family live outside of Rittman, Ohio.

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About the Author
Beth R

Believer • Designer • Hand-letterer

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