As a digital artist, you’re constantly looking for new ways of visually enhancing your illustrations, one of the most commonly used methods being that of applying textures through the use of brushes.
As we speak, there are thousands upon thousands of brush packs out there, but what if you find yourself in the position where you actually need to create one of your own?
Well, the process of creating custom brushes in Illustrator can sometimes prove to be a real challenge and will require you to think outside the box, since there are often multiple methods of achieving the same result.
In this tutorial, I’m going to share with you some of my secret recipes and bring you along as I start building three different brushes from scratch. Then I’ll show you how you can use them to bring your illustration to life.
Also, don’t forget you can always expand your brush library by heading over to Envato Elements, where you’ll find a great selection of vector brush sets to pick from.
Before we begin, I wanted to point out that by default, the software comes packed with a couple of brush packs, which can be found by opening up the Brushes panel and clicking on the Brush Libraries Menu.
Here, you’ll find eight distinct categories, which contain different brush types that you can select and then use with the help of the dedicated Paintbrush Tool (B).
While they’re not bad by any means, in some cases they might end up limiting your creativity, which is why sometimes you’ll want to take the time to create one of your own in order to fill a specific need.
In our case, we’re going to take a look at the process of creating a custom paint brush, a scatter brush, and a texture brush, using nothing more than some basic geometric shapes and effects.
2. How to Set Up a New Document
Let’s kick off our little project by heading over to File > New, or by using the Control-N keyboard shortcut in order to create a New Document, which we will adjust as follows:
Number of Artboards: 3
Spacing: 120 px
Width: 600 px
Height: 280 px
3. How to Create a Paint Brush
Now that we’ve finished setting up our project file, we can zoom in on the first Artboard where we’re going to gradually build our custom Paint Brush.
Before we begin, we’re going to want to clear out all the default brushes. To do so, simply open up the Brushes panel, and then from its Advanced menu, click on Select All Unused, and remove them using the Delete Brush button.
Once you’re done, select the Blob Brush Tool, which can be found underneath the Paintbrush Tool or by using the Shift-B keyboard shortcut, and then draw a short horizontal line, making sure to keep it as straight as possible.
As soon as you have your line, switch over to the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) and then adjust its shape by cutting off its round ends, making sure to remove the remaining segments afterwards.
Next, we’re going to give it a more hand-made look by heading over to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen, which should bring up a new window prompt that will allow us to fine-tune the effect as follows:
Size: 1 px (Absolute)
As soon as you hit OK, Illustrator will apply the effect to the shape as a live effect, which we’re going to change by heading over to Object > Expand Appearance.
Create two copies of the resulting shape, which we will position above and below the original, making sure to adjust them afterwards by shortening their width and height in order to add variation.
Once you’re happy with the result, select all three shapes and combine them into a single larger one by opening up the Pathfinder panel and using its Unite Shape Mode.
Before we move on, we need to change the color of the resulting shape, since otherwise we might not be able to do it afterwards when we turn it into a brush.
All you have to do now is open up the Brush panel and click on the New Brush button, making sure to set the Brush Type to Art Brush.
Once you hit OK, a new window prompt will appear, giving you a couple of options. We’ll want to give our brush a custom name, leaving all the other settings as they are—all except for the Colorization Method, which we will set to Tints and Shades.
As soon as we hit OK, our newly created brush should now be added to the Brushes panel, which means that we can select the PaintbrushTool (B) and test it out.
4. How to Create a Scatter Brush
Once we’ve finished working on our first brush, we can move on down to our second Artboard, where we’re going to take a look at the process of creating a scatter brush.
Start by selecting the Ellipse Tool (L) and using it to draw a 64 x 64 px circle, which we will position in the center of the underlying Artboard.
Give the shape a custom grain effect by heading over to Effect > Photoshop Effects > Texture > Grain and setting it as follows:
Grain Type: Stippled
Next, we need to turn the resulting effect into a raster image, so that we can trace it later on. To do this, head over to Object > Rasterize, and then make sure that the Resolution is set to Screen, the Background to Transparent, and the Anti-aliasing to Art Optimized, and hit OK.
Once we’ve rasterized the effect, we can now open the Image Trace panel, which can be found under the Window top menu.
Here, we’re going to leave the Preset to Default, and then set the Mode to Black and White, making sure to enable the little Preview box.
Moving on down, we have the Threshold, which we’re going to set to 120, followed by an Advanced menu, which we’ll want to expand.
Set the Paths to 64%, the Corners to 0%, and the Noise to 1 px, making sure to enable the Ignore White option.
Since the grain effect is always randomized, you might get a slightly different result, so if you feel that you need to adjust some of the tracing values, please go ahead and do so.
Once you’re done, click the Expand button, which should give you a vectorized trace of the rasterized grain effect.
Since we want to be able to use the brush on smaller surfaces, we’re going to select the resulting trace and then scale it down by half. So right-click and then go to Transform > Scale and enter a value of 50% in the Uniform input box.
As with the previous brush, we need to change the color of the resulting trace, since otherwise we won’t be able to do so once we turn it into a brush.
All we have to do now is open up the Brushes panel and create a new Scatter Brush, making sure to give it a custom name.
Quick tip: as you can see, we can’t preview any of the adjustments in this initial window, so we’re going to leave all of the options as they are, and then draw a short line using the Paintbrush tool. We can then double-click on our custom brush from within the panel, which should now give us the preview option.
We’ll want to start by lowering the Spacing to about 60%, and then setting the Rotation to Random, giving it a minimum value of 8° and a maximum one of 48°.
Finally, make sure you set the Colorization Method to Tintsand Shades and then simply hit OK in order for the changes to take effect.
The software will then ask us if we want to apply the changes to our existing brush stroke, which we do.
5. How to Create a Texture Brush
Once you’re done, position yourself on the remaining Artboard, where we will create our third and last brush.
Start by creating an 80 x 32 px rectangle, which we will position in the center of the underlying Artboard.
Once you have the shape in place, give it a custom grain effect by heading over to Effect > Photoshop Effects > Texture > Grain and setting its Intensity to 4 and the Contrast to 32.
Next, we’re going to want to rasterize the resulting effect as we did for the previous brush, in order to be able to trace it afterwards.
Once you’re done, go through the same tracing process, only this time set the Threshold to 96, the Paths to 84%, the Corners to 0%, and the Noise to 1 px, making sure to enable the Ignore White option.
Expand the trace, and then turn the resulting effect into an Art Brush, giving it a custom name, and making sure to set its Colorization Method to Tints and Shades.
6. How to Add the Custom Brushes to the Brush Library
All we have to do now is add the custom brushes to our library so that we can access them within any future project.
To do so, simply open up the Brush Libraries Menu and click on Save Brushes, making sure to give the file a custom name.
You can then access the brushes by opening up the Brush Libraries Menu again and checking under User Defined.
As always, I hope you had fun watching this video and most importantly managed to learn something new and useful during the process!
Expand Your Adobe Illustrator Skills!
Just finished going through this quick tutorial, and feel like learning more? Well, if that’s the case, you’re in luck, since I took the time to put together this little list that should get you up and started in no time!