Creating a custom brush in Illustrator for line art


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I often receive comments about the line work on my web comic. People have asked for example if I draw the comic on paper and then scan it into the computer. The answer would be no. In order to create my line work as well as the finished product of each strip I do, I use Adobe Illustrator CS3. I’d never claim to be an expert in Illustrator but I do have enough knowledge of the software in order to get it do what I want it to.

When you draw with traditional media whether it be pencil or pen, the thickness of your lines will usually vary depending on the pressure you apply with each stroke. You can mimic that effect in Illustrator. I’m going to show how to create a custom brush which will make it quite simple to do so.

Step 1: Open up Illustrator and create a new document. Once you’ve done this you’re going to be using the oval tool.

Custom Brush Tutorial

Step 2: Using the oval tool, draw yourself a somewhat thin oval like the example below.

Step 3: Go ahead and select that oval. It should now be outlined and have visible end points.

Step 4: Next we’re going to be using the Convert Anchor Point tool, which you will find by selecting your pen tool and holding down on it until a drop menu appears like in the following example.

Step 5: Using the Convert Anchor Point tool go ahead and click on both end points of your ellipse. This will cause them to taper, creating a fine point. You should see something like the following image.

Step 6: With your ellipse still selected, the next thing you need to do is open your Brush palette. You can do so by choosing Window in the menu across the top of the application and then navigating to Brushes. Alternatively you can just press F5 which is the keyboard shortcut.

Step 7: On the right upper corner of the Brush palette you’re going to look for an arrow and click on that in order to open the Brush palette menu. Choose New Brush…

Step 8: Now a window should pop up giving you several different options. You want to select the option to create a New Art Brush.

Step 9: Now you’re going to choose the proportional option, or in the case of my screenshot “proportiona”. Don’t ask me why the L was cut off. I have no idea ;) Now click Okay.

Now your new brush should appear in the brush palette, like so.

Go ahead and test out your new brush. I use a Wacom Tablet and Pen when doing anything in Illustrator, but if you don’t have one, a mouse will work adequately enough.

You’ll notice with the proportional setting turned on that your lines will look thicker or thinner depending on how long they are.

You’re all set! Enjoy your new custom brush!






49 Responses to Creating a custom brush in Illustrator for line art

  1. Hello Mike,

    a hundred thanks for this tutorial!

    I have a quick question for you.. could variations of this trick be used to create other special brushes? I've been experimenting with Illustrator for the past month, and love it so far.

  2. Hello Mike,

    a hundred thanks for this tutorial!

    I have a quick question for you.. could variations of this trick be used to create other special brushes? I’ve been experimenting with Illustrator for the past month, and love it so far.

  3. Bob, you're very welcome :)

    And to answer your question – most definitely! I really only scratched the surface of what you can do here because I didn't want to end up with a mile long tutorial…lol.

    For example another trick you could do is create more than one ellipse. Each of them different lengths and then turn that whole thing into a brush. Now what you'll have is a line that mimics how it looks if you're the type of artist that doesn't create continuous strokes. It's not perfect of course, but if you play around with it a bit you can end up with some pretty neat results :)

  4. Bob, you’re very welcome :)

    And to answer your question – most definitely! I really only scratched the surface of what you can do here because I didn’t want to end up with a mile long tutorial…lol.

    For example another trick you could do is create more than one ellipse. Each of them different lengths and then turn that whole thing into a brush. Now what you’ll have is a line that mimics how it looks if you’re the type of artist that doesn’t create continuous strokes. It’s not perfect of course, but if you play around with it a bit you can end up with some pretty neat results :)

  5. Pingback: Finally my first article on Geeks are Sexy » Ordinary Folk

  6. Awesome!

    Thanks for the great tutorial bro! Are these Wacom tablets really worth the cost for an amateur like me?

  7. Awesome!

    Thanks for the great tutorial bro! Are these Wacom tablets really worth the cost for an amateur like me?

  8. Robert: Honestly I would say it really depends on what you like you to do in Photoshop or Illustrator and how often you do it. Can you get by with just the mouse or do you wish you had something more precise?

    For me it was without a doubt worth every penny. I was on the fence for the longest time about getting one and then I just finally decided to go for it and get one of the Intuos tablets. I've never regretted that decision :)

  9. Robert: Honestly I would say it really depends on what you like you to do in Photoshop or Illustrator and how often you do it. Can you get by with just the mouse or do you wish you had something more precise?

    For me it was without a doubt worth every penny. I was on the fence for the longest time about getting one and then I just finally decided to go for it and get one of the Intuos tablets. I’ve never regretted that decision :)

  10. Thank you for this! I'm a total beginner and needed something to make nice tree branches with. This is easy as pie. Yay!

  11. Thank you for this! I’m a total beginner and needed something to make nice tree branches with. This is easy as pie. Yay!

  12. Thanks very much for explaining what "proportional" means (with your helpful visual example). When I read the Adobe Illustrator help version, I still had no idea what it meant (how unusual). Now I do. :-)

  13. Thanks very much for explaining what “proportional” means (with your helpful visual example). When I read the Adobe Illustrator help version, I still had no idea what it meant (how unusual). Now I do. :-)

  14. Also, I've created a variety of custom brushes, similar to yours, where I do 3 versions: thin-thick-thin (like yours), thick-thin (so it just tapers from it being thick on one end to a thin rounded point on the other end). And then I reverse this thick-thin brush.

    And I created tiny half circles to put on each end so that I can vary the degree of how thin the brush gets (as oppose to having it go to one point. I keep the "thick" half circle the same and then vary the length of the smaller half circle.

  15. Also, I’ve created a variety of custom brushes, similar to yours, where I do 3 versions: thin-thick-thin (like yours), thick-thin (so it just tapers from it being thick on one end to a thin rounded point on the other end). And then I reverse this thick-thin brush.

    And I created tiny half circles to put on each end so that I can vary the degree of how thin the brush gets (as oppose to having it go to one point. I keep the “thick” half circle the same and then vary the length of the smaller half circle.

  16. Thanks a lot mate!

    This tutorial helped me so damn much! I now use these homebrew brushes for vectoring hair, really useful i think ;)

    thanks again and keep up the good work!

  17. Thanks a lot mate!

    This tutorial helped me so damn much! I now use these homebrew brushes for vectoring hair, really useful i think ;)

    thanks again and keep up the good work!

  18. Hi Mike
    Thanks a lot for the class
    Howevwer Icant seem to be able to apply color to the brush,
    Can it be done?
    Sergio

  19. Hi Mike

    Thanks a lot for the class

    Howevwer Icant seem to be able to apply color to the brush,

    Can it be done?

    Sergio

  20. May the reason that "Proportiona" exist in this form because you need to adapt your size screen resolution? (Desktop/Right Click/Properties/Settings)

    Hope this helps ;)

  21. May the reason that “Proportiona” exist in this form because you need to adapt your size screen resolution? (Desktop/Right Click/Properties/Settings)

    Hope this helps ;)

  22. Hey Mike

    Great tutorial. I have used it to create trapezoid lines that are curved. The beginner is thicker than the end. Now I can make mind map lines according to Buzan. Next think I would like to know is.
    1) Can you program the brush stroke to have added text aligned to the path of the brush stroke
    2) and text to automatically offset from the path so that it does not overlap with the brush stroke
    I have used the text tool, add text to path, but than the brush stroke disappears.
    I have to manually recopy the brushstroke and offset the text. With the type on path dialog box, using "align to path".
    What I would like to do is make the brushstroke and immediately add the text. Maybe the brushstroke already comes with a preset text that I can click into to change the text.
    Is there a way to make this kind of brush stroke?
    It would make mind mapping in illustrator a whole lot easier and more attractive.