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Bristle brushes in Illustrator - create and use bristles

bristle brushes for Illustrator create and use

Bristle brushes are Illustrator's wonderful painting brush for CC 2017 2015 etc. Instead of a 'solid' vector approach, bristle brushes in Illustrator gives a smoother, more transparent, more paint like brush strokes. Bristle brushes can be found in Illustrator via the brushes panel. You can also create your own bristle brushes via the new brush option to create amazing paint tools using different shapes and brush densities. You can also create new bristle brushes by duplicating an existing bristle brush and then tweaking the settings. You can turn any image into a vector painting masterpiece with the new tools. Use the bristle strokes with the standard art brush tool found in the Adobe Illustrator toolbar. You can use the bristle brushes in any color and can combine them multiple times (and still remaining editable and live) in Illustrator CC CS6 CS5 etc. This tutorial will give you lots of information about the powerful bristle brush Illustrator painting tool and many hints and tips and access to many other tutorials about the painting tools such as how to paint with the bristles, how to edit the bristle brushes in Illustrator, how to expand them, how to use them with type and much more.

  1. Select the Paintbrush tool (there is no bristle brush tool)

  2. Window menu

  3. Brushes

  4. Select a bristle brush in the brushes panel

  5. Duplicate bristle brush via right side menu in brushes panel

  6. Double click the Illustrator bristle brush

  7. Edit the size, bristle length, bristle density, thickness etc (see preview to see the result of changes)

  8. Click OK

  9. Save document with new bristle brush for re-use later

Bristle brushes in Illustrator and Other brushes

new brush and bristles

Illustrator brushes to purchase

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Ok, Adobe Illustrator is certainly not up there with the now defunct Expression (from Creature House) and I really loved that tool for painting and drawing in vectors. There are also a number of other decent apps with similar features such as Clip Studio Paint.

Bristle brush options such as the shape of the bristles, length etc

If you double click a brush in the brushes panel or go to the brushes options or when you create a new bristle brush, you will see a panel which includes the

  1. shape (round point, round blunt, round curve, etc and flat angle and flat fan etc).

  2. size (though the brush size will also modify the size)

  3. bristle length

  4. bristle density

  5. bristle thickness

  6. paint opacity

  7. stiffness.

The supplied bristle brushes and settings all have their uses and some can be used to create some nice painted and artistic brush strokes but I must admit I would love to see the tool have a lot more options such as perhaps a texture feature, more randomness, jitter, better spreads, different blends for each stroke, different stroke shapes for each bristle etc and perhaps randomization of color throughout the bristles and much more. Anyway, those things are not readily available but of course, you can manipulate the applied brush stroke in many different ways by expanding it via the expand appearance though once you have expanded the artwork, that is that for the applied bristle brush and then you are just using the artworks as normal paths

Re-apply bristles in Illustrator

bristle brushes re-apply

You can use the bristle brushes once but the brush strokes probably work best if you apply the bristle brushes over and over on top of the previously applied bristle and then vary the bristle settings as well as the opacity and colors etc. A workaround to avoid creating multiple bristle brushes is to use the appearance panel - by using the appearance panel, a single bristle brush can be used and combined with other bristle brushes and colors as well as a mix of different opacities and blending modes as well as adding effects such as blurs etc to particular appearance stroke entries for the bristle brushes. You can add multiple strokes to the single bristle brush. They can then all be modified live via the appearance panel

Expand stroke of the bristle brushes

You can select the bristle brushes in Illustrator and expand the artwork via the object menu and expand appearance. You will then see the underlying structure of the bristle brushes such as lines spread or long lines as well as the opacity etc and at that point, you can change the settings for the individual bristles at this point. The filled paths can also then have effects etc added as well as the results exported for use in Photoshop

Use with type and paths

bristle brushes and type in Illustrator

You can use the bristle brushes with the paintbrush tool but it can also be used as a stroke for type as well as standard paths or perhaps the results of an expanded trace (personally I don't think the results are amazing but with a little trial and error, all kinds of bristle brush overlays can be added to the image though to really work well you will have to set the image's fill to zero. To use the bristle brushes as a great source of designs with type, you must either expand the artwork or use the appearance panel and add the bristle brush stroke to that. You can add multiple bristle brushes to the paths as well as type / text in that way

Fill with gradients

You can create some really beautiful multi-colored bristle brushes using gradient swatches such as the gradient swatches for Illustrator CC 2017 2015 CS6 etc and the gradients can be applied linear as well as radial etc Use the gradient panel to change the colors and angle etc for the bristles. Again, the best effect is if you add multiple strokes using the bristle brushes in Illustrator to layer the design. You can also use the artwork in layers and add the bristles to one layer and then add a different bristle brush with gradients or solid colors to another layer and so on.

Bristle brushes - Density, thickness etc

How to tryout the bristle brush settings in Illustrator? The quickest way I have always found is just to create a line using the live line segment tool in Illustrator CC 2017 2015 etc and apply a bristle brush and then double click the bristle brush in the brushes panel and display the settings and then just keep changing the settings and seeing how the line changes. This is not a perfect solution and perhaps a couple of curved lines will be handy as well especially as sometimes you will get odd bristle jags on a rapid turn of the brush and that may not be visible when you are just trying out the settings. Changing the shape makes some difference and again that depends on the other settings so a round curve looks very little different to a flat curve on a straight line. As the tool is reasonably interactive (I would love to see the tool not even be modal dialog bound but just a panel and any changes instantly reflected in the work (remember to put the preview on) sadly that doesn't seem to be the approach with Illustrator (if you want that there a number of new apps around that are a little more instant). The preview and the selected line can be seen to change on release of the mouse and so you can bristle length (seems to do very little beyond increasing the size and spread but to see the real results you would have to expand the bristle brush and see the paths into the mix. Paint opacity in the bristle brush panel makes the brush a lot darker or transparent, so set low if you want to apply it over and over You can always blend into the mix the opacity and blending modes etc for the line or stroke. Personally, I wish there was a little more variation here. A randomizer (such as in Painter) would be pretty useful and also a lot more settings such as how the lines thin or perhaps if it accepted width profiles it would be even more flexible.

What to do with them

bristle brushes lines

Well, clearly the key reason for the existence of the bristle brush tool is to draw so how you use the tools depends on what you want to achieve such as creating a smudged background or perhaps some strong lines around a path or just a loose sketch of a face, all are definitely possible with this tool set

Illustrator Tutorials

1. how to create calligraphic Illustrator brush strokes tutorial

Sources and references

1. Bristles brushes on Adobe

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Updated: August 2017