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Variable Width Strokes in Illustrator tutorial

variable width strokes in Illustrator tutorial

Variable width strokes in Illustrator and how to create and use them with paths tutorial. The variable width strokes create amazing stroke designs in Illustrator CC CS6 CS5 etc. They can take strokes to another level using variable width strokes - all super easy.

  1. select a path in Illustrator

  2. set the width for the path

  3. set the color

  4. select the width profile / variable width profile from dropdown OR use width tool in toolbar

You can use the variable width strokes by using the width profiles at the top of the Illustrator application. You can use the variable width profiles with strokes, with normal paths, lines, circles, illustrations, use them with brushes and more. The variable width profiles can be modified and saved for use in future projects. You can quickly apply the variable width strokes to any design and create amazing results in seconds such as beautiful drawn ink strokes. You can also use the variable width strokes with the width tool and use that to modify any line in seconds. This tutorial shows how to apply the variable width strokes / width profiles in Illustrator and how to edit them and how to change the width of lines to create stunning varied stroke widths. The tutorial on the Illustrator variable width strokes also shows you how to save the width profiles and how to use the width profiles with the appearance panel to create beautiful combinations of lines and strokes. Another key part of the tutorial is how to use the variable width strokes with type to create truly unique type / text designs.

Width tool and its location in the Illustrator toolbar (as well as other width related tools)

variable width profile add points

The variable width strokes in Illustrator can be used with paths as well as brushes. You can use them to create stunning brush strokes designs that can be manipulated in many different ways and the variable width strokes can be saved to the profile presets section. The width feature is super easy to use, either apply via the width tool or via the variable width profiles. You can find the width tool in the Illustrator toolbar about halfway down and it is combined with the warp tool, wrinkle tool and others. The width tool is an unique tool within Illustrator but there is a supporting tool set that is available via the Astute graphics site. You can also write your own plugins (and perhaps scripts) to manipulate the width feature in many additional ways. One wonderful tool to use with variable stroke widths is the "WidthScribe" plugin and that can be found on the Astute Graphics website. It is a superb tool for manipulating widths in 1000s of ways and worth checking out via their demo plugin set. I have found the widthscribe tool a super useful tool for all kinds of artwork and some really unique and wonderful art can be generated. I would also recommend checking out youtube video tutorials on the widthscribe (there are a few by me on there as well)

  1. Go to the Illustrator toolbar

  2. Select the width tool (halfway down the toolbar)

Adding a variable width strokes to a path via the width tool in Illustrator toolbar

variable width profile modify center point in Illustrator
  1. select a path in Illustrator (any path, open or closed) such as line segment or spiral or circle etc

  2. Go to the width tool

  3. make certain there is a path stroke (it will not work otherwise)

  4. Go to the path and hover over the path and you will see a + appear

  5. Drag outward (hold down the alt / option to just drag one side of the variable width profile)

  6. Go to another part of the path and see the '+' appear again

  7. Drag out the width profile

Modifying the variable width strokes using the width tool in the Illustrator toolbar

variable stroke width modifying in illustrator

You can use the width tool to create all kinds of unique shapes in Illustrator by using the width tool to modify the selected artwork.

  1. Click the center of one of the added points for the variable width stroke using the width tool

  2. And drag the variable width stroke point and move back and forth along the path. You will notice that the point can only be dragged so far (in some cases) but this depends on the width. Sometimes the variable width profile center point can be dragged over multiple points.

If you wish to modify the outer points of the variable width profile

  1. click the side you wish to change and drag

  2. Hold the alt / option to alter just one side

Using the width profiles (found next to the stroke width) to add and modify variable width strokes in seconds and also create some amazing strokes in the bargain

width profiles and path in Illustrator variable width strokes

You don't have to manually edit the variable width strokes in Illustrator. You can use the width profiles. Sadly, there are only a small number but they cover many of the obvious design (always surprised Adobe have never added more - they add lots of swatches and brushes but the width profiles are fairly limited)

  1. select a path

  2. add a stroke to path

  3. go to the Illustrator width profile dropdown

  4. select a width profile

You can also add your own width profiles to the document by

  1. select path with a variable width stroke

  2. click the add command at the bottom of the width profiles (found along the top bar of Illustrator)

Appearance panel and width profiles in Illustrator

appearance panel and paths and variable stroke width multiple

You can use the variable stroke widths once or add them multiple times via the appearance panel

  1. select a path such as spiral and set to no fill and no stroke

  2. go to the appearance panel (window menu)

  3. go to the right side menu

  4. Add new stroke

  5. go to the width profiles or the width tool and add a variable stroke width (as above) and modify

  6. go to the appearance panel

  7. and add a new stroke

  8. go to the width tool or width profiles

  9. modify the variable stroke width for the Illustrator path

  10. repeat with additional strokes

  11. You can also use the graphic style panel to add a new graphic style (which can then be re-applied to other paths etc)

Expand variable width strokes in Illustrator via the expand appearance command

expand appearance and variable stroke widths in Illustrator

One thing that is not great with the variable width strokes is that they often leave a lot of points behind when you use the expand appearance command

  1. select path

  2. object menu

  3. expand appearance

  4. Now manipulate the points using direct selection tool etc

The result is not always great and you can always use the smooth tool or as I like to use, the Astute Graphic Smart remove brush (a superb tool) to remove the excessive points. You can find out more about the smart remove brush via the vectorscribe section on the Astute graphics site as well as download a demo of the plugin set. You can also find out more about the smart remove via video tutorials on youtube.

You can use variable width strokes with type to create all kinds of unique and standout type effects

You can use the variable width strokes with type in Illustrator by selecting some type and then applying the width profile via the appearance panel and adding a stroke and then manipulating the stroke with the width tool etc

  1. select type

  2. appearance panel

  3. right side menu and add stroke

  4. go to the width tool and modify (as above details) or add a width profile and change the stroke width etc

This can be repeated numerous times and you can add effects and more fills and strokes to the mix and even save the result for future use (it is an appearance and they can be saved to the graphic styles panel). You can use the appearance panel and width tool to create all kinds of amazing type effects in Illustrator. The type is also still live which is great so if you wish to change the letters, they can be changed in seconds without re-starting the width tool etc.

Brush strokes and variable width strokes

variable width strokes and brush tools for Illustrator

You can also use the variable width strokes in Illustrator and the width tool with brushes and create some truly unique brush designs and distortions. All the brushes can be affected by the width tool

  1. Select the paintbrush tool

  2. Apply

  3. select a brush stroke from brush definition dropdown (top bar)

  4. Select width profile or use the width tool

Other tutorials

1. Curvature tool and curves / paths in Illustrator

References and sources

1. Variable stroke widths in Illustrator at Adobe