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Create a Set of Art Brushes to Make a Linocut-Style Illustration

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Read Time: 16 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Wondering about printing linocuts without a press? Learn how to make a linocut vector illustration that has the look of a handmade linocut or woodcut design in Adobe Illustrator.

We'll start by creating woodcut brushes for Illustrator from scratch, then we'll do a beautiful and simple linocut design. However, if you don't have the time to do digital linocut art from scratch, we've got a solution for you.

Envato Elements offers unlimited linocut and woodcut brushes for Illustrator with your subscription. Find amazing Adobe Illustrator brushes that will save you a lot of time and will give you a professional result, like this one:

This kit of amazing linocut brushes for Illustrator is available on Envato Elements.This kit of amazing linocut brushes for Illustrator is available on Envato Elements.This kit of amazing linocut brushes for Illustrator is available on Envato Elements.
This kit of cool linocut brushes for Illustrator is available on Envato Elements.

Scroll down after this Illustrator woodcut effect tutorial to see a hand-picked selection! To find out even more about brushes in Adobe Illustrator, check out my course Mastering Brushes in Illustrator, also on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Learn in This Illustrator Woodcut Effect Tutorial

  • How to create the linocut art brushes
  • How to create the pattern brushes
  • How to save your linocut art brushes
  • How to draw the branch for your linocut design
  • How to draw the bird for your linocut design
  • How to add the finishing touches to your woodcut illustrations

1. How to Create the Linocut Art Brushes

When creating a linocut print, artists use special tools to carve designs into a linoleum block. The raised (uncarved) areas of the block form the image. The carved linoleum block is covered with ink, then printed onto paper or fabric. Because the artist removes material from the block to create the image, this is called a "subtractive" or "reductive" process. 

linocut toolslinocut toolslinocut tools
Typical linocut tools: knives, chisels, and gouges
A linoleum block (below) and the resulting print. Credit: Flickr user Collierwilson

Step 1

We want to mimic the shapes of the cuts that a gouge tool makes. Then we'll use those shapes as the basis for a set of Art Brushes. To create the shapes, choose the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) and double-click it to bring up its options.

Input the settings shown below. 

If you are not using a graphics tablet, the Pressure setting will not be available. Don't worry—you can still create the shapes.

An "Accurate" Fidelity setting will result in more detailed and rougher shapes, which is desirable for a hand-carved look. The Variation in size will allow you to draw a stroke that varies in size,  depending on the amount of pressure you use with your graphics pen.

Blob Brush OptionsBlob Brush OptionsBlob Brush Options
The Blob Brush Options dialog. Yours may look slightly different, depending on the version of Illustrator you are using.

Step 2

Draw three or four strokes with the Blob Brush Tool, pressing down harder on one end and using a lighter touch at the other (if using a graphics tablet), resulting in a tapered shape. If using a mouse, double back on one end to make the resulting shape thicker. You can also adjust individual points to modify the final shapes. The Blob Brush is not technically a brush, but it's great for quickly drawing loose vector shapes.

blob brush shapesblob brush shapesblob brush shapes
The shapes will be the basis for a set of Art Brushes.

Step 3

Select one of the shapes you just created, and then click the New Brush icon at the bottom of the Brushes panel. Alternately, you can drag the object into the panel.

new brushnew brushnew brush
Select an object and click the New Brush icon

Choose Art Brush as the type.

Step 4

In the dialog box, give your new brush a name, and enter the following settings. The Width can be set to Pressure if you're using a tablet, or left at Fixed if using a mouse. If set to Pressure, you can vary the width based on the percentages you choose in the two sliders. Choose Stretch to Fit Stroke Length in the next section. Below that, make sure the directional arrow begins with the wide part of the shape and ends at the narrow part. Lastly, set the Colorization method to Hue Shift. This is important because we will be changing the color of the brushes in a later step. (Read our separate tutorial for more on how Colorization works.)

art brush optionsart brush optionsart brush options

Step 5

Repeat Steps 3 and 4 with the other shapes to create more Art Brushes.

Step 6

We'll now create a thin brush to look as if it was carved with a v-shaped gouge. Choose the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw out a horizontal line. Increase its weight to about 4 points. From the drop-down menu in the Control Bar, choose Width Profile 3. You can also access width profiles from the Stroke panel.

width profilewidth profilewidth profile
Choose a Width profile to create a sharp gouged brush

Step 7

Create a new Art Brush from this new stroke, as you did in Steps 3 and 4.

Step 8

Keep this stroke selected and apply a Roughen effect by going to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. Enter the settings below.

roughen settingsroughen settingsroughen settings

Step 9

Once again, drag this object into the Brushes panel to create a new Art Brush. At this point, your Brushes panel should look something like the image below:

brushes panelbrushes panelbrushes panel
So far, we have six Art Brushes

Step 10

Many linocuts have marks in the negative space—that is, the area around the main subject matter. We can simulate this effect with a few more Art Brushes. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw some simple shapes like the ones in the image below:

negative space brushesnegative space brushesnegative space brushes
Create simple shapes like this, and then turn them into Art Brushes to use in the negative space of the illustration.

Step 11

As before, create new Art Brushes from these shapes.

Step 12

Unlike a real printmaker, we don't have to make each mark by hand. We can create Art Brushes that contain multiple strokes and use them to apply texture to larger sections of our illustration. Using the Blob Brush, Pen Tool, or any other drawing tools you prefer, create a few groups containing multiple objects. Then create Art Brushes as before. Below are some examples:

texture brushestexture brushestexture brushes
Each one of these groups will be turned into Art Brushes and used to apply texture to the illustration.

Step 13

Let's create one more Art Brush, for a lighter texture. Start by double-clicking the Pencil Tool (N) to bring up its options. Use a fairly smooth setting, and click the Fill new pencil strokes option.

pencil tool optionspencil tool optionspencil tool options

Now draw out several quick, simple strokes. Drag this group to the Brushes panel to create another Art Brush.

pencil strokespencil strokespencil strokes
When you set the Pencil Tool Options to Fill new strokes, you can quickly create shapes like this.

Your Brushes panel should now look something like this:

brushes panel with art brushesbrushes panel with art brushesbrushes panel with art brushes
The Art Brushes

2. How to Create the Pattern Brushes

Relief prints, such as linocuts and woodcuts, can only produce one solid color at a time. There's no way to get a tint or shade of a color in a one-color print. To create highlights, relief printmakers use crosshatching, or a series of small, repeating strokes. For this technique, we'll create some Pattern Brushes.

Step 1

Draw a few pencil strokes as you did above, but this time, make them vertical.

vertical pencil strokesvertical pencil strokesvertical pencil strokes

Step 2

Take the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) and connect the pencil strokes at the bottom. The result is one shape, as in the image below:

connect the strokesconnect the strokesconnect the strokes
Use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to connect the Pencil strokes, forming one object

Step 3

If we were to use this shape as it is to create a Pattern Brush, there would be space between the individual components:

pattern brush not so goodpattern brush not so goodpattern brush not so good
The spacing between the objects is undesirable

To fix this, draw a rectangle around the shape, and trim off a clean line on the bottom and sides. The quickest way to do this is by using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M). Hold down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (Windows), and remove the excess.

shape builder toolshape builder toolshape builder tool
Draw a rectangle and then trim off the excess using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M)

Step 4

Just as you did with the Art Brushes, select the object and click the New Brush icon at the bottom of the Brushes panel. Or just drag the object into the panel. 

The Pattern Brush Options should look something like the image below. You only have to concern yourself with the Side Tile (highlighted). Tick Stretch to fit, and be sure to use Hue Shift as the Colorization method.

pattern brush optionspattern brush optionspattern brush options

Optional: In Illustrator CC and later, you can choose automated corner tiles for Outer and Inner Corner Tiles. We probably won't be using too many right angles in the illustration, so if you're using an earlier version of Illustrator, don't worry about it.

automated corner tilesautomated corner tilesautomated corner tiles
Illustrator CC can automatically generate corner tiles for your Pattern Brushes.

3. How to Save Your Linocut Art Brushes

Step 1

Now that you've put a lot of time into creating all these brushes, you can save them to use in any Illustrator document. Click the flyout menu on the top right of the Brushes panel and choose Save Brush Library. You will then be taken to the Brushes folder inside the Adobe Illustrator folder, where you can give the set a name and save it. It will save as a native Illustrator (.ai) file.

save brushessave brushessave brushes

Step 2

When you want to use these brushes in another document, click the Brush Libraries Menu at the bottom of the Brushes panel, or click the flyout menu at the top right, and choose Open Brush Library > User Defined, and then choose your brushes.

open brush libraryopen brush libraryopen brush library

4. How to Draw the Branch for Your Linocut Design

Since a linocut is a reductive process, I'm going to start with a black shape and then apply the brushes in white, so they look cut out of the black. The remaining black areas will "print."

Step 1

I'm using this Creative Commons photo as a reference. You can of course use your own photo or sketch. Draw a simple branch shape, using the Pen Tool (P). Even though my reference photo does not have a branch, I'm going to add one for more visual interest. Make another path that follows the top edge of the branch shape. This will be the highlight.

branch shapebranch shapebranch shape
Draw a simple branch shape, plus a single path for the highlight.

Step 2

Select the highlight path and apply the Pattern Brush to it by clicking its thumbnail in the Brushes panel. Change the stroke color to white.

branch highlightbranch highlightbranch highlight
Apply the Pattern Brush to the path and change its color to white to create a highlight.

Step 3

If the stroke is too big or too small, you can change its point size in the Stroke panel. Alternatively, you can click the Options of Selected Object icon at the bottom of the Brushes panel and change its size from there. This lets you fine-tune the appearance of the selected path.

option of selected objectoption of selected objectoption of selected object
stroke optionsstroke optionsstroke options
Adjust the size of the selected object to fine-tune the appearance of the path.
You may be wondering why we didn't just create white brushes to begin with, rather than having to change the color to white. That's simply because it's very difficult to see white brushes in the Brushes panel. In fact, if you prefer a lighter user interface, you would not be able to see them at all!
white brusheswhite brusheswhite brushes
White brushes are only barely visible in the Brushes panel when using a dark interface. With a light interface, they cannot be seen at all.
If you are unable to change the color of the stroke, you do not have the correct Colorization method selected in your Brush Options. Double-click the brush in the Brushes panel and select Hue Shift as the method.

Step 4

Draw two more paths inside the branch shape. Apply one of the texture brushes to give a woody texture. If necessary, adjust the scale of each path. Keep it simple. The finished branch is below.

branch donebranch donebranch done
Draw two more paths and apply Art Brushes for texture.

5. How to Draw the Bird for Your Linocut Design

Step 1

Draw a silhouette of the bird and fill it with black. You can do this quickly, using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) or Pencil Tool (N). It doesn't have to be precise because we're going for a hand-drawn look. Lock the silhouette shape.

Draw a loose silhouette of the bird.

Step 2

Just as you did with the branch, draw a line for the highlight of each leg. Adjust the scale of the stroke if need be. In the example below, the width of the stroke is 0.5 point, and the scale (in the Stroke Options) is about 90%.

To change the scale to an absolute value, you'll have to choose Fixed from the Scale drop-down menu.
bird legsbird legsbird legs

Step 3

Start adding some white strokes to the head of the bird. Remember to think like a printmaker: By adding white strokes in Illustrator, it's as if you're removing sections of the black shape to create white (non-printing) areas of the print.

bird headbird headbird head
Adding white strokes in Illustrator is like scraping away black sections of the linoleum block in printmaking.

Step 4

Using some of the texture brushes you created earlier, draw some strokes inside the wings. We're not trying to draw every single feather here, but just create a nice texture.

wing texturewing texturewing texture

Use a simpler brush on the lower sections of the wing, where the feathers are longer.

wing sectionwing sectionwing section

Here's the wing in Outline mode:

wing outlinewing outlinewing outline
It doesn't take very many strokes to create the wing texture.

Step 5

For the tail feathers, use the Pattern Brush we created in Section 3. You can use the Width Tool (Shift-W) on any kind of stroke, including Pattern Brushes. In the image below, I am making the top of the stroke wider:

width toolwidth toolwidth tool
Using the Width Tool (Shift+W), drag the handles at the top end of the stroke to make it wider.

Here I've used the Width Tool to make the other end of the stroke narrower. After you adjust the width, you can add more points to the stroke to make it follow the contour of the feather shape.

width toolwidth toolwidth tool

Step 6

As you did in Step 4 above, draw some textured strokes for the breast feathers. Try not to make all the strokes look alike. You can click the Options of Selected Object icon on the Brushes panel, and then tick the Flip Across button for a different look.

breast feather optionsbreast feather optionsbreast feather options
Adjust the options of individual strokes to get some variation in appearance.

Add some of the lighter texture brushes to the upper part of the breast.

lighter strokeslighter strokeslighter strokes

Use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to paint a white area near the top of the breast.

blob brushblob brushblob brush

Step 7

Add some black strokes around the outline of the bird to break up the smooth surface of the silhouette.

black strokesblack strokesblack strokes

6. How to Add Finishing Touches to Your Woodcut Illustrations

Step 1

Using the negative space brushes you made in Section 1, Step 10, add some strokes around the outside of the bird. This will add some "process marks" and give the illustration a more handmade look.

process marksprocess marksprocess marks
Adding tiny marks around the outside of the bird creates a more handmade look.

Step 2

Now we'll add a watercolor wash to the bird's breast. Click the Brush Libraries Menu icon at the bottom of the Brushes panel. Navigate to Artistic > Artistic_Watercolor.

brush librariesbrush librariesbrush libraries

Paint a loose, curved stroke with a thick watercolor brush. Make the stroke color orange.

watercolor washwatercolor washwatercolor wash

Experiment with the stroke weight. You'll find that a thicker stroke gives a more abstract effect. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply in the Transparency panel.

stroke weightstroke weightstroke weight
Increase the stroke weight and change the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Copy (Command-C) this watercolor stroke and Paste in Front (Command-F) three or four times for a more saturated look.

watercolor saturationwatercolor saturationwatercolor saturation
Copy the watercolor stroke and paste in front several times to increase the saturation.

Step 3

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a rectangle around the illustration where you want to crop it. Copy the rectangle. Select All and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

clipping maskclipping maskclipping mask

Step 4

Paste the rectangle you just copied in front. Apply any of the linocut brushes to create a frame around your "print". Add some more small marks around the edges and in the negative space for a more authentic look.

The final "linocut print," with frame.

Congratulations! Your Woodcut Illustration Is Done!

Now you know how to make a linocut design in Adobe Illustrator. You've built and saved the set of linocut brushes, so you can use them to create similar woodcut illustrations. Just remember to think like a printmaker and remove the non-printing areas with white brushes. Working with vector brushes in this way has an advantage over traditional media: you have complete control over the vector paths, and you don't get your hands dirty!


5 Top Illustrator Woodcut Effect Brushes for Your Next Design

If you enjoy digital illustration and you use Illustrator on a daily basis, you need to check out Envato Elements. This subscription-based marketplace offers you unlimited Adobe Illustrator brushes and add-ons. Find graphics, textures, patterns, fonts, and more, and download as many as you wish.

Subscribe to Envato Elements

Envato Elements is the best solution for printing linocuts without a press. Here are a few of our favorite linocut brushes for Illustrator.

1. Linocut Brushes for Illustrator (AI)

Linocut Brushes for Illustrator (AI)Linocut Brushes for Illustrator (AI)Linocut Brushes for Illustrator (AI)

This kit of Adobe Illustrator brushes comes with 35 linocut brushes. And the best part? These handmade brushes will make your linocut designs super realistic!

2. Linocut Art Brushes (EPS)

Linocut Art Brushes (EPS)Linocut Art Brushes (EPS)Linocut Art Brushes (EPS)

Here's another great kit of linocut brushes for Illustrator. Make incredible digital woodcut illustrations without any special equipment. This is your answer to printing linocuts without a press.

3. Illuminati Woodcut Brushes for Illustrator (AI, EPS)

Illuminati Woodcut Brushes for Illustrator (AI, EPS)Illuminati Woodcut Brushes for Illustrator (AI, EPS)Illuminati Woodcut Brushes for Illustrator (AI, EPS)

If you're a fan of elegant woodcut illustrations, this kit of woodcut brushes for Illustrator is for you. The download includes 42 hand-crafted vintage woodcut brushes that are ready for your next project.

4. Modern Woodcut Brushes (AI)

Modern Woodcut Brushes (AI)Modern Woodcut Brushes (AI)Modern Woodcut Brushes (AI)

On the other hand, if you prefer woodcut illustrations with a modern touch, this is the kit for you. You'll get over 100 Adobe Illustrator brushes with a vast range of shapes, sizes, and varieties. There's a brush for every task!

If you are a tablet user, you'll also find a version of brushes with pressure sensitivity, so it's a super complete set!

5. Cookbook for Woodcuts: Brushes and Patterns (AI)

Cookbook for Woodcuts - Brushes and Patterns (AI)Cookbook for Woodcuts - Brushes and Patterns (AI)Cookbook for Woodcuts - Brushes and Patterns (AI)

This pack is perfect for fans of classic linocut art and linocut designs. It comes with 55 no-stretch (pattern-based) woodcut brushes for Illustrator and 15 seamless woodcut patterns. Definitely a great option!

Discover More Illustrator Brush Tutorials and Resources

I hope you've enjoyed this Illustrator woodcut effect tutorial. If you're looking for even more resources for your creative projects, check these out:

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is the Associate Editor of the Tuts+ Design channel.

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