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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Illustrator

How to Create a Chinese Ink Brush in Illustrator

Read Time: 7 mins
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following tutorial, you will learn how to create a Chinese ink brush in Illustrator and how to draw Chinese characters.

If you don't have the time to learn how to create a Chinese ink brush in Illustrator, you can always try Envato Elements where you can download calligraphy brushes for Illustrator. You will find anything from Chinese vector brushes to Chinese brush fonts. Besides Illustrator resources, you will also find Chinese brush Photoshop packs.

illustrator calligraphy brushesillustrator calligraphy brushesillustrator calligraphy brushes

What You'll Learn in This Chinese Ink Brush Illustrator Tutorial

  • How to create a Chinese ink brush in Illustrator
  • How to save and use Illustrator brushes
  • How to draw Chinese characters using Chinese vector brushes

1. How to Create the Chinese Ink Brush Design

Step 1

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, set the Width to 850 px and the Height to 530 px, and then click that Advanced Options button. Select RGB for the Color Mode and set the Raster Effects to High (300 ppi), and then click the Create button. Now that you're set, let's see how you can create a Chinese ink brush in Illustrator.

illustrator new documentillustrator new documentillustrator new document

Step 2

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and simply click on your artboard to open the Rectangle window. Set the Width to 200 px and the Height to 30 px, and then click OK to create your rectangle.

Keep it selected, remove the stroke color, and select the fill. Open the Gradient panel (Window > Gradient) and click that Linear Gradient button to apply the default white to black linear gradient. Double-click the black gradient slider and switch to RGB color mode, and then replace the existing color with a pure black (R=0 G=0 B=0).

rectangle linear gradientrectangle linear gradientrectangle linear gradient

Step 3

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) so you can adjust the corners radius of this rectangle. All you have to do is move to the control panel and enter 15 px in that Corners box.

rounded corners rectanglerounded corners rectanglerounded corners rectangle

Step 4

Focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) to select the existing fill and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the settings shown in the following image and click OK.

inner glowinner glowinner glow

Step 5

Keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a second fill for your shape using the Add New Fill button.

Select this new fill and focus on the Gradient panel to edit the gradient that's already applied. Double-click the left gradient slider, replace the existing color with black (R=0 G=0 B=0), and don't forget to lower the Opacity to 0%.

add fill transparent gradientadd fill transparent gradientadd fill transparent gradient

Step 6

Make sure that the top fill is still selected and again go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the settings shown below and click OK.

illustrator inner glowillustrator inner glowillustrator inner glow

Step 7

Focus on the Appearance panel and click that Path section to select the entire path, thus making sure that the effects which you're about to add will be applied to the entire path, not just a fill.

First, go to Effect > Texture > Grain. Drag both sliders to 100 and set the Grain Type to Horizontal, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Effect > Sketch > Stamp. Set the Balance to 15 and the Smoothness to 5, and then click OK to apply this second effect.

illustrator grain stamp effectillustrator grain stamp effectillustrator grain stamp effect

2. How to Create a Chinese Ink Brush in Illustrator

Step 1

Make sure that your shape is still selected and go to Object > Expand Appearance, and then move to the control panel and click the Image Trace button.

expand image traceexpand image traceexpand image trace

Step 2

Keep focusing on the control panel and click the Image Trace Panel button. Drag the Threshold slider to 150 and then click that Advanced arrow button to get access to the rest of the settings. Set the Paths to 60%, Corners to 0%, and Noise to 1 px, keep the Fills box checked and the Strokes box unchecked, disable the Snap Curves To Lines box, and don't forget to enable the Ignore White setting.

image trace panelimage trace panelimage trace panel

Step 3

Once you're done adjusting the settings from the Image Trace panel, return to the control panel and click that Expand button. It's not mandatory, but you can turn the resulting group of shapes into a compound path (Object > Compound Path > Make or Control-8).

image trace expandimage trace expandimage trace expand

Step 4

Make sure that your compound path is still selected and focus on the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes). Click that New Brush button, check the Art Brush box, and click OK to open the Art Brush Options window.

Select Tints from the Colorization Method drop-down menu, which will allow you to change the color of the brush once it's applied, and then click OK to add your art brush to the Brushes panel.

save art brushsave art brushsave art brush

3. How to Create Chinese Characters Using a Chinese Vector Brush

Step 1

Pick the Brush Tool (B) from the Toolbar, select your art brush from the Brushes panel and simply click and drag to draw the Chinese brush strokes which will make up your Chinese characters.

Select all of these paths and set the stroke color to R=229 G=194 B=42 which will change the color of your brush.

Try to pay attention to the stroke order in which you're writing the Chinese characters, this will ensure a good form and presentation. It's also important to consider where the brush stroke begins and ends. Brushes leave a trail and as you lift the brush to end a stroke, you'll also leave a lifting trace. 

Chinese calligraphy is compounded by eight different strokes, some can be similar to one another. For instance, a horizontal stroke can look slightly similar to a downward stroke and it all depends on the direction of the brush. In the image below, the first stroke of the first character (top) is a downward stroke (from right to left), while the first stroke of the second character is a horizontal stroke (from left to right). Switching these two can potentially change the whole meaning of the character.

chinese brush strokechinese brush strokechinese brush stroke

Step 2

Finally, let's add a simple background. Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a shape that covers your entire artboard, fill it with R=183 G=6 B=8, and don't forget to send it to the back (Shift-Control-[).

chinese characters backgroundchinese characters backgroundchinese characters background

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how your design should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and you can apply these techniques in your future projects. Special thanks to Laura Keung for her contribution about Chinese calligraphy and its strokes.

Feel free to adjust the final Chinese vector brushes or draw your own characters. You can find some great sources of inspiration at Envato Elements, where you can download professional calligraphy brushes for Illustrator.

Now that you're familiar with Illustrator brushes, why not continue and learn how to create Adobe Illustrator hair brushes? This amazing tutorial by Sharon Archer-Thomas could be a perfect start: How to Create Vector Hair Brushes in Adobe Illustrator.

Chinese Ink Brush IllustratorChinese Ink Brush IllustratorChinese Ink Brush Illustrator

Popular Illustrator Brushes and Chinese Brush Fonts From Envato Elements

Envato Elements is an excellent resource for Chinese brush Photoshop kits, Chinese brush script fonts, or Illustrator brushes. Here's a short list of some of the most popular assets that you can find.

Ink Age Illustrator Brushes (AI)

Here's a massive collection of Illustrator brushes that can help you to decorate and style your designs in so many different ways.

chinese Ink Brushchinese Ink Brushchinese Ink Brush

Dry Paint Brushes for Illustrator (Ai)

If you're in a hurry or you simply can't be bothered to put together your own Chinese vector brushes, this small pack of dry paint brushes for Illustrator might be the perfect solution.

chinese Ink Brushchinese Ink Brushchinese Ink Brush

Chinese Calligraphy Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

This massive Chinese calligraphy Photoshop brush kit is the perfect solution if you're looking to draw Chinese characters in Photoshop.

photoshop chinese calligraphy brushphotoshop chinese calligraphy brushphotoshop chinese calligraphy brush

Dry Paint Brush Procreate

Looking for Procreate brushes? Cut the hassle of learning how to create your own paint brushes and try this amazing set.

dry paint brushdry paint brushdry paint brush

Photoshop Calligraphy Brushes

Check out this set of brushes if you want to save some time drawing as you put together your own Chinese brush font.

calligraphy photoshop brushcalligraphy photoshop brushcalligraphy photoshop brush
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