1. Design & Illustration
  2. Brushes

How to Install and Use Brushes in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Brushes can be a means to create complex designs more simply or speed up your design creation process. Often designers create their own brushes, but sometimes you just want to get an effect or style you need quickly and may download stock brushes from websites like GraphicRiver. Let's break down how to install and use brushes to make the most of this fantastic feature!

1. Downloading and Using the Brush File

Step 1

Let's start with a freshly downloaded Zip folder. For the purposes of this tutorial, I'll be using these Nautical Rope Brushes from GraphicRiver.

Locate your download on your machine and Extract its contents. Do so on a Mac by double-clicking. Do so on a Windows machine by right-clicking and hitting Extract All.

Your brush files may vary, but these have files for both Adobe Illustrator CS5 and higher, and Adobe Illustrator CC and higher. In the case of this file, the brushes are in an .AI file.

Extract your file contents

Step 2

Open the .AI file in Adobe Illustrator CC. Open the Brushes panel and you'll find your new brushes are already loaded and ready for use. 

Check out the loaded brushes in the brushes panel

Step 3

Draw a path with the Ellipse Tool (L) and apply one of the brushes from the Brushes panel in order to check out the brush pack. Take the Paintbrush Tool (B) for a spin too, and see how the brush handles a variety of angled and curved paths. 

If you want to use these brushes in other documents, you'll have to save the brushes file. Let's do that now!

Play with your new brushes

2. Saving the Brush Library

Step 1

Under Options in the Brushes panel, select Save Brush Library... You'll be able to save your brush library anywhere on your machine. I like to keep things organized, and rather than saving it in the default hidden folder, let's navigate to our preset brushes folder.

If you're on a Mac, you'll want to head over to Applications/Adobe Illustrator CC 2015/Presets/Brushes/, and if you're on a Windows machine you'll want to head over to C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Illustrator CC 2015\Presets\en_US\Brushes\New Brushes. These are the default preset folder locations. If you've made changes to where and how Adobe files are stored on your computer, your locations may differ.

Save your brush library files

Step 2

Create a New Folder in your preset brushes folder. Mine is named New Brushes, and this is where I'll be saving my brush libraries for easy navigation and retrieval in the future.

save your brushes in a folder for easy retrieval

Step 3

Now when you select Open Brush Library from the Brushes panel options, you'll see your new folder amongst the other preset folders and can load that brush library into any of your documents. You can also save brush libraries in any of the other preset folders. How you organize your program, files, and computer is entirely up to you.

Retrieve your brush library

3. Editing the Brushes

Step 1

Draw a shape or path with a drawing tool from the Toolbar and apply one of the brushes from your Brushes panel. 

Apply some of the brushes to your paths and shapes

Step 2

Select any of your paths and change the Stroke color in the Color panel. Much like changing the stroke color of any simple stroked path, you can also double-click on the Stroke in the Toolbar in order to open up the Color Picker and change the color from there.

Easily change a strokes color in the Color panel

Step 3

For more complex brushes, you can use the Recolor Artwork option. Select your path and go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork. Depending on how complex your brush's artwork is, you'll have the option of changing the current colors to whatever you want.

Use the recolor artwork to quickly and easily change colors in complex artwork

Step 4

Another quick and easy change is Stroke Weight. You can do this in the Stroke panel. Note the difference in this brush in 1 pt2 pt, and 3 pt weights.

Change the stroke weight to change the look and size of the brush

Step 5

Finally, for further editing, Expand the brush stroke under Object > Expand to easily apply gradients and other effects to the brush as an object. In order to more easily apply the Radial Gradient seen below, I also United the newly expanded objects in the Pathfinder panel in order to create a compound object.

Apply a radial gradient to an expanded object

Great Job, You're Done!

Well done! In this quick tutorial we downloaded and loaded up a brush library file. We also learned how to organize our brush library and how to edit brushes within Adobe Illustrator. With these simple instructions, you'll be able to use and modify most any brush library you may be using, whether it's something you made yourself or not.

the final brush library
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