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Reconfiguring brushes in Adobe Illustrator

Changing a brush's scale, dynamics and other characteristics By Dave Nagel
When you work with brushes in Adobe Illustrator, chances are you'll want to customize them a bit to suit your own style, rather than conforming your style to the stock presets. But the customization process isn't always straightforward. So in this tutorial, we'll take a look at three different ways to make brushes your own and try to keep it as simple as possible.

Quick and easy scaling
One of the questions about brushes in Illustrator that comes up a lot is how to make them larger or smaller than their default sizes. In other words, if you have a brush stroke like this:

How do you make it larger, like this?

This is the most simple modification you can make to a brush stroke.

If you look over at your Stroke palette (Window > Stroke), you'll see that when you apply a brush stroke, the stroke weight (thickness), by default, is set to 1 point, regardless of the actual size of the stroke.

Okay, here's what this means in this case: A stroke weight of 1 means the brush stroke is at 100 percent of its original size--the size at which the stroke was created. So, to modify it, just change the stroke weight. A value of 2 means 200 percent. A value of 4 means 400 percent. And a value of 0.25 is 25 percent. You get the idea.

Changing a brush's behavior
But the basic scale of a brush isn't the only thing you can change about it. You can also change the dynamics of any given stroke type, including its angle, colorization method, random scattering and more.

The changes you make using this method are permanent, so, unlike the method outlined above, you won't have to make changes to the stroke for each object to which it's applied. Instead, you make your changes in the brush's definition, and those changes can then be applied to all objects that use this brush stroke.

To do this, open up your Brushes palette (Window > Brushes). Then you'll see alist of all brushes currently available to you.

If you wish, you can import additional brush sets. To do this, click the flyaway menu in the upper right of the Brushes palette. Then navigate to "Open Brush Library." You'll then see a list of available brushes.

Select the one you want, and it will be opened up in its own palette.

The reason I bring this up is that if you want to modify a brush from an imported library like this, you first have to add it to your main brush library. This you can do simply by dragging a brush from a custom library into the main Brushes palette. Or you can apply a custom brush to an object, in which case it will automatically be added to the main Brushes palette.

Now, to modify a brush, all you have to do is double-click its icon in the main Brushes palette. For an example, click on one of the small icons at the top of the palette. (The brushes with small square icons are scatter brushes.) This will call up the brush options dialog.

For scatter brushes, you have several options you can set, each with a variety of controls. Options include size, spacing, scatter and rotation. And controls include Fixed, Random, Pressure, Stylus Wheel, Tilt, Bearing and Rotation.

With a Fixed option, the parameter will be set to a single value that can't be changed, except for scale, as described above.

Random allows you to set random values between two extremes--for example, a size range of 100 percent to 150 percent.

The rest of the options all apply to the use of a Wacom tablet--and in some cases to the use of specific pens (Airbrush and 6D Art pens)--so you can control the behavior of brushes interactively.

You can also choose to set the rotation of a brush relative to the page or the path. By selecting the "Path," the elements that make up a brush stroke will follow the direction of the path, even if you set the Rotation parameter to a fixed value.

But by setting the parameter to "Page," the elements of the brush stroke will remain constant, regardless of the shape of the object to which the stroke is applied.

Finally, you can also set the colorization method. By choosing "None," the brush stroke element(s) retain their original colors. But by choosing Tints, Tints and Shades or Hue Shift, you can colorize the brush elements to suit your needs.

When you've set the parameters the way you want them, hit OK. If you have any objects that currently have this brush applied to them, you'll be given the option to apply the changes to all objects. Otherwise, you can leave your current strokes alone, in which case the changes will only be applied to objects to which you apply the modified brush stroke.

Now, I've only covered scatter brushes here, but there are also several options you can play with for modifying the brushes. I've already covered these types of brushes in past articles, so, if you'd like to read up on them, you'll find information at the links below:
Reshaping and redefining brushes
The final option I want to talk about here involves making changes to the elements that make up a brush. In other words, say you have a brush made up of squares bt you want to skew or stretch them, change their base colors or perform some other similar type of change. How do you do that?

First, you want to apply the base stroke to an object in your document. I'll continue working with the scatter brush I've used in the previous examples. So I'll draw a circle in my document and apply the brush to it by clicking the brush in the Brushes palette.

Now I need to separate out the elements of this brush, so I'll choose Object > Expand Appearance. This gives me individual objects for each square applied using this brush stroke.

Then I want to ungroup the elements (Object > Ungroup). This allows me to select elements individually.

And so I can now make whatever changes I want to this element. In this case, I'll just stretch it into a rectangle.

And now I'll turn this element into a new brush. To do this, I'll just drag it straight into the Brushes palette. Now a new dialog will pop up, asking me which type of brush I want to create. I'll choose Scatter Brush.

This, once again, calls up the brush options dialog, and I can set my options as I did previously. Then I hit "OK," and a new brush is created.

And that's all there is to it.

If you have any other questions about Illustrator, be sure to drop me a line in our Adobe Illustrator forum BY CLICKING HERE.

And, if you're interested in more tutorials about Illustrator or our free downloads (such as brushes and effects), you will find a list of them BY CLICKING HERE.

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