10 Tips for Stunning Illustrations with Illustrator Brushes
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Choose the right brush
  2. Adjust brush settings
  3. Use layer blends
  4. Apply brush strokes in different directions
  5. Use gradients
  6. Utilize opacity masks
  7. Create custom brushes
  8. Use brushes to add textures
  9. Enhance depth and dimension
  10. Experiment and Practice

Diving into the world of digital art, Illustrator brushes are your faithful companions. They add flair to your creations, transforming them from simple designs into stunning illustrations. But how exactly do you use a brush in Illustrator for illustration? Well, that's what we're here for! Buckle up, because we're about to share 10 practical tips to create dazzling designs with Illustrator brushes.

1. Choose the right brush

Just like picking the right paintbrush before you start a canvas painting, selecting the right brush in Illustrator is a critical first step. Think of it as choosing the right superhero to save the day—you wouldn't call Aquaman when there's trouble in Gotham city, now would you?

Illustrator offers a vast array of brushes, each with its own unique style and effect. For smooth lines and curves, the Calligraphic brush is your go-to choice. If you're looking to add some texture, the Bristle brush might be just what you need. There's also the Pattern brush for repeating elements, and the Scatter brush to sprinkle objects around like magic fairy dust.

But how do you choose? Think about the effect you want to create in your illustration. If you're drawing a breezy beach scene, for instance, a scatter brush might help you create the perfect sprinkle of sand. On the other hand, if you're working on a comic book, the calligraphic brush can give you those sharp, dramatic lines. So, before you start drawing, take a moment to pick out the right brush. It's like choosing the right tool for the job—it makes your work easier and your illustration better.

One final thing—don't be afraid to mix and match brushes. Using different brushes in the same illustration can give you fascinating results. So, go ahead and explore. After all, variety is the spice of life, and in this case—the spice of your illustration!

2. Adjust brush settings

Did you know that Illustrator brushes are not just a one-trick pony? You can adjust their settings to fit your specific needs. This is a bit like having a magic wand that can change its spells according to your wishes. It's all in the settings.

For instance, you can adjust the brush's size or its angle. If you want your lines to be thicker or thinner, simply change the size. If you wish to tilt your brush for that perfect diagonal stroke, play around with the angle. You can also change the roundness of your brush for a different stroke style. It's like shaping the tip of your pencil to get that perfect point.

Then there's the option to change the color of your brush. This can be especially handy when you want to add a splash of color to your illustration. It's as simple as dipping your paintbrush into a different pot of paint.

With these settings, you can tailor your brush to behave exactly the way you want it to. It's like customizing your car—you can choose the color, the seats, even the rims. In the end, you have a car—or in this case, a brush—that's uniquely yours.

Remember, it's all about controlling your tool rather than letting it control you. So, get in there and start adjusting those brush settings. Your illustrations will thank you for it!

3. Use layer blends

Now, let's move a little deeper into the world of Illustrator brushes. Ever heard of layer blends? Layer blends are like the secret spices in your grandma's famous stew. They can add a whole new flavor to your illustration.

When you're working on an illustration, you're not just painting on a single canvas. You're creating a multi-layered artwork. Each layer can have its own color, texture, and even opacity. This is where layer blends come in. They allow you to mix and match different layers to create a unique effect.

For instance, suppose you have a layer of blue and a layer of yellow. You could use the 'Multiply' blend mode. Guess what would happen? You'd get a nice shade of green. It's a bit like mixing different colors of playdough together.

There are many other blend modes you can explore, like 'Overlay', 'Screen', and 'Darken'. Each one behaves differently and can give you a different result. It's like having a box of assorted chocolates. You never know what you're going to get until you try.

So, next time you're working on an illustration, don't forget to experiment with layer blends. They can add a whole new dimension to your artwork. Plus, it's fun to see how different layers interact with each other. It's like watching a magic show, where you're the magician!

4. Apply brush strokes in different directions

Ever noticed how a gust of wind can make waves in a field of wheat, making the stalks sway in different directions? That's the kind of effect you can create in your illustrations by applying brush strokes in different directions.

Imagine you're painting a grassy field. Instead of using straight vertical brush strokes, try using strokes that go in different directions. This can give your field a more natural and realistic look. It's like you're mimicking the way grass grows in the wild - not in rows like soldiers, but in a random, scattered fashion.

But it's not just about making your illustrations look more realistic. Applying brush strokes in different directions can also help you create a sense of movement and dynamism. Imagine painting a stormy sea. By using brush strokes that go in different directions, you can make the waves look like they're crashing against each other. This can make your sea look more turbulent and stormy.

So, next time you're using a brush in Illustrator for illustration, don't just paint in straight lines. Try using brush strokes that go in different directions. It can be a game-changer for your artwork. And remember, in art, as in life, it's good to break the rules sometimes!

5. Use Gradients

Ever watched a sunset and marveled at how the sky changes from a bright blue to a rosy pink, then to a deep purple? That's the magic of gradients in real life, and you can capture that same magic in your illustrations by using gradients.

Gradients can add depth and dimension to your illustrations, making them more visually appealing. They can also help you create a sense of light and shadow, contributing to the overall atmosphere of your artwork.

Using a brush in Illustrator for illustration, you can easily create gradients. Simply select the Gradient tool, choose your colors, and start painting. You can also adjust the angle and length of the gradient to create different effects. For example, a long gradient can create a subtle transition between colors, while a short gradient can create a dramatic change.

So, next time you're creating an illustration, don't shy away from using gradients. They might seem intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of them, you'll see how they can bring your artwork to life. And remember, the only limit is your imagination!

6. Utilize Opacity Masks

Picture this — you're working on an illustration, and everything's going great. Your lines are sharp, your colors are vibrant, but something's missing. It lacks a certain depth, a certain realism. What could it be?

Enter opacity masks. Using these can take your illustration from good to extraordinary. They can add a sense of depth and realism that's hard to achieve otherwise. But, how to use brush in illustrator for illustration with opacity masks?

Opacity masks in Illustrator work like digital stencils. They let you control the visibility of different parts of your illustration, allowing you to create a range of effects, from subtle transitions to dramatic reveals.

Creating an opacity mask is pretty straightforward. First, select the part of your illustration you want to mask. Then, go to the Transparency panel, click on the "Make Mask" button, and voila! You've got yourself an opacity mask. You can then use your brush to paint on the mask, controlling where the original artwork shows through.

So, don't be afraid to play around with opacity masks. They might take a bit of getting used to, but once you master them, you'll wonder how you ever illustrated without them.

7. Create Custom Brushes

Ever thought about making your own Illustrator brushes? It may seem daunting at first, but it's actually a fantastic way to put a personal touch in your illustrations. Plus, you can create brushes that are tailor-made for your specific needs. Wondering how to use brush in illustrator for illustration by creating your own?

Start by making a shape or a line that you'd like to turn into a brush. For instance, maybe you want a brush that mimics the look of a pencil sketch. You could draw a textured line, and use that as the basis for your brush.

Once you have your shape or line, go to the Brushes panel, and click on the 'New Brush' button. Choose the type of brush you want to create (e.g., Art Brush, Scatter Brush, or Pattern Brush), and hit 'OK'. You'll then be able to adjust a bunch of settings to get your brush just right. For instance, you can change the brush's direction, size, and colorization method, among others.

So, next time you need a very specific brush for your illustration work, don't just settle for the pre-made ones. Try creating your own custom brushes. It's a fun and rewarding process that can really elevate your Illustrator game!

8. Use Brushes to Add Textures

Texture can add a whole new dimension to your illustrations, making them more interesting and engaging. Brushes in Illustrator can be a great tool to create these textures. But how can you use brush in Illustrator for illustration to add texture? Let's walk through it.

There's a variety of brushes in Illustrator specifically designed to create texture. From rough, grainy brushes to ones that mimic the look of watercolor paint, the options are endless. You can overlay these textured brushes onto your illustrations to give them a more tactile feel.

Let's say you're working on an illustration of a vintage leather-bound book. To make the book cover look more realistic, you could use a grunge brush to add a worn-out texture. Simply select the brush from the Brushes panel, and then paint over your illustration where you want the texture to appear.

Remember, less is often more when it comes to texture. Too much texture can make your illustration look busy or cluttered. Experiment with different brushes and opacity levels until you find the perfect balance.

Adding textures with brushes can transform your illustrations from flat and boring to dynamic and visually appealing. So, go ahead and give it a try on your next Illustrator project!

9. Enhance Depth and Dimension

Adding depth and dimension to your illustrations can make them pop and appear more lifelike. But how do you use brush in Illustrator for illustration to enhance depth and dimension? Let's break it down.

One way to create depth is by using shading and highlighting. The secret here is to understand your light source. Once you've decided where the light is coming from in your illustration, you can use brushes to create shadows and highlights accordingly. Darker tones suggest shadows and depth, while lighter tones create the illusion of light and bring elements forward.

For example, if you're illustrating a round apple, you might use a soft brush to add a dark red on one side of the apple to suggest shadow, and a lighter red or pink on the other side for highlight. This will give your apple a three-dimensional look.

You can also use brush strokes to suggest depth and dimension. Short, quick brush strokes can create the illusion of distance, while longer, more fluid strokes can bring elements to the foreground.

Creating depth and dimension in your illustrations is a skill that takes time and practice, but once you master it, you'll see a huge difference in your work. So, why not start practicing with your next Illustrator project?

10. Experiment and Practice

Now comes the most exciting part — experimenting and practicing with brushes in Illustrator. You've learned how to use brush in Illustrator for illustration, but mastering this art won't happen overnight. It's like learning to play a musical instrument, you need to practice to get better.

The more you experiment with different brushes and techniques, the more versatile you'll become. Try different brush settings, make your own brushes, play with gradients and opacity masks, and see what happens. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Remember, every mistake is a new learning opportunity.

Start with simple projects, like a sunset or a tree, and gradually move on to more complex illustrations. This will help you to build your skills step by step. And don't forget to have fun along the way! After all, illustrating should be a joyful process.

So there you have it. These were the top 10 tips to help you create stunning illustrations using brushes in Illustrator. Now it's your turn to put these tips into practice. Happy illustrating!

If you enjoyed our "10 Tips for Stunning Illustrations with Illustrator Brushes" blog post and want to learn more about applying your Illustrator skills in a professional setting, be sure to check out Grace Helmer's workshop, 'How to Work with Clients: Illustrator Edition.' In this workshop, Grace shares her expertise on how to communicate effectively with clients and deliver exceptional illustration projects using Illustrator brushes and other techniques.