Make a brush from Illustrator artwork

Did you know you can create your own custom brushes in Adobe Illustrator from any artwork object? This makes it easy to scatter copies of an object across an area, or to apply artistic effects without modifying the original object.

Music Note

For example, on the left is a simple, two-piece object drawn in Illustrator. From it, we can make a paintbrush that creates a design like you see on the right:

Scattered music notes

Let’s see how to do this.

How To Create and Use a Brush

1. Open or create any object in Adobe Illustrator.

2. With the Selection tool Selection Arrow, shift-click to select all parts of the object from which you would like to make a brush.

3. Open the Brushes panel. (This may be accessed in two ways: click the Brushes panel tab or click Windows, and click Brushes from the Menu bar.)

The Brushes panel appears:
Brushes Panel

4. Initiate the new brush in ONE of the three following ways:

a. Click the Options button in the Brushes panel:
Options Button and click New Brush…
c. Click the New Brush icon New Brush Icon in the Brushes panel.
d. Press and drag the selected object into the brushes panel.

A dialog box appears, asking which type of brush to make. There are four types of brushes you can make:

  • Calligraphic Brushes create strokes that resemble those of a calligraphic pen
  • Scatter Brushes disperse multiple copies of your object along or scattered around a path
  • Art Brushes paint one object per stroke and sylize your object as you paint
  • Pattern Brushes create repeating copies like scatter brushes without the “rotate and scatter” effect

5. Click a Radio button for one of the types listed above.

Note: Occasionally, you may see an error message, “The selected artwork contains an element that cannot be use in a scatter brush.” This indicates that there is a drop shadow, a transparency, a gradient, or other effect present. To eliminate these problems, examine each part of the object or make a new one by tracing the original with drawing tools. Make sure the fill and stroke are solid.

A Brush Options dialog box appears, which allows you to name the brush and make specifications such as size, rotation, distance from the path, and more. Many of these controls allow you to randomize each effect. Don’t worry about how it will look right now; you can adjust it later.

6. Select some specifications and click OK.

Now, you can apply the brush to any existing path or paint the effect with the Brush tool.

7. Deselect the original object before you begin drawing.

8. To apply the new brush, use one of two methods:

a. Click the Brush tool and draw a path.
b. Create any path with a drawing shape tool, select the path with the Selection tool, and click the brush’s icon in the Brushes panel.

The new design appears:

scattered notes

You will probably find your first attempt in need of some adjustments. At this point, don’t delete or undo your work.

How to Modify a Brush

You can use any brushed path to modify the brush to your liking.

1. To adjust the brush, in the Brushes panel, double-click the brush’s icon.

The Brush Options dialog box opens. Make sure the Preview checkbox is checked.

2. Change the specifications as you wish.

The existing artwork changes as you modify the settings.

3. Click OK.

A dialog box opens, inquiring whether you want to apply the new specifications to existing artwork or leave the strokes as they are.

4. Click one of the two choices.

Your brush is ready for use.

Tip: You can save brushes to your own Brush Libraries from the Options button on the Brushes panel.


  1. denbrown

    Another option for brushes is to change the shape from round to oval. Go to the Brushes panel (Window>Brushes) and click on the Brush Tip Shape. (Actually click on this option!) Here you can click and drag the point in the cross-section to change the shape or you can enter 100% in the Roundness field. You can also adjust the number in the Angle field.

  2. atek

    Thanks for the article but i have 1 question. I have made psd file in photoshop and placed as u showed said in the article and embed and make it flatten layer to single layer and when i drag in the brush tool to make a brush in Scatter Brush or Art Brush or Pattern Brush im getting this error (the selected artwork contains an element that cannot be used in a scatter brush) and i cant make the brush. Can u plz help me

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