Elements That Cannot Be Used In A Brush

So there you are, working away in Illustrator, making something that you want it to repeat a whole bunch of times for you. You drag it to the Brushes panel and you get something like this.

Perhaps your first instinct is to start searching for what elements can’t be used in a brush, and then object>expand all of those parts into things that can be used in a brush. But, you know, that starts to feel like work or something, and if you’re at all familiar with the way I use Illustrator I’m all about skipping those parts.

So instead of doing all that work, how about making Illustrator do it for us? Ever since 17.0/CC, Illustrator lets us put bitmaps in brushes. And there’s nothing saying we can’t generate those bitmaps directly in AI.

So: select all the stuff you want to turn into a brush, then do object>group, then do effect>rasterize. And now you can drag this into the Brush palette.

Looking at it up close you can see a tiny bit of pixelization going on. If that bugs you, then select your original group and visit the Appearance palette to change the settings on that rasterize effect, then alt-drag it on top of the brush in the Brush palette.

You will want to save a copy of your original art somewhere in your drawing. I usually put it on a layer named something like “construction” that I keep hidden most of the time. If you try to access the original art by dragging the brush thumbnail onto the canvas, you’ll just get an uneditable image.

fill doodles/cheap illustrator puppetry

Now and then I go through the Adobe Illustrator subreddit and answer some questions nobody else has had a good answer to. Usually this means I am procrastinating.

One person wanted to know how to draw a thing and kinda do puppetry with it.

I usually do stuff like this this way:

  1. Draw your limb.
  2. Select it and drag it into the brush panel. Make an art brush.
  3. Choose “scale proportionately” under the brush scale options.
  4. Draw some lines with this art brush. Maybe hit the “options” button in the brush pane and turn on “flip across” if needed.

If one part ends up way off-center as a brush, try this:

  1. drag the brush to an empty part of the artboard (do not drag it over a shape, if you do AI will try to apply it to that shape, even if it’s on a locked layer)
  2. view>outline
  3. notice the big invisible rectangle around your shape? Drag it out (using shift to constrain the drag) until its center is pretty much on the center of your shape.
  4. select all the stuff that makes up the copy of the brush you just dragged out, including the invisible rectangle, and alt-drag it over the brush in the brush palette. (Mostly I don’t draw limbs with this to be honest – I use this for a lot of repeated details in my comics like tattoos or logos on clothing.)

With everything selected, you can see that the arms and legs on those two dudes at the bottom are just simple lines, quickly drawn with the pencil tool. I grabbed the point at right elbow of the running dude and moved it around until the elbow roughly aligned; originally the big elbow bump was very definitely not on the joint.

(Also this way of drawing elbows is totally based off of the way Fred Hembeck draws knees. Because it made me laugh, and whenever I do images to explain or work out something asked on a forum, I always try to make them funny.)

You could easily do full-color art for your puppet parts; I didn’t feel like bothering. Also there is the new Puppet Warp to fool with; this way is a lot easier if you’re gonna do a lot of re-use. I don’t use it for puppet parts, but I do use it for repeated stuff in my comics – logos on clothing, tattoos, whatever.

And then here is some abuse of pattern fills.

“use pattern fills full of whatever” was one of two and a half ways I gave someone who wanted to duplicate an image that was made of two colors: white, and a big bunch of smeary painterly color swirls.

  1. Draw your thing in B&W
  2. On a new layer, make a bunch of multicolor stuff that more than covers it. Probably just draw some semi-transparent shapes with gaussian blurs applied. Or whatever.
  3. Select all that stuff from step 2 and drag it into the Swatches palette to make a pattern fill.
  4. Turn off that layer.
  5. Select all your black stuff (select>Same will help here). Apply your new pattern swatch.
  6. With everything still selected, hold down the `/~ key while using the Selection, Direct Selection, Scale, or Rotate tools. This will affect only the fill pattern’s location. (The Free Transform tool will not do this. Use the older, separate tools.)

(The half a way was to use a global swatch to draw your stuff, then alt-drag the pattern swatch OVER the original swatch. And the other way involved putting your B&W art in a layer’s transparency mask, then drawing a bunch of colorful stuff on the layer. I’m sure I go into that in more detail somewhere in the Illustrator posts on here.)

I didn’t save the source of the puppetry piece but here’s the fill pattern’s source.

How To An Illustrator: sharing stuff across files when cut-and-paste breaks down.

Sometimes, when you want to copy a complex appearance between two documents, Illustrator will decide it wants to expand the effect instead. This is rarely a thing I want – one easy-to-edit path can become many complicated paths.

Here’s a way to work around it.

  1. Open the document with the path whose style you want to clone into the new document.
  2. Select that path and create a new Graphic Style from it.
  3. Save the document.
  4. Open the document you want to bring the troublesome style into.
  5. Hit the ‘library’ button at the lower left of the Graphic Styles palette; choose “Other Library…” at the bottom, then use the file requestor this invokes to select the file from step 1.
  6. Double-click the style to bring it into your document’s Graphic Styles. Or just select it and draw a shape, that works too.
  7. Keep on drawin’.


You can use this trick to clone brushes, palette swatches, and symbols from other files. Maybe for some other stuff, too; Illustrator has a ton of palettes and I might be forgetting something! For multi-file projects it can be very useful to have one central file where you store all of these kinds of things.

You can also make your libraries show up in the ‘User Defined’ submenu by putting them in a certain place in the filesystem – check the manual for that, it’s a different place for each class of palette on OSX and Windows. The “Libraries” palette is, I think, supposed to make this easier and to sync between computers, but I’ve never played with it.

How To An Illustrator: shitty printing

Because sometimes you want things to look like a crappy, blown-out xerox. Or at least one person on /r/adobeillustrator did.

  1. click on the circle to the right of the layer with your b&w image to target the whole layer for effects
  2. open the appearance palette
  3. effect>sketch>reticulation
  4. effect>stylize>inner glow (set it to white, 100%, probably a pretty large blur)
  5. effect>sketch>photocopy
  6. click on the effect names in the appearance palette to edit them

If you don’t want texture in black areas you’ve drawn over white areas then do a bunch of Pathfinder to make it just white shapes.

Illustrator experiments: the chiseled look

So today BoingBoing posted some work by a Russian illustrator named Maxim Shkret.

I’m pretty sure his work is done in a 3D program. But I asked myself “how could I get something like this in Illustrator?” and fooled around a little bit.

After some fiddling with needlessly complex setups that didn’t work anyway, I realized I could do it pretty simply: tell Illustrator to draw two variable-width strokes, one for each side of the line, each in a different gradient.

The above screengrabs are for one of the six related styles I made while experimenting; I’ve got it at different stroke weights (3/6/9pt), and with one of the gradients reversed. The lips are also done with double-gradient strokes; the other shading is simple blurred shapes.

The fun part here is that the hair can be knocked out super quickly with the pencil tool. I could very quickly draw some chunky, super-stylized plastic-looking hair.

It still looks interesting with different colors, too. I may have to experiment with this further and try to do a piece using this. I’m not sure what kind of looks would go well with it.

Anyway. I thought I’d share this little experiment.

How To An Illustrator: Distant Mountains

Another answer to a technique question from Reddit: Here's a fast way to make a bunch of mountains fading into clouds in Illustrator. There are others; this is the way I'd do it.


1. Make two swatches: pink, blue. Check the “global” box in the swatch options for each of them. Draw a big pink rectangle on one layer, make a new one to draw mountains on.

2. Draw a vague inverted-u shape with whatever tool is quickest. I like the pencil tool, double-click on the pencil tool; turn on 'fill new pencil strokes' and 'edit selected', turn off 'keep selected', it's defaults are terrible for fast drawing.

3. Open the Appearance palette. Visit its menu, uncheck “new art has basic appearance”.

4. Fill your shape with a pink-blue gradient made from those two global swatches. Set it to 90°.

5. Add the roughen and tweak effects to this fill. Roughen at 0% size, detail to taste, corner points; tweak 0% horizontal, vertical to taste, play with the modify checkboxes.

6. Add a new fill using the button at the bottom of the appearance palette. Make it solid pink and on top of the first fill. This will be the clouds.

7. Add the ellipse effect to this fill. Relative, 0pt of extra width/height.

8. More effects: transform, 50% vertical, centered on the bottom center of the object; roughen, 4%. 5/in, smooth; Gaussian blur, 13px.

9. Graphic Styles palette: make a new style.

10. Using this style, draw more mountainous shapes. Use object>arrange to put the lower ones nearer, if you didn't draw them in that order.

Stuff in the Appearance palette should be arranged like this.

If you find this useful, please consider supporting my Patreon.



Tonight’s Illustrator how-to: drawing symmetrically.

  1. Draw a big rectangle, centered where you want the center of rotation to be. Far bigger than you anticipate ever drawing in. Like ‘3x as wide as the entire canvas’ big. Give it no stroke and no fill; it’ll become invisible when it’s not selected.
  2. Layers panel: click on the dot to the right of the name of the layer.
  3. effect>distort and transform>transform
  4. in the angle box, type 360/x; in the copies box, type x-1 (where ‘x’ is however many copies of the stuff you draw you want to see – for instance if you wanted to see 15 total copies of your stuff it’d be 360/15 and 14. Illustrator can do simple math in all its numeric input boxes!)
  5. effect>distort and transform>transform – yes, a second one, this time check ‘reflect X’, make one copy, and leave everything else alone.
  6. maybe open up the layer and lock the invisible rectangle so you don’t select it by accident while moving stuff around.
  7. hit up the appearance palette’s dropdown menu, ‘clear appearance’
  8. start drawing shapes
  9. if you want to edit the symmetry, then click on the dot you clicked in step 2, then go to the appearance palette and click on the ‘transform’ entry.

It sounds complicated but it took me like a minute to set up at most, then I doodled this in like another minute or two by drawing a few black and white shapes with the pencil tool.


And here’s a screengrab of the outline view that shows you just how little stuff I actually drew. That little dot near the middle of everything is the center of the big invisible rectangle I drew in step 1.

If at some point you want to tweak individual instances of your symmetric stuff, then click on the dot next to the layer’s name and do object>expand appearance. If ‘expand appearance’ is ghosted then go unlock the invisible rectangle you drew in step 1.

You could also go pay money for Astute Graphics’ MirrorMe plugin, but that tends to not play well with wanting to have symmetry happening across multiple layers, plus I can never remember how to use the damn thing because they only provide documentation in the form of frickin’ youtube videos. This way is covered by what’s already part of AI, and you can do stuff like have, oh, 14 copies of what you draw on one layer, and 11 on another, and expect that to stay consistent across closing and re-opening the file.


And here’s a thing I did elaborating on the insectoid mandala I drew for this post.

Fuzzy shading.


A quick (~15min) doodle of Baron K from Parallax, mostly done to test out a shading method someone asked about on Reddit. The uniform is probably off-model, I didn’t bother pulling up the pitch bible.

I’m not sure about the Baron’s eyes here. I need to do some exploration of how to show expressions and keep his eyes looking like cute little beady mouse eyes. Does he look like he’s looking in a particular direction to you?


This is what I ended up with for the shading effect. Choose color, opacity amount, and blur/mezzotint settings to taste; if you make a Graphic Style and draw all your shading using that, you can tweak the appearance then do ‘redefine graphic style’ to apply it to the whole drawing.


And this is what it looks like if I turn off the blur and mezzotints. Just a bunch of shapes drawn with the pencil tool and occasional use of ‘draw inside’.