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Pattern Brush Anatomy 101 in Illustrator 9 and 10



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Pattern Brush Anatomy 101 in Illustrator 9 and 10

Making pattern brushes can be baffling. How do you get the pattern to go around corners the right way so you can use the brushes on shapes like squares, stars, and hexagons, or bending lines? This clears it all up and you'll be creating your own pattern brushes in no time!

Illustrator has four different kinds of brushes in the brushes palette: Calligraphic, Scatter, Art, and Pattern.

  • Calligraphic Brushes are made to simulate a calligraphic pen tip. Set the angle and size and draw.
  • Scatter Brushes copy and scatter a pre-defined object or group of objects along a path.
  • Art Brushes stretch an object along a path. They do not repeat.
  • Pattern Brushes are the most difficult to understand, but they are very useful and a lot of fun, and they'll be the focus of this tutorial. The pattern brush repeats a tiled object along a path, and to work properly needs art work for the sides and corner tiles, and may also have a beginning and end tile as well.

Making the art the right way, and getting it in the right slot when making the pattern brush, makes the difference between night and day, as you can see from the two following examples.

Pattern brush without the corner art included in the brush

Pattern brush with the corner art included in the brush


Pattern Brush Anatomy 101

In understanding Illustrator's pattern brushes, we need Pattern Brush Anatomy 101. Pattern brushes are composed of sections, and each section will be applied to a different segment of the path depending on the characteristics of that path. It may have the following sections: sides, inner corner, outer corner, beginning and ending. The art you make for these sections are called tiles.

When you apply a pattern brush to an ellipse, it uses the section of brush defined for the sides, and the pattern is evenly applied all the way around.

So a brush with just a side tile, or piece of artwork, works fine for an elliptical path, but once we add corners things get more complicated. We need to add corner tiles to make the brush apply correctly on a path with angles. Looks a bit lacking, doesn't it?

With the corner tile included in the brush, it's inserted at the angles and modified to fit the path, no matter how many corners there are and what the degree of the angle.

To demonstrate where to put the tiles for the brush, I created 5 squares, each 16 pixels square. (To make a specific size square, activate the rectangle tool, and click once on the artboard to display the rectangle options. If using pixels as your unit of measurement type 16, if using anything else, like inches, type in 16px in the height box, click on the word width and that value will also change to 16 px). I gave them no stroke, and filled each with a different color: red, blue, green, yellow, and purple.

Select the red square with the selection tool (black arrow). This will be the sides of the new pattern brush.


Make sure your brushes palette is open and on top by pressing F5. Drag the selected red square to the palette, and drop it in the palette. Choose New Pattern Brush from the list of brush types. Click OK.


The Pattern Brush Options open and you can see the red square in the sides box. You may type a name for the brush now too in the Name box if you like, up to 30 characters. The diagrams underneath the images of the tiles indicate what part of the brush they'll be used on. The second one is for the outer corner, the third one is for the inner corner, the fourth one is for a beginning tile, and the last is for an ending tile. Click OK to close this box.


ILLUSTRATOR 9: Now look at the brushes palette. There are 7 slots and the red square, which we now know is the side tile from the brush options, occupies slots 2, 3, and 4.


ILLUSTRATOR 10: Now look at the brushes palette. There are 6 slots and you can see the red square, or side tile as we know from the brush options dialog box we just closed, are in the second and third slots. (Your slots will not be numbered. I added those for explanation's sake.)

So now we know that slots 2 and 3 are side tiles.


We could apply this brush right now to an ellipse and it'd be fine. But we want to take it farther.


I drew a control path with the pen tool so we can see how the brush is progressing. It has all the points in it we're adding to the brush so we can see where each type of tile will go when used on an object. We'll use it for comparison with each step.


With the control path active, click on the new brush you have in the palette. This is what you'll see, so we know we're missing some parts (Parts is Parts. That was on an old chicken nugget commercial years ago, I don't even remember what chain it was for. But I do remember the moral is Parts is NOT Parts. And it's true here too!) We obviously need more parts to make this thing work!


Select the blue square and drag it to the brushes palette and drop it in slot 1, which is empty right now. Important note!: To do this you have to hold down the alt key as you drag and drop it, or Illustrator will think you're trying to make an altogether new brush. The brush options opens again and this time you can see your blue square in the outer corner tile diagram. Click OK.


ILLUSTRATOR 9: Now look at the brushes palette. The blue square occupies slot 1, so we know slot 1 is for outer corner tiles.


ILLUSTRATOR 10: Now look at the brushes palette. The blue square is in slot 1, so we know that slot 1 is for outer corner tiles.


When we apply the brush again to the control path, it shows that the corner tiles have been added but we still need more tiles.


Let's go on to Part 2



Anatomy of a Pattern Brush, part 2

Anatomy of a Pattern Brush, part 3

Anatomy of a Pattern Brush, Part 4

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March 25, 2002

©2002 Sara Froehlich and Northlite Designs