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Scatter Brush Anatomy 101 for Illustrator CS and CS2

The Scatter Brush is one of the most versatile brushes in Illustrator, depending on the settings. So what do these settings mean?

Draw a shape or graphic you would like to make into a brush.


Select your artwork by clicking on it with the selection tool (V). Open the Brush palette (Window > Brushes), and open the Brush palette options menu. Choose New Brush.

New Brush

The New Brush dialog opens and as you can see there are several kinds of brushes you can choose from.

Calligraphic Brush A calligraphic brush draws strokes that are angled as if they were drawn with a calligraphic pen. A calligraphic brush follows the center of the path.


Scatter Brush A scatter brush repeats the object (or objects) scattered from a drawn path according to variables you set. It can be far away from the path, or you can set it so it follows the path exactly with no variation. It can also scatter from the path a set amount away from it, or randomly. The example below is scattered randomly.

scatter brush


Art Brush An Art brush stretches the brush along the path.

art brush


Pattern Brush A pattern brush repeats the object or objects from which the brush is created along the path and can have separate graphics for corners. In fact, some designs don't work very well without separate graphics for the corners, which allow the brush to follow a path that goes around square corners with ease. Pattern brushes can be very simple or very elaborate. If you want detailed information on Pattern Brushes, I suggest my Pattern Brush Anatomy 101 tutorial.

pattern brush


The Scatter Brush is the one I want for this artwork, so I chose Scatter Brush.

new brush dialog

Click OK to open the Scatter Brush Options.

scatter brush options

There are several settings you can choose that will determine how the brush behaves.

Name: Give your brush a name when you make it. I called this one Shamock1 because I'll be making a pattern brush from the same artwork later.

Size: Size is relative to the original size of the graphic. 100% is of course the original size, and you can make it larger or smaller using the slider triangle or by typing a value into the data input box. I set this to 50%. Note the menu at the end of the sliding bar: you can also choose to make the brush a Fixed Size, Random Size, or have size determined by Pressure. Fixed size will keep the shamrock at the percentage you specified. Pressure is for graphics tablet users and the size of the shamrocks in the brush will depend on the pressure applied with the stylus. You can also choose Random, and if you do, you can set the range of size the individual parts of the brush (in this case the shamrock) can be. You will have two slider triangles if you choose Random: one to set the bottom size range and one to set the top size range. The sizes of the individual shamrocks will be random, but between the upper and lower range you set here. For this exercise choose Fixed.

Spacing: Spacing determines how far apart the individual shamrocks will be. I lowered this to 50%. The lower the number, the closer together the shamrocks will be. They can overlap. You can also choose Fixed for fixed size, Random for random size and set the range, or Pressure to determine size according the stylus pressure.

Scatter: This determines how far from the path the shamrocks will be placed. This can also be set to Fixed, Random, or Pressure. Fixed will remain in a line, and you can determine how far from the path it strays: 0% will follow the path. For now choose 0% and Fixed here.

Rotation: Each graphic can rotate 0% (none) or as much as you like. This can also be set to Fixed, Random, or Pressure. I chose Random and set the range from -90% to 160% so the shamrocks would rotate around the path. See the difference:

This one has the rotation set as in the screenshot of settings at the top of the page (-90° to 160°).


This one has rotation set to 0% Fixed:

no rotation

Rotation Relative to: Path or Page. The  rotation of the individual brush objects is aligned to the path or the page. Look at the black lines I drew through the centers of the shamrocks in the examples below. Choosing Relative to Page keeps the shamrocks of the brush aligned to the page. If you choose Relative to Path, the shamrocks are aligned to the path. Choose Path here.


Colorization: Chose the method of changing the brush color here. Choose Hue Shift for this exercise so the color will change when we change the stroke color, but you can also choose None or several other methods. To see more about the other Colorization methods and examples, click the Tips button.


Click OK to set the options and create the new brush. A graphical representation of the brush appears in the brushes palette.

brushes palette

To use your new scatter brush, draw a path with any of the drawing tools: the pen tool, pencil tool, line tool, arc tool shape tools etc...and click on the brush in the palette to apply.


That's it!

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Main Tutorial Page
Scatter Brush Anatomy 101 for Illustrator CS and CS2
Pattern Brush Anatomy 101 for Illustrator CS and CS2



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All designs and images on these pages are copyrighted to me, Sara Froehlich and Northlite Designs. If you want to use something you see, please contact me for permission. Thank you!

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