Design

13 minute read

20 Best Free & Paid Illustrator Brushes for Stunning Vector Art

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

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Brushes have been around since the Stone Age. They work so well at helping us create art that brushes — along with pens — have become the primary tool for visualizing how we see ourselves and the world around us. Lending shape, color, and meaning to images, the paintbrush has evolved from a primitive instrument used to create magnificent cave paintings to a virtual tool able to generate compelling digital graphics that are measured in pixels (raster) or defined by precise mathematical formulas (vector).

That's where Adobe Illustrator comes in. What are the best Illustrator brushes that can help us create the most stunning art?

The brush comes in a number of types and sizes, and in its analog form are usually constructed from animal hair or plant fiber. The brush tip can be any one of several shapes including round, filbert, and flat. On the other hand, the digital brush used in most imaging software come in an astounding number of eye-catching variants.

illustrator-brushesAdobe Illustrator, the decades-old industry standard for creating and editing vector images has five basic types of brushes:  

  1. Calligraphic brushes replicate the visual effects of pens used in classical calligraphy.
  2. Art brushes evenly stretch a brush shape or an object shape along a set path.
  3. Scatter brushes distribute identical copies of an image along the length of a path.
  4. Pattern brushes reproduce tile-based patterns along a path.
  5. Bristle brushes simulate the look of natural brush strokes.  

Under these basic brush types could be hundreds — or even a limitless number — of possible variations. In fact, simply playing around with brush properties such as stroke width, pressure, weight, and color can produce a mind-boggling number of iterations and aesthetic effects. 

Why would you need so many Illustrator brushes?

Brushes add style, depth, texture, and character to an image. Brush variety also fulfills a basic function and aspiration of creativity: break walls, define new horizons, and explore uncharted territory.

For many artists, the freedom to choose the medium and the method for visually communicating a message is just as important as setting restraints and practicing aesthetic discipline. The more choices you have, the broader coverage and greater impact you gain when it comes to rendering different subjects, moods, styles, themes, and effects.  


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For digital creatives, Illustrator brushes also make it much easier, faster, and more consistent to create and fine-tune designs — sometimes within just a few seconds. With the right Illustrator brush, for example, you can easily create vintage, grungy, techno, hand-drawn, and other styles of graphics almost in an instant.

These capabilities certainly elevate the Paintbrush Tool among Illustrator’s most powerful features. However, Adobe’s vector image authoring software only has a limited number of preset brushes and for many graphic artists, much remains to be desired.

Bonus: Learn the basics of Adobe Illustrator brush tools in this video

Fortunately, there are hundreds of third-party Illustrator brushes — both free and paid — that are available online. Good quality brushes can be a bit tricky to find though. To spare you the trouble of navigating a maze of options, we’ve done our homework and came up with a shortlist of the best Illustrator brushes that will lift your creative output to ever higher levels. 

The 20 sexiest paid and free Illustrator brushes for your vector graphics

1.   Halftone Vector Brushes

This free bundle — courtesy of graphic designer and frontend developer Rob Brink —  augments your creative toolbox for those design situations when you need to produce muted textures and vintage effects in your work.

illustrator-brushes-halftone

2.   Illustrator Stitch Brushes

Care for some craft-focused effects? When thread, leather, and fabric meet, cute happens. This free bundle containing 19 pattern brushes will enhance your designs with charming Etsy elements, just perfect for creating Easter, Thanksgiving, and other holiday-themed graphics.

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3.   Hand-Drawn Illustrator Brush Bundle

While this bundle comes with a $49 price tag, the wonderful goodies inside turn the deal into a great bargain. Four of Retro Supply’s best-selling packs (The Grave Etcher, The Dead Pen, The Drunk Sailor, and the Black Magic Halftones) comprise this super bundle of more than 300 Illustrator brushes.

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4.   VectorSketch | Charcoal Pencils for Illustrator

Retro Supply created this brush bundle from real charcoal and pencil drawings that were optimally digitized for Illustrator users. The $20 pack comes with 40 brushes including compressed charcoal sticks, carpenter pencils, willow sticks, and your good old No. 2 graphite pencil.

Illustrator-brushes-charcoal


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5.   Childs Play Crayons

Capture the simple but evocative aesthetics of kiddie art. This 12-brush bundle from Mels Brushes replicates the effect of crayons and colored pencils in the hands of curious grade-school artists. The pack comes without a price tag for personal use but commercial use entails a license fee of around $5. 

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6.   Natural Sketch Doodle Lines Set

This set also comes free from Mels Brushes. You can use the brushes to lend a natural feel to your digital sketches, especially when you’re working on decorative borders or doodle-themed designs. If you intend to use the brush set in creating images for commercial purposes, you can just shell out a small license fee.  

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7.   Vector Tone

This $20 Illustrator brush set includes 35 halftone and line textures with a vintage, nostalgic appeal. The developer, Retro Supply built the set based on a 1950’s US Army surplus catalogue. Use the pack to create layers and crosshatching to add texture and personality to your designs.

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8.   Marker Pen Strokes

Get this free bundle of 24 pen marker brushes from Spoon Graphics. The pack lets you easily integrate marker-based highlights to your designs.

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9.   Liquid Style Brushes

Need to add some oomph factor to your infographic? This pack of 80 Liquid Style brushes enables you to easily render simple but stunning retro-themed highlights to your creative output. The $18 price tag seems pretty much a bargain if you consider the loving attention Artifex Forge gave in building the pack: there are sample files, quick instructions, and a handy reference guide to make sure you generate exactly the specific aesthetic effect or audience impact you desire.

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10.   Rodeo Hand-Drawn Rope Brush

Sometimes, you just need to add some twisted or knotty accents to your artwork. When those moments come, you’ll be glad to have the Rodeo Hand-Drawn Rope Brush on your side. Designed by Ray Dombroski of TheVectorLab, this free Illustrator brush will enable you to quickly create rope-based lettering, borders, or highlights in your graphics.

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11.   Smoke Illustrator Brush

This free smoke brush for Illustrator will help you recreate realistic or expressive smoke, steam or mist effects. Developed and offered by r2010 on DeviantArt, this brush is highly adaptable and you can tweak opacity, color, direction, and other image properties to your heart’s content.

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12.   Fur Brush

Critters are always fun to draw but getting their fur right can be tricky. Good thing Mels Brushes provides a free set of 8 fur Illustrator brushes that lets you achieve the perfect tone and texture for graphics that involve a lot of fur.

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13.   Vector Fuzz

From furry to fuzzy, we got your back. This Illustrator brush bundle comes with 32 easy-to-use sponge and ink scatter brushes. At less than $20, the pack from Retro Supply gives you the ability to replicate highly realistic acrylic and ink textures to grace your artwork. 

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14.   The Organic Vector Brush Bundle

If you need a steady source of expert touches to grace your digital artwork, then this bundle is the perfect addition to your creative toolbox. Developed by author and design guru Von Glitschka (who serve clients like Adobe, Nike, and SXSW), this pack includes 15 shading pattern brushes, 15 organic shader scatter brushes, 15 linework brushes, and 28 minutes of in-depth tutorials from Von Glitschka himself, one of the most sought after graphic design instructors.

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15.   Wax Crayon Effect Brushes

This free bundle created by Spoon Graphics’ Chris Spooner enables you to replicate a crayon-based, hand-drawn feel and comes with 12 free pattern brushes. You can apply any of the brushes to paths or strokes to add irregular outlines to a graphic for a dash of added realism. You can also paint directly using the brush tool. 

Illustrator-brushes-crayon

16.   Lino Cut

Linocut is a printmaking technique that exudes tradition, skill, and style. Simulating the appearance of linocuts and woodcuts using Illustrator from scratch is not easy. Fortunately, you can just download the perfect set of brushes to do the job. The free bundle from Mels Brushes includes 25 different brushes that you can use for texture fills, edge shading, and stroke tapering.  

Illustrator-brushes-lino


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17.   Glitter Brushes

Art has its share of glitz and glamour. There’s a strong chance you’ll need to show some authentic glitter at some point even if you prefer somber moods. Don’t worry. The Artifex Forge offers a vector brush pack that includes 30 glitter brushes to help you ignite the needed spark. The $16 package includes a quick reference guide and an instruction manual.  

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18.   Finest Vintage Cross-Hatch and Pen Ink Brushes

These pen ink and cross-hatch brushes from Artifex Forge will help you orchestrate authentic vintage and classic experiences for your audience. The pattern brushes seamlessly replicate patterned tiles along the stroke without stretching. While based on genuine period artwork, you can still customize the look and feel of the brushes by tweaking image properties such as hatching options. The $19 package comes with sample files, a quick reference guide, and an instruction manual.

Illustrator-brushes-cross-hatch

19.   The Grain Shader Brush Set For Illustrator

Texture is essential to draw out the essence of an artwork. This brush set from True Grit will enable you to enhance your images using shadow, form, grain, and depth. This $19 brush set includes 25 high-quality texture brushes, 10 grainy overlay textures, a cheat sheet, and a user guide. Use the pack to add blended gradients, grungy accents, and drop shadows. 

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20.   Essential Vector Brushes Collection

This might be by far, the most comprehensive pack in this list. Developed by graphic design ninja Anna Ivanir, the collection includes 150 hand-drawn Illustrator brushes with visual effects ranging from watercolor, charcoal, and marker to pen and pencil. This robust bundle comes at a bargain price of $10.

Illustrator-brushes-essentials

Conclusion

Graphic design is an exciting and competitive field. Practitioners can never stay put and will need to expand their repertoire constantly to keep one step ahead of the pack. These free and paid Illustrator brushes will help you do just that. Note though that having access to an entire library of brushes won’t guarantee great quality output. Training, skill, and practice at graphic design will.

In any case, you can refresh your skills at manipulating raster and vector images with our Photoshop and Illustrator courses.

Happy learning!

Want to learn more about graphic design?

Download the beginner's guide now!

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Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue wears his writer's hat wherever he goes, crafting top-notch content on business, technology, creativity, and innovation. He is also a dreamer, builder, father, and gamer.

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