Adobe Illustrator – Pattern brush

Finished zipper brush

The brush is a VERY powerful tool in Adobe Illustrator. In this article I’ll show you how to use the pattern brush to your advantage.

Creating chains, ropes and other strokes by hand is tedious and time consuming. That’s where the pattern brush comes in to play. It can be used for simple patterned lines (like a line of different shapes) but teaching you how to use it for more difficult tasks, will show you just how useful it can be.

I’ll be using a simple zipper as an example. First we need to draw the basic shapes of the zipper though, so let’s get started.

First create a new document, turn on smart guides (cmd+U) and rulers (cmd+R). Go over to the left ruler and drag a guide on to the art board.

Draw a shape like in the image and align both ends with the guide. Make sure that the round bump doesn’t go over the border of the square part of the object (that’s important!) and it’s also not a very good idea to make it too small. Also, the round indent and extrusion should be roughly the same size and shape.

Half of zipper link

Now select the entire shape with the selection tool (V). Be careful not to also select the guide. Copy the shape (cmd+C) and paste it in place (cmd+shift+V) With the item still selected navigate over to image/transform/reflect, choose horizontal and confirm with OK.

Align the newly flipped half of our shape with the other side of the guide so that the anchor points of both shapes are aligned.

Other half of zipper link

Select the left shape and copy it to another layer (we’ll need it later). Select both objects on the art board, open the pathfinder window (window/pathfinder) and choose unite. This will create one shape out of the two. Tweak it a bit by adding strokes, lighting effects or other patterns on to the shape (to keep things as simple as possible I won’t be doing that).

The pathfinder

Select the entire shape and copy (cmd+C) and paste (cmd+V) it on the art board. Flip it around by either using the direct selection tool and turning the entire shape around while holding shift or by navigating to object/transform/rotate and set it to 180 degrees. Place the flipped object like shown on the image.

Short zipper chain

Select both objects. Press alt and drag out a copy of both objects to the art board. Align them like on the image. By pressing cmd+D you can add even more links. I added 3 so the zipper doesn’t get misshapen after we create the brush.

Select the entire thing and drag it to the swatches library.

Add pattern to swatches

Now we can create our brush. Open the brushes panel (window/brushes) and click on the small arrow on the upper right of the panel. Select the new brush option, mark the pattern brush and confirm with OK.

A new window will open up. Enter the brush name in to the first panel. From the dropdown menu choose fixed width (when creating other brushes that need to vary in width the other options come in really handy). Now click on the first tile (the side tile). Under it is the selections of patterns in you swatch library. Find your pattern and select it. We are done for now so click OK.

Creating the brush

Now try out your new brush… Do you see a problem? Whenever your pattern is repeated there is a small gap in the zipper. That’s because the brush basically just repeats the pattern we created and when one link of the pattern ends another one stars and the brush doesn’t know that we want a continuous link. We need to fix that manually.

Pattern error

Remember when I told you to save the very first shape you drew in to a separate layer? I hope you did copy and paste one of the shapes on to the art board. If you didn’t, copy/paste a zipper link and draw a square on the right side of the shape so it’s aligned with the middle of the zipper shape. Now go over to the pathfinder and select the minus front option.

Creating half of a link

To create a really good continuous effect we need to copy 2 halves of the zipper shape on both sides of the pattern. Make sure they are at the same y position so they line up correctly in the brush.

Fixed pattern

Drag and drop the new pattern in to the swatches library again. Double click on your brush in the brushes library to edit it. Change the side tile with the newly added swatch. Now the newly drawn zipper flows nicely. But there is another problem… The ends. A zipper doesn’t just stop with a split shape at the end. So we need to create ends for the zipper.

Nice pattern flow

To create the end with the zipper handle select the entire pattern, press alt and drag it downward to create another copy of out zipper.

Make a copy

Draw a zipper handle at the end of the new zipper. I won’t go too much in to detail how I did it because this is a tutorial on brushes not how to draw :P. Just make sure that the last link of the zipper chain and the handle base are aligned (are touching).

Zipper handle

Drag and drop the new pattern in the swatches library.

Now create the zipper end. Again, select the FIRST pattern we created and alt drag it upward to create a copy.

Make another copy

I drew a simple square end to the zipper on the opposite side where I drew the handle on the previous zipper end.

Zipper end

Drag and drop this pattern in to the swatches library.

Edit your brush again and assign the swatch with the zipper handle in the start tile and the swatch with the zipper end in the end tile.

Finished zipper brush

That’s it… We have a fully functioning zipper brush :).