Using Pattern Brushes in Adobe Illustrator for Decorative Borders

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Users of Adobe Illustrator can create complex patterns made of simple tiles, and also have an incredible amount of brush shapes to work with. Most of these two features are used separately, but combining them together can provide another great creative feature: pattern brushes.

Almost a Hidden Feature

Unlike the patterns, you’ll notice in the Swatches palette, or the brushes in the Brushes palette, Pattern Brushes don’t stand out as an obvious feature in Illustrator. But if you look at the bottom of the Brushes palette’s default brushes, you can see an example of a pattern brush. Or if you open the Brush Libraries, you’ll find several sets of Borders that can be used as pattern brushes.

Patterns Combined to Create Paths

Pattern Brushes are comprised of a set of patterns combined on a path. This set of patterns can include the side tile (for standard strokes), start tile, end tile (which can be the same as a start tile, but flipped, — or a different design), outer corner, and inner corner tiles. The corner tiles can be omitted if a pattern tile is designed for free-formed paths.

When used on a squared border, Illustrator places the outer corner tile in all four corners, with the side tile placed in between, seamlessly joined together. When used as a free-form path, the start and end tiles cap the repeated use of the side tile. The side tile will follow the path, and be stretched around sharper corners.

Create Adjoining Patterns and Use As a Brush

Here’s how to make Pattern Brushes. First, create pattern tiles that will adjoin to each other seamlessly when used. You’ll need end tiles and a side tile (see Example A). Corner tiles would be needed if you want to create a box border or will have hard angles on your path. The examples below use only end and side tiles for a free-form design.

Important: make sure your new patterns tiles are named. Double-click on a pattern tile you’ve added to the swatch palette and give it a name in the dialog box.

Next, create a pattern brush by choosing “New Brush” from the pop-out menu in the Brushes palette. Choose “New Pattern Brush” from the next dialog box. The Pattern Brush Options dialog box appears (see Example B). All the pattern tiles from the Swatch palette are listed, with five indicators of the pattern placements needed. For our example, the two end tiles are placed as well as a side tile, but the corner tiles are left blank. Save the brush.

Now choose the new pattern brush from the Brushes Palette. Check a fill/stroke indicator to make sure you have “stroke” checked. Now pick a drawing tool and draw your object. The pattern brush follows your object’s shape. The pattern tiles are automatically added and adjust to the contours. You may need to edit the pattern brush in the Brushes palette to compensate for gaps and stretches, depending on the type of design you’ve created.

Creative Detailed Results without a Ton of Work

The use of Pattern Brushes allows for some very interesting and complex looking artwork without a ton of effort needed (see the finished example above or below). All the “hard” work is done in just a few pattern tiles, and Illustrator takes over to do the detail work on a larger scale.


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