The 23 best Illustrator brushes

Here's a round-up of the hottest free Illustrator brushes (and one you have to pay for – but it's worth it!).

Brushes don't sound glamorous. A set of brushes doesn't have quite the same kerb appeal as, for example, the best pencils, a 'texture pack' or a set of templates, but in many ways brushes can offer so much more to the vector designer than pre-built layouts or simple textures. Because of the flexible way in which Adobe Illustrator allows brushes to be used on vector shapes, what might look a simple and plain brush can add an entirely new dimension to a piece of work.

Illustrator CC, CC2014 and CC2015 all made progress in the way brushes are rendered and used inside the application so that, with the 2015 release for example, you can now save your brushes to your Creative Cloud library for easy access no matter which machine you're using at the time. There's also the handy new Brush CC tool that allows you to define and share artwork in the form of brushes directly from your iOS device. These elements of workflow finessing means it's perhaps time to look again at brushes in Illustrator, so without further ado here are 23 of the best!

01. Rodeo

Old rope for no money
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: The Vector Lab

Yee-hah! Rope can be really fiddly to draw, so if you need some in your imagery the go for this easy option instead. Rodeo is a hand-drawn rope brush for Adobe Illustrator CC. You can apply it to any path, as well as change the rope width and colour.

02. Marker pen strokes

These marker pen brushes are magic
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: FudgeGraphics

Get your sharpie on with this set of 64 free marker pen strokes and scribbles, and give your designs a more natural, hand-drawn look. They're high quality and compatible with all versions of Illustrator from CS onwards, and they're free for both personal and commercial work.

03. Smoke

Light up your work with this excellent smoke
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: R2010

This set of smoke-like brushes is perfect for adding a bit of atmosphere to any illustration, whether it's for backgrounds or things that smoke, steam or mist. Play around with the opacity and blend modes in Illustrator to get some really nice effects.

04. Doodle lines

You can use these doodle brushes commercially for a very reasonable price
  • Price: Free (for personal use)
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

If doodling by hand is too much effort for you then achieve the same look with this set of free doodle brushes. It's a varied and versatile selection that allows you to create a hand-drawn sketched look, as well as decorative borders, curls and doodle style illustrations. They're free for personal use, while a licence for commercial use will cost you just £4.

05. Illustrator wedge brushes

Best Illustrator brushes: wedge

Create classy designs with this pack of wedge brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Free for non-commercial use, this pack of Illustrator brushes by freelance illustrator and graphic designer Mels Brushes is perfect for adding swirls, swishes and decorative curls to your designs.

06. Floral vector and brush pack

Best free Illustrator brushes - Floral vector and brush pack

A wider selection of florals than that which ships with Illustrator
  • Price: Free for personal and commercial use
  • Artist/Designer: Stock Graphic Designs

This handy set of floral plate-inspired brushes is also available as a set of EPS assets for those times when you simply want to drop in stock art into your project. The quality of the art itself is comparable to the free florals that ship with Illustrator, but there's a wider selection available here, and the fact that they're not part of Illustrator's default arsenal means you're less likely to get instant recognition of the source.

07. Fur Illustrator brushes

Best illustrator brushes: fur

Sometimes you need to add hair...
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Need to add a furry effect? These eight hairy Illustrator brushes from Mels Brushes work particularly well when you build them up using different tones. They're free for personal use, and you can buy a license for commercial projects.

08. Abstract brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - Abstract brushes

These abstract brushes can be used to create crazy embellishments
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: alethiologie

Deviantart is always a good place to find free-to-use resources and assets, as this example from alethiologie demonstrates. A handy set of brushes that you can use to create abstract shapes and patterns, including some pretty crazy-looking ornaments.

09. Lino cut brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - Lino cut brushes

These free Illustrator brushes give a hand-finished look
  • Price: Free (for personal use)
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

This is another example of digital replicating the natural imperfections of analogue artwork, but for all its irony, these free-for-personal-use brushes have a wonderful quality to them that brings out a lovely hand-finished look in your artwork.

10. 15 paint brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - 15 paint brushes

These brushes are based on real paint brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Think Design

This set of 15 paintbrush-inspired brushes has been around a while, but the real-media feel they offer means they're still well worth downloading and installing. This is even more the case given they're absolutely free of charge! The brushes themselves are each based around a different style of real paint brush, offering a beautiful feeling of paint oozing out under the pressure of the brush. Great for those times when you want something a little less clean and imperfect.

11. Foliage brushes

Best Illustrator brushes: foliage

Try these foliage brushes for nature-inspired designs
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Bittbox

The possibility are endless with these foliage Illustrator brushes from Bittbox. They’re free for both personal and commercial work, so if you’re looking to add a touch of foliage and some flair to your designs, these brushes will help.

12. Dry paint brush strokes

Free Illustrator brushes: dry paint

Produce handdrawn-looking brush strokes with this free pack
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Scorp1

To add a dry brush stroke effect to your designs, try this free pack from Duesseldorf-based designer Scorp1. According to Scorp1, the brushes were created using a dry brush with acrylic color, scanned, vectorised with Streamline and corrected manually where needed.

13. Mycanthus brush pack

Best Illustrator brushes: Mycanthus

For some extra flourish, try this pack of art and scatterbrushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: r2010

Mycanthus brush pack 1 contains five ornamental art brushes and five scatter brushes. "I call this pack 'Mycanthus' – since I didn't stick with traditional acanthus leaf designs," says Deviant Art member r2010. The pack is free to use – just send r2010 a link to your work "to make it worthwhile".

14. Doodle Pattern Zentangle Borders

Best Illustrator brushes: pattern

These brushes are well-suited to borders
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Another from designer Mels Brushes, this pack of 28 doodled zentangle style Illustrator pattern brushes will add a handdrawn feel to your art work – and they're free for personal use.

Next page: 10 more great Illustrator brushes