The 23 best Illustrator brushes

Brushes are a great way to beef up your Adobe Illustrator work. You can go a long way with Illustrator's basic tools, but with the right set of brushes – and the flexible way in which Illustrator allows them to be used on vector shapes – you can quickly and easily add texture and character to any piece of work.

Managing brushes is more straightforward than ever before; with Illustrator CC, 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 20 of the best!

01. 8 free stipple shading Illustrator brushes

  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Chris Spooner

Build up tone and shade with these brilliant free Illustrator brushes

Designer Chris Spooner – aka Spoongraphics – crafted this free pack of eight stipple shading brushes to help you easily paint grungy details onto your artwork with Illustrator’s brush tool. 

Stippling is a traditional technique that uses lots of dots at different densities to build up tones and shade, and is particularly effective for creating a retro effect in your illustrations.  

02. Free halftone vector brushes

Quickly create halftones with this set of free Illustrator brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Rob Brink

This sample selection of free halftone Illustrator brushes are part of a larger pack of halftone vector brushes. Created by UI/UX designer Rob Brink, they’re perfect for adding old-school texture to your illustrations, without spending a penny.

03. 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.

04. 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.

05. 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.

06. 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.

07. 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.

08. 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.

09. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Vector Brush toolbox

You get 200 best-selling vector brushes, including sponge and ink splatter brushes, halftone, pencil, charcoal, watercolor and more, in this pack
  • Price: $49
  • Artist/Designer: RetroSupply

We mentioned there were two paid-for options in this list – and you’ll soon see why the Vector Brush Toolbox earns its place in a round-up of the best Illustrator brushes. 

Including six of RetroSupply’s best-selling Illustrator brush packs – that’s over 200 best-selling vector brushes – the Vector Brush Toolbox is the ultimate brush kit for illustrators, giving you every brush you’ll ever need for vector-based drawing. (Plus, you save $41 when you buy the bundle.)

Next: More excellent Illustrator brushes