The best Illustrator brushes: premium and free

A digital illustration of a castle picked out with a hatched Illustrator brush

The right Illustrator brushes mean you can add depth, texture and character to your vector work by stylising the appearance of paths. Unlike Photoshop brushes, good quality Illustrator brushes can be hard to come by - especially when it comes to free alternatives. With this in mind, we've rounded up our favourite vector brushes right here.

On this page, you’ll find the best Illustrator brushes out there – it’s worth paying for these brilliant resources. Or, if you're on a budget, jump to page two for our pick of the best free Illustrator brushes. These free brushes are also a great way of testing out part of a set that's caught your eye before forking out for the full package.

First, some basics: there are five different types of brush in Illustrator. They’re all used with the Brush tool, and each has a different purpose.

  • Art brushes: stretch a brush or object shape evenly along a path. 
  • Bristle brushes: create brush strokes that look as though they were made using a natural brush with bristles.
  • Scatter brushes: disperse copies of an object (such as a butterfly or leaf) along a path. Rather than stretching art – like Art brushes – they scatter it.
  • Pattern brushes: create seamlessly repeating patterns along a path. They can be used to create the same effect as Scatter brushes, but Pattern brushes follow the path exactly, whereas Scatter brushes don’t.
  • Calligraphic brushes: create strokes that look as though they were drawn with the angled point of a calligraphic pen.

Happily, managing your vector brushes is more straightforward than ever before. With Illustrator CC, you can save them to your Creative Cloud library for easy access, no matter which machine you're using. 

Here are the best Illustrator brushes around...

01. The Essential Adobe Illustrator brush bundle

The Essential Adobe Illustrator brush bundle

  • Price: $97 (usually $347)
  • Compatible with: CS4 and above

While we take a look at other RetroSupply packs later on in this list, what better way to kick things off than with this mega bundle of a whopping 839 brushes? This collection brings together 16 of RetroSupply's best-selling illustrator packs at an amazing discount price that saves you $218.

In this pack you get access to brushes that achieve hand drawn, etching and stippling effects, plus much more. If you've experimented with other brush packs and want to upgrade everything in one go, this cost-effective solution is the way forward.

02. The Hand-Drawn Illustrator bundle

The Hand-Drawn Illustrator bundle

  • Price: $39 (usually $116)
  • Compatible with: CS4 and above

This huge bundle of premium Illustrator brushes squeezes 321 best-selling RetroSupply brushes into one killer pack. Inside, you get all the company’s Grave Etcher (also see #12) vector engraving brushes, The Dead Pen hand-drawn vector brushes, Drunk Sailor vector stippling brushes and Black Magic vector halftone brushes. 

Buying those packs individually would set you back $116, making The Hand-Drawn Illustrator bundle a good investment for anyone looking to bulk out their vector brush collection with some quality resources.

03. Finest Vintage - Illustrator Brushes

Finest Vintage - Illustrator Brushes

  • Price: $19
  • Compatible with: CS5 and above

Create vintage artwork with this set of cross-hatch pen and ink Illustrator brushes from The Artifex Forge, aka designer Jeremy Child. They’re anti-stretch pattern brushes, so they seamlessly repeat a tile along the stroke – rather than stretching one image along the line – and you can draw multiple lines with just one stroke to save time. (Although you’ll find some single line outline brushes in the pack, too.) Happily, tablet users are catered for as well – a version of the brushes with pressure sensitivity enabled is included.

04. Vector brush toolbox

Vector brush toolbox

  • Price: $49 (usually $79)
  • Compatible with: CS4 and above

This mega-bundle of Illustrator brushes will set you up for almost any kind of digital painting. It includes six of RetroSupply's best-selling brush packs, and includes sponge and ink scatter brushes, halftone brushes, pencil and charcoal brushes. 

There are also Ai reference sheets to help you get the most from your vector brushes. This pack is usually $79, but right now you can pick it up for a bargain $49. 

05. Grain Shader Brushes For Illustrator

Grain Shader Brushes For Illustrator

  • Price: $19
  • Compatible with: CS6 and above

This pack of 25 Illustrator brushes from True Grit Texture Supply enables you to add depth, grain, shadow and form to your artwork. Perfect for adding grainy drop shadows, blended gradients, gritty accents and subtle grain overlay effects, the brushes have been handmade from a diverse selection of authentic source-materials – including vintage paper samples, concrete, toner, ink spray and sponged paint. The pack also comes with some bonus grainy overlay textures – and if you don’t like it, you’ll get your money back.

06. Essential vector brushes collection

Essential vector brushes collection

  • Price: $10
  • Compatible with: CS3 and above

This collection of 150 hand-drawn Illustrator brushes is suitable for use with Illustrator CS3 and later. The bundle focuses on traditional art effects, and includes brushes that mimic watercolour, paintbrushes, pencil, charcoal and markers. High-res and low-res versions are included – use the high-res versions for separate design elements, or go low-res for complex designs to keep the file size down.

07. Liquid Style Brushes

Liquid Style Brushes

  • Price: $18 
  • Compatible with: CS5 and above

Another great pack of Illustrator brushes from Artifex Forge, these Liquid Style vector brushes let you quickly and easily create a retro liquid style in your artwork. There are over 80 brushes in the pack, covering a wide range of shapes, sizes and varieties. And thanks to a handy reference guide, instructions and example files, it’s easy to learn how to achieve the liquid style look.

08. Multicolour mixed paint

Multicolour mixed paint

  • Price: $19
  • Compatible with: CS5 and above

Mix multiple colours in one digital stoke with this collection of Illustrator brushes. The painting system is the result of two years of planning and experimentation, and the results are impressive. 

This pack works differently to your typical brushes – it includes 21 brush styles and 24 colour swatches (you can also pick your own colours, if you prefer), and you can see how to use them in the video here

09. Artistic Illustrator brushes

Artistic Illustrator brushes

  • Price: Free with Envato subscription ($29/mo)
  • Compatible with: CC (or from CS2 in legacy format)

This brush pack aims to help you create natural-looking artistic textures in Illustrator. It includes 28 brushes, which work with CC or in legacy format from CS2. Envato offers a big collection of Illustrator brushes for you to download for free if you're a paying member; a subscription will set you back from $29 a month. 

10. Garage grime

Garage grime

  • Price: $39
  • Compatible with: CS6 and above

Give your artwork a distressed look with this great bundle of grunge Illustrator brushes. It comprises four best-selling vector brush packs, each containing approximately 20 brushes, and is compatible with Illustrator CS6 and CC. Each vector brush was made from authentic source material – like wax oil crayons and motor oil – and is ideal for adding a grubby, textured look to your designs.

11. Light effect vector brushes

Light effect vector brushes

  • Price: $14
  • Compatible with: CS5 and above

Light up your digital designs with this pack of 36 vector light effect brushes, which create a realistic glowing effect using transparency and blend effects. There are three different brush styles to choose from – one comet-shaped, one with a pointed end, and a circular scatter brush for extra sparkle – and they work best on a dark background. These vector brushes are suitable for use with CS5 and up.

12. The Dead Pen Illustrator brushes

The Dead Pen Illustrator brushes

  • Price: $29
  • Compatible with: CS4 and above

This "wicked-cool" bundle of Illustrator brushes will give your digital artwork a hand-drawn ink illustration look. It includes no-stretch line brushes, pattern brushes (including stippling brushes and zig-zags), and scatter brushes (such as dots, stars and crosses). The brushes are based on the work of illustrator Jordan Kabalka.  

13. Grave Etcher engraving vector brushes

Grave Etcher engraving vector brushes

  • Price: $29
  • Compatible with: CS5 and above

Create authentic looking vintage illustrations with this etching Illustrator brush pack. It includes 118 brushes, which should cater for every situation you can think of – and you get free updates for life. In addition, these vector brushes work well with a mouse or a graphics tablet, making them flexible for creating designs on the go. 

14. Scribble and scrawl vector brushes

Scribble and scrawl vector brushes

  • Price: Free with Envato subscription ($29/mo)
  • Compatible with: CS1 and above

This versatile Illustrator brush pack is ideal for occasions where you need to represent children's drawings or scribbly text. It includes 44 scribble vector brushes in varying levels of messiness. This pack is compatible with CS1 and up, but if you're using CS5 or newer you can use the pressure-sensitive versions for an extra-realistic effect. 

Next page: The best free vector brushes