Create a Painted Portrait Effect in Illustrator Using the Bristle Brush

Create a Painted Portrait Effect in Illustrator Using the Bristle Brush

In the past, when I wanted to create a paint-like effect, I always opened Photoshop and relied on the trusty old bitmap graphic. That is, until I discovered the Bristle Brush in Illustrator. The Bristle Brush (which is actually a set of brushes) allows you to paint with layers of vector strokes that apply different shades and transparencies to the stroke. The result is a beautiful and realistic looking paint stroke that is 100% vector.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to use the Bristle Brush to create a painting similar to the one I created below.

Step 1 – Tracing the Original Image

First up, find a good portrait photo. I used this image by Helga Weber.

I copied and pasted the image onto a new art board in Illustrator.

To trace the image using the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator click (Window | Image Trace). Use “Sketched Art” as the preset then bump the Threshold setting up to 220.

Note: For Adobe Illustrator CS5 click (Object | Live Trace | Tracing Options). In the Tracing Options window, choose “One Color Logo” for the Preset, and then bump the Threshold up to 220. Click “Trace”.

You’ll see that the result is a solid black shape of the girl.


Once you’ve got your trace, click (Object | Expand) to convert the trace to an editable object, and reduce the color to 20% black. With the shape selected click (Object | Hide | Selection) or (Cmd+3) to hide the shape from view.

Very Important: You need to repeat the above steps 3 times. Pasting the image on a new layer each time. For each image, reduce the threshold setting in the Tracing Options window down to (160, 80, and 50) to reveal more detail with each trace. Once traced and expanded, increase the black color by 20% (so… 40%, 60%, 80%).

Also, note that when you paste the image it lands in the exact place the previous images did. So the resulting traced shapes are directly on top of one another.

Step 2 – Painting the Traces

Now that you have all of your traced images on separate layers, you can click (Object | Show All) or (Cmd+Option+3) to unhide all of the shapes. You should have something like this.

Now let’s open the Bristle Brush Library. Click the drop down menu in the upper right corner of the brush panel, and select (Open Brush Library | Bristle Brush).

The brush we’ll be using is the Mop. Our color palette will be shades of blue. So for this first background image, I’m going to choose a very light blue. (C:20 M:0 Y:0 K:0)

Now turn off layers 2,3 and 4 to view only the solid background shape again. With the shape selected click (Object | Ungroup). You may have to do this 2-3 times before the shape is completely ungrouped. Now select the shape again, and choose “Draw Inside” from the bottom of the tools panel. Note: this option will not be available if you are clicking on grouped shapes or multiple shapes at once.

Now click “None” for the fill.

Now select the brush tool, and begin painting in the shape. When you release the brush stroke it will be masked by the original shape.

Very Important: You will need to repeat the above steps for each layer. Some layers may have multiple shapes, once ungrouped, that will have to be colored separately. After all layers are completed you should end up with something like this:

Step 3 – Embellishing with Vector Paint

For the final step, I added some vector paint resources that I had on hand. I used elements from the Vector Paint Drips set, and the Loose Splatters set. I’ve highlighted them in red below so you can get an idea of placement. These are all on a layer below all others.

And below is the final piece. I hope this tutorial has inspired you to create something unique with the Bristle Brush. It truly is a powerful vector tool.

Related Posts

feat month

2500+ premium design resources for only $7!

We do the best to provide high-quality products that you can use in your commercial projects.
You bet!

take a tour

Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown is a graphic designer who loves working with various media. He combines traditional art styles with a little experimentation and digital flare. Nathan's works have contained everything from ink and paint to leaves and a box of dirt. Everything is fare game when it comes to his approach to art. Nathan lives in Austin, Texas where he has been working as a designer for 10 years.


(+add yours)
  1. Alex Molett

    Sweet tutorial! I’m stuck on the painting part. The “Draw Inside” option isnt available & the object has been ungrouped totally so I dont know what’s wrong : [

    • Hi Alex… Make sure that you are only selecting a single object in order for the Draw Inside option to become available.

  2. Alex Molett

    k ya i can’t figure this out. Have you ever considered doing video tutorials instead?

    • Danielle

      Yea, I thought I was the only one. This is a very confusing tutorial, no offence, but this really is a bad tutorial.

  3. dexter

    wow!! this is really awesome – thanks a lot for sharing this masterpiece!!

  4. aman

    I really can’t figure out the “ungrouping” part I ungrouped a layer twice so now ungroup is not available also Draw inside option is not available.

    • Z FUX

      Aman, You must be selecting multiple objects at once. When you ungroup the vector and expand it, in the most of the cases it will generate a greater part of the draw in one unic part, but there will be many other small pieces of the drawing that will remain as single and separated parts. You must do the painting selecting once of these objects at a time. It really works and is a great resource… try it again…

  5. matie

    thanks, very nice and eyecatching. i always try to be good in this program, but sometimes is hard for me. if you allow me i decide to consult w/ you about this matter. thanks

  6. Awesome tutorial Dude.. I just started using Illustrator after checking this tutorial.. thanks for such a nice guide… :)

  7. wow creative man…nice work
    thanks for share

  8. Thanks for this tutorial! Do you have any ideas on how to make the image in CS6 since it now uses Image Trace instead of Live Trace and does not have a “one color logo ” option?

    • Danielle

      Oh, I was wondering about that, ’cause my Illustrator also has Image Trace instead of live trace.

      • Andrea

        You have to go to window>Image trace and it’ll bring up the image trace panel which will allow you to change the settings just like you would with the live trace

  9. This tutorial is very interesting and creative.

  10. :)) Very good. Photoshop version cs5?

  11. Thanks Nathan for keeping up good allocation time by time. This is something really nice trick idea. I’ve never created a painted portrait effect before but just following your tips I just made one not perfect but good enough to impress my friends.

  12. Goh

    Thanks for sharing! I like this tutorial very much,
    result looks better than the one create by software!
    but could u please teach us how to do it using AI CS6 trace?
    Adobe change CS6 trace totally different…

  13. Liva

    Sorry, but I’m stucked already in first step.
    I got illustrator6, and no command- object- live trace- trace options.

    soo stupic

  14. Chin

    Help. I can’t figure out the ‘draw inside’ part. I was able to select draw inside but the color palette changes to black and white. Even I put [C:20 M:0 Y:0 K:0], it displays as white.

  15. Fantastic goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff
    previous to and you’re just too magnificent. I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a terrific web site.

  16. Juzaily Ramli

    Great tutorial, but I can’t seem to follow it. Using CS6, and it’s got Image Trace instead of Live Trace. Should not be a problem but…. the other details like Path Fitting, Minimum Area, etc. now goes on percentage instead of pixels.

    Can anyone help please?

  17. mujeeb

    hi nathan
    when i ungrouping second layer its comes all small small particle. so which i want to know with you if we gonna one one by small small selection it will take too much time can you tell me some easy way to inside drawing method.

  18. Evan

    Hi! When I do the separate layers, thee white covers up the background layers, so that I only see the top layer. What should I do?

  19. Anyone visiting your site as I was not happy., I am very glad I discovered your site.thanks

  20. Interesting., I have no idea about this. Glad I discovered this site. Visit the above link to visit my page

  21. I love the way Brown takes his tutorial

  22. It has long been my mind is involved. Much I was looking for but did not find anything. Glad I found this site. Thank you.

  23. awesome tutorial! thanks for sharing!

  24. Your site is very useful in the field of scientific information made available to me. Certain websites are best. exchange. Sites of this type of site you are

  25. Thank you very much., You are a good writer.
    In addition to art that will give you good
    I congratulate you

  26. Woooooww! It really helped me! Thank you wegraphics!

  27. OTC est arriv? ? la r?gion de Branson en 2001 avec des classes d?tenus dans l’ancien centre de la maternelle au centre-ville de Branson. OTC propose des locaux plus grands ? La Shoppes at Branson Meadows en 2004 o? l’espace autoris? pour plusieurs classes et les services qui seront offerts aux ?tudiants.

  28. It summarizes all the top education news from around the country in an easy to read format for parents, teachers and students.
    Lorna Sheridan, Education Editor, Sonoma Index-Tribune

  29. No Doubt its a amazing collection of tutorials… thanks for post…

  30. I need to do so. Thank you for sharing.

  31. wil

    I tried to make this tutorial for hours and the final result is not the same… a great effect, but the way it is explained is a great s**t :P Thank you for sharing anyway

  32. Can you please describe little bit more about “ungrouping” part of this tutorial?

  33. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is excellent,
    let alone the content!

  34. I simply couldn’t go away your web site before suggesting that I
    really loved the standard information an individual provide in your guests?

    Is going to be again steadily in order to investigate cross-check new posts

  35. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my
    comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems
    finding one? Thanks a lot!

  36. ????? ????????????? arriv? ? ?? r? Gion ?? ????????? 2001 en avec des ?????????? D? tenus Dans L’???? ??????? De La Maternelle ? ??????? Ville De ?????????. ????? ???? locaux ????? ?????????? ??????????? 2004 O en ????????? ??????? ?? Shoppes? L’espace autoris? plusieurs ?????????? ??????? Les ??????? ???????? ??????????? offerts aux? tudiants ????.

  37. Excellent blog right here! Additionally your web site rather a lot up fast!
    What host are you using? Can I am getting your associate hyperlink to
    your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  38. If you are going for finest contents like I do, just pay a quick visit this
    website all the time as it gives quality contents, thanks

  39. I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also visit this weblog on regular basis to take updated
    from latest gossip.

  40. If some one wants expert view about blogging then i
    advise him/her to pay a quick visit this web site, Keep up the good work.

  41. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to
    be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely get irked while people consider worries that they just don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects ,
    people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more.

  42. What i do not realize is actually how you are not actually
    a lot more well-favored than you may be right now.
    You are so intelligent. You realize thus significantly on the subject of this subject, made me individually believe it from so many various angles.
    Its like men and women aren’t involved except it’s something to do with Lady gaga!
    Your personal stuffs outstanding. All the time take care of it up!

  43. hey there and thank you for your information – I have definitely picked up something new from right
    here. I did however expertise several technical issues using this site, since I experienced
    to reload the site lots of times previous to I could get it to
    load correctly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK?
    Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances
    times will sometimes affect your placement in google and could damage your high quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords.

    Well I am adding this RSS to my email and can look out for much more of your respective
    fascinating content. Ensure that you update this again very soon.

  44. great tutorial, i really like this, thank you

  45. really great article, thank you very much

  46. thank you for your article, is very helpfull for me

  47. i need more information for this. can you help me

  48. Link exchange is nothing else except it is
    just placing the other person’s web site link on your page at appropriate place and other
    person will also do similar for you.

  49. nice tutorial, i really like this one, thank you

  50. i really like this one, thank you

  51. Hello there, You’ve done an incredible job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I am confident they will be benefited from this web site.

  52. tank you it is beautyfull

  53. I do believe all the ideas you have offered to your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work.

    Still, the posts are very quick for starters. May just you please
    prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  54. Wonderful goods from you, man. I have consider your stuff prior to and you’re just extremely wonderful.
    I actually like what you’ve got right here, certainly like what you’re saying and the best way through which you assert it.
    You are making it enjoyable and you still care for to stay it
    wise. I can not wait to read much more from you.

    This is actually a tremendous site.

  55. Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know
    my visitors would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely
    interested, feel free to shnoot me an email.

  56. Unee fois ?e plus un article visiblement captiv?nt

  57. ?ncore un articxle assurément séduisant

  58. wow its useful article thank you

  59. Its a usefull article and creatif work. Thanks for sharing.

  60. V?us faîte? touj?urs des posts intéressants

  61. F?rmi?able article : pé?ennise comme cela

  62. Un intense brav? à l’administrateur de ce site

  63. Bon je n’ai pas eu le temls d? termine? de regarder cependant
    je passerai demain

  64. Bon, je n’ai p?s eu le temps dde terminer ?e ?egarder mais je repasserai plus tard

  65. Clipping Path Genius (CPG) is one of the best quality clipping path service providers in the world. Clipping

  66. Nice sharing, i like this blog and it is right there is nothing difficult in life and as i think life is a challenge.

  67. Nice thank you for sharing

  68. thanks for all of your good content

  69. thank you wegraphic

  70. tnx a lot. i see your site much

  71. it doesn’t work for me !!! do you have the other way to fix??

  72. Kit

    This tutorial is great except for one problem, none of these steps work with Adobe CS6… the image trace options are entirely different from live trace, and trying to get the same results is frustratingly improbable to do, is there a means of updating this tutorial to work with CS6?

  73. thanks . so good !

  74. how to increase 20% black color. and when we doing brush which would be selected?

  75. Im 13 and I did it you haft to do little sections at a time suckus its really easy actually

  76. how to increase 20% black color. and when we doing brush which would be selected?

  77. thanks a lot very good article

  78. nice tutorial, i really like this one, thank you

  79. nice tutorial, i really like this one, thank you
    This tutorial is great except for one problem, none of these steps work with Adobe CS6… the image trace options are entirely different from live trace, and trying to get the same results is frustratingly improbable to do, is there a means of updating this tutorial to work with CS6?
    Jasa Sewa Mobil Box

  80. I think you can just use the silhouette preset and follow along on CC or CS6. One thing I had to do was to treat my photo in PS before tracing to get it proper but that’s just some levels contrast and grayscaling. Otherwise, the 20% 40% black stuff is a matter of opening your swatch from the fill color panels and you’ll see the grays that have like 20% k (k meaning black) etc. etc. (for those that asked above).

    I really liked this tutorial and especially appreciate the option of tracing consecutively smaller images and then darkening etc., to create the gradations. Fun stuff Nathan…thanks!

  81. HI.
    thanks for your nice tutorial, but we have no “one color logo” for preset in adobe cc.
    what is alternate the silhoutette preset isn’t working fine like one color logo.
    thanks again.

  82. diesem Outfit sah ich einfach umwerfend aus und ich bereitete rasierte muschis bilder schnell das Frühstück vor und brachte es auf einem Tablett ins Schlafzimmer.Der Professor hinter dem Schreibtisch blickte nur kurz auf, als Sonja sein Büro betrat.

  83. Nathan Brown

    Hey folks… I updated the post to reflect Image Trace settings for newer versions of Adobe Illustrator.

Leave your comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© Copyright 2015 - All rights reserved. Design and code by WeGraphics Team