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Questions Answered 3: Illustrator Brushes

How to save custom brush libraries By Dave Nagel
Chris from the Bay Area writes in, asking about custom brushes in Adobe Illustrator: "... Is there a way to save a new brush to a custom brush library? I would like my new brush to be available at all times, not just in the file for which it was created." Yes indeed. In fact there are two methods you can use, each with its own advantages.

Here's what happened to me years ago when I decided to start making custom brushes for Illustrator. I made something like 25 of them. But the next time I launched Illustrator, they were all gone. It turns out that even to protect custom brushes in a single document, they must be in use in the saved document. Unlike Photoshop, Illustrator doesn't save brushes to a default library automatically, so brushes that you don't use just disappear.

If you make one brush and use it in a document and save that document, the brush will be available to you the next time you open that file (which is better than losing the brush altogether), but it won't be available in other documents.

So how do you make your brushes available for use in other documents and ensure that you don't lose them? The first method is to create a custom brush library. Using this method, you can manually open up your custom brushes when you want them, and they won't be around when you don't. The second method involves modifying Illustrator's default document files. This method will make your brushes persistently available so that you don't have to open them up manually.

Method 1: Custom brush library
So, to begin, I need to open up my Brushes library (Window > Brushes). Here's what it looks like by default.

To this library I'll add a new gritty-looking Art Brush.

Now, at this point, I can simply save this library as a custom library. To do this, I'll click on the flyaway menu on the top right of the Brushes palette and choose Save Library from the list of available options.

In the dialog that pops up, I'll save it as "Dave1," and I'll save it to the default brush directory (/Adobe Illustrator/Presets/Brushes/).

Now, the next time I launch Illustrator, these brushes can be opened manually by clicking on the Brush palette's flyaway menu and selecting the library from the list.

This will open up a separate custom brush palette containing all of the brushes (including the one I created) that were in the main palette at the time.

If you want, you can manually delete the extra or default brushes from the main palette prior to saving so that only your custom brushes appear in the new custom brush library. This will not permanently delete the default brushes. They'll be available again the next time you launch Illustrator.

Method 2: Modifying the default document files
So that method is a nice, quick way to save your brushes. But it does mean you need to open your custom brush library manually each time you want to use your brushes. You can also store the brushes in a way that will make them available persistently each time you create a new document. You do this by storing your brushes in Illustrator's default document files.

The default document files contain all of the elements that Illustrator loads whenever you create a new document. They're essentially templates for brushes, graphic styles and other items that appear in Illustrator's palettes.

There are two of these "template" files: one for CMYK documents and one for RGB documents. If you switch back and forth between the two regularly, you'll want to store your brushes in both of these files.

To locate them, go to /Adobe Illustrator/Plug-ins/. There you'll see two files: Adobe Illustrator Startup_CMYK.ai and Adobe Illustrator Startup_RGB.ai. Open up one of them by double-clicing it.

Now, if you've already created some brushes, create some simple objects on the canvas and apply those brushes to the objects. In my case, I'll just use a couple of straight lines, and I'll apply two different custom brushes to them.

Then I'll just save the file, and the next time I relaunch Illustrator, my brushes will appear in the main Brushes palette, where I can easily get at them.

Repeat this process for the other start-up document, and you're set.

Need a question answered about creative software? Need to know something about your computer? Drop Dave Nagel a line, and you might have your question answered on the pages of DMN with illustrations and a step by step guide to solving your problem. You can reach Dave at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com.

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