Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

by Jay Hilgert
on April 6, 2007

Illustrator comes standard with some default brushes. Most of us probably use these brushes as they were intended to be used, but what happens if you push the limits of stroke size? You get a really easy way to create some cool abstract effects in Illustrator. Check out the example below, made with very simple shapes. The complexity is created by taking the stroke way beyond normal with an artistic brush stroke from the brushes palette.

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke
Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Overview/Explanation:

The example you see above contains a few very simple shapes I created in Illustrator (a star, a spiral, a square, etc). Then I applied an art brush to the stroke, and took the stroke up to something huge like 30pt. This makes all of the imperfections in the brush stroke you choose go nuts. All of the brush strokes used in the example are default brushes that ship with every copy of illustrator (10+) – Screenshot below. Not sure about anything earlier than 10. (anybody?)

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Try It Yourself:

Start with a simple shape, like a star or a square like below (actual size).

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Now, make sure there is no fill, and pick an artistic brush stroke to apply to the stroke. (The Illustrator Brush Library I used is “Artistic_Ink” – pictured below)

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke
Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Now take the stroke to a big number, like 30pt and see what you get.

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke
Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Here is that same shape, with a different brush, still 30pt stroke:

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Here is a simple spiral with the same stroke:

Easy Illustrator Trick: Oversized Stroke

Tips for Exploring this on your own:

The key is to experiment. This trick is pretty much trial and error folks, so you will have to play with both your shapes and the stroke settings to get what you are looking for. Here are a few more pointers:

1. Keep the shapes relatively small. This can get very complex, very quick so watch out for bogging down your machine. The stroke does all of the work anyway, so the shapes can be simple, and small.

2. This tends to work better on closed shapes. In other words, if you use a shape tool as opposed to the pencil tool, you will get better results. If you feel the need to make a custom shape, try and close it off. Otherwise, you might get big blocks of solid color.

3. Keep your shapes simple, let the stroke do the work. Even shapes as simple as a square will do fine. Make a small generic shape and take your stroke to 100pt and you will see what I mean.

4. Adjust your shape after you apply the stroke. If you are like me you are used to holding down shift to constrain your shapes. With this trick even the most subtle adjustment to your shape can render wildly different results. For example, try comparing your results on a circle compared to an oval.

5. Make your own brushes to use for this effect. Draw a bunch of scribbles and make a custom art brush out of the scribbles. Then use your custom brush on a simple shape and take the stroke way up to make your new stroke go crazy. (more custom than using the default Illustrator brushes, which means your design will be one-of-a-kind!)

About Jay Hilgert

Formally trained at Oklahoma State, Jay Hilgert is a graphic and web designer, font designer (Link), software developer (Brush Pilotâ„¢), and the founder of BittBox.

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