Building Building Brushes with Illustrator

There used to be a tool in Flash (the Deco Tool) that could create various patterns and fill effects (the tool is now deprecated/nonexistent so don’t try looking for it) and one of the things it had was a building brush; if you needed to create a city skyline quickly, then it was really useful for that. I this post, we’re going to build something similar in Illustrator, by creating a pattern brush that can build our skyscrapers in seconds.

Draw The Building Elements

You can be as simple or as elaborate a you like, but need to keep in mind a couple of things;

  • Pattern brushes can’t contain gradients (unless you rasterise the element with the gradient)
  • Pattern brushes can’t contain other patterns (unless you rasterise the element with the pattern)

Note: Illustrator CC can make brushes from embedded rasterized elements, and this can be really useful for making otherwise very difficult brushes. There’s a video of @TerryWhite making an image brush on YouTube if you want to explore that.

You need to build a base for the building, a midsection that will be the repeating element and a cap; my example looks like this:step1

This file is available here: if you want a jump-start.

Create the Pattern Brush

  1. Select all of the components and rotate them through 90º so that they follow the brush direction the way we want them to:step2
  2. Select the midsection component(s) and drag them into the Brushes Panel:step3
  3. You’ll be greeted then with the New Brush dialog; choose the Pattern Brush option:step3
  4. The Pattern Brush Options dialog opens and the first thing we should do is name the brush:step4
  5. Notice the five boxes just above the preview; the first is for a corner tile which isn’t needed in this exercise—if a corner has been auto generated use the drop-down associated with the square to clear it (by selecting None from the options); the second square is the pattern along a line; the third is an inner corner and also not needed here. The final two boxes are for the start point and the end point of the brush—we’ll be using those in just a minute.
  6. Your brush will be created and will appear in the Brushes Panel; notice that there are six “boxes” here—don’t worry about the third one being populated, as it’s not important for this—we’re going to add the other two sections to the last two.
  7. Drag your base section into the fifth box, but hold down the ALT key before you release the mouse-button:step5aThe Pattern Brush Options dialog may open, and you can just click OK or hit RETURN to dismiss it.
  8. Now repeat that step with the top section, into the sixth box—the brush should now look something like this in the panel:step6
  9. Now draw a line with the Line Tool and draw a few vertical lines upwards on your artboard, then apply your brush to them—instant skyscrapers!step7You’ll notice here that one of my buildings is wider than the other two—that’s achieved by changing the stroke weight (which by default is 1pt) and you can maximise the potential for this by making smaller artwork in the first place—but there’s more that can be done, too.

Customising Brush Instances

There are a few options we can exploit here, to add some variation to our buildings.


Select any one of your strokes that have the brush applied, then use the Recolour Artwork dialog to modify the colours—in the Edit mode—and this will simultaneously create a new pattern brush for you. It’s very easy to generate a decent selection of brushes very quickly using this technique.step9

Width Profiles

You can create some interesting buildings by applying a Width Profile to your buildings:step10

Wrapping Up

So that’s how easy it is to create your own building brushes! You could make a document that just contains different variations of buildings, then make the brushes and that way you have a library that you can just load into your Brushes Panel when it’s needed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tut—please let me know here by commenting, or connect with me on Twitter: @tonyharmer


Make Lego Not War

There’s been a little bit of a buzz on Twitter about a Python script that turns your gif images into Lego ( and in this post I thought I’d take a look at not just how you can do this with images, but also with video in Photoshop. All you need for this tutorial is a simple image of a single Lego stud, which you can get by downloading Legofy from the link above, or via this link ( or of course, make your own.

Make the Pattern Tile

The main part of this technique involves making a pattern tile:

  1. Open the image in Photoshop, and Select All (⌘-A)
  2. Go to Edit > Define Pattern… and name your patternstep1

Now that bit of incredibly hard work is complete, we can start using it!

Making a Lego-ified Image

step1aOpen any image and convert it to a Smart Object, then apply the Mosaic filter (Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic…) to that; the important part here is matching your mosaic tile size to the pattern tile—if you’re using the brick pattern from above then it’ll be 30px.step2

Add a new layer, and choose Edit > Fill, select the Pattern option in the dialog; then choose your Lego pattern:step3

You’ll have a layer like this:step3a

Change the blend mode to Overlay (in which neutral grey is invisible) and you’re done!step4

Lego-ify Your Video

Simply open your video in Photoshop, then turn that into a video smart object, and repeat the steps as with a still image!

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