The 10 Best Illustrator Plugins 2018

adobe illustrator plugins

Adobe Illustrator is known by many in the digital arts industry as the most powerful vector program available. It’s amazing in its scope, but as with all applications, there will always be areas where it falls short for some people.

That’s where plugins come in: there are so many third-party programs that you can install to customize your Illustrator experience. Having so many options available is a great thing, but it can be difficult to decide which plugins are worth the time and the expense. That’s why we’ve put together a list of our top ten best Illustrator plugins.

Feel free to check out our recommended:
Adobe Premiere Plugins
After Effects Plugins
Photoshop Plugins

Price: $92
Free trial period: 14 days

  • Compatible with CS6 and CC
  • Edit points, paths and handles with ease
  • Reduce file size for a better workflow and faster exports

Known as the vector Swiss army knife, VectorScribe is Astute Graphics’ most popular plugin for Illustrator. It’s essentially an amalgamation of the company’s most useful tools, and it’ll save you time, space, and a whole lot of frustration.

The key feature of this plugin is its ability to manage points, handles, and pathways, but you can also create and edit vector shapes. One of our favorite tools is the Reposition Point tool, which makes it easy to slide a point along a path without losing the path shape. The PathScribe tool is also a real time saver as it makes complex vector editing much easier.

At less than $100, this plugin is a bargain when you consider how much it’ll help you to accomplish everyday tasks.   

von glitschka

Price: $29
Free trial period: None, but a free sample pack is available

  • Compatible with CS6 and CC
  • Realistic brushes look like actual paint brushes
  • Created in collaboration with Von Glitschka

After the huge success of the original DragStrip vector brush pack, Retro Supply is back with a second equally impressive offering. They’ve partnered with Von Glitschka again (if you don’t know who he is, he’s a world-class vector artist and has done incredible work for the likes of Nike and Dungeons & Dragons).

This plugin will make your vector work look like it was done with real paintbrushes, and with 35 vector paint brushes and seven non-distorting line art brushes you get a lot for a relatively small price.

The pack comes with an eight-page guide and a training video by Von Glitschka himself, and the original AI art files will make reverse engineering the painting process so quick and easy.

hot door cadtools

Price: $379
Free trial period: 7 days

  • Compatible with CS6 and CC
  • Adds CAD functionality to Illustrator
  • Saves a huge amount of time on vectoring

This plugin is essential if you use CAD in your work, and once you have it you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

Time-saving features include the ability to snap objects and project art onto isometric grids, and you can move, transform and measure objects with precision and to scale. There are an impressive 92 drawing, editing, labeling, dimensioning, creating, transformation and utility tools on board, and they’re neatly organized into 10 tool groups.

The price might feel like a big investment, but considering how much time this plugin will save you it will have paid for itself before you know it.

Price: $5
Free trial period: None

  • Compatible with CS5+
  • Beautiful hand-painted watercolor effects
  • Made from high-resolution scans of real watercolorstext here...

This plugin will do exactly what you’d expect it to do: deliver watercolor-style brushes to give a realistic painted effect to your work.

There’s a huge bundle of tools included, and you’ll have access to 49 watercolor background tiles and 12 watercolor AI brushes, as well as more than 50 realistic paint splats and 42 instant watercolor-effect graphic styles.

This super-cheap plugin will open up a whole new world of watercolor opportunities that will give your work a beautiful hand-painted quality. If you use this type of effect in your work even rarely, it’s still so worth having this bundle at your disposal.

Price: $89~
Free trial period: 14 days

  • Compatible with CS6 and CC
  • Enjoy Photoshop-style color adjustments without leaving Illustrator.
  • V4 has improved Phantasm Panel for fast and intuitive control

Our second selection from Astute Graphics is Phantasm, the best Photoshop-style color control plugin available. It’s simple in its brilliance, and it essentially bridges the gap between Photoshop and illustrator which is great news for anyone loyal to the Adobe suite.

Phantasm does this by adding the bitmap-editing tools that are missing from illustrator. With these, you can adjust curves, levels and hue and saturation without needing to go into Photoshop, and you can even access the automation tool which will save you a lot of legwork.

Vector halftones and duotones are made easy with this tool, and tricky color adjustments become simple to master. All of the effects are applied as live effects too, which ensures a smooth and non-destructive workflow.

Studio Denmark offers great customer support, and they have tons of other swatch palettes available to make your creations as fun and varied as possible. If you’re not sure you’ll get the most out of this wonder-tool, the 14-day free trial is certain to sway you into a purchase.

gold brushes

Price: $18
Free trial period: None

  • Compatible with CS3+
  • Packs in all the metallic effects you’ll ever need
  • Ultra-easy to use with great customer support

This plugin is a little niche, but it’s too fun not to mention. It has all of the shine and glitz that you could ever need for your work, and the price tag is a bargain for how much you get in the bundle.

There are an incredible 218 swatches in raster format, covering gold, rose gold, copper, black and silver. The available styles include crumpled foil, gold leaf, metallic paint and a whole load of glitter. There are 35 brushed elements available in both .PNG and .AI vector files, and you can also download smaller swatch files if your computer is a little slow and you don’t want to slow down your workflow.

Price: Free

  • Compatible with CS2+
  • Makes it easier to create realistic gradient meshes
  • Manipulate colors and vertexes

As one of only two free plugins on our list, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it can’t possibly offer much if the author isn’t charging for it. But you’d be wrong.

Gradient meshes in Illustrator tend to divide artists’ opinions: some think that they offer incredible flexibility and realism, but others claim that they simply attempt to mimic photographs so why not just use Photoshop. Whichever side of the argument you’re on, there’s no denying that Mesh Tormentor makes the process much quicker and easier.

There are 20 new buttons available which give you the power to convert knots into vertexes, shift, reflect and rotate colors, convert mesh into a set of paths and many other awesome things.

Price: $49
Free trial period: None

  • Compatible with CC
  • Turn your own lettering into fonts
  • Available as a bundle for Photoshop and Illustrator

This plugin is a designer’s dream come true: it allows you to create color and standard vector fonts from your own lettering. This will give your work a true uniqueness and a creative edge, plus it’s undeniably fun to design your own fonts.

It’s super simple to use this plugin, just drag and drop your lettering into the Fontself Maker panel and it does all the legwork for you. Once you have your font you can export it as a standard OpenType .otf font file and use it in your work whenever you want to.

At only $49 it’s a small investment if you’re a designer looking to make your work truly yours.

Price: $149
Free trial period: Available by request

  • Compatible with Windows and Mac
  • Makes it easy to print a PDF
  • Automates the entire process, saving you time

This might not be the most exciting plugin on our list, but if you ever print PDFs it’s a handy one to have in your toolbox.

Once installed onto your computer, Connect YOU will take all the hard work out of printing PDFs. It allows you to input your settings once, rather than every time you print, which will help prevent mistakes and will save you so much legwork. All you have to do is drag and drop your file then export and/or print. This plugin isn’t specifically for Illustrator, so you only have to pay for it and download it once then it’s available for use across the entire Adobe suite.

The price might seem high, but it’s truly impressive how much time this plugin will save you over time.

Price: Free

  • Compatible with CC 2015 or later
  • Add and edit 3D objects directly in Illustrator
  • No need for external 3D software

Whether you’re an experienced 3D artist or not, you’ll be able to edit scenes easily for eye-catching work that jumps off the page. If you don’t have external 3D software you can download free or paid-for scenes from stock libraries such as Turbosquid, and that’s all you’ll need to get started.

With this brilliant free plugin you can rotate, position, show and hide individual 3D objects, and adjust your materials to change the color, reflection, luminance and transparency. You’ll have great control over cameras, and you can easily switch between pre-sets or navigate from your preferred viewing angle. Lighting is easy to use too, and you can enable or disable the color to alter the mood of your scene.

Even if you have a passing interest in 3D, it’s worth downloading this plugin to see what it’s capable of.

Wrapping it up

Adobe Illustrator is a powerhouse program, and by adding some or even all of these plugins it becomes better, faster and more flexible. By choosing the right ones for you, you’ll save time and improve your work, whatever the project.

Which is your favorite Illustrator plugin? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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