I opened an image from the internet in Illustrator.

Right after, when I selected the paintbrush tool, it turned into a circle with a line through it, implying that I couldn't draw.

Does anyone know what happened and how I can fix this?


As others have said, Illustrator is not the right tool for editing "images from the internet" (which are normally raster).

However, I myself often use raster scans, typically JPG, as drafts for my vector illustrations. So I need to place vector on top of my raster image. And, like you said, when you open a raster image in Illustrator, the Brush tool is deactivated. I use the Pen tool 99% of the time and it works fine, so I haven't noticed this issue until recently, when I went searching for solutions and found this post. I found some solution elsewhere so I'll share it.

Screenshot of a JPG opened in Illustrator

Don't mind the artboard borders :)

The solution I found on TopBrushes went like this:

Go to the menu and select Window –> Brushes to open the little “Brushes” window. If it’s empty, you haven’t chosen a calligraphic style for your brush. Click on the arrow in the corner of the “Brushes” box, and select “Open brush library.” Pick a style, which will show up as a tab in the box, and your brush will work.

Here's my result:

Screenshot of brush strokes on a new sub-layer

Notice that, in the Layers panel, when you drop down the image layer, you'll see that your Brush-drawn object is now a separate sub-layer. This is very handy for those who work/trace on top of placed raster art: you lock the sub-layer with the raster (I prefer to move it to a separate bottom layer altogether), and you work with your vector brushes and pens and whatever in other layers. You can also turn your raster layer invisible easily to check how your vector is progressing.

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    imo the best answer! Instead of telling OP what he shouldn't do, show him how he can achieve what he asked for. Thank you!
    – Summer
    Sep 13 '16 at 8:34

Illustrator is not a photo editing application. It is not designed to "paint" raster images. You are simply using the wrong tool. You need to use Photoshop, Gimp, or some other raster image editor.

You can draw things on top of the raster image in Illustrator. However, you can not alter the raster image itself with Illustrator.


It sounds like your goal is to use Illustrator's vector-based drawing to modify an image. In order to understand why it isn't letting you do this right off the bat, you should understand the philosophy behind Illustrator's intended use, which is that instead of modifying an image like you would a raster-based (pixel) graphic in Photoshop or GIMP, Illustrator is intended for actually creating brand new graphics and designs which can be rendered into images.

It sounds like, in Illustrator terms, what you really want to do is create an entirely new graphic, one which makes use of an image you downloaded from the Internet. In order to do this, you should create a new project using the 'Web' profile, then open import or copy and paste the image into the new project. After this is done, Illustrator will let you draw on top of the image, and when you're finished, you can save the project and export it or render it as a brand new graphic.

To sum it up, you don't use Illustrator to modify images, you use it to make entirely new ones, which requires a slightly different approach. Hope this clarifies things!

  • Not entirely true, because you can download vector images as well, and then modify them as you want with Illy. The OP never stated it's a bitmap image, but one can infer that from the problem.
    – Jongware
    Dec 25 '14 at 12:42

As you asked this question 11 months ago, you most likely would have solved this problem by now. If not, I thought I would answer your question. I haven't used Illustrator for a while, so I forgot how to do a few things, which is why I've been searching some blogs like this one for some answers as well.

As others have said, Photoshop is the best tool for specific photo editing tasks, however, sometimes you want to add things to an image that Illustrator is better designed to do. For example, for a brochure design that I have just completed, I had to create my own map from scratch (the client didn't want to use google maps), which needed to include arrows that were straight and curved in all directions, so Illustrator is best for that. I hand drew a map, then scanned it into my computer, but like you, when I opened it up in Illustrator, I couldn't use the brush tool.

Then thanks to David Neely's comment about creating a new document using the web profile, I got the inspiration to think "Why wouldn't the same work using the other profiles available"? So I tried them and they worked. So the thing to do is to go to "File-New", in the dialog box click on the "Profile" drop down menu and choose "Print" and just adjust the other settings to suit your project. Then once it is open, choose "File-Place", select your image and away you go - the brush tool and any other tool you need to use will work. To experiment, I placed my map image, then one of my own photos, then an image from the web and they all allowed me to use the brush tool. Apologies for the long explanation, but I hope this helps. Cheers.


I found a shortcut to this issue. Bring the image into illustrator then create a new document in illustrator. Copy and paste it into the new document. You will be able to use the pen and pencil tool.

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    Please explain better how that should solve the given problem ... Your answer is not very clear, I think ...
    – Mensch
    Jun 30 '16 at 21:20

Instead of opening a new image (ctrl + O) in the archive tab, just INSERT it.

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    I'm not sure that is a real answer, it would be better a comment. And why "Dude"? Nevertheless, welcome to GD.SE!
    – Mensch
    Apr 4 '16 at 20:54
  • @Kurt Feel free to edit out comments like that if you come across them :) Apr 5 '16 at 3:20

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