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Create a Propeller Pinwheel Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following steps you will learn how to create a colorful propeller pinwheel illustration in Adobe Illustrator.

For starters you will learn how to setup a simple grid and how to create the first propeller using basic tools and effects. Moving on you will learn how to add color and shading for these shapes using basic blending and vector shape building techniques along with the Appearance panel. Using a simple Transform effects and a bunch of new colors you will learn how to multiply and recolor the new propellers. 

Finally, you will learn how to create a colorful and subtly textured bacgkround.

1. Create a New Document and Set Up a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, enter 600 in the width box and 750 in the height box then click on the Advanced button. Select RGB, Screen (72ppi) and make sure that the Align New Objects to Pixel Grid box is unchecked before you click OK.

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). For starters you will need a grid every 5px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, enter 5 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. Try not to get discouraged by all that grid, it will ease your work and keep in mind that you can easily enable or disable it using the Control-" keyboard shortcut.

You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Do not forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units > General. All these options will significantly increase your work speed.

2. Create the Two Main Shapes

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and focus on your Toolbar. Remove the color from the stroke then select the fill and set its color at R=255 G=167 B=0. Move to your artboard and simply create a 135 x 55px rectangle, the Snap to Grid should ease your work. Focus on the top side of this orange rectangle and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the right anchor point and simply drag it 55px to the left.

Make sure that your moved anchor point stays selected, move to the control panel and simply enter 24px in that Corners box. This feature is only available for CC users. The best solution to replace this effect would be the Round Any Corner that can found in this article: 20 Free and Useful Adobe Illustrator Scripts. Save it to your hard drive, return to Illustrator and grab the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select that anchor point and go to File > Scripts > Other Script. Open the Round Any Corner Script, enter a 24px radius and click OK. The end result might look a bit different.

Step 2

Keep focusing on the top side of your orange shape and make sure that the Direct Selection Tool (A) is still active. Select the left anchor point, return to the control panel and set the Corner Radius at 30px. Using the Selection Tool (V), select your entire shape and go to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 3

Make sure that your orange shape is still selected and go to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Focus on the bottom side of the resulting shape and switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the right anchor point, move to the control panel and set the Corner Radius at 3px. In the end your orange shape should look like in the third image.

Step 4

Set the fill color at R=255 G=194 B=53, pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 70 x 55px shape and place it as shown in the first image. Make sure that this yellow rectangle stays selected, switch to the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and simply click on the bottom, right anchor point to remove it. This should turn your yellow rectangle into a triangle as shown in the second image.

Step 5

Make sure that your yellow triangle is selected and go to Effect > Warp > Arch. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower. Enter the attributes shown below, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 6

Focus on the top side of your yellow shape and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the left anchor point, focus on the control panel and set the Corner Radius at 10px.

Step 7

Disable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid), enable the Smart Guides (Control-U) and focus on the top, right anchor point of your yellow shape. Using the Pen Tool (P), create a simple path roughly as shown in the first image. Reselect your orange shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with the shape made in the beginning of the step, open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click the Intersect button. Once you're done, disable the Smart Guides (Control-U).

Step 8

Select your yellow shape and simply hit Shift-Control- ] to bring it to front. Reselect this shape along with the tiny path made in the previous step and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel.

Step 9

Make sure that your yellow shape is selected and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with your orange shape and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel.

3. Add Color and Subtle Highlights

Step 1

Go to Edit > Preferences > General and make sure that the Keyboard Increment is set at 1px. Reselect your orange shape and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1px down and 1px to the right using the arrow buttons from your keyboard. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Select the resulting shape and focus on the Appearance panel. Set the fill color at black (R=0 G=0 B=0) then simply click on that "Opacity" piece of text to open the Transparency fly-out panel. Lower the Opacity to 25% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Step 2

Reselect your orange shape and make another two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 3px down and 5px to the right. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Step 3

Reselect your orange shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy and go to Object > Transform > Rotate. Set the Angle at 5 degrees and click the Copy button. Make sure that the newly created shape is selected and move it 5px down and 5px to the right. Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 5% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Step 4

Reselect your orange shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1px Offset and click OK. Make sure that the newly created shape is selected and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy and move it 1px up. Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with the linear gradient shown in the following image and lower its Opacity to 70%. Keep in mind that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage which simply means that you need to select that gradient slider, focus on the Opacity box (from the Gradient panel) and set it at 0%.

Step 5

Reselect your orange shape, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using the Add New Fill button. Select this new fill and simply add the linear gradient shown in the first image. Don't forget that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage while the blue "50" stands for Location percentage.

Make sure that your orange shape is still selected and add a third fill using that same Add New Fill button. Select the new fill, lower its Opacity to 30% and add the linear gradient shown in the second image.

Step 6

Move to the yellow shape, select it and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1px up and 1px to the left. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting shape is selected, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light and add the linear gradient shown in the following image.

Step 7

Move to the yellow shape, select it and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 2px to the right. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting shape is selected, lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and add the linear gradient shown in the following image.

Step 8

Make sure that your yellow shape is still selected and replace the existing fill color with the linear gradient shown in the following image. Once you're done, select all the shapes made so far and simply hit Control-G to Group them.

4. Multiply and Recolor Your Propeller

Step 1

Select your group and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the following image (don't forget to check the bottom, left reference point), click OK then go to Object > Expand Appearance. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and simply hit Shift-Control-G to Ungroup it. Focus on the Layers panel and you will find four separate groups, one for each propeller.

Step 2

Focus on the group of shapes that make up the bottom, right propeller and simply replace the colors used for the main shapes with the ones shown in the following image.

Step 3

Focus on the group of shapes that make up the bottom, left propeller and simply replace the colors used for the main shapes with the ones shown in the following image.

Step 4

Focus on the group of shapes that make up the top, left propeller and simply replace the colors used for the main shapes with the ones shown in the following image.

Step 5

Select the group of shapes that make up the remaining yellow propeller, make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F) and bring it to front (Shift-Control-[ ). Select the group of shapes that make up your blue propeller, make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F), select it and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with a flat white (R=255 G=255 B=255) and bring it to front (Shift-Control-] ).

Step 6

Reselect your white shape along with the copy of that yellow propeller, open the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency) and simply click the Make Mask button.

Step 7

Reselect all the shapes made so far and go to Object > Transform > Rotate. Enter a -45 degrees Angle then click OK.

5. Create the Stick

Step 1

Enable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Pick a simple brown for the fill color, grab the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 10 x 200px shape and place it as shown in the following image. Make sure that this new rectangle stays selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 2px Radius, click OK and go to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 2

Make sure that your brown shape is still selected, replace the existing fill color with the linear gradient shown in the following image then simply hit Shift-Control-[ to send it to back.

Step 3

Make sure that the shape that your stick shape stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using that same Add New Fill button. Select the new fill, lower its Opacity to 70%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, add the linear gradient shown in the following image then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1px Offset and click OK.

Step 4

Make sure that the shape that your stick shape stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a third fill. Make it black, lower its Opacity to 6%, change the Blending Mode to Multiply and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1px Offset, click OK and go to Effect > Artistic > Film Grain. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK.

6. Create the Pin

Step 1

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 10px circle, place it as shown in the following image and fill it with the radial gradient shown below.

Step 2

Disable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Make sure that your 10px circle is still selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1px up using the up arrow button from your keyboard. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black and lower its Opacity to 20%.

Enable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid) then go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 1 in the Gridline every box. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 4 x 2px shape and place it as shown in the third image. Fill this tiny shape with white, lower its Opacity to 70% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Step 3

Disable the Grid (View > Hide Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Reselect your 10px circle along with the two, little shapes used to highlight it and Group them (Control-G).

Make sure that this new group stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and simply add a new stroke using the Add New Stroke button. Make it 1px wide and set the color at R=35 G=31 B=32 then lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Multiply. Keep focusing on this stroke, make sure that it's still selected, go to Effect > Pathfinder > Add then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 0.5px Offset and click OK.

Now, select the entire group (simply click on that "Group" piece of text from the top of the Appearance panel) and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the left window (in the following image), click OK then add the other two Drop Shadow effects shown in the following image.

Step 4

Reselect all the shapes made so far and simply Group them (Control-G).

7. Create the Background and Add Some Subtle Shading

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and simply click on your artboard to open the Rectangle window. Enter 610 in the Width box and 760 in the Height box then click the OK button. Make sure that the resulting shape stays selected, send it to back (Shift-Control-[ ) and set the fill color at R=254 G=211 B=170.

Next, you will need to center it, so open the Align panel (Window > Align). Set the aligning to Artboard (open the fly out menu and go to Show Options if you can't see the Align To section as shown in the following image), make sure that your shape is selected then simply click the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons. In the end your rectangle should cover the entire artboard as shown in the following image.

Step 2

Make sure that your background shape is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using that same Add New Fill button. Select the new fill and simply add the radial gradient shown in the following image.

Step 3

Make sure that your background shape stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a third fill. You will need a built-in pattern for this new fill, so go to the Swatches panel, open the fly-out menu and go to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Decorative > Decorative Legacy. A new window with a set of built-in patterns should open. Make sure that the fill added in this step is still selected, add the "Weave Color" pattern, lower its Opacity to 20%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and go to Effect > Artistic > Film Grain. Enter the properties shown below and click OK.

Step 4

Reselect the group of shapes that make up your propeller pinwheel and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the top, left window (in the following image), click OK then add the other five Drop Shadow effects shown below.

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

Feel free to try a different set of colors for your propellers.

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