How to Create a Brightly Colored Beetle with Simple Shapes in Illustrator

Student iconAre you a student? Get a yearly Tuts+ subscription for $45 →

When you're fresh to Adobe Illustrator, the task of creating characters and designs within the program entirely can be quite daunting. Join me for fun with rounded rectangles, ellipses, and gradients in creating a neon-colored beetle perfect to kick off a whole set of insects used as icons, print designs, and more.

1. Basic Body Shape

Step 1

Let's begin with a brand new document. I have mine set at 6 inches by 7 inches and a 300 ppi resolution. Give your document a name and immediately save it so you don't somehow forget about this later either ending up with a folder filled with untitled documents or forgetting to safety save throughout the insect creating process only to have Illustrator crash, losing your progress in the meanwhile.


Step 2

Start with the Rounded Rectangle Tool. The body of the beetle I made begins with a rounded rectangle measuring 2.5 inches by 4.5 inches with a radius of 1.15 inches.


Step 3

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a rectangle over 1/3 of the rounded rectangle. The size shown below is what I used, but yours may differ. The goal here is to overlap that 1/3 of rounded rectangle and delete it in the next step.


Step 4

Select both the rectangle and the rounded rectangle and hit Minus Front in the Pathfinder panel. Doing so should leave you with approximately 2/3 of the original shape. Our beetle's abdomen has been created.


2. Thorax and Head

Step 1

Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool again, draw a shape measuring 2.60 inches by 2.27 inches with a 1 inch Corner Radius. Repeat Step 3-4 from the previous section in order to delete the lower third, or so, of the shape, so it has a straight edge matching the shape below it.


Step 2

Move the new shape, the beetle's thorax, upwards to create a gap between the two pieces with the Direct Selection Tool (A). How large of a gap is entirely up to you.


Step 3

Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the thorax piece and Scale it down approximately 50% to form the head.


Step 4

For the eyes, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw a vertical ellipse measuring 0.18 inches by 0.45 inches (approximately). Copy and Paste the initial ellipse and Rotate each inward to fit on either side of the head with the Free Transform Tool (E).


3. Faceting the Bug

Step 1

An optional detail to add to the body is a line bisecting the abdomen. I drew the one below with the Line Segment Tool (\), but later deleted it. To create the shape that will serve as a facet for the beetle's body, follow the following breakdown:

  1. Copy and Paste the abdomen.
  2. Reflect it over a horizontal axis (or rotate with the Direct Selection Tool).
  3. Align the new abdomen with the original one (I suggest aligning to the left and bottom).
  4. Select both abdomen pieces and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to select the two bottom corners of the overlapping shapes.
  5. Reselect and delete. You'll be left with the original abdomen piece and an overlapping rounded rectangle.

Step 2

Use the Ellipse Tool to draw a 2.51 inch by 1.77 inch ellipse that overlaps the thorax. Just like the previous step, use the Shape Builder Tool to delete the non-intersecting portion of the ellipse from the thorax shape.


4. Draw Legs and Antenna/Pincers

Step 1

The legs are formed with overlapping ellipses. Start with the top two by drawing an ellipse with a 3.46 inch diameter. Copy and Paste this ellipse and overlap them about 1/3 of the way. Minus Front in Pathfinder so you're left with a crescent shape. Paste the original ellipse again and Scale it down so when placed in the center of the crescent shape you have legs of the thickness you desire. Select both and Minus Front in Pathfinder.


Step 2

For the second pair of legs I've drawn a larger ellipse than the one from the previous step. Additionally, the first pair has been hidden in the Layers panel for easier viewing below. Repeat the process from the previous step for this pair of legs. Instead of covering the first ellipse 1/3 of the way with the second ellipse, cover up half of it. Doing so ensures your second pair of legs won't intersect with the first.


Step 3

The third pair of legs was fashioned in the same way as the first two, but in the opposite direction. Place all three beneath the body shapes in the Layers panel.


Step 4

For the pincers or antenna, depending on your beetle's anatomy, use small rounded rectangles instead of ellipses so it mimics the shape of the head.


Step 5

Group (Control-G) together your beetle shapes and scrunch up the bounding box using the Direct Selection Tool (if you so desire), so the bug is a bit shorter and squatter than before.


5. Adding Color

Step 1

Select each shape and set the fill colors indicated below (note that I added another shape to the head for a faceted look, similar to those added to the thorax and abdomen):

  • Legs/Antenna/Eyes: R=0 G=51 B=51
  • Head Highlight: R=204 G=255 B=51, Shadow: R=153 G=204 B=51
  • Green Body Highlight: R=0 G=255 B=102, Shadow: R=0 G=204 B=102
  • Blue Body Highlight: R=0 G=255 B=255, Shadow: R=0 G=204 B=204

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a large black rectangle, covering the artboard, behind the bug (move this shape below the bug components in the Layers panel and lock it in place).


Step 2

Now that we've sorted out the base colors, I've applied a linear gradient with the Gradient panel going from the base colors to black. The highlight shapes are at a 90º angle while the shadow shapes are at a -90º angle.


Step 3

For the gradient on the legs, once again, they're going from the base leg color to black, but the first two legs and antenna are at 90º and the last pair of legs are at -90º.


6. Additional Gradients

Step 1

To mix things up a bit, I changed the gradient on the thorax's highlight shape to the following greens:

  • R=0 G=204 B=102 (medium green) to R=0 G=255 B=102 (light green) to medium green again.

Set the angle of the gradient at 90 or -90 degrees (your call; it produces the same result).


Step 2

Time for some shiny, shiny highlights on this neon-colored jeweled bug. Use the Ellipse Tool to draw a series of ellipses over the thorax (in this case five). Use the Shape Builder Tool to delete each highlight shape from the main thorax object. Repeat on the head (with three ellipses). Set the gradient colors as follows:

  • Thorax Highlight: R=186 G=255 B=147 at 100% Opacity to R=0 G=255 B=102 at 0% Opacity
  • Head Highlight: R=204 G=255 B=154 at 100% Opacity to R=204 G=255 B=51 at 0% Opacity

Set all highlight shapes made in this step to Screen in the Transparency panel and reduce their individual Opacity to 40-70%.


Step 3

Copy the eye ellipse and Paste it four time, each time Scaling it down. Set the fill colors to the following (starting with the lightest):

  • R=39 G=214 B=197
  • R=27 G=178 B=167
  • R=16 G=137 B=131
  • R=7 G=99 B=96

Repeat on the other side.


Step 4

For the highlights on the abdomen, I Copied and Pasted the highlight shape drawn previously (Section 3, Step 1) and reduced it in size. Three highlight shapes are layered on top of each other with the following colors in each gradient:

  1. R=0 G=204 B=204 to R=0 G=255 B=255
  2. Repeat the one above. Set to Screen in the Transparency panel and lower the Opacity to 30-50%.
  3. R=97 G=255 B=255 (at 100% Opacity) to R=0 G=204 B=204 at 0% Opacity (this one is a Radial Gradient with the opaque color in the center).

Step 5

For the shiny shape in the middle of the thorax and abdomen do the following:

  1. Copy and Paste the base abdomen shape.
  2. Draw two overlapping circles with the Ellipse Tool.
  3. Unite the circles in Pathfinder.
  4. Minus Front the new compound shape and the new abdomen shape in Pathfinder.
  5. Apply a Radial Gradient going from R=172 G=255 B=255 at 100% Opacity the same color at 0% Opacity.

Step 6

Group together your bug shapes and let's work on some details for the legs.


6. Leg Details

Step 1

We're going to add some little lines to create hairs on each leg for our beetle. Use the Line Segment Tool to draw two lines on one half of the upper left leg. I have the color set to R=0 G=51 B=51 and the stroke width is 1pt weight (adjust this in the Stroke panel). Select both line segments and use the Blend Tool (W) to apply a blend of your choosing. In my case I'll choose 25 for the amount of steps between each line segment.


Step 2

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a curved line from the top edge of the leg to the last line segment from the blend. Select both the newly drawn line and the blend. Go to Object, at the top, and hit Blend > Replace Spline. Now the line segments conform to the curve of the pen line. You can select the blend and edit the options of it by double clicking the Blend Tool icon or going to Object > Blend > Blend Options...


Step 3

Adjust the placement of the blend's spline, curve of the line, and end pieces with the Direct Selection Tool. Once satisfied, go to Object > Expand to convert the blend into stroked lines. Repeat the Expand so the stroked paths become objects. Place this object group beneath the legs in the Layers panel. Copy, Paste, and Reflect over a Vertical Axis for the upper right leg. Repeat Steps 1-3 of this section for the other legs.


Step 4

In the event that your replaced spline results in an oddly shapes blend, check out the steps below, showing how to manipulate the blend's components to behave in whatever way you want.

  1. This shows the initial blend.
  2. Here I've replaced the spline of the blend. As such, the blended line segments are all over the place. Use the Direct Selection Tool to move the lower line segment in line with the edge of the leg.
  3. Grab the other anchor point of the line and manipulate it again.
  4. The line segments are beginning to behave. Play with the anchor points on the top of the blend. If you find there aren't handles to grab, use the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) so the anchor point becomes a curve.
  5. Adjust the top and bottom line segments and the curve of the spline to reflect the curve of the leg.

Group together your bug group with the new leg details. Lock this group in the Layers panel for now.


7. The Background

Step 1

Draw a large circle with the Ellipse Tool (this one is filled with R=0 G=204 B=172) that covers the bug almost completely. Use the Direct Selection Tool to pull down the lower anchor point of the circle a bit. Use the Convert Anchor Point Tool to bring it to a perfect point.


Step 2

Place the leaf shape underneath the bug in the Layers panel. Apply a Radial Gradient to it going from the green selected earlier to black (with the green in the center). Adjust the gradient in the Gradient panel so the black is closer to the outer edges.


Step 3

Use the Line Segment Tool to draw a vertical line in the center of the leaf (hide the bug in the Layers panel for now). Use the Pen Tool to draw consecutive "V"'s (four total) on the line. Make sure they're centered. Make sure the lines stretch beyond the leaf shape. Unite the new lines in Pathfinder and Expand under Object.


Step 4

Align the vein lines to the center of the leaf. Copy and Paste the leaf shape, Align with the original leaf, and with the vein lines and the new leaf shape selected hit Intersect in Pathfinder. Set the vein lines to Overlay in the Transparency panel and Group together with the leaf. Unhide your bug in the Layers panel and place the leaf beneath it.


Great Work, You're Now Done!

You've made it to the end! Feel free to create a whole set of insects, ready for display or within a garden environment (all shiny and glowing neon). Using the techniques above you could create a whole set of desktop icons with a bug theme. The possibilities are in your hands.