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Create Gender and Orientation Symbols With Basic Shapes in Illustrator


As an illustrator you may find you have to create many graphics for articles, graphic interfaces, or info graphics where data regarding gender or sexual orientation is used. Often they're well-known designs, symbols, or ideas that you can render with basic shapes, gradients, and a liberal use of masking objects. Join me as we create three common sets of such designs.

This tutorial has been created to coincide with Blog Action Day 2013 (theme: Human Rights) and Spirit Day.

1. Create a Basic Woman Symbol

The Venus symbol (♀) is a depiction of a circle with a small cross below it. The symbol is historically associated with the Roman goddess Venus or the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

- Source: Wikipedia

Step 1

I'll be using pink for the woman symbols and blue for the man, as these colors are traditionally and commercially associated with the genders. This is so even without knowing the specific symbols, you can glance at the symbols and associate them to the relevant gender or orientation.

Starting with the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a circle. Then draw a smaller circle inside of it. Align them vertically and horizontally to the center. Select both circles and hit Exclude in the Pathfinder panel.


Step 2

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a long, thin rectangle. Draw another one, shorter, of the same thickness, that crosses the first rectangle at the bottom. Align them vertically to the center and Group together your symbol shapes.


2. Create a Basic Man Symbol

The Mars symbol (♂) is a depiction of a circle with an arrow emerging from it, pointing at an angle to the upper right. In old manuscripts, it is usually interpreted as the shield and spear from the war god Mars/Ares.

- Source: Wikipedia

Step 1

For the man symbol, draw a circle with the Ellipse Tool and another, smaller circle, aligned inside of it. Exclude the shapes in Pathfinder, and draw a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool, going down vertically in the center of the newly made ring shape. Draw a smaller rectangle for the arrow. Copy and Paste, and rotate it on its side. You want the rectangles to meet at a 90 degree angle. Group together, rotate so the angle's corner is pointing downward, and place it on the long blue rectangle as shown below.


Step 2

Rotate the male symbol so the arrow is pointing to the upper right corner of your screen (or thereabouts). At this point you can Unite each symbol's shapes in Pathfinder.


3. Create 3D Gender Symbols

Step 1

Select the woman symbol and go to Effect > 3D > Bevel & Extrude. The dialogue box shown below should pop up. Hit Preview in the options panel and play with the angles of rotation as you like.


Step 2

Repeat the process above for the man symbol. For this symbol's angle I decided on something more dramatic, since it is pointing upwards rather than down.


4. Render the Woman Symbol With Gradients

Step 1

Select the woman symbol and Expand Appearance in Options above. With the Gradient Tool (G), apply a gradient fill to the front part of the symbol. The goal is to create a shiny appearance.


Step 2

Copy and Paste the front piece and apply a 1pt Stroke Weight in addition to the fill. Align with the original shape and set it behind the front piece in the Layers panel.


Step 3

Expand the outline shape and apply a gradient to the fill color. This time, it's only two colors versus the previous gradient. Adjust the angle so it's similar to the other gradient fill.


Step 4

Zoom in on your woman symbol and adjust the extruded shapes so they're more in line with the stroked line. Do so by using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and moving the anchor points of the darker shapes as seen below.


Step 5

Select all of the 3D elements and apply a gradient heavy on darker pinks and magentas. Adjust the angle of each shape's gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) or in the Gradient panel.


Step 6

Draw an Ellipse with a gradient fill going from dark magenta at 100% Opacity to the same magenta at 0%. Adjust the angle so the shadow starts at the upper right. Select both the ellipse and the front shape. Using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) select the portions of the gradient shape that do not intersect with the front of the female symbol. Deselect and delete the non-intersecting shapes.


Step 7

Repeat the steps above, but with a gradient-filled ellipse going from light pink to transparent. Adjust the angle of the gradient so it's going from left to right.


Step 8

Draw two circles inside one another, similar to the first step of making the woman symbol. Select both and hit Exclude in the Pathfinder panel so you're left with a thin ring shape. Copy and Paste, as you'll need two of them. One should be a light pink to transparent gradient and the other can either be a dark magenta fill color or gradient. Layer them on top of the woman symbol and set the darker one's Blending Mode to Overlay in the Transparency panel.


Step 9

Draw four thin rectangles using the same colors (and Blending Modes) on the cross of the female symbol. Layer them so the darker shapes are below the lighter. Group together the shapes in the sign, and set aside. It's time to work on the man symbol.


5. Render the Man Symbol With Gradients

Step 1

Apply gradients to the extruded shapes and the front of the man symbol. Darker colors are concentrated at the corners and lighter colors in the center of each gradient. Copy and Paste the front shape and apply a dark blue fill and 1pt Stroke Weight. Align it with the male symbol and behind the front shape in the Layers panel.


Step 2

Just like the woman symbol, expand the stroked object and apply another gradient. Render the symbol in a similar manner to the female one, adding gradient ellipses (deleted with the Shape Builder Tool) and rectangles. Since the circles are the same on each symbol, I Copied, Pasted, changed the gradient colors for the man symbol.


Step 3

Once again, add transparent gradient ellipses to create shiny shadows and highlight shapes.


Step 4

For the arrow, I drew six transparent gradient rectangles that overlap, much like those on the woman symbol.


Step 5

When you're satisfied with the man symbol, Group it together and get ready to interlace the signs.


6. Create Intertwining Woman Symbols

Step 1

Starting with two woman symbols, Copy and Paste two of them, one rotates and slightly overlapping. Group them together for now.


Step 2

Copy and Paste both shapes together. These will allow you to get the perfect overlapping shape between the two symbols. Align the new group with the old group.


Step 3

Ungroup the new grouped symbols (it may help to hide the original group in the Layers panel), Unite each in Pathfinder. I chose a dark fill color for clarity here.


Step 4

In Pathfinder, with both united symbols selected, hit Intersect. Ungroup the two shapes you've just created. You can choose either the top or the bottom one, as it will determine how your symbols overlap. I've chosen the bottom and have deleted the top shape.


Step 5

Ungroup the two woman symbols, place the left one behind the right, and Copy, Paste, and Align the left symbol. Make sure the black shape is on top of the new left symbol in the Layers panel. Select both and hit Control-7 to create a Clipping Mask with the grouped symbol to the black shape. Group together your shapes to keep things tidy.


Step 6

I want to soften up the shadow shapes on the right symbol. To do so I've drawn a gradient Ellipse over the right side of the right symbol. Select both the new ellipse and the basic female symbol shape. Using the Shape Builder Tool, select the portions of the ellipse that do not intersect with the woman symbol. Deselect and delete these non-intersecting shapes.


Step 7

Play with the transparency of your gradient shape so that it softens the shadow gradient, but doesn't obscure it completely.


Step 8

Add additional gradients over top to bring highlights to the right side of the piece.


7. Create Intertwining Man Symbols

Step 1

Follow the same steps from the woman symbols: Copy and Paste a pair, overlap, and Group together. Copy and Paste a second pair, Ungroup, and Unite each in Pathfinder so you have separate silhouette shapes.


Step 2

Once again, hit Intersect in Pathfinder, Ungroup the new shapes, and decide which you'd like to be your symbol's mask. I chose the bottom one again and deleted the top.


Step 3

Ungroup your man symbols, Copy and Paste the left one, align, and with the black shape over top the new man symbol (double check in your Layers panel that you've selected the right shapes and their order is correct too), hit Control-7 to mask your shape. Group together your intertwined signs and get ready to intertwine a man and woman sign next.


8. Create Intertwining Man and Woman Symbols

Step 1

Which side and how these symbols overlap is up to you. typically the woman symbol points downward and the man points upward. Once again, overlap and group, Copy and Paste a second group, and Unite each symbol in Pathfinder. Then Intersect the two new shapes in Pathfinder.


Step 2

Check out the tiny pink arrow. This is the one I've chosen this time around. Ungroup the intersected shapes and delete the bottom one. Copy and Paste the woman symbol, make sure it's aligned and the black shape overlaps it in the Layers panel. Hit Control-7 to create a mask. Group together your freshly intertwined signs.


Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

The best thing about making something like this from basic shapes is that you can construct almost anything from them. In this case, the combinations of gender and sexuality seem as endless as humanity itself, and a small amount of tweaking will allow you to create whatever symbol a client may need for their use and expression.

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