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Create a Series of Colorful Vector Starfish in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called Summer in Session!.
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Follow this quick tip and learn how to draw a beautiful vector starfish. I will guide you step by step to create the starfish shape then using Art Brushes available in Adobe Illustrator you will add details on the body of the starfish. For the spines you will take advantage of the Blend Tool and the Replace Spine option which work great together in this case. For the tube feet you will use a custom Scatter Brush in order to add more details on the starfish. Once the starfish is complete with the help of the Adjust Color Balance option you will be able to create many other color versions. Let's begin!

1. Start a New Project

Launch Illustrator and go to File > New to open a new blank document. Type a name then set up the dimensions, select Pixels as Units and RGB as Color Mode. Next, go to Edit > Preferences > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1px. These settings will help you throughout the drawing process.


2. Create the Body of the Starfish

Step 1

Grab the Star Tool and draw a star having the dimensions shown. Select any fill color for the moment. Rotate this shape 20 degrees using the Transform panel.


Step 2

Now, take the Pen Tool (P) and using as reference the three corner points indicated draw the first arm-shape. Continue to draw the other four arms of the starfish.


Step 3

Select using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select only the five points indicated and press the Covert selected anchor points to smooth option in the Control panel.


Step 4

First, download the Extend Handles script and follow the instructions to install it. Now, select again the five points and go to File > Scripts > Extend Handles. Run this script and select a value of 70. As a result you will get smaller handles. This way you don't have to adjust all the handles manually, everything stays symmetrical and is faster.

This script modifies all handles of selected anchor points with specified rate and without changing their angle. As an example, for the value of 100 you have the original size, above 100 you extend the handles, under 100 you get shorter handles and for the value of 0 you remove the handles.

Step 5

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the tip of the upper arm and go to Object > Transform > Move. In the Horizontal field type -45px and hit OK. Use the Move option for the other four tips but use the settings shown for each one. For example, move the tip of the right arm -5px Horizontally and 10px Vertically.


Step 6

Next, select the five arms of the starfish and go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points to add some extra points. Focus on the upper arm and move the two points added as shown below and adjust the angle of the handles if needed. Do the same thing for the other arms.


Step 7

The arms are ready but we need the whole shape of the starfish. Use the inner corner points as reference and draw a shape like below with the Pen Tool (P). It should cover the empty space in the middle. Now, select the five arms and this shape and press Add in the Pathfinder panel. Fill the body of the starfish with the radial gradient shown.


3. Create the Main Grooves on the Arms

Step 1

First, put a small circle in the middle as the mouth of the starfish. Select any fill color for the moment. Next, grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw five paths from the center up to the tips of the arms. Stroke these paths with an art brush called "Tapered – Round" that you can find in Brush Libraries Menu > Artistic > Artistic_Ink. The Stroke Weight is 1pt. If necessary check the Flip Along option by double-clicking in the Appearance panel on the brush applied so that the tip of the art brush is facing outwards.


Step 2

Having the five paths stroked at the previous step selected, from the Object menu choose Expand Appearance and Ungroup (Shift + Control + G) twice. As a result the strokes will turn into fills and you will obtain the main grooves. Fill them with the linear gradient shown but adjust the angle for each one according to their position. The lighter color should be at the tips of main grooves.


4. Add Details on the Arms

Step 1

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a path on each side of the main grooves. Use white and black as the stroke color as in the image. Stroke these paths with an art brush called "Tapered Stroke" that you can find in Brush Libraries Menu > Artistic > Artistic_Ink. Set the Stroke weight to 0.35pt.


Step 2

Group (Control + G) these ten paths and set to Blending Mode Overlay and 40% Opacity.


5. Create the Marginal Spines

Step 1

Arrange five small ellipses in the inner corners and five tiny circles at the tip of each arm.


Step 2

Fill the blue ellipses and the black circles from the previous step with the radial gradients shown. Copy and Paste in Front (Control + F) all ellipses and circles.


Step 3

Now, select one of the inner ellipses and one of the circles from the tip and go to Object > Blend > Blending Options. Choose 30 Specified Steps and hit OK then go back to Object > Blend > Make (1). Next, select the second circle from the tip (you made copies) and the next inner ellipse and blend again using the same settings (2). Continue to do this until you reach the starting point (3).


Step 4

Hide the blend groups created at the previous step for now. Copy and Paste in Front (Control+F) the body of the starfish and give it a simple stroke. Having this copy selected, take the Scissors Tool (C) and click on the indicated points to cut the path into segments. If you release the path, just reselect it and continue to cut. At the end you should have ten segments.


Step 5

Now you can unhide all the blend groups. Focus on the right arm and select the first blend group and also the path behind it then go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine.


Step 6

Let's continue. Select the second blend group of the right arm and also the corresponding path then go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine. Do the same thing for the rest of the blend groups until you reach the starting point.


6. Create the Inner Spines

Step 1

Following the same technique explained above you will create the inner spines. First, put a tiny circle at each tip of the main grooves and ten circles in the middle of the starfish at the base of the main grooves. Fill them with the radial gradients shown then duplicate all of them.


Step 2

Focus on the right main groove of the starfish. Select one of the circles at the base and one at the tip then go to Object > Blend > Blend Options. This time choose 40 Specified Steps, hit OK and go to Object > Blend > Make. Repeat the same thing using the other circles for each arm as you did before.


Step 3

Copy and Paste in Front (Control + F) the main grooves and give them a simple stroke (1). Cut each of these copies into two segments with the Scissors Tool (C) as you did earlier. Delete the smaller paths that you don't need (2). Now, focus on the main groove from the right. Select the first blend group and also the path behind it then go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine (3). Do the same thing for the rest of the blend groups and the corresponding paths until you reach the starting point (4).


7. Create the Tube Feet on the Main Grooves

Step 1

Draw a small black circle using the Ellipse Tool (L) then drag it into the Brushes panel and choose New Scatter Brush. Next, grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw a path through the middle of each main groove starting from the circle in the middle. Stroke these five paths with the scatter brush saved. The Stroke Weight is set to 1pt.


Double click in the Appearance panel on the brush stroke to open the Stroke Options window. There, change the settings as shown in the image and hit OK.


Step 2

Select the stroked path from the right and choose Expand Appearance from the Object menu. As a result you should get the group of circles and also the path that you have used. Delete this path before you continue.

Next download the Vary Hues script and follow the instructions to install it. Now, select the group of circles and go to File > Scripts > Vary Hues. Run the script and type a value of 50.


Step 3

Repeat the previous step for the other four paths stroked with the scatter brush. After you're done set all groups of circles to Blending Mode Overlay and 20% Opacity.


8. Creating the Mouth of the Starfish

Step 1

Select the circle in the middle of the starfish and replace the gray fill with the color indicated. Having the existing Fill attribute selected in the Appearance panel, click on the Duplicate Selected Item icon at the bottom. As a result you will have a second fill. Replace the fill color with the radial gradient shown them go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform.


In the Transform Effect window apply these settings and hit OK.


Step 2

Add another fill at the bottom as you did earlier. Use a radial gradient from black to white then apply again the Transform effect. This time use the settings shown below. Set this Fill attribute to Blending Mode Multiply and 75% Opacity.


9. Add Shadows

Step 1

Copy and Paste in Back (Control + B) the body of the starfish then go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Use the settings shown and hit OK.


Step 2

Still having the copy of the body selected, apply again the Drop Shadow effect and this time use the settings shown below.


10. Try Other Colors via Adjust Color Balance

Step 1

I'm starting to love the Adjust Color Balance option because you can easily create different color versions. First make a copy of the pink starfish. Group all shapes that make up the starfish except the copy of the body used to add the shadows. With the starfish group selected, go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance. In the window that opens, select the RGB Color Mode and set the Red, Green and Blue values as shown. If you are happy with the result leave it as it is or you can replace the last stop of the body's gradient fill with the color indicated.


Step 2

Make another copy of the pink starfish and go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance. This time move only the Blue slider up to -25% and hit OK. You will get a coral looking starfish.


Step 3

This is the purple version:


Step 4

After you create the blue version you will notice that you can't see the mouth of the starfish. To fix this, select the circle in the middle and replace the existing blue gradient (second Fill attribute) with the one indicated.


Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

You have successfully created five beautiful starfish. Don't stop here. You can create many other variations regarding colors and also the shape. I would love to see the starfish created by you.

The background was created using the techniques explained in my Beautiful Flip Flop Icon tutorial for the base of the icon. You can also check that out.

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