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Create Audio Waveforms with the Scribble Effect


Some people might think of Illustrator's Scribble effect as child's play. In fact, one of its presets is called "Childlike." But by tweaking its custom settings, the Scribble effect can be used to produce an infinite array of visual effects &mdash some with a single line. This is an easy tutorial that will get you started with the Scribble effect. What you do with it after that is limited only by your imagination. Let's get started!

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Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS4
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Estimated Completion Time: 1 hour

Step 1

Create a new document that is 800 px by 400 px. It can be RGB or CMYK &mdash your preference. For this tutorial, I'll be using RGB values to specify colors. Now draw a rectangle the size of the artboard and fill it with black (R=0, G=0, B=0). Lock the layer and create a new one above it.

Step 2

Choose the Line Segment Tool (\), click on the background and specify a 0&deg line, about 100px long. I'm using a bright green for the stroke (R=0, G=255, B=0).

Step 3

Select the line, and go to Effect > Stylize > Scribble. Enter the following numbers in the dialog box.

Step 4

Before proceeding, make a copy of the scribbled line, and set it aside. Always keep a copy of the line containing the live effect. Select the original scribbled line, and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 5

With the expanded scribble still selected, choose the Free Transform (E) tool. Click the upper right handle of the bounding box, then hold down the Command + Shift + Alt keys. Then drag the corner downward, so that the object transforms in perspective, narrowing on the right side. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it &mdash remember to click the corner before holding down the modifier keys.

Step 6

Drag the transformed scribble to scrunch it up a bit. This is the first beat of the waveform.

Step 7

Draw a new line as before, then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Enter the following values in the dialog.

Step 8

Go back to the Effects menu, and this time select Warp > Fish. A 50% Horizontal bend will give the line a diminishing effect.

Step 9

As before, make a copy of the zig-zagged and warped line. Expand the effects on the original (Object > Expand Appearance). Now take the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and click once on the left-most point of the line. Use the Direct Selection tool (A) to drag that point upward.

Step 10

Now slide this line over to meet the first scribbled line.

Step 11

Go back to the scribbled line copy you made in Step 4. Make another copy of it and set it aside. Click the Scribble effect in the Appearance panel to edit the effect. Be sure to check the Preview box, then just experiment with changing the values. You still want it to look like a spike in the waveform, but not identical to the first one.

Continue as before, expanding then free-transforming the scribble. Do the same with the zig-zag line copy, and line them up with the previous objects. Select all, then make sure the stroke weight is the same on each line. You should now have the basic waveform constructed.

Step 12

Now let's add some finishing touches. Click on the "Waveform" layer in the Layers panel, and drag it to the Duplicate icon to make a copy.

Now select everything on the original "Waveform" layer and go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter 20 to 30 pixels. You may wish to rename this layer "Blur."

Make one more layer, this time above the "Background" layer. Choose the Rectangular Grid Tool, and click on the top left corner of the background. Make the size the same as the artboard/background, then enter values for the horizontal and vertical dividers. Change the stroke weight to .25 points. And your done!

After completing this tutorial check out another tutorial on Vectortuts+ that covers using the Scribble Effect as well.


This technique has many applications. Experiment with the Scribble settings to create an ECG (electrocardiogram) effect, a multi-channel audio waveform, or just an electric abstract background.

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