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Create Vector Tie-Dye Using Illustrator's Distort Effects

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Read Time: 4 mins

If you've ever tie-dyed, you know how fun it is to unwrap the fabric after the dye has set and marvel at the colorful, intricate designs. And if you're like me, your next thought is, "How could I do this in vector?", turns out all you need are some bright colors, a few distort effects, and a willingness to experiment. Let's get started and jump on the tie-dye design trend!

Step 1

Draw a circle, about 100-point radius, using the Ellipse tool (L). Fill it with a bright red color, and set the stroke to none. Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Enter the values shown in the image below, and choose Smooth points.

Step 2

With the circle still selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. Enter approximately the same values as before, so that the circle now looks like a paint splat.

Step 3

Drag the circle into the Graphic Styles panel to create a new Graphic Style.

Step 4

Keep the circle selected, and go to Object > Path Offset Path. Enter 50 points for the offset. Your new circle should have the same appearance (zig-zagged and roughened) as the original. If not, click the Graphic Style you just created to apply it. Change the offset circle's color to a bright orange.

Step 5

Repeat the offset process three more times, using the outermost circle to offset. You can vary the offset amount if you like. Recolor the new circles as in the image below.

Step 6

At this point, you can edit the effects on each circle by clicking the effects' names in the Appearance panel. Make any adjustments you wish (or not), then select all of the circles and go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 7

Choose the Warp Tool (Shift-R) and adjust its size by holding down the Alt key while dragging on the Artboard. Hold down the Shift key to constrain the width and height. Alternately, you can double-click the tool in the Tools panel to adjust its settings. Select the red blob, and drag out the spiky shapes with the Warp Tool. If the effect is too strong, or too weak, adjust the intensity in the Warp Tool Options (double-click the tool in the Tools panel).

Step 8

Keep warping the different colored-shapes. You can drag outwardly to create spikes, and inward to create valleys. You may wonder why I had you expand the appearance after applying the Roughen effect, then warp. To answer that question, do not expand the appearance, then use the Warp Tool. You get some pretty trippy shapes. But hey, it's tie-dye &mdash trippy is part of the aesthetic. If you like it, use it.

Step 9

Select the red shape and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat. Enter a slight Pucker, no more than -15. Do the same with the other colors, adjusting the effect as you go. Try to avoid symmetry &mdash just like real tie-dye, the effect should be random. Your illustration should now look something like the image below.

Step 10

If you look at a t-shirt that's been tie-dyed, you'll see that the colors blend and bleed into one another. You can mimic this effect with Blending modes. Create new circles and size them in between the other colors so they overlap. Apply your Graphic Style and other effects, then experiment with changing the color and blending modes. Here are two examples:

Step 11

With the blended and transparent objects in place, your illustration should look something like the image below.

Step 12

In real tie-dye, sometimes you'll see areas of white where the dye did not penetrate. To mimic this effect, create one last circle and apply your Graphic Style. Add a Pucker effect until the center mass is very small, as in the image below.

Step 13

Fill this object with a radial gradient that goes from black in the center to white at the edges. Place it on top of the red shape, and change the Blending Mode in the Transparency panel to Screen. Adjust the gradient, adding another white stop if necessary, so that the white appears to fade into the red.


Illustrator's distort effects lend themselves well to organic designs such as these. The randomness of the effects ensure that no two designs are ever alike. Experiment with different color schemes, or even add more effects and warps.

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