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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Illustrator

How to Create a Joy Division Inspired Album Cover in Illustrator

Read Time: 8 mins
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

The English band Joy Division released their debut studio album Unknown Pleasures in 1979. Its cover artwork has become one of the most iconic of the rock era. Its 80 squiggly lines represent a signal produced by "B1919+21", the first pulsar ever discovered.

You don’t need a radio telescope to create a similar image, however. Adobe Illustrator is perfect for creating the enigmatic lines of the Unknown Pleasures album cover artwork.

Once we're done with the Joy Division Unknown Pleasures album cover, we'll use an album cover mockup from Placeit to see a final result like this below. Let’s get started!

Joy Division album cover mockupJoy Division album cover mockupJoy Division album cover mockup
Use a mockup from Placeit to display the cool Joy Division album cover artwork.

What You'll Learn in This Joy Division Album Cover Tutorial

  • How to use the Transform effect to create multiple copies of an object
  • How to use the Roughen effect   
  • How to work with live effects   
  • How to use the Pucker Tool and adjust its settings

1. How to Make the Joy Division Pulsar Cover Lines

Step 1

Let's start the Joy Division album cover tutorial with a new document. It should be US Letter or A4 size, with Portrait (vertical) orientation. You may use CMYK or RGB.

Step 2

Take the Line Segment tool (\) and draw a horizontal line almost the entire width of your document. Hold down the Shift key to make it perfectly horizontal. It should have a 2-point stroke of black and a fill of none. (The strokes in the original artwork are white, but leave it black for now so you can see it while you’re working.)

The Line Segment Tool in Adobe IllustratorThe Line Segment Tool in Adobe IllustratorThe Line Segment Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3

Place the line near the bottom of the Artboard. To quickly create the other lines, we’ll use the Transform effect. Keep the line selected and go to Effect> Distort & Transform> Transform.

Enter -10 px in the Vertical Move field and 79 in the Copies field.

Be sure to start with your line at the bottom of the page and enter a negative value in the Vertical Move field. This way, the objects will be in the correct stacking order once they’re expanded.
The Transform dialog box in Adobe IllustratorThe Transform dialog box in Adobe IllustratorThe Transform dialog box in Adobe Illustrator

Step 4

With the transformed line still selected, go to Object> Expand Appearance. This will give you 80 lines. Next, ungroup the lines by choosing Ungroup under the Object menu. You can also right-click the group and choose Ungroup from the contextual menu, or you can use the keyboard shortcut Command-Option-G.

Step 5

With all of the lines selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. In the Size field, enter 0.5%. In the Detail field, enter 12. Tick the Relative radial button below the Size field. Choose Smooth under Points. Check the Preview box to see the effect. You can experiment with these values, but we’re going for a slightly squiggly line.

The advantage of applying the Roughen Effect to all of the lines at once is that each line will look slightly different. If the Roughen Effect were applied to the original path before it was duplicated, each subsequent path would be identical.

The Roughen effect in Adobe IllustratorThe Roughen effect in Adobe IllustratorThe Roughen effect in Adobe Illustrator

Roughen is a “live” effect, so if you want to change it at any time, open the Appearance panel and click on its name in the panel. This will bring up the dialog box again, and you can change the values.

Clicking the Appearance panel to edit the Roughen effect in Adobe IllustratorClicking the Appearance panel to edit the Roughen effect in Adobe IllustratorClicking the Appearance panel to edit the Roughen effect in Adobe Illustrator

2. How to Create the Joy Division Mountain Peaks 

Step 1

We've got the lines done, so now let's make the Joy Division mountain peaks. First, select all of your squiggly lines. Change the Stroke color to white and the Fill to black in the Color panel. 

The Color panel in Adobe IllustratorThe Color panel in Adobe IllustratorThe Color panel in Adobe Illustrator

Step 2

Create a new layer and drag it below the original layer. On the new layer, draw a rectangle the size of your artboard and give it a fill of black. Lock this layer. Your Joy Division pulsar cover artwork should look something like this:

Layers Panel in Adobe IllustratorLayers Panel in Adobe IllustratorLayers Panel in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3

To create the Joy Division mountain peaks, you will use the Pucker Tool. The Pucker Tool is located underneath the Width Tool in your Toolbar (click and hold the Width Tool to reveal the tools underneath).

The Pucker Tool in Adobe IllustratorThe Pucker Tool in Adobe IllustratorThe Pucker Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Once the Pucker Tool is active, double-click its icon in the Toolbar to bring up its options. 

Enter the following values under the Global Brush Dimensions:

  • Width: 120 px
  • Height: 80 px
  • Angle: 0°
  • Intensity: 80%
  • Under Pucker Options, check Detail and enter 2.
  • Check Simplify and enter 50.
  • Check Show Brush Size.
Pucker Tool OptionsPucker Tool OptionsPucker Tool Options

Step 4

With the Pucker Tool still active, hold down the Command/Control key and click on the top path to select it. Release the Command/Control key. Now drag upward with the Pucker Tool through your selected path to create a peak.

Dragging with the Pucker Tool in Adobe IllustratorDragging with the Pucker Tool in Adobe IllustratorDragging with the Pucker Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Depending on the size and shape of the Pucker Tool, the peaks may be pointy or rounded. To change the tool’s properties as you use it, hold down the Option/Alt key and drag. You can make the ellipse bigger or smaller, and change its width and height.

Step 5

Now you will create the rest of the peaks, one by one. This will take some time, but once you get into a rhythm with the Pucker Tool, it will go smoothly. So fire up your favorite podcast and practice your keyboard finger dance: Command-click to select the path, drag to create a peak, Option/Alt and drag to change the size of the Pucker Tool, drag to create another peak. Now do this for the rest of the 80 lines.

In this GIF, you can see how I select each path, drag to create a peak, and then change the tool shape on the fly and drag another peak. You can also see how the shape of the Pucker Tool affects the shape of the peak:

Pucker Tool interactive resizingPucker Tool interactive resizingPucker Tool interactive resizing

Unfortunately, there is no faster way to do this. You can try selecting a few paths at once, making your Pucker Tool larger, and dragging out peaks on the selected paths. You can then manually adjust each path afterward. Either way, it will be fairly time-consuming.

Dragging multiple lines at once with the Pucker ToolDragging multiple lines at once with the Pucker ToolDragging multiple lines at once with the Pucker Tool

When all the peaks have been created, your Joy Division style artwork should look something like this:

Almost finished Joy Division style artworkAlmost finished Joy Division style artworkAlmost finished Joy Division style artwork

The Roughen effect is still live. That is, the squiggly lines are an Appearance attribute — the underlying paths are still straight.

Outline view of almost-finished artworkOutline view of almost-finished artworkOutline view of almost-finished artwork

3. How to Add Some Finishing Touches to the Joy Division Pulsar Cover

Step 1

Now that you’ve created all of the peaks in the Joy Division style artwork, you can make adjustments to the individual paths. When you zoom in on the paths, you may find some places where the Roughen effect has caused “kinks” in the lines’ appearance. You can adjust these paths with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C). You may also use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) to remove some points and simplify the paths. 

You will notice how the appearance changes as you modify the points and paths. On the left, the corner is quite sharp, but when the Anchor Point Tool is used to modify the point's handles, it becomes smooth.

Adjusting the points on the pathsAdjusting the points on the pathsAdjusting the points on the paths

Step 2

The original Unknown Pleasures album cover had no text on the front. It was simply the pulsar image centered on black. To create a facsimile of the Joy Division Unknown Pleasures vector cover, use the Rectangle Tool to create a 12” x 12” square. Give the square a fill of black and a stroke of none.

Select all of your lines and group them for easier handling. Drag the group on top of the black square and resize it so it is centered on the square. You may have to adjust the point size of the strokes, which can be done using the Stroke field on the Control Bar.

The Stroke field in the Control Bar in Adobe IllustratorThe Stroke field in the Control Bar in Adobe IllustratorThe Stroke field in the Control Bar in Adobe Illustrator

Your Joy Division Unknown Pleasures Vector Cover Design Is Done!

And here's the finished Joy Division Unknown Pleasures album cover artwork. Keep practicing and playing with Adobe Illustrator to create as many cool variations of this iconic Joy Division album cover as you wish! And don't forget to use an album cover mockup from Placeit to display it!

Joy Division Unknown Pleasures album coverJoy Division Unknown Pleasures album coverJoy Division Unknown Pleasures album cover
Here's our Joy Division Unknown Pleasures album cover design on a mockup.

Discover More Cool Album Cover Tutorials and Mockups

I hope you liked this tutorial on how to make an Unknown Pleasures album cover artwork on Adobe Illustrator. If you're a fan of album covers and want more tutorials about that, here's a great selection from Envato Tuts+:

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