1. Design & Illustration
  2. Illustration

How to Create a Starfish in Adobe Illustrator

Read Time:11 minsLanguages:

In this tutorial we will study several time-consuming yet important techniques. They are presented clearly and simply. You'll learn how to use blends, gradient meshes, patterns, and controlled lighting to create a textured starfish.

Step 1

To begin, create the shape of the starfish, and to do this, we will be using the Star Tool. I advise you to use the same sizes as mine, therefore you do not need to pick sizes for the effects applied in this tutorial.

Step 2

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), move the arms of the starfish a little bit in order to give it an irregular shape.

Convert the corner anchor points of the starfish arm tips into smooth ones.

Moving the handles of the anchor points of the starfish arm tips brings the starfish shape into the view shown in the figure below.

Step 3

Select all the anchor points at the arms formation place on the starfish and go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners... and set 10px for the radius of the rounding in the dialog box.

Keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance. Now move the handles of the anchor points of the arms foundation to bring the starfish into the perfect shape.

Step 4

Fill the shape of the starfish with a radial gradient that goes from yellow to orange.

Let's create a light-and-shade on the starfish. By setting the location of the center of the gradient, we set the location of the source of light.

Step 5

The shape of the starfish is rather awkward, so we will use the Gradient Mesh to accomplish this task. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a rectangle, keep the shape selected, then go to Object > Create Gradient Mesh ... and set the number of rows and columns in the dialog box.

Keep the object selected, for convenience change the Opacity in the Transparency palette.

Step 6

Move the rectangle as it is shown below and use the Rotate Tool (R) to rotate it relatively to point A.

Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the grid nodes of one side of the rectangle as shown.

Move the central node of this side of the rectangle towards the center of the starfish.

Convert the smooth node into a corner one using the Convert Anchor Point Tool.

Sometimes it happens that the node does not immediately respond to this tool, please be patient and try again. Do not click on the point itself, but click a little bit lower. Operating the handles of the corner of the rectangle, align the sides of the gradient mesh.

Step 7

Now proceed to the transformation of another side of the rectangle. Select all the nodes that are located on this side of the rectangle, it can be done with the help of the Lasso Tool (Q) or the Direct Selection Tool (A), and move them aside so that the central node lays on the tip of the starfish arm.

Now move the rectangle corners to the sides of the starfish arm.

Operating handles of the grid nodes, move the shape of the mesh object towards the shape of the starfish. It is desirable that the borders of the grid path do not go beyond the star shape. It will be fine if there remains a small gap between the shapes as shown below.

So, working with the Direct Selection Tool (A) only, finish the transformations.

Step 8

Using this technique, create another mesh object.

Unite the nodes of adjacent objects together. Create mesh objects for all the starfish arms.

Select all the mesh objects and set 100% Opacity for them in the Transparency palette.

Step 9

Add a line to the gradient mesh using the Mesh Tool (U) and color the starfish arms, coordinating the location of the chiaroscuro with the light source:

  • Lights - bright yellow
  • Penumbra - orange, red-brown shades

Remember that you can delete unnecessary or incorrect grid lines using the Mesh Tool (U) while holding down the Alt key.

Step 10

We get sharp boundaries at the places where the arms contact, which real starfish does not have. Make them smooth. Take the Lasso Tool (Q) and select the central nodes of the mesh objects, as it is shown in the figure below.

Set 0% Opacity for the selected nodes in the Transparency palette.

Step 11

Attention, this step is appropriate for those who have not installed Adobe Illustrator CS5! The ability to change the Opacity of the nodes appeared only in Adobe Illustrator CS5. Those who have earlier versions of the software will have to apply Opacity Masks. I will tell you how it's done. Copy all the mesh objects and paste them in front. Change their fill to white.

It is necessary to lock lower colored mesh objects in the Layers palette! As well as in Adobe Illustrator CS5 select the central nodes of the gradient mesh.

Now fill them with black.

Unlock the lower colored objects in the Layers palette, select them and the upper black and white mesh objects, it is convenient to do it in the Layers palette. Now apply the opacity mask by selecting the appropriate item in the Transparency palette.

Step 12

In some places we have very light shadows. Change the Opacity of these nodes by 66% in the Transparency palette.

Those who used the opacity mask have to replace the fills of these points from black to gray.

Step 13

Assuming that you did not really fit the shape of mesh objects exactly to the shape of the starfish, so I offer to screen our faults. Select the lower shape of the starfish, filled with a radial gradient, copy it and paste it in front (Command + C; Command + F). Move it into the Layers palette so that it is higher than all the other objects. Select this shape and all the mesh objects, and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Step 14

Start creating the starfish texture. Create a simple geometric shape, for example, a rectangle and pick the texture. After several minutes of experimenting, I decided on the Mezzotint texture. You can get it from the menu of the Swatches palette: Open Swatch library > Patterns > Basic > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures.

Step 15

The elements of the textures are black, we are not happy with it, let's edit the texture color. Pull the texture out of the Swatches palette into the document margins.

The texture is a group of vector objects, below it is situated a rectangle with no fill and stroke.

Select the whole structure, locking the bottom rectangle in the layers palette and fill all the vector objects using an orange color.

Unlock the lower rectangle, select all the elements of the texture including the rectangle. Now go to Edit > Define Pattern, name the texture in the dialog box and click OK button.

Now the fruits of our experiments can be removed.

Step 16

Now let's apply the texture to the starfish. Copy the bottom shape of the starfish, which is filled with radial gradient, and paste it in front (Command + C; Command + F). Move the object in the Layers palette so that it was located above all the objects of the starfish. Now apply the created pattern to this shape.

Step 17

Create a larger texture on the starfish. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create two circles. A bigger one has a 5 px diameter and brown fill, and a smaller one has a 1.5 px diameter and light yellow fill.

Step 18

Select both circles and drag them to the Brushes palette, save the new brush as the Scatter Brush.

Set the brush parameters in the dialog box.

Where do you get these values from? As a result of experimenting, of course. The figure below shows my Brushes palette. It took quite some time experimenting until I got the look I wanted.

Step 19

Now take the Paintbrush Tool (B) and dab randomly on the surface of the star, do not worry if your strokes go beyond the path of the starfish, as we will hide it later.

Step 20

Create another brush. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create two circles. A bigger one has a 6 px diameter and light brown fill, and the smaller one has a 2 px diameter and light yellow fill.

Select both the circles and go to Object > Blend > Make.

Do not set a lot of steps for the blend. A lot of steps will significantly affect the size of your file. We are working with quite a small object, and using a large number of steps simply makes no sense.

Step 21

Transfer the object to the Brushes palette, save the new brush as a Scatter Brush. Set the brush options in the dialog box.

As in step 19 use the Paintbrush Tool (B) for dabbing on the starfish. In some places I was creating circles with a stroke and with no fill, and then applying the created brush to them. I have shown these areas in the figure below. I deleted the excessive circles using the Scissors Tool (C) and Delete button.

To add variety, you can change the thickness of some paths in the Stroke palette; it will change the size of all the objects of this path.

Step 22

The created bumps raise above the surface of the starfish, so they will be producing shadow. Select and group up all the objects created in the previous step, and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow..., set the values specified in the figure below.

The shadow offset parameters are chosen so that the shadow is located respectively with the location of the light source. Set a dark brown color for the shadow, if you choose black, the starfish will seem dirty.

Step 23

Hide everything that goes beyond the outline of the starfish. Copy the lowest shape and paste it in front, move the copy so that it is located above all the objects (Object > Arrange > Bring to Front). Select the top shape and two bottom groups that we created in steps 19 and 21, and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Step 24

Don’t you think that the starfish became kind of plane?

The point is that the light at the bumps is evenly distributed at this point, but it is certainly not in real life because they do not lie in the plane, but on the complex surface of the starfish. In our case, we can easily achieve the desired result.

Do you remember that in the middle of the tutorial we were creating mesh objects? Select, copy, paste and put them above all the elements of the starfish. Now, while keeping them selected, set the Opacity at 60% and the Blending Mode to Multiply in the Transparency palette.

That's it, our star gained its volume again.

Step 25

Now create the bumps along the contour of the starfish. We need a path to create this effect. Copy the bottom shape of the starfish (that is filled with a radial gradient), paste it in front, and place it higher than all the objects. Turn off the fill and set a 1px stroke of any color.

It is not necessarily to create a new brush, you can simply duplicate the existing one and change the parameters.

Step 26

Apply this brush to the created path.

Using the described technique, create another path and another brush.

Apply it to this path.

Step 27

As is the case with the surface of the starfish, light on the bumps on the edges of the starfish will be distributed unevenly. To achieve the desired result, cut the path with the Scissors Tool (C) into light and shady pieces.

Select the shady piece of the path and go to Edit > Edit Color > Recolor Artwork... and reduce the brightness by moving the slider to the left.

Step 28

It only remains to create a shadow under the starfish. Duplicate twice the original shape of the starfish. Fill both of them with a dark brown color. Set 0% Opacity for the lower shape in the Transparency palette and slightly increase its size. Move the lower shape towards the source of light. Now select both shapes and go to Object > Blend > Make.

In fact, it is more convenient to apply the selection of colors, shapes of objects and their locations relatively to each other once the blend is already applied. You can select one of the blend objects in the layers palette and start working on it.


Finally, create a composition with the starfish. It is not easy to assemble an object of this shape. Below is my variant. You can create your own composition.

One subscription.
Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads