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How to Create Dotted Surface Effects in Illustrator

Read Time: 4 mins

In this tutorial we will learn to create abstract an compositions of dots. This will help you to create interesting effects for backgrounds. Let's learn to simulate a surface of any complexity.

Final Image Preview

Below is one out of a handful of effects we will be working towards. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS3
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: 30 minutes

Step 1

Open a new document (800 by 800 pixels). We will start with learning to create a simple compositions of points. Create an ellipse without stroke and fill it with radial gradient.

Step 2

Now go to Effect > Pixelate > Color Halftone ..., apply the settings you see below.

Step 3

Transform the image to the vector. Go to Object > Expand Appearance and press the Live Trace Button in the top panel. Then press the Expand Button.

Step 4

Now we can operate this as a conventional vector object. Fill our object with a linear gradient. Oops!

Step 5

You must delete the Compound Path in the layers box.

Step 6

We take the Gradient Tool (G) and adjust the gradient fill.

Step 7

Now go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Warp..., apply the settings you see below.

Step 8

We have an interesting effect!

Step 9

The effect can be applied to a blend. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create the form of an open hand.

Step 10

Now go to Object > Path > Offset Path..., apply the settings you see below.

Step 11

Select the top path and repeat the same operation with the settings shown below.

Step 12

Remove the middle path and fill the forms with one black and one gray.

Step 13

Go to Object > Blend > Make, apply the settings you see below.

Step 14

Now we repeat Step 2 and Object > Expand Appearance and go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options, then apply the settings you see below. Be sure to check the Ignore White checkbox. Now apply Object > Expand.

Step 15

Now we delete the defective dots.

Step 16

Above the hand create a rectangle. Select both shapes and make a crop using the Pathfinder crop tool.

Step 17

Fill the hand with a white color, add a blue background. Done!

Step 18

Now we will go with something more complex. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle. Fill the rectangle with a linear gradient. Repeat the steps listed in Steps 2-3.

Step 19

Fill the objects with a linear gradient (do not forget to remove the Compound Path). In the future we will be able to edit the gradient. Rename the layer as "dots."

Step 20

Now delete the defective dots.

Step 21

Now create a new layer named "template." Now we will create a hexagon using the Polygon Tool and two guides. Rotate the guides with the Rotate Tool (R) as shown below. Lock the layer.

Step 22

Go to the layer "dots." Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a shape on top of the template. Activating the Magnetic Guidelines (Command + U) will help you.

Step 23

Select the group of dots and create a shape, go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object (Alt + Command + C). Then apply Object > Expand.

Step 24

Using the tool Rotate Tool (R), rotate and duplicate the shape. Rotate it around the center of the hexagon, while holding down the Alt key.

Step 25

Below the layer "dots" create a new layer called "BG." Create a rectangle with a black fill without stroke. Lock the layer.

Step 26

Set up the gradient more subtly. Select each of the six shapes.

Step 27

Now group the six shapes (Command + G) and go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh (Alt + Command + M). Apply the settings you see below.

Step 28

Distorts the grid of the mesh using the Direct Selection Tool (A). Then go to Object > Expand.

Step 29

Above the shape create a rectangle. Select both shapes and make a crop using the Pathfinder box.

Step 30

Change the size of the background and the size of the document (File > Document Setup). Align all objects.

Step 31

Now we will create a shadow on the surface. Create a rectangle the same size as the document. Fill the rectangle with radial gradient and change the blending modes in the palette of the Transparency.


You can use these techniques to create various surface effects of different complexity. The final image is below.

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