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Learn How To Create Two-Tone and Graphic Radials


There are many types of radial patterns, and I find it helpful to have some of the more common kind on hand. I'll show you how to make two types of radials: two-tone radials, and the sort that has a repeating element, or what I think of as graphic radials. This tutorial is for the beginner Adobe Illustrator artist.

Final Image Preview

To begin with let's have a look at the image we'll be creating.

Good Luck Cat as the focus of a radial pattern


Before we get started, keep in mind there is another way of making radials. It involves taking a straight line and going to Effects > Transform, figuring out how many radii you want, and dividing that number by two (because you've got one line rotated n times), and then dividing that number by 360 to get what angle you want to rotate your line by.

If you're making a graphic radial, similar process applies, but then you have to take into account how wide your image is, how much you want to offset it by, and if you decide you don't like that particular effect and want to use a different image, you have to start over.

This makes my wee little neurons hurt. My method involves counting. And some knowledge of Illustrator. Let's put this particular tidbit of knowledge into those brain cells of yours, alright?

Step 1

Create a new document, either color setting is fine. I'm working in a landscape orientation. I find 8.5" x 11" to be a handy size to design in. I originally learned to draw on standard size paper and am used to that proportion. Also, if you find yourself printing these out for whatever reason, you don't have to take the extra time to prepare it for printing, which is handy.

Step 2

Choose the line tool, or hit the \ on your keyboard. Draw an odd number of vertical lines; I'll explain why specifically an odd number in a bit. To keep your lines vertical, hold down the Shift key while you drag. This will restrict you to 90 and 45 degree angles.

I find the easiest way to keep track of how many duplicates you end up with is to make one. Hold down Option & Command while dragging to duplicate three more. Then duplicate those four until you end up with roughly how many are needed. Then you just Option + Command drag a single instance to create one extra to make an odd number.

How many you make will determine how many radii are in your radial. Say that five times fast (that five times fast)! For this exercise I made 33 (4 x 8 + 1).

Step 3

Space the first and the last line to give the ones in between enough room to be spaced out evenly without touching. The exact distance isn't all that important, because we're going to be turning this into an Art Brush, which will space them out along whatever path the brush is applied to. First, let's even them out a bit, alright?

Pull up your Align palette. It's usually grouped with the Transform & Pathfinder palettes, but if you don't have it up already, it can be found under Window > Align. Select your lines and choose Align Top, the third-from-the-right button along the top row. Next, select Horizontal Distribute Center, the second-from-the-right button along the bottom row. We now have a series of evenly distributed, level lines.

Location of Align Palette
Align Top
Distribute Center Vertically

Step 4

Now we're going to turn our lines into an art brush. Select the last line in the series and set its stroke to empty. Then drag all of the lines into your Brushes palette. If it's not open, you can find it in the same place we found the Align palette, only it's called Brushes. Nice of the people at Adobe to alphabetize the list, no?

A window titled New Brush should pop up, with the options of Scatter Brush, Art Brush, or Pattern Brush available to us. Choose New Art Brush and hit OK. Make sure the arrow is pointing along the brushes horizontally, not vertically.

I generally like to be able to change the color of my brushes, so go to the colorization section and choose Tints from the drop-down menu next to the word Method; contrary to rumor, it is possible to colorize black brushes; just look at the standard ones. Likewise, if you forget to do this step, you can always double-click on the brush thumbnail in the Brushes Palette, and that will bring this dialog box back up.

Choosing the type of brush
Making it so you can change the color of the brush

Step 5

Tada! We now have a brush! Isn't it spiffy? All on the Brush palette and everything. Grab the Ellipse tool, it's under the Rectangle tool, or hit L for the shortcut on your keyboard. I would highly recommend getting used to using shortcuts, it makes everything flow along much faster. Granted, it may lead to certain people talking about using the N tool (pencil) and loosing some people in a conversation, but that's a different story.

Use the ellipse tool to create a circle by holding down Shift while you drag to an appropriate circumference. Perfect! Now click on the image of our brush in the Brush Palette to apply it, and we should now have 32 evenly spaced lines.

If you have the second image instead, you didn't empty the last line in Step 4. Delete that brush to avoid confusion and go back and do it again. Emptying the stroke makes it act as a spacer for the brush when it's repeated around an object like we're doing here.

Correct spacing around the circle
Incorrect spacing around the circle

Step 6

With our stroked circle still selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance. You will now have an empty circle with our lines in a circle along it, but now it's all path. Go to Object > Ungroup or hit Command + Shift + G on the keyboard to accomplish the same thing.

The lines that made up the art brush are still grouped together, but the circle isn't grouped with them anymore. Select the empty circle and delete it. I prefer to leave the lines grouped together because to select them all I only have to click on part of one with the Selection Tool (V).

Expanded art brush.

Step 7

Since I'm showing you guys two nifty tricks to do with these, duplicate our lines and set one of them aside for later. We'll get back to it. Choose the white arrow, which is the Direct Selection Tool (A). Use that to select two end points of two of our lines. Go to Object > Path > Join, or hit Command + J. Repeat this all the way around.

Joining two end points

A koala in a pink tutu! No, just continuing on with the selecting & joining of end points.

Step 8

This is where you should realize why I specified an odd number of lines to start out with. If you started out with an even number, one was sacrificed in the name of spacing and you've now got an odd number to join the ends together.

I mean, it's not necessarily bad, if you're looking to make a stylized flower or something, and for the second half of this tutorial it's not a problem at all, but for this particular project it's sockeye. Go add another line to the pre-brush state, make sure it's even as before, and do it again. It only takes a few seconds; I'll wait.

Oopsie daisie. Not enough end points to go around.
Stylized Flower, out of the "mistake" 2-color radial.

Step 9

Select our nearly finished shape and click on the double ended arrow Switch button by the stroke and fill area on the tools palette (Shift + X) to exchange the stroke for the fill. We could leave it like this, but for good form I like to close my filled shapes. Switching out the stroke makes it easier to keep from accidentally creating one long zigzag path, rather than sixteen separate ones.

I also find it easier to zoom in for this part. Let's review three ways to zoom in or out:

  1. Command and the plus sign to go in, command and the minus sign to go out.
  2. Hold Command + Spacebar to click in. Hold Command + Spacebar + Alt to click out (or you can click & drag).
  3. Using the Zoom tool (Z), hold down Alt to go out, and use it the same as the second method. And of course, hold down the Spacebar to click + drag yourself around the canvas, but I'll bet you already knew that.
Locating the stroke/fill switcheroo thingie. I don't know that it has a name.

Step 10

Anyways, same as with the outer ring of end points: select two, join them, and continue all the way around. Zoom back out and this one's done! Set it aside, and let's work on the other piece now.


Step 11

Using the Ellipse tool, make a long skinny oval, as in the picture. Now select the Pen tool, and hold down the Alt key; this will make your cursor look like an angled V; and is used to manipulate the handles on a point. Use it to click on the point on the left side of the oval, to change it into a point with no handles. Let go of the Alt key, and grab the Direct Selection tool again. The shortcut is to hold down the Command key.

Use it to select the two points in the middle, and drag them to the right, while holding down the Shift key to keep them going in a straight line horizontally, rather than becoming offset. Try not to get that little dip at the end from pulling it over too much; we want an oval end. Grab the left end point, and while holding Shift, drag it away from the other three to make it a bit longer.

Good! We now have a long skinny tear-drop shape on its side. Make it a filled shape and turn it into an Art Brush, same as in Step 4. Drag it into the Brush Palette, select Art Brush, and hit OK.

Skinny Oval.
De-handle left point.Move midpoints to the right.
Move left point to the left, making it longer.

Step 12

Select the circle of lines, and click on the thumbnail of our tear drop shape. Look at that starburst! But if we wanted a starburst, there's a tool that will make that quite simply, rather than going through this method. Deselect everything, and use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select only the inside endpoints on our radial.

Choose the Scale tool (S), and while holding the Shift key, drag in a diagonal direction to keep our circle circular; if you drag too far up or down, it will scale it as if you were only making our selection taller or wider.

You can do this to make the opening in the middle as big or small as you wish; if you just want to make the whole shape bigger, use the Selection Tool (V) to get the bounding box. Then just pull on a corner to get your desired size. Holding down Shift while you drag will keep your shape proportional as well.

Location of Scale Tool
Use of the scale tool

Step 13

We're almost done! Now we just need a focal image. Move the originals of both our brushes off to the side to get them out of the way. Select both of our radial shapes. Then using the Align Palette, hit Align Center Vertically and Align Center Horizontally.

Deselect them and then select on the graphic radial using the Selection Tool (V). Then grab the Rotate tool (R), and dragged them until they are more or less lined up in the middle of the arms of the colored radial.

I don't like that some of the graphic arms are overlapping the color ones; they won't be seen, and can become a problem later. Easy solution! Delete every other one. I suppose you could drag them off to the side and use them for something else, which is up to you.

Lining up the two shapes
Rotating the graphic radial so the two are offset more.

Step 14

The how-to of making the radials is done; now I'm going to show you how to create the preview image.

I found the cat picture here, on sxc.hu, more commonly known as Stock Exchange. It's a free stock imagery resource that I find immensely helpful. You do have to have an account to download anything, though, and not everything is commercially licensed. As the photographer, xtrapink says, it's a good luck money cat, and is thought to bring good business and money.

Save the image to your saving place on your computer, jump back to Illustrator, and go to File > Place. In the dialog window, select whatever you named it as and hit Place. See how happy he is! Copy the image (Command + C), and paste a copy on top of itself (Command + F).

With the top instance still selected, go to Object > Live Trace > Make and Expand. I like how it looks like this, but I also like some of the original color. Use the Magic Wand Tool to select the white, and in the Transparency Palette, drop it to 60% Opacity.

I think that the auto-trace on the cat's face is a little funny, so I'm going to fix that up a little. Live Trace is an amazing tool, but you usually have to go back in and clean things up after it. Of course that always depends on the look you're going for and your own personal style, but I want to clean it up, so I'm going to.

Location of Live Trace.
Before cleaning...
... After cleaning.

Step 15

Using the Pencil Tool, draw an outline around the cat, without closing the path at the bottom. Obviously, it doesn't have to be perfect. What I like about the Pencil Tool is that you can draw over your line, and when you do it changes the original.

You can modify any path by drawing over it, for that matter; throw a Wacom or similar tablet into the mix and you'll have a good setup! Also, holding down Alt will give you the Smoothing Tool, which does what the name implies: it smoothes out the path it's used over.

Don't worry about funky initial lines. Just go over them until you're happy.
Same line, but after smoothing.

Step 16

Duplicate your outline in place. With one copy selected, also select the image. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make. This will make the newly clipped image pop to the level of the highest path, in my case second from the top. If this happens, go to Object > Arrange > Send Backward or hit Command + the Left Bracket key ([) until it sits back under the live traced image. You could also just grab it in the Layers Palette and drag it to where you want it to be.

The newly clipped image leaps to the top! Send it back to where it belongs!

Step 17

Select the duplicate of the penciled line, and the black background area of our traced image. Find the Pathfinder Palette (usually grouped with the Transform and Align Palettes, but definitely under Windows > Pathfinder), and choose Intersect Shape Areas. It's the second from the right button on the top row. Then go to the end of the row and hit Expand.

When you use the Pathfinder tools, the resulting path will take on whatever fill or stroke condition the top path had, which in my case the outline path was set to an empty stroke and fill. So go up to the color Palette and make it black again.

The appropriate Pathfinder choice.
Now there's not nearly so much black space around our good luck kitty!

Step 18

Select the entire image and go to Object > Group (Command + G). Drag it over to the radials we created and set it above them. Select the radials group, and scale it up until it looks good with our lucky kitty. I just now noticed a bogey along the bottom of my image; if you've got one too, get rid of it. Another quirk of Live Trace, sometimes you get these odd long pieces along the edges.

Weirdness along the cat's bottom edge.

Step 19

Now for the final details! Make a rectangle around your image, wherever you want the edge of your image to be. Duplicate it, and send the duplicate underneath the radials. Apply a gradient to it by clicking on the gradient image in the Gradient Palette.

If yours is in grayscale, select one of the color markers, and go to the color Palette. There's a little arrow in a circle in the upper right corner. Click on it and choose whichever color setting you're working in. Then choose colors that activate the happy place in your brain.

REctangle that will become edge of image
How to color a gradient

Step 20

Make sure the rectangle's duplicate is the top-most shape and select the entire image. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make Command + 7. A nice finishing touch is to add a border around the edge. Duplicate the gradient shape, make it no fill, and set a stroke of whatever color you think would look best. Then bring it up out of the clipping mask group to rest on top. Thicken the stroke a bit, smooth out some minor details and tada! Done!

It looks like the cat is wearing a monocle.

Final Image

The final design is below.

Good Luck Cat as the focus of a radial pattern


What I like best about this method is that you can rapidly change the image in your graphic radial. Anything you can turn into a brush, you can turn into a radial, absolutely anything. Below are some examples of simple changes, though you could make something more radical. Try experimenting with this. Also, It should be noted that while gradients can't be made into brushes, blended objects can.

Now that you've got a better working knowledge of Illustrator Brushes and the ins and outs of their uses. It's an incredibly powerful facet of Illustrator's abilities, and one that is most helpful to have on your designer's tool belt. Happy creating!

Variation 1
Variation 2
Variation 3
Variation 4
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