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Jan 02

Swirly curls in Adobe Illustrator

2007 at 07.55 pm posted by Veerle Pieters

Let me start by wishing you all a very happy new year! May 2007 be a year full of inspiration and creativity! Today I’ve picked another topic from my list of requests that readers of my blog send in: swirly curls. Lets add some trendy elegance to your illustrations! Here we go…

Step 1 - Draw a spiral

Swirly curls in Adobe Illustrator - step 1

Go to the Toolbox and hold down the mouse on the Line Tool so the other tools are revealed. Select the Spiral Tool. Now click and drag a line from the center point outwards. Instead of click dragging you can just click to get the Spiral Options box and enter the spiral radius, decay and spiral segments and click OK. I've used 80% of decay and 10 segments. If you click drag the spiral, remember that you can move the spiral while dragging if you hold down the spacebar. Give the spiral a stroke and no filling. Copy the spiral and paste it in front: go to the Edit menu and choose Paste in Front or hit command/control + f. Now select the Rotate Tool and click the center point of the spiral and drag the spiral to the right to rotate it a bit.

Step 2 - Transform the spiral into a nice curl

Swirly curls in Adobe Illustrator - step 2

Select the Selection Tool (black arrow) or hold down the command/control key so you get the transform handles. Scale the spiral as shown in the image so you add thickness to the spiral from the center point out and you'll get a nice curl in the end. Select the center points of the 2 spirals. Use the Direct Selection Tool and drag a rectangle over the anchor points, make sure no other points of the spirals are selected. Go to Object > Path > Join (or hit command/control + j) to join both paths. Now do the same for the 2 ending points of the spirals.

Step 3 - Add a fill and put the curl in place

Swirly curls in Adobe Illustrator - step 3

Click the double arrows right above the colors in the Toolbox to swap the stroke to a fill. Change the fill to your preferred color. Now drag the curl in place. Rotate the curl if needed so it forms a fluent line with the object you attach it too. You can select both and choose the Add to shape option in the Pathfinder palette if needed so they become 1 object.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Maybe this can be done in another way by using a special brush instead of copying the path, transform it and join the points, not sure. I haven't experimented with that. I just get perfect curls when I use this technique.

Swirly curls in Adobe Illustrator

For those who missed the final result of this illustration, check it out & download a desktop ;)

Want to learn more?

VECTORTUTS+ Vector Tutorials and More A good and not expensive source to learn more about Illustrator, Photoshop, or web design is by joining the Tuts+ sites. You get access to the source files for just $9 a month. So your ONE membership gives you access to members-only content for ALL the Plus sites. I've written a tutorial for the Vector Tuts section.




permalink this comment Duluoz Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 09.11 pm

This is a very nice tutorial Veerle. I find that by also implementing the “Transform Each” with the “copy” command then crtl+D you can make some very nice vine-like drawings very quickly that look nice and appear random as nature intended. :)



permalink this comment William Knelsen Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 09.56 pm

Thanks, Veerle!

I visited your site for the first time a couple of days ago and I was wondering how you created those swirls so perfectly.

I will be sure to implement this technique in my future designs.



permalink this comment Ani Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 10.45 pm

Veerle, there couldn’ve been a better time for this tutorial! I was researching how to make similar swirly curles for my room design project that I’m planning to start very soon.

Thank you!



permalink this comment Dangerboy Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 10.56 pm

This is great…thank you for your constant inspiring design techniques and hope you have a wonderful new year as well!!



permalink this comment Michel Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.08 pm

Very nice tutorial!

If I find some 5 free minutes tomorrow, could play a bit with AI to see if I can make it myself ;-) (although me big Macromedia Fireworks fan, not AI, but still;-)

Cheers and thx for sharing it! :-)

Happy New 2007! :)))



permalink this comment José Carlos Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.19 pm

Another wonderfull tutorial.
You make it look real easy.



permalink this comment kitune Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.27 pm

I like it ;)



permalink this comment Iphi Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.32 pm

Great and interesting tutorial about something that suddenly became very simple. =D Thank you very much.



permalink this comment Octave Z Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.42 pm

Eh thank you. Rare tips!!



permalink this comment Thierry Tue Jan 2, 2007 at 11.59 pm

Very nice tutorial Veerle, as always.



permalink this comment David G. Paul Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 12.04 am

as cool as always



permalink this comment Jackie Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 05.46 am

Thanks Veerle.  I was also wondering how you had attached those curls to the vines - now I know! They do look random in your drawing and like they just emerged from the vine. I like the way the whole thing sort of takes over the landscape. 

I saw some similar looking vines on a Christmas shopping bag for this department store here - only theirs had other things on it like pine cones and berries and leaves with swirls.  Wish I had a picture of it I could show you, but I guess I’d have to scan the shopping bag to do that. :) Will have to try this and see if I can create something like it.



permalink this comment Emyr Tabrizi Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 01.29 pm

Thanks so much! You reveal the mystery’s of cool design.



permalink this comment Alan D Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 01.39 pm

Hi Veerle,

This is a great technique and a really easy to follow tutorial. I’ve also found that in Step 2 a good way of ensuring that scaling doesn’t overlap at points is to select the spiral to scale, use the Scale Tool and set the reference point to the centre of the spiral (as you did when rotating before). Dragging the end point of the spiral diagonally should scale it proportionally. This gives you a nice sharp point at the centre - of course, it depends on what type of visual effect you’re going for.



permalink this comment A. J. Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 02.42 pm

THX, Veerle.



permalink this comment RonnieSan Wed Jan 3, 2007 at 11.36 pm

In order to get the tapered look, I create a custom brush that is pretty much just a wedge.  Then I apply it to the line and play around with the stroke width to get the right taper.  Then you can “expand appearance” of the line to make it a shape.



permalink this comment tom-erik Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 12.00 am

I just love it, been looking for this ;)  Happy new year !



permalink this comment Tommy Paul DuCharme Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 01.01 am

I stumbled across your site today and it is very nice! I’m just an amateur digital image guy sitting in the desert using Adobe Production Studio to work pictures and make some DVDs for my son’s high school athletic teams.
You’ve got great creativity and a gift for presenting the ideas in a way we can all understand.
C’mon to Arizona and I’ll buy you a beer!



permalink this comment Egypt Urnash Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 01.02 am

Maybe this can be done in another way by using a special brush instead of copying the path, transform it and join the points, not sure.

Yes, it can.

I have a library of three art brushes that I keep in my Illustrator startup documents: a triangle, an oval, and a half-an-oval. Each of these is about 1pt by 10pt so the line weight works the way I expect it to. I used to make them each time I needed them but I got tired of doing it over and over again.

Rather than going through all this duplicating and point welding, I can just grab the triangle or half-oval and draw a spiral. Probably with the pencil tool and my Wacom tablet.

I use these three brushes for a lot of things; I don’t use each of them in every piece, but I usually find myself reaching for one of them at some point in every illustration I do.



permalink this comment Senseless Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 02.07 am

The image caught my eye cause it looked like something from a Calculus book at first.

Nice blog and sorry I missed the window for the lurker post.



permalink this comment Lucian Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 02.54 am

Veerle, you rock! How on earth do you make everything seem so simple!



permalink this comment Anonymous Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 05.38 am

Veerle your page got on all the way into the 4th page. Cool!

Here’s the link



permalink this comment Sindre Sorhus Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 05.51 am

Hi, thanks for the tutorial. I made this from it.



permalink this comment Ramon Bispo Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 12.56 pm


Thanks for sharing!



permalink this comment Sheree Thu Jan 4, 2007 at 11.01 pm

Thank you for this great tutorial.  I have been making curls all afternoon.  Your tutorials are easy to follow and your blog provides a wealth of information.  Thank you again.



permalink this comment Melfina Fri Jan 5, 2007 at 12.02 am

Ahhh, it does look very good! been wondering how to do it quickly, thanks so much for the great tutorial.



permalink this comment Jared Fri Jan 5, 2007 at 04.06 pm

Always good stuff! Your tutorials have been a tremendous help and source of inspiration.



permalink this comment Base Fri Jan 5, 2007 at 04.42 pm

Thank you!



permalink this comment Janet Fri Jan 5, 2007 at 07.42 pm

WOW! thank you, Veerle!

This tutorial will help me and many other people in the world.
Many thanks and respect!



permalink this comment Jackie Sat Jan 6, 2007 at 02.14 am


I scanned these images of the shopping bag so you could see this other example of a vine.  I think yours is actually much more original-looking, but when I saw it, it reminded me of this Nordstrom’s shopping bag I had. I’m still working on trying to draw something more extensive, but the curly swirls part of the tutorial was very nice and easy to follow.

Here is a link: red xmas shopping bag vine.



permalink this comment ~TheAngel~ Sat Jan 6, 2007 at 05.07 am

Happy New Year!



permalink this comment kristarella Sat Jan 6, 2007 at 06.11 am

Awesome! Thanks Veerle.
I was trying to do this earlier in the year but failed because I was changing the second swirl node by node. Rotating and scaling is the key!
I don’t have AI yet so I was trying to interpret you instructions into Inkscape. It was actually very easy for this one. Perhaps now I can go back and try the ribbon one, now that I know how to join the paths properly (in Inkscape they whole paths need combining first and then the end nodes can be joined).
Keep up the good work - helping us with less advanced skills :)



permalink this comment teddY Sat Jan 6, 2007 at 07.07 am

Hi Veerle thanks for posting this tutorial! It is really of great use to me ;) Have a great weeekend.



permalink this comment BooTCaT Sun Jan 7, 2007 at 06.42 am

Nice tutorial .
Really liked forming curls .



permalink this comment SvT Sun Jan 7, 2007 at 03.06 pm

Thx!.. great..



permalink this comment Wulf Mon Jan 8, 2007 at 11.27 pm

Thanks for the great tutorial.  :)

Out of curiosity, why did you post a JPEG of the final result instead of an SVG?



permalink this comment LearnIt2 Tue Jan 9, 2007 at 01.39 pm

Nice outcome. Thanks.



permalink this comment Daniel R Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 07.49 pm

Thank you, it’s a great and very useful tutorial.



permalink this comment Ben Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 08.51 pm

Very cool!



permalink this comment redju Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 09.27 pm

Love your tut! Love your site!!!!



permalink this comment Aaina Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 10.48 pm

That was a cool tutorial. Thanks.



permalink this comment Rutger Thu Jan 18, 2007 at 10.15 pm

Thanks! Was looking for this howto, helped alot!



permalink this comment Platte Fri Jan 19, 2007 at 06.00 pm

Looks great and thanks für the howto!



permalink this comment Stacy Brogan Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 05.20 pm

Awesome, I was trying to make swirls with pen tools, but that proved silly and not natural. Thanks!



permalink this comment Paolo Feliciano Thu Feb 1, 2007 at 04.45 am

Thanks for your tutorials. Very informative and inspiring at the same time. Cheers!

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