Illustrator: How to Make Custom Swooshes, Swirls, and Curls

by Jay Hilgert
on February 17, 2007

I’ve gotten a lot of responses to this post about how I made the intricate designs in those headers. Swirls, and swooshes, or whatever you want to call them, are pretty hard to come by as a freebie (except here on BittBox), and they are even more rare in vector format. Part of the reason is that most people, even avid Illustrator users, don’t realize how easy it is to create these shapes. All it takes is a few simple, yet not highly utilized Illustrator tips. This tutorial will show you how to create your own curlies, and swooshes easily, in Illustrator. It’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. . .

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial

And to answer all of your questions: Yes I made all of those designs on my own. The same goes for every BittBox release. All of my files are hand-made by me, not borrowed. If this is your first time to attempt a tutorial like this, I suggest following it exactly as I have it here, then going back over the process and playing with your options later. I’m going to outline how to do this, but you should always take my methods and play around with your options such as stroke sizes or brush shapes.

Lets Get Started:

We are going to create a custom brush in Illustrator to help us make these shapes a lot quicker. The first thing you need to do is use the “Elipse” (circle) tool and create a circle on the artboard. Hold down the Shift key while dragging to constrain the circle. The circle shown here is the exact size I used.

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 2

Now use the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) to select the point on the right side of that circle and drag it out to the right. Like this:

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 3
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Select the Convert Achor Point tool and click on the achor point you dragged to get rid of the handle bars and make it a sharp corner.

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Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 6

Select your shape with the Selection Tool (black arrow), and in the “Brushes” palette, click on the arrow in the upper right. Select “New Brush.”

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Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 8

You will get a new brush promt. Select “New Art Brush” ant hit OK.

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Now you will be given some brush options. Make sure your brush direction goes from left to right (Big to Small) like below, and hit OK. You can play with these settings later.

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You should now see your new brush in your brushes palette.

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You’ve got yor Brush, Now make a Swoosh:

First, make sure you set your stroke to black, and “none” for fill, in the tools palette. Like this:

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 13

Now select the “Spiral” tool, and click once on the artboard without dragging to bring up the tool options. Below are the settings I used: Radius-50px, Decay-80, Segments-4. Again, play with these settings later.

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Click “OK” to create your shape, which should look like this:

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 14

Keep your shape selected and apply your custom brush we just made by clicking on it in the “Brushes” Palette.

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Your shape should now look like this:

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Now adjust your stroke size in the Stroke palette.

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I rotated my shape a bitt:

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Combining Multiple Swirls:

Now that you have your basic swirl, and an easy way to quickly create more, lets combine a couple and make an interesting design. Read this section closely because if you miss a step, you might litter your Illustrator file with leftover paths that you can’t see.

Use the Spiral tool to create a second swirl with these settings: Radius-30px, Decay-80, Segments-2. (detailed instructions above) And apply the same custom brush stroke. Your artboard should now look like this:

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Reflect your new shape by right clicking on it and selecting “Transform – Reflect.”

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Make sure your reflect axis is Vertical and click OK

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Next, Overlap your 2 shapes the way you like them. Keep them selected, then go to the “Object” menu and select “Expand Appearance.”

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What this does is outline the brush stroke. So now you have your 2 shapes but they have an outline, AND the leftover path from the Spiral tool. We need to get rid of the leftover path so it doesn’t get in the way later. Your shape should now look something like this:

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 30

Use the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) to select BOTH of your shapes like below, and drag them away from their current position to expose the leftover spiral paths. Notice that you don’t see the paths in the selection before dragging.

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Now that you dragged your two filled shapes away from where they were, you can delete the leftover spiral paths. You won’t be able to see these paths, so you can do one of 2 things to find them quickly. 1. Hit Control + A on the keyboard, to select everything and you will see all your paths on the artboard. Or 2. Hit Control + Y to view everything in outline mode. Either way select the Leftover spiral paths and delete them. I used Control + A.Then I deselected my filled shapes by holding down “Shift” and clicking on them. Then I hit Delete on the keyboard.

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Now that you have your filled, outlined swooshes, you can easily combine them into one shape with a single path, using the “Pathfinder” palette. Select both of your shapes, and click on the first icon in the Pathfinder to combine the shapes. Important: After combining the path, immediately click the “Expand” button in the same Pathfinder palette. This Gets rid of any overlapping paths!

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Here is the result: A single swoosh made from 2, with one path!

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A couple of tips for exploring this on your own:

Now that you have harnessed the power of a custom brush, expanding appearance, and pathfinder. (Wow, I guess this tutorial covers a lot more than I thought.) I have a couple tips to help you speed up your swirl creating process:

Once you create 1 swirl design, it’s easy to copy and overlap that same design by resizing, reflecting, or rotating, to create a more complex design derived from the original. Like this:

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Then combine their paths in the Pathfinder palette (detailed instructions above) by hitting the combine paths icon, and Expand button, in that order.

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Here is the result:

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 42

Best Tip Ever: ALWAYS keep a copy of your original shape untouched on your artboard somewhere, don’t rely on “Undo.”

I hope this tutorial helps! It took me a long time to figure all of this out, but once you really look at it, all it takes is a few key steps, which individually aren’t that advanced.

And, as always:

Download the file I used for this tutorial:

Download

Includes: – AI (1) EPS (1) SVG (1)

About Jay Hilgert

Formally trained at Oklahoma State, Jay Hilgert is a graphic and web designer, font designer (Link), software developer (Brush Pilotâ„¢), and the founder of BittBox.

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