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

Over the years, we'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 rarer 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 (with a bit of help from Vectips.com and their awesome Adobe Illustrator tutorials). 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. When brushes of different shapes and kinds are applied to the different geometrical figures, it results in geometrical figures of different thickness at different points and styles.

Swoosh refers to the specific geometrical shapes that are soft and sleek on the edges.

Swirls refer to the inter-connected pattern of sharp geometrical shapes.

Curls refer to curved geometric shapes with random and intricate patterns.

In this tutorial, you will learn to combine all kinds of geometric shapes and form different unique patterns on your own.  Designing and combining these swooshes and swirls require a great deal of precision. The experienced designer is one who has practiced his craft with all the different tools available in photoshop. Adobe software has been designed in such a way that the designer can easily adapt to all kinds of tools and crafts.

Let's 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 “Ellipse” (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.

Circle

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:

Direct selection tool
Point dragged to the right

Select the Convert Anchor Point tool and click on the anchor point you dragged to get rid of the handlebars and make it a sharp corner.

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 5
Your new shape with a sharp corner

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.”

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 35
New brush

You will get a new brush prompt. Select “New Art Brush” and hit OK.

New art brush

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.

Art brush options

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

New brush in the brushes palette

You will learn how to replicate a geometrical shape or create its reflection in the inverse pattern. Swirl refers to the spiral shape and you will learn to create a spiral shape of thick stroke. You will also learn to combine the two geometrical shapes or swirls so that they appear as a single shape without any overlapping. You will learn to overlap two different geometrical figures so that there is no marks or paths leftover. You can replicate these geometrical shapes in horizontal or vertical shape. You will learn to make multiple geometrical shapes to overlap one over the other properly.

You can craft geometrical figures of your own, increase the stroke, fill up them with an appropriate color, combine those shapes properly to create a new geometrical shape and create wonderful decorations so as to use in your ongoing projects.

You've got your Brush, Now make a Swoosh:

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

Stroke and fill

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.

Spiral tool
Spiral options

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

Swirl shape

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

Applying the brush

Your shape should now look like this:

Swirl shape after the brush has been applied

Now adjust your stroke size in the Stroke palette.

Stroke size
Shape after the stroke is set

I rotated my shape a bit:

Rotated shape

Combining Multiple Swirls:

Now that you have your basic swirl, and an easy way to quickly create more, let's 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:

Two swirls

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

Transform Reflect

Make sure your reflect axis is Vertical and click OK

Reflect setting

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

Expand appearance

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:

Two shapes being combined

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.

Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 31
Illustrator Swirls, Curls, and Swooshes Tutorial 50
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.

Dragged shape

Now that you have your fill, 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!

Pathfinder

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

End result is a new swoosh

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 of 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:

Complex shape

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

Pathfinder

Here is the result:

New shape

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.

Download the file I used for this tutorial.