How To Make A Spirograph Effect In Illustrator

I used to love Spirograph when I was a kid. I had two sets, the one that my older sisters had that was completely wrecked which I inherited, and the one I got from Santy. Mine was the set with four coloured pens and I used to look at the pictures on the cover of the massive set that had loads of colours and think “someday you will be mine”. Well I never got the bigger set but I have got a computer with millions of colours and I work in Illustrator so I think that’s a fair result.

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Anyhoo, this is all leading somewhere, and that’s to a short Illustrator tutorial on how to make Spirograph type spirals using Illustrator.

1. Create a new document, I set mine up at 600 x 600 pixels

2. Set the Fill colour to empty and the Stroke colour to greeny-blue #04ACB5. Draw out a square using the Rectangle Shape tool, hold down Shift to ensure it’s a perfect square.

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3. Select the Convert Anchor tool (hidden under the Pen tool), then click and drag on the top left anchor point of the square so the corner inverts itself.

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4. Repeat step 3 until all four corners are inverted like this:

 

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5. Select the whole object and choose Object > Transform > Rotate. Set the Angle to 5 degrees and then click Copy. This leaves your original square in place and makes a duplicate and rotates by 5 degrees.

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You should see something like this:

 

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6. Now here’s the repetitive but fun part that makes the pattern. Instead of going back up to the menu and repeating the process, just use the shortcut Ctrl + D (win) Cmd + D (Mac), and keeping pressing it over and over.

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7. And over and over and over, until you get a pattern that you like 🙂

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You can make all kinds of Spirograph patterns using this exact method. All you need to do is start off with an interesting shape and then vary the angle of rotation.

 

In the example below, I started an ellipse in dark red, then copied and rotated at 10 degrees.

 

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In this one I started with a ten pointed star, rotated the duplicate by 5 degrees and alternated the colours between purple and greeny-yellow.

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There you have it. Did you have Spirograph as a child? Still miss it occasionally?

8 comments

  1. Heather T. says:

    *lol* This is so cool–thanks for the quick tut! I did have a Spirograph and loved it, and recently bought the easy version for my son, who loves it as well… instead of having circles and pins anymore, they have a small square frame with a crenellated circle cut out, with rubber tipped legs (which of course don’t hold nearly well enough–why mess with a good design?) and you rotate the wheels inside the frame.

  2. jennyrusks says:

    OMG Heather, they’ve killed Spirograph. Why do they have to dumb everything down? It was perfectly great as it was. Sigh. Well hopefully your son likes it anyway and gets fun out of it.

  3. samer says:

    Just a question, how can I make it rotate repeatedly but not from the midpoint of the square? Like from one of the 4 edges? If I wanted to make a staircase for example?

    Thanks

  4. Hi Samer
    You could rotate it from the edge by changing the registration point. That’s the little square that’s visible in the centre when the object is selected. To change it, at step 5 do this instead:

    a) Open the Transform panel
    b) To rotate the object around a different reference point, click a white square on the reference point locator in the panel, and enter a value for the Angle option.

    This will give you more of staircase effect.

  5. Andrea says:

    Hi Jennifer
    thanks for the tutorial – so helpful. Just wondering with the tip you gave about being able to change the reference point to rotate from – is there a way to do this and still be able to do ‘copy’ instead of just moving the first object? I don’t seem to be able to choose that anywhere.
    Thanks!

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