Make Vector Fireworks in Illustrator

makefireworksblog-editIt’s getting to the time of year when we start various celebrations in many guises, but essentially aound the coming months of shorter days, longer nights and that our species has managed to create our own illumination during that time. Those celebrations are often marked with fireworks and some time back (before I worked here) Adobe got me to draw a scene showing off the gradients on strokes feature and fireworks were in that illustration. This technique is what I came up with for that task, and I’m still using it today whenever fireworks are required, with only a few changes—check out the top portion of this recent party poster that I made for a friend of mine:—in this post you can learn the technique and start making your own.

Shortcuts Summary

This post uses the following shortcuts:

Mac Windows
Switch focus between fill/stroke X
Apply Gradient to fill/stroke (check focus) . (period)
Add New Fill ⌘+/ CTRL+/
Select Gradient Tool G
Select Rectangle Tool M
Select Line Tool \ (backslash)

Making the Night Sky

  1. Draw a rectangle on your artboard with the Rectangle Tool (M). Keep the rectangle selected until the sky is built01
  2. Fill the rectangle with a gradient that will be the general sky colours02
  3. Add a new fill using the ⌘+/ shortcut (CTRL+/ on Windows). If you prefer, open the Appearance Panel and use the icon at the bottom-left of the panel to do this. Change this fill to a radial gradient with transparency at the outer edge, and model that as desired with the Gradient Tool (tap G on your keyboard to access the tool quickly)03
  4. Repeat to add another fill and gradient04
  5. And again as desired. You can develop atmosphere by varying the opacities and shapes of the gradients05
  6. Add another gradient fill, this time making it a linear gradient that goes from black-to-black, with 100% opacity at one end and 0%  at the other. Make sure that the opaque end is at the top06
  7. Make sure that this fill is targeted in the Appearance Panel—it should be anyway, but it’s worth checking—and then choose Effect > Pixelate > Mezzotint and select a type from the drop-down; Medium Dots worked well for the example
  8. Activate the Opacity hyperlink associated with the fill in the Appearance Panel; lower the opacity and choose a blending mode that softens the effect, such as Screen, Overlay or Soft Light
  9. You should now have a night-sky background for your firework display

Making the Fireworks

Now it’s time to build our firework burst. We’re going to make a “burst particle” and use effects to build out the burst.

  1. Create a new sublayer in the Layers Panel
  2. To make it easier to work, lock the rectangle sublayer and turn off it’s visibility until you’ve made the first firework
  3. With the Line Tool (L) draw a short line and make it about as wide as you’d expect one of your firework particles to be; in the example I’ve made mine 12pt wide. Keep the stroke selected until the firework burst is complete
  4. Select the Width Tool and start modelling the particle shape
  5. Aim for something nice and wide at the top, tapering off to a fine point
  6. It’s a good idea to save your width profiles for later use
  7. Making sure that the Stroke is focused (in front) in the toolbox (use X to switch focus between the Fill/Stroke) tap the period key on your keyboard to apply a gradient. In the Gradient Panel, change how the gradient is applied to the stroke using the third button (apply gradient across stroke)
  8. Choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… and make these settings (you can always model your own, of course):
    • Make the registration point the bottom-left (unless your stroke is pointing in the other direction)
    • Change the number of copies to 13 (giving us 14 instances in total)
    • Change the angle to 360/14 (giving us 25.71º)


  9. Choose Effect > Stylize > Feather… and use a small amount to soften the burst slightly
  10. The effect can be further enhanced by adding a smidgeon of Radial Blur, available from the Photoshop effects: Effect > Blur > Radial Blur… choosing the zoom method
  11. Once again choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… (Illustrator will tell you that the effect is already applied—select the option to add a new instance of the effect “Apply New Effect“. Apply settings like these:
    • Make the registration point the centre this time (this is the default, anyway)
    • Set the Horizontal and Vertical scaling to 70%
    • Change the number of copies to 7
    • Change the angle to 14º


  12. Now add a small effect so that the particles are not just dead-straight lines, choose Effect > Warp > Wave… and dial in just a little amount for the effect
  13. Finally, add Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat… and drag the slider to the left to increase the burst; the value I’ve chosen here is -53%;
    023the further you go, the larger the burst becomes (the value here is :024

You can then make copies and tune them as desired. Use the Recolour Artwork dialog to change the colours quickly and easily.


You can watch all the steps (and more) in this video:

Wrapping Up

You can make so many variations with your fireworks—changing the angle of the stroke; using different width profiles; changing gradients; tuning any of the effects—there is an almost infinite number of variables to play with, but here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Change the blending mode of the fireworks to Screen, which prioritizes white and lighter colours willmake the blending of your bursts a bit more realistic (the image at the top of the post is made using this)
  • Try making gradients where the transparent colour is in the middle, and the other stops are mirrored either side of the centre stop—it makes for an interesting result!

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