Mazes and Labyrinths in Illustrator Made Easier

As mentioned on one-or-two occasions before, tutorial videos are something I watch almost every day; I’m always really interested to see how others are achieving a result and passing that knowledge on. The tutorials often provide fuel for this blog and my YouTube channel, if there are smarter, faster ways to achieve the same result, and this is one such example—one of the tutorials (actually great in content, look and production values, btw) took fifteen minutes to achieve, was dreadfully inflexible and involved tons of copying/pasting and steps that should be completely unnecessary.

So, as I do before I write a post or record a video, I reproduce the end result a few times, then once at my “normal” speed. It is possible to complete the maze from this tutorial in a little over three minutes, and slightly faster with a tablet (it’s mega-fast on something like a Cintiq) but it’s more likely to be five or six minutes; that means you could make two or three attempts in the same time as those viewing the other tutorials, so let’s make you faster!

Start by watching the maze video and then try the labyrinth exercise out,

Make A Maze in Adobe Illustrator: Video

Make A Chinese-style Labyrinth

My choice of document for this exercise was a 1920×1080 document from the Art & Illustration category in CC2017 but you can work with whatever suits you.  you may find that Smart Guides are useful and you can toggle these on/off with the shortcut ⌘-U (Ctrl-U on Windows) but please note that they are usually on by default.

Polar Grid Tool

The Polar Grid Tool is nested with the line tool, and the quickest route to find that is to tap the Backslash key (\) and then press and hold on that tool to access its buddies. It’s possible to change the number of concentric circles and dividers that this tool produces by using the arrow keys on your keyboard but here we’ll use the dialog as it makes life easier, so simply click on your artboard and the dialog will appear.

The size you choose will depend on how big your artboard choice was, and how big you’d like the labyrinth to be, but choose 8 concentric dividers and 0 radial dividers then click OK. Drag the resulting group to the centre of the artboard (the Smart Guides will help with that).

Group Selection Tool

For my labyrinth, I actually only need six circles, so I’m going to delete the innermost ones. Grab the Group Selection Tool (nested with the Direct Selection Tool) then select and remove the circles we don’t need. In case you’re wondering why we didn’t start off with drawing six, give it a try in another document and you’ll see that the centre radius is too tight—you could scale the result up but that takes longer.

Strokes

Now increase the stroke weight for the circles so that they are more-or-less the same width as the gaps between them; I find that the easiest way to do this is select them, then click in the stroke width field (either in the panel or the Control Strip) and then use the arrow keys to increase/decrease the width until they look right—don’t forget that you can hold down SHIFT to increase the weight by a factor of 10.

Pick up the Line Tool and draw a line as shown below; use SHIFT to keep it straight and make sure that it pokes out from the top and bottom a bit. It needs to be aligned to the centre horizontally

Leave the line selected and tap V to get the Selection Tool, then hit RETURN on your keyboard to access the Move dialog. Type in double your stroke weight—so if you decided on a 32pt stroke, type in 64pt (make sure to add the pt) and then either click Copy or hold down ALT/OPTION and hit RETURN.

Use the Transform Again command—⌘-D (Ctrl-D on Windows)—to repeat that transformation and create another copy; you need to have a line for each gap between the concentric circles (my version has six circles so five gaps).

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on the anchor point at the top of the last line, then shorten the line as shown below; it needs to connect with the next-to-smallest line. Now switch back to the Selection Tool (V) and select all of your lines, except the one at the centre; tap O to pick up the Reflect Tool, then holding down ALT click on the line at the centre—choose Vertical and again click Copy or do the ALT+RETURN thing. This is what you should have by this stage. Now select only the long lines then tap R to get the Rotate Tool and just hit RETURN to get the dialog up.Set the angle to 90º and just like some previous steps, create copies that are rotated as below
like this:

Drawing the Labyrinth with the Shape Builder Tool

Now select all and outline the paths (Object > Path > Outline Stroke) then switch to the Shape Builder Tool (SHIFT-M) and now all we have to do is work our way around, removing parts that we don’t want by holding down the ALT (or OPTION if you’re on a U.S. keyboard).

You can remove the ends of the strokes and the shapes in the centre of the circles using SHIFT+ALT which takes the Shape Builder into area subtract mode. Start by cutting in from the bottom as shown, then begin making your journey around the labyrinth, keeping that ALT key down to subtract. If you make a mistake, simply undo and try again!

You’re basically moving towards the centre, and then winding your way back out to the outside, finally breaking through into the next quarter.

The last bit is slightly shorter than the other winds

and from there you complete your journey by breaking into the centre

Unite The Shapes

Select everything and then use the Pathfinder (if you don’t see the panel, then you’ll find it under the Window menu) to unite all of the shapes into one Make it Gold

If you want to make it nice and gold and shiny-looking like the example below, you can load the Metal gradient set as shown below

Wrapping Up

This technique can be used on many shapes, although sometimes you really have to think about how to place the lines. To get the shapes reducing or enlarging at the right interval, use a blend with either the specified steps or distance options, then expand the blend. As with all of these things, it’s just another technique at your disposal and it’s worth doing a bit of practice to perfect it.

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: http://bit.ly/2bEwBH3—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
    07
  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
    08
  9. You should now have a night-sky background for your firework display
    010

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
    011
  2. To make it easier to work, lock the rectangle sublayer and turn off it’s visibility until you’ve made the first firework
    012
  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
    013
  4. Select the Width Tool and start modelling the particle shape
    014
  5. Aim for something nice and wide at the top, tapering off to a fine point
    015
  6. It’s a good idea to save your width profiles for later use
    016
  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)
    017
  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)

    018

  9. Choose Effect > Stylize > Feather… and use a small amount to soften the burst slightly
    019
  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
    020
  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

    021

  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
    022
  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.

Video

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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