Designing for the holidays – Snowflakes in Illustrator

You can feel it in the air, in the music and, of course, in the mall; Christmas is here!

For graphic designers christmas can be a dreaded season or a very exciting one. In my case is an opportunity to recreate old traditions, sparkle creativity and foresee what will be coming next year. During the next couple weeks we will be talking about ideas for the season, color trends and much more.

To start our Christmas Season we will work on the basics for a greeting card, wallpaper or common christmas or winter design; a snowflake. After learning the basics in Illustrator, you can add your personal touch to create your own snowflake design.

In Illustrator open a new document, then;

Draw a vertical line

Select the Line tool and draw a vertical line by holding down the Shift key. Give the line a black Stroke color for the time being and a thickness of 5 pixels, but you might choose a value depending on the dimensions you are working in. Just try to use more or less the proportions as shown in the image below.

Draw a 2nd line at a 45° angle

With the Line tool still selected, draw a second line at an angle of 45°, starting from the vertical line, dragging diagonally, holding down the Shift key.

Flip and duplicate the 45° line

Select the 45° angled line and select the Reflect tool from the toolbox (this tool might be hidden under the Rotate tool). Hold down the Option/Alt key and click on the vertical line as this is the axis. In the window that appears, chooseVertical as Axis and click the Copy button.

Rotate and duplicate

Now select the entire object and select the Rotate tool from the toolbox. Hold down the Alt/Option key and click at the bottom center of the object as this is the spot we want this object to rotate around. In the window that appears choose72°, as we want a snowflake that exists of 5 parts (360/5=72). You could also choose 60° in case you want a snowflakes that contains 6 parts. Now click the Copy button so we keep our original object.

Transform again

To repeat this action, hit Cmd/Ctrl + d 3 times in a row to have it rotated and duplicated 3x in a row. In case you’ve used 60°, you need to do this 4 times in row. Now isn’t that *simply* awesome? We have our simple snowflake completed 🙂

Convert stroke objects to fills

Maybe you want to play with some gradient fill so it might be more interesting to end up with fills instead of strokes. Select the complete snowflake and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Now all strokes are turned into fills.

Unite all fill objects

Maybe it’s nice to end up with 1 nice shape instead of these overlapping ones. We could use the new Shapebuilder toolfor this, which is an awesome new tool in CS5 for everything you are used to do with the Pathfinder options. Though, this time I choose the Pathfinder to do the job as I only have to click once on the Unite option to merge all shapes into 1 object.

Add color

Add some color, maybe a gradient. I have chosen to keep mine flat white, but you can choose whatever suits nicely in your design.

Create Symbol

One idea is to create a Symbol by dragging the object into the Symbols palette (and call it snowflake).

Create a symbol

Spray snowflake symbols

The fun thing is that you can spray symbols using the Symbol Sprayer tool and then create some randomness using the other Symbol tools that are located under the Symbol Sprayer tool.

Experiment and try out other combinations

I can’t say this enough, but by experimenting you often end up surprising yourself. So why not go a bit more wild and try to combine all sorts of shapes that fit into a snowflake? Like you could add in a few circles, or start with a 6 pointed star (using the Star tool, click on the canvas and enter 6 points). A 6 pointed star makes it easier to work with than 5 as you have a few straight lines you can work with for the rotation of your elements. Meaning, you can choose from a horizontal or vertical axis. Below are 3 examples that I deconstructed for you so you can see how they are created.

Think about all the different options here and make sure you try out all sorts of combinations. Just rotate at 60°, make sure to hit copy and then hit Cmd/Ctrl +d to duplicate the action 4 times in a row.

Merry Christmas!

Hope this tutorial triggered your inspiration for the creation of some cool creative snowflakes. Show us your creations and let us know how did you make it.


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