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Creating Tech Shapes In Illustrator

Tech Shapes are useful for all kinds of projects that are slightly futuristic. Whether it’s HUD’s or texturing 3D models. There are many 3rd party libraries about for these geometric designs, GoMedia and Digital Juice have some great vector packs.

Instead of buying them it’s actually a lot more fun to make your own, and easy too. Building up your own library of design elements in your spare time can make your projects more original and save you some cash too.

Here’s a quick tutorial on creating a futuristic tech element in Illustrator.

Here’s what we’re going to be making. Create a new document. I usually just make a Basic RGB one about 1000 x 700px.

new document

Step 1

Turn on the Grid (Command - “) and make sure Snap To Grid is enabled.

Snap to grid

Step 2

Draw out three slim rectangles of various sizes. You can see these are snapped to one grid block in height.

3 rectangles

Step 3

Now rotate and join them up to make a base shape to work around. I’ve rotated at a 45 degree angle. These should snap together quite nicely.

rotated rectangles

Step 4

Next I’m going to start filling in with some thicker shapes.

creating thicker shapes

Step 5

Making the bigger blocks is simple and can be done two ways. The first is with the Shear transform tool. Draw out a rectangle and Control-Click it. Choose Shear from the Transform menu.

Shear from Transform menu

Step 6

Set the angle to 45 degrees. You can preview if you like. This will give you a perfect 45 degree slant to the rectangle.

45˚ slant

A second way to do this is to select the bottom two points of the rectangle with the Direct Selection (White Arrow) tool.

Move them horizontally holding Shift (to constrain the movement) till they snap to a 45 degree angle on the grid. 

Snap them to the grid

You’ll find the Shear method handy when dealing with multiple paths.

multiple paths using shear

Step 7

Start snapping the shapes together.

Snap shapes together

I basically use these techniques and add shapes till I get something I like.

Addings shapes

Step 8a

You’ll find you end up with a lot of separate paths on a single layer. 

Separate paths on a single layer

You now have two choices.

You can join all the paths to make one object by selecting all the paths and using the unite tool in the Pathfinder window.

Using the unite tool

This is handy if you want to import the shape into Photoshop as a Shape Layer.

Step 8b

The other option is to separate all the paths onto unique Layers. You can do this by going into the Layers menu and with your Layer selected choose Release To Layers (Sequence).

Release to layers

This creates a Layer for every path in order.

A layer for every path

Select all your sub layers you created and drag them out of Layer 1. Delete the empty Layer.

Step 9

You can now import this Illustrator file into After Effects as a Composition and animate each element as AE will see all the separate Layers. 

imort into After Effects

Step 10

Here you can see all the Layers in the Timeline. Remember to select Collapse Transformations for all the Layers for crisp vector lines in AE.

collapse transformations

You can experiment with all sorts of shapes like Circles and Hexagons. They only take a minute so you can build up quite a stockpile of your own custom shapes pretty fast!

Toby Pitman

Toby Pitman | Articles by this author

For the past 20 years Toby has worked as a professional guitarist, programmer and producer. Clients include Sir Paul McCartney, George Michael, Shirley Bassey, Yusuf Islam, Giles Martin as well as the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies. He has also worked extensively in TV, Advertising and Film. As well as composing himself he has also worked alongside many composers like David Arnold, Clint Mansell and Simon Franglen on many major film releases. An expert in synthesis and sound design Toby has also lectured for Apple on their Logic Pro music software which he has used since its days on the Atari. He has also worked as an educator for the International Guitar Foundation and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music teaching guitar. In his spare time (of which there is very little) he moonlights as a motion graphics artist specialising in Cinema 4D and After Effects.


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