Deke's Techniques 508: Make an Atom Symbol with Dynamic Effects in Illustrator

In this week's free Deke's Techniques episode, Deke "draws" an atom symbol in Adobe Illustrator without actually drawing (well, he does make an ellipse and a circle to start with, but filling out dialog boxes doesn't really count as drawing does it?

An ordinary ellipse and circle

Nor do you need any illustration skills to use the Transform effect to copy and rotate two more ellipses around, turn the circles as guides, and then create some well-placed (some might say meticulously placed) nucleus and electrons. At one point, Deke can't imagine why you would need to zoom into 1200 percent to make your electron positioning exact, but I can imagine that Deke definitely needs to. This is chemistry after all!

An atom created with Illustrator dynamic effects

If you're a member of, then Deke has an exclusive movie in which he shows you how to hollow-out those electrons and rotate the whole symbol without leaving said electrons outside their designated orbits. Check out that Appearance panel where all the atomic magic is happening:

Rotated atom symbol and Illustrator's Appearance panel

Not a member? You can get a free 10-day trial at

Deke's Techniques, making chemistry and Illustrator more fun, while still keeping some of the math!



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just this once

I saw this video and it is great but I believe that it can be done more easily.

and small Circle were Deke put his

Then group the two and make a transform with Appearance -120 degrees / 2 steps

and there you have the atom

if you like then put a mask on the small circle with a white stroke and black fill and you can put any background in as you like-