Creating a Universal Woman Symbol in Adobe Illustrator without Drawing At All

Me, again. I know, I was just re-inaugurated as Empress of dekeOtopia on Monday and I’m already back again. I really wanted to call this post Cherchez La Femme, but alas, I have just enough tenuous SEO knowledge to understand that’s too clever by half. Nonetheless, I promised to show you how to make the Woman version of the Universal This Is the Restroom You Need symbol. The Universal Man we created in Monday’s post is lonely. And more importantly the ladies room in dekeOpolis remains unmarked. Could be awkward.

Illustrator to the rescue, as we apply a series of transformed stroke effects to our initial line segment, and create this badly needed universal woman symbol (without having to draw a thing, not even a skirt).

To create our Universal Chick, we’ll begin with the attributes that we applied to create the Universal Dude in Monday’s tutorial. For those of you (uh, slackers) who didn’t follow Monday’s tutorial, there’s a sample file you can start from at the end of this post. Or you can apply the stroke attributes and transformation effects shown in the graphics below to a standard perpendicular 266-point line you draw yourself with the Line Segment tool. You’ll just have to create new strokes to apply the effects shown. You’re smart, if lazy; you can handle it. For the rest of us hardworking folk, here are the steps:

So when we last left our universal man, he had nothing but a stick (in the form of the same 266-point line segment he was sprouted from) to keep him company:

1) Save the Man’s attributes as a graphic style:

Many of the strokes that made our Dude can be reused to create our Dudette. We’ll gather up the appearance of our guy and save it as a graphic style.

Make sure the Man’s path is selected, open the Graphic Styles panel, and alt-click the page icon to create a new style with all his information. Name the style something useful and click OK.

2) Apply the manliness to a 266-point stroke.

Draw a second 266-point long stroke on a new Woman layer (or use the stroke in the sample file I attached at the end of this post.) Click on the new style and watch this startlingly great transformation: applying a single style basically draws an entire being:

3) Turn off the man parts you don’t need.

Of course, our girl needs some finesse to differentiate her from her male counterpart. First, we’ll have to get rid of the manly arms and armpits, so turn off those particular strokes by clicking their respective eyeball icons. Because Illustrator doesn’t currently allow you to usefully name the items in the Appearance panel (are you listening Adobe-Guys-and-Gals?), I’ve made this handy reference to show you which items to turn off.

Now it looks like the universal symbol for enormous boobs. (If you think that’s sexist, let me point out that the gender of our symbol is still undetermined.)

4) Narrow the shoulders.

Anyway, we want our (soon-to-be) her to have narrower shoulders, so start by making sure the 59.5-point stroke is selected, twirl it open, click Transform, and decrease the Vertical Scale to 24 percent. Click OK.

5) Start the skirt with an arrowhead.

Next, we’re going to create her skirt. Deke, with his mastery of Illustrator and love skirts, figured out you could use an arrowhead applied to the torso stroke (the 66-pointer) to make a dress. Click the 66-point torso stroke in the Appearance panel to make it active, then click the word Stroke to adjust its attributes. Set the stroke weight to 4.5, then choose Arrow 7 from the Arrowheads popup menu. Set the Scale to 1000 percent, which tells Illustrator that you want the head of the arrow to take up 1000 percent of the entire stroke, which basically means the arrow has no visible shaft.

Clicking OK basically gives you the universal symbol for Bat Girl.

6) Trim down the skirt.

To clip the the wings down into into a more dress-like shadow, twirl open the stroke’s attributes and click Transform. Set the reference point matrix (has anyone thought of a better universal name for the 9-point gizmo yet?) to the center point. Then change the Horizontal Scale to 34 percent, the Vertical Scale to 60 percent, the Vertical Move to -108 points, and because the whole thing gets slightly off-center, the Horizontal Move to -1 points. Click OK. We know have a universal symbol for a human Christmas Tree.

7) Cover the parts of the skirt that look like a thick neck and pointy hat.

To separate the unnecessary top part of the arrowhead from the skirt part that we do want, we’ll use a variation on the white stroke that occupies the negative space between her legs to cover up the parts we don’t want.

Copy the one 10-point white stroke that’s still turned on by clicking it to make it active and clicking the page icon at the bottom of the Attributes panel. Then change the new stroke weight to 84 points. Twirl the stroke attributes open, click Transform, and change the Vertical Scale to 28 percent, the Vertical Move to -124, and the Rotate Angle to -90.

Click OK. This will cover up the unwanted area around her head and neck, as well as reveal her legs so that she looks like she’s wearing palazzo pants:

8) Mind the gap between her legs.

To change those wide-legged crop pants into an actual skirt, we’ll need to lower the stroke that creates the gap between her legs. Deke’s instruction is to click open the Transform attributes of the remaining 10-point white stroke, and change the Vertical Move to 97 points. Click OK.

The skirt is rather short if you’re going to imply that’s where her crotch is. But I know that Deke researched these symbols. (If you’re feeling modest on her behalf, change the stroke’s cap to Butt Cap and position it so it matches the hem of her skirt.) I don’t know why I’m worrying about it, her boyfriend is wearing a unitard.

9) Create her right arm.

To create her right arm, turn back on both the top 24-point stroke and the currently invisible top 10-point white stroke that was the man’s right armpit-void. Delete the remaining hidden 24 and 10-point-strokes because it will be easier to duplicate our new arms than to adjust the old ones.

Start by twirling open the 24-point stroke, clicking Transform, and setting the Vertical Scale to 32 percent, the Horizontal Move to 61.5 points, and the Vertical Move to -22 points. Because girls are apparently known to flap their arms when they’re wearing dresses, you also need to change the Rotate Angle to 18 degrees. When you click OK, the result is something that I can’t readily come up with a clever name for (any ideas?):

1) Fix her right armpit-void. (It makes sense in context.)

Next, click the 10-point white stroke that represents the armpit void. Twirl it open, click transform, and change its Vertical Scale to 60 percent, the Horizontal Move to 60 points, and the Vertical Move to 28 points. Set the Rotate Angle to 18 degrees to match the arm stroke and click OK.

11) Make a copy of the arm on the left.

Copy the arm stroke and turn its Horizontal Move and Angle to their negative values: -61.5 points and -18 degrees, respectively. 

12) Make a copy of the void on the left.

Fix the left armpit via the same principle, twirl it open, click transform, and turn the Horizontal Move and Angle to their negative counterparts: -60 points and -18 degrees. We have in fact, found la femme. 

13) Bring our lonely Universal Souls Together.

Of course, like the gentleman we created Monday, this woman’s structural integrety is totally dependent on the orientation of her original stroke. Changing her to outlines will allow much more flexibility; you can follow the same instructions I mentioned at the end of the Man post.

Together at last:

If you’d like a practice file to start with, you can download it here. Just remember to a) double-click it and, if you’re on a PC, drag a copy out of the zip archive to work on. On Mac, you’ll find the workable file in a folder that appears when you click.

Great to be back, dekeItarians. Let me know what you think. Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter at @akacolleen, although Deke tells me sometimes it’s TMNdI (Too Much Non-deke Information). It’s good to be Empress.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 191: Building a Universal ISOTYPE Man with Strokes in Illustrator

Previous entry:Creating a Universal Male Symbol in Adobe Illustrator (No Drawing or Tracing Required)

  • Reformed DekeItarian

    I started a new offshoot of the old DekeItarian church. It includes more drinking and less Adobe Illustrator. ;-)

    P.S. We speak in the old tongue and only use the pen tool.

  • Where’s the Love button, Vectorgeek

    I like your guidelines. Happy Friday!

  • God frak it, it’s dekeItarian

    With a lower-case d. If you’re going to attend my church, attend it right!


    I agree about the old tongue. But less Illustrator? We might have a traitor amongst us!

  • dekeItarian

    dekeItarian it is then oh HOLeY one!

    When I said, “Less Illustrator” it’s relative to how much you drank. ;-)

  • I’ll post a tutorial soon

    On how to make a “Love” button. ;-)

  • Cool, Vectorgeek, keep us posted

    Does anyone else feel an odd compulsion to title cap the subject line of this comments form?

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