Deke’s Techniques 093: Creating a Money-Like Design in Illustrator

A few years ago, I showed you how to scan real actual American money and open it in Photoshop. Unfortunately, that trick doesn’t work these days, and I don’t know of a trick that does. (Which sucks, because we the people own the copyright to our currency! And unless you have access to a stockpile of federally protected paper and ink, and you possess world-class separation skills, you aren’t going to get anywhere scanning banknotes into Photoshop. Haven’t Adobe’s lawyers—and the feds that lobbied them—read something as basic as a Jack Reacher novel?) And so I thought, screw it. If you can’t beat ‘em, reinvent ‘em.

Which is why I decided, this week, to show you how to draw your own money, one emblematic detail at a time. Here’s the official description from

In this week’s free episode of Deke’s Techniques, Deke McClelland shows you how to use Adobe Illustrator to create a filigreed emblem worthy of actual money.

Deke begins with a design based on last week’s spirograph technique, a dark background covered with intricate, scaled, hypotrochoid patterns: 


Next, he adds some scalloping to the edges of the black background circle using a Distort & Transform command called Zig Zag. When you set the Points option to Smooth, the default sharp corners of the Zig Zag effect become gentle waves: 


By duplicating the effect and turning it 9 degrees, Deke creates a second set of scalloped edges that will come in handy for the next step. 


After moving the two scallop effects to the top layer, deleting their fills, and applying a 6-point black stroke and a 4-point white stroke, the result is this intertwined braid around the edges of the Great Seal of Deke. 


In order to make the braid a continuous shape (as opposed to looking like two overlapping lines), Deke goes to the Attributes panel and moves the Transform effect up above the two strokes. Then, to give his emblem a more American-currency hue, he changes the white stroke color to a pale green. 


He also applies that pale money green fill to the central numeral. He gives it a shadow by creating a copy of the fill and then using the Transform effect to move it down and to the right: 


Deke adds another stroke to beef up the shadow. Then he applies a thin stroke above the green fill and uses the Offset Path effect set to a negative value (-3) to really sell his currency: 


Finally, Deke assigns the filigreed lines of the spirograph patterns the same pale green strokes. In the video, you’ll see the quick tips Deke uses to select all those paths and make sure no pale green lines extend beyond the emblem. The result is this currency-like seal: 

I mean, seriously, don’t you think that could be the bottom-right corner of a beautifully bitchin’ bill? With Daniel Day-Lewis right there in the center. Lookin’ all sideways and shit:

The new 5-dollar bill in Photoshop

Okay, so it’s a work in progress.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 094: Attack of the Killer Pumpkin! (In Photoshop!)

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 92: Creating a Continuous, Single-Line Spirograph in Illustrator


  • Videos not loading…

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    Time: 18:02 GMT

  • Seems to be working now

    At least for me it’s a-okay. Lemme know if not for you.

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    Yup… working now… smile

  • Love your Deke’s techniques.

    Love your Deke’s techniques. Have learnt so much from you

    Thank you

  • Right up my alley

    I always love your techniques Deke and this one is near and dear to my heart since I’m kind of a fake currency nut.

    Here’s some examples of my work using some of those techniques and others like blends combined with the zigzag filter.

    And also:

  • These are awesome!

    Why didn’t you show us how you made them for The Challenge?!

    Very irritating b/c then I could have ripped you off.

    grin Only I’m serious, dammit!

  • After my last video tut

    After my last video tut I decided I need some serious training on how to do training. Seriously, you make it look so damn easy it makes me sad. A video of me making currency would make you laugh and cry and it wouldn’t be less than 10 minutes.

    I still might do one on using the blend tool combined with the zig-zag filter. I would like to show that there is still a bug in Illustrator that doesn’t preview the zig-zag correctly in some instances when combined with multiple blends. That said it’s still a powerful tool to create complex currency and guilloche type patterns.

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