Deke’s Techniques 152: Drawing a Perfect Linear Spiral in Illustrator

Just in time for The Illustrator Challenge to end (my timing is impeccable!), I present you with an ultra-cool Illustrator technique. It’s like this, friends. Have you ever tried using Illustrator’s Spiral tool? Or better yet, have you ever used it to create an element in an actual piece of artwork? If so, my guess is that you didn’t find it to be a particularly fun experience, and you probably had a hell of a time getting the results you wanted.

In which case, rest assured, it’s not your fault. With all due respect to Adobe, Illustrator’s Spiral tool is the kind of tool only a monkey could love. And it’d have to be a stupid monkey at that.

Which is why, this week, I show you how to create a more predictable and better looking spiral, the kind of spiral you actually want to make, using the Polar Grid tool.

Here’s the official description from

In this week’s free episode of Deke’s Techniques, Deke McClelland shows you how to create a spiral in Adobe Illustrator. Actually, he shows you how to make a couple of different spirals. One is a logarithmically defined spiral created with the Spiral tool (i.e., the kind of spiral that Adobe engineers think you want). And the second is an arithmetically defined spiral created with the Polar Grid tool (i.e., the kind of evenly spaced spiral that Deke set out to create in the first place).

Comparing spirals in Adobe Illustrator

To orient you to the swirling mass of spirals, Deke starts out exploring the built-in Spiral tool. He demonstrates some of the limitations of the tool, most prominently that the point where you begin your spiral has no predictable bearing on how the spiral takes shape in your document. You’ll also see which keyboard tricks are available for changing the size and shape of the swirls on the fly.

But as I mentioned above, this logarithmic spiral, where the distance between the curves changes as the spiral moves outward, is not what Deke had in mind. Rather, he’s on a quest for what mathematicians (and diligent readers of Wikipedia) call an Archimedean spiral, where each curve is the same distance from the next along a polar axis.

So in the second phase of the video, Deke creates a set of evenly spaced concentric circles using the somewhat obscure Polar Grid tool. Then, after ungrouping the bottom half of the grid from the top, he ingeniously moves it over to and reconnects the offset shapes to form two intertwining, evenly spaced spirals that would make Archimedes proud. After selecting one and setting the stroke to red, he arrives at this mesmerizing effect:

Two perfect Archimedean spirals in Adobe Illustrator

For members of, Deke has an exclusive movie in the library this week that shows you how to create another type of spiral from a single triangle, with this result:

A nautilus shell rendered from a single tiny triangle in Illustrator

Deke’s Techniques, each and every week. And he’ll be back with another spiral-inspired tutorial next week.

You have to check out that nautilus shell trick. It’s so easy. Created entirely automatically using a dynamic turn of the Transform effect, all from a single tiny triangle. And next week, I’ll show you how to create a hex pattern below using the new Pattern Options panel in Illustrator CS6.

A seamless hex pattern created in Illustrator CS6

Spirals. What can I say? I’m just plain daffy for the damn things.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques, The Final Challenge: Anything Goes

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques: The Photoshop Challenge Winners!

  • Very nice!

    I like this technique. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the spiral tool. This gives me a new technique to add to my bag of tricks. Thanks Deke!

  • Inkscape, too

    Nice technique when you’re Illustrator-bound. However, I always pop into Inkscape since the spiral tool it has is fantastic, with many fine levels of control. You can run Inkscape on any platform. For the Mac you just need the X Windows server system called X11 - takes a couple minutes to install – and it’s free and open-source with a great user-base. Check it out!

  • Great technique

    This was so helpful! One would think Illustrator’s spiral tool would have an option for creating spirals with even spacing, but nooooo… You saved the day - thanks!

  • And is there a way how to do

    And is there a way how to do spiral triangle?

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