Deke’s Techniques 166: Creating a Continuous, Single-Line Spirograph in Illustrator

166 Creating a continuous single-line Spirograph

I cannot believe how catchy that new Rihanna song is. “Diamonds” is so infectious and hypnotic, I want to chew it out of my brain with my own teeth, just so I can experience it with a different orifice. I used to think I couldn’t stop listening to “Shut Up and Drive.” But now all I can hear is “Shine bright like a diamond,” chirped in a way that is not possible without digital intervention.

Anyway, as you might expect, this week’s Deke’s Techniques has nothing to do with diamonds. But there is some digital intervention. And I do show you how to create something infectious and hypnotic in Adobe Illustrator while you listen to something infectious and hypnotic in your own chewed head.

Specifically, I show you how to make a Spirograph-like hypotrochoid formed from a single path outline. One that curls around and loops into itself like it will never stop. Which it won’t. Ever.

Here’s the official description from my shiny and radiantly sparkling video publisher, It is meant to be read while listening to “Diamonds.” Seriously, it’s the only way it’ll make sense.

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques episode, Deke shows you how to create a Spirograph-style pattern that is actually created from a single, continuous path. Yes, it’s true, Deke showed you a similar technique two weeks ago. But while that project was legitimately a Spirograph-esque design, it was not a legitimate unbroken hypotrochoid. Those of you, ah, young enough to remember using a Spirograph know that the magic of it involved creating the design without ever lifting your pen from the paper. And Deke has discovered two ways to achieve that continuous line effect with Adobe Illustrator, both of which he demonstrates in this week’s episode.

The first approach involves squishing a standard circle shape into this unassuming ellipse:

An ellipse in Adobe Illustrator

That ellipse is then duplicated 11 times using the Rotate tool to make copies, turning each shape 3 degrees from the previous copy’s opposite anchor point. Once the entire rotation is complete (and this is admittedly tedious), you can delete all the center anchor points and join the remaining half-ellipses to make a single path. After converting all the outer points to smooth points, you’re left with this regulation, one-line hypotrochoid:

A regulation, one-line hypotrochoid in Adobe Illustrator

The second approach that Deke demonstrates also starts with an ellipse. But in this case, rather than duplicating whole ellipses and then efficiently cutting half of them away, Deke creates an open path, like a lowercase cursive L. Specifically, he cuts the ellipse open with the Scissors tool and then slightly rotates one half of it, as shown below:

An ellipse turns into a cursive L in Adobe Illustrator

Once you have this open shape, you can duplicate and rotate it with the Transform effect:

Now we have a true hypotrochoid in Adobe Illustrator

With either approach, you’ll need a few fine-tuning tweaks to perfect the shape, which Deke demonstrates in the video. In the end, you can combine the two shapes and apply the Multiply blend mode to mix the ink colors, for a nostalgic, classic, single-path Spirograph-like piece of artwork.

Wow, now there's a stunning piece of old-school artwork in Adobe Illustrator

For members of, Deke’s got yet a third approach for this kind of effect that uses the Scale tool to make very intricate, lace-like designs.

And Deke will be back next week with another free technique!

Scroll that last graphic up and down. Isn’t it cool the way it seems to move? Like it’s flying.

For those of you who are members of, I offer a follow-up video in which I show you how to make the following. It’s called “Scaling circles into complex patterns.” But it should be called . . .

Diamonds inside Spirograph-like hypotrochoids

Click it. It’s my gift to you, baby. Enjoy.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 168: Creating a Money-Like Design in Illustrator

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 164: Turning a Pencil Sketch into Digital Ink in Photoshop

  • Spirograph-like hypotrochoid

    I watched both over at Lynda, and my head exploded.

    But, this looks like fun when/if I can finally figure out what’s going on in what’s left of my head.

  • DonS, in what’s left of your head, please know…

    This is one of my favorite comments. Deke-like in its absurdity.

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