Tutorial – Twisted wire in Illustrator CS5

Here is a tutorial I learnt last week whilst at college, that I had forgotten about until I saw the files on my memory stick. This tutorial looks at creating a twisted wire in Adobe Illustrator CS5.1, which can be then be turned into a pattern where all sorts of interesting things can be done with it. This is very similar to the two tutorials my tutor showed me that led to the realisation of the DNA double helixes that featured for my Portraits project, more of which can be read here but advances it in a couple of ways.

Creating one part of the rope:

  1. A personal preference I find helps for creating a twisted wire that is even is to make the grid visible on the canvas. This can be done by going to View > Show Grid, or cmd/ctrl + . Preferences for the grid can be changed by going to Illustrator > Preferences > Guides and Grids…
  2. Select the Pen Tool from the Tools Panel, and while holding down the Shift key, click, and move the cursor horizontally one way or the other. This will result in a line either side from the central point forming. 
  3. From there choose another point somewhere below right, and repeat the process, but as the handles are appearing, check to ensure the line (connecting the two centre points) that is created follows the curve you want. Moving the cursor will alter the line to the curve you want. This may be a bit trial and error until you are happy with the end result. 
  4. Repeat the last step once more so you should now have a second curve or ‘path’ to match the first. 
  5. I then selected the path using the Selection Tool from the Tools Panel and thickened the Stroke to 4pt from the Control Bar. 

Duplicating the path and making it authentic: Now we need a second path to create the twisted rope effect.

  1. Select the path, and go to Object > Transform > Reflect. This brings up a dialog box where you want it to reflect Horizontally. Once that is done, click Copy to save changing the original path. You should now see something like the image below. 
  2. If you want a different colour for each strand of the rope, then now is the time to select the new path, and select the colour from the Fill box at the base of the Tools panel. Here’s what I did: 
  3. You will now see the grey path fully in front of the black path, which is not correct for a twisted wire. To achieve the twisted rope effect we now need to cut the grey path in two. To do this, click and hold the Eraser Tool from the Tools Panel to reveal a drop-down menu where the Scissors Tool can be selected. Click on the intersect that I have highlighted in the below image. 
  4. Once this is done select that individual part of the path and go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.

Re-sizing the rope in proportion: Because we have used the stroke tool, if we want to re-size it, the stroke will not change so the shape will lose all proportion. This is how to overcome that:

  1. Ensure all of the rope is selected using the Selection Tool from the Tools Panel.
  2. Double click on the Scale Tool from the Tools Panel.
  3. In the resulting dialog box, tick the checkbox that states Scale Strokes & Effects

Turning it into a brush: This allows for us to use it on any shape, which allows for a wide variety of creative options to be explored.

  1. Ensure all of the rope is selected using the Selection Tool from the Tools Panel.
  2. Bring up the Brush Palette by going to Window > Brush if it is not already visible. 
  3. Click on the top right drop-down list and select New Brush.
  4. In the resulting combo box, click Pattern Brush
  5. Click OK to the following dialog box once you have given it a suitable name. The brush now appears in the palette and can be used on any shape. 

Using it on a shape:

  1. Draw a shape, I’ve gone for an circle. To draw a circle, click and hold the Rectangle Tool in the Tools Panel to reveal a drop-down list. Click Ellipse Tool.
  2. While the shape is still selected after being drawn, just click on the brush you have created above. You will see that the stroke of the shape changes to the brush. If you want a specific effect to be achieved, then experiment with it and see what can be done. 

Well, I hope this tutorial has been useful, feel free to leave a comment below if this has helped, or if you want to make a constructive suggestion as to how I could improve these tutorials for the future. 🙂


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