How to Create Twirl Design Elements in Illustrator and Photoshop
Twirling design elements have recently become quite popular, and it’s easy to see why - their swirling, dynamic nature makes them eye-catching and mesmerizing. When placed behind silhouettes of people or images of objects in motion, twirls can help amplify the sense of movement because they are, inherently, spinning shapes. Many ready-to-use vector twirl designs can be found on Shutterstock, but if you want to create them for yourself, it can be quite easy. Let’s examine how to twirl in both Illustrator and Photoshop.
The Basic Twirl
In Illustrator, a quick way to create a twirl element is to distort objects with the Twirl tool, which you can find among the Liquify tools.
Begin by drawing an ellipse with the Ellipse tool and give it a nice light blue fill from the Swatches panel. Next, select the Twirl tool and adjust the brush size so it is slightly larger than the ellipse - do this by holding down the Alt (Windows) / Option (Mac) key while clicking and dragging with the Twirl tool.The circle around the cursor represents the size of the brush where twirling distortion will take place. You can adjust the size of the brush proportionally by instead holding down Shift+Alt (Windows) / Shift+Option (Mac) as you click and drag.
Click with the Twirl tool over the selected ellipse for a few seconds and watch it spin instantly into a twirl shape. Combine this twirl with some gold stars and you now have the perfect design element for placing behind a magical message or product shot.
You can also create unique twirl designs simply by changing what you twirl. Try twirling two different colored ellipses slightly overlapping each other and watch their colors mix together. Alternatively, twirl an arrangement of nine different colored circles to get another interestingly different “cosmic” design. The possibilities are endless.
Twirling Other Objects
You can twirl many other objects, including meshes, blends and even embedded images. Exceptions include symbols, graphs, text and linked files.To further illustrate a twirl’s versatility, draw an arc with the Arc tool (under the Line tool) and create a series of different-sized twirls along the arc by changing the Twirl tool’s brush size for each twirl. Create a few more of these stylized strands of curly hair and arrange them on a digitally-drawn character’s straight hair to give her a completely new look!
Twirl to the Left, then to the Right
If you’re twirling in one direction for too long, you might feel a bit dizzy, so let’s change the twirling direction by accessing the Twirl tool’s settings. Bring this up by either pressing Enter if you’ve already got the Twirl tool selected, or by double clicking on the Twirl tool.In the Twirl Tool Options dialog box that appears, adjust the Twirl Rate slider to either have a negative value for a clockwise twirling motion, or a positive value to twirl counterclockwise. The values range from –180 (extreme left) to +180 degrees (extreme right).Tip: use small values (somewhere near the middle) because they twirl slowly, whereas large values will twirl objects incredibly fast.
Twirling in Photoshop
You can easily copy and paste the vector twirl designs you’ve created from Illustrator into Photoshop. However, if you’d like to create them directly in Photoshop, you can achieve similar results using the Twirl filter. This process is essentially the same - first create what you want to twirl, and then apply the Twirl filter.Below, the three different colored stripes were created by using the Brush tool, then clicking on the menu, Filter > Distort > Twirl. In the Twirl dialog box that pops up, notice that there is only one setting, which is the Angle slider at the bottom. It has similar functionality to the Twirl Rate slider we examined in Illustrator. By adjusting it to either a positive or negative value, you can change the direction of the twirl, and larger values create a greater amount of twirling distortion.
Now that you’re armed with this much knowledge of twirls, go hit the dance floor (I mean artboard!) and practice these twirl steps for yourself!