If you’ve been using Illustrator for any length of time you’ll be aware of the Transform functions that reside under the Object menu. Go to Object>Transform and you’ll find Move, Rotate etc all grouped in one submenu.

However, Transform functions can also be applied as Effects. Go to Effect>Distort & Transform and you’ll see Transform… as an option in this submenu. Prepare yourself for total excitement!

transform as an effect in illustrator

In the example here I’ve drawn a simple ellipse, keeping it tall and thin, and with the object still selected call up the Transform Effect dialogue box (Effect>Distort & Transform>Transform…)

Rotation is set to 30 degrees and Copies set to 6 – also note that the Preview checkbox is on otherwise you won’t see much happening!

adjust rotation with transform effect

The Transform Effect function is unique in that you can specify a number of copies to be spawned from the original object(s) – standard transform functions only allow a single copy.

In the second example I’ve made some changes to the Scale and Move values so the object changes position and size with each duplication. By altering Angle, Copies and changing the Reference Point we can get some interesting effects as the shape begins to spiral gracefully.

adjusting angle copies and reference point

With the Preview checked feedback is live so you can experiment as much as you want – happy accidents are sometimes a key part of the design process. Whilst playing with the setting here I managed to re-invent Spirograph! Readers of a certain age will now be getting misty-eyed – the rest of you can google it!

create a spirograph effect in illustrator

Because the transform is being applied as an effect, which is essentially live, we can continue to edit the shape after clicking OK to apply the effect. As I edit the ellipse with the Direct Selection tool to distort the outline this cascades down through the copies. Try rotating, scaling etc to see how the effect works on a live element.

rotating and scaling an effect in illustrator

Remember that this will also work for multiple objects and groups – make it as simple or as complex as you want. In the examples here I deliberately chose a high number of copies to arrive at this Spirograph style effect but it’s also useful when laying out a few shapes in even, symmetrical configurations. Once you’ve achieved the pattern or layout that you want you can expand these out into individual objects (Object>Expand Appearance) to edit them individually.

I hope you enjoyed this post – now go and play with Transform Effects and have some fun!

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