How to create a shutter shape in Illustrator

11 Aug 2011

Hope you are ready for another Illustrator tutorial. The idea for today's post was sparked by a conversation between Dan Rubin & Jason Santa Maria about a design for a tattoo for the new shop from Swissmiss called Tattly™, Designy Temporary Tattoos. These tattoos are on sale now on for the next 2 days btw. The tattoo I'll be talking about is the diaphragm found in cameras .

Not sure about you, but I find these kind of geometric icons not easy to draw, but always very tempting to try. They need a bit of a pre-analysis, and that's what makes them so attractive for me. For this one I really wanted to avoid using the Pen tool, but unfortunately I did not succeed in doing that as I really wanted to preserve the subtle curved lines on the inside of the icon. However, I've been able to keep that part to a bare minimum. The rest of the steps are pretty easy to follow actions, and I bet there are other ways as well, but here's mine.

Draw a polygon

Start by dragging a vertical and horizontal guide from the rulers. If the rulers aren't visible on your screen go to View > Rulers > Show Rulers (or hit cmd/ctrl + R). Select the Polygon tool from the toolbox, position the mouse on the intersection point of both guides, now click drag (hold down the mouse) to draw a polygon from the center out by also holding down shift + option/alt key. Give the polygon a random color and no stroke. Lock the polygon by hitting cmd/ctrl + 2 (Object > Lock > Selection).

Draw a curved line

Change the color swatches in the toolbox to no fill and a random stroke color. Choose a color that contrasts well with the color of the polygon. Now select the Pen tool and draw a curved line starting in one of the corners of the polygon, following the side of the polygon and end all the way outside (see image above). Use only 2 anchor points (starting and end point) and make sure the curve is wide and long enough.

Make sure the curve is fully selected and choose the Rotate tool from the toolbox. Rotate the curved line around the center point of the polygon by holding down the Alt/Option key while clicking precisely on the center point of the polygon (which is the intersection of the 2 guidelines).

Enter the value of 60 as rotation degrees in the Rotate window and click the Copy button.

In the next step, select the Scissors tool from the toolbox and make a cut on the original curved path you've created, as close as possible to the intersection point of both curved lines. To do a perfect job, and to avoid the annoying warning, you'll need to zoom in. Delete the segment of the original curved path that is towards top left of the cut (see also the next image for help).

Now select the top anchor points of both segments, by selecting the Direct Selection tool (or white arrow) and by dragging a rectangle over the area. Join them by hitting ctrl/cmd + j.

Select the Pen tool from the toolbox and close the path with another curved line. First click in the top right open anchor point now hold down the Option/Alt key and click into the other open anchor point while keeping down the mouse and drag towards the bottom left as shown in the image above.

Now you should have a triangular shape that looks similar to the shape shown in the image above. Select the shape using the Selection tool (black arrow). Now select the Rotate tool from the toolbox . Hold down the Option/Alt key again and click in the center point of the polygon, just like you did before.

Enter the value of 60 degrees and click the Copy button.

You should end up with 2 triangular shapes similar as shown in the image above. Now hit Ctrl/Cmd + d 4 times in a row to repeat this exact transformation 4 times to complete the circle around.

The end result should look similar to the image above.

Now we'll turn the strokes into fills by going to Object > Expand. Make sure Stroke is selected and click OK.

Make sure the shape is still selected and go to the Pathfinder palette and choose Unite. I have tried to avoid this option because you can see that Illustrator does a bit of a lousy job here. It creates all these unnecessary anchor points on our otherwise so clean path! :( But we'll need this step so we have no other choice here than to accept this result I'm afraid.

Next draw a circle that is smaller than the shape you've just created, as it needs to fit in. Select the Ellipse tool from the toolbox, and create a perfect circle from the center out starting from the center point of the polygon. To do this hold down the Option/Alt key, click into the center point while holding down the mouse and dragging outwards, while dragging also hold down the Shift key to create a perfect circle. When finishing dragging make sure to release the mouse first and then the keys.

In this step we'll use a new CS5 tool that I really love and wish Adobe implemented way earlier, namely the Shape Builder tool. We'll need to get rid of a whole lot of unnecessary parts and this tool makes it very easy to do so. First make sure both the circle and the shape is selected, now select the Shape Builder tool. To remove parts of the selected shapes, hold down the Option/Alt key and hover over the parts that needs to be removed. When you see the selection indication (pattern) click once. First hover the part that is outside the circle holding down the Alt/Option key. The minus should appear next to your cursor telling you you're about to remove a that part.

Next hover the lines within the circle holding down the Option/Alt key and click to remove them.

Lastly hover over the center part holding down the Option/Alt key and click to remove it. Now unlock the original polygon shape by going to Object > Unlock All or by hitting the shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + Alt/Option + 2. Hit the delete key to remove the object as we don't need it anymore.

That's it! This should be your end result :) Hope you enjoyed it.


  1. 1 Richard Saunders 11 Aug 2011

    I cant tell you how many times I’ve approached creating a shutter shape in illustrator and got extremely frustrated with the result.

    Great explanation as usual, thanks for feeding back to the community with great tutorials.

  2. 2 Alistair Taylor 11 Aug 2011

    Nice tutorial! I tried something similar a few weeks ago, but my version took a bit longer. I have just tried your tutorial and it works really well. I am using CS4 (on windows), so the new tool in CS% was unavailable. Instead i used Pathfinder -> Minus black (my illustration was in black). This removed all the outlines in one go.

    Thanks again

  3. 3 Jon Muir 12 Aug 2011


  4. 4 Nana Yaw 13 Aug 2011

    Truly inspiring! I have learnt something thanks.

  5. 5 Peter Asquith 16 Aug 2011

    As always, an excellent and inspiring tutorial. Thanks you.