Produced by KelbyOne

Swingin' Retro Look in Adobe Illustrator

There definitely seems to be a resurgence of retro design techniques all over the place. It can be seen everywhere. Perhaps the appeal is the simplicity of the technique. Adobe Illustrator has just the tools to achieve this look quickly and easily. Here we’re going to create a retro look using custom brushes and symbols.

STEP 1 Begin with a Long, Thin Rectangle
Select the Rectangle tool (M) from the Toolbox. Click once on the artboard and in the Rectangle dialog, enter 5″ for Width and .25″ for Height. Then open the Color panel (Window>Color) and fill the shape with any color you like (we used R:251, G:176, B:59).

STEP 2 Duplicate and Vary the Size of the Object
Hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key then click on the object with the Selection tool (V) and drag down to create a duplicate of the object. Drag the duplicate down to where there’s a small space between the two shapes. Repeat this several times, varying the space in between. Then vary the height of each object by selecting the object with the Selection tool, grabbing the middle handle on either the top or bottom, and dragging up or down slightly.

STEP 3 Fill the Spaces with White
We need to make sure that the areas between the shapes are filled with white. Right now nothing’s there, so it’s transparent. Select all the shapes with the Selection tool and make note of the overall measurement of the shapes by looking in the Info panel (Window>Info). Our overall object is 5×2.319″. Select the Rectangle tool and click once in the artboard. Enter the dimensions that you noted from the other shapes and click OK. Then in the Control panel, fill the box with white and set the Stroke to None.

STEP 4 Set the White Box in Place
Drag this new white box on top of the other boxes until they’re no longer visible. Then go under the Object menu and select Arrange>Send to Back. While there’s no obvious change, the transparent gaps now have a white fill.

STEP 5 Create a Brush
Press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to select all the shapes or, if you have multiple objects in your artboard, click-and-drag over the entire shape area with the Selection tool. Open the Brushes panel (Window>Brushes) and drag the graphic into the panel. Choose New Art Brush from the New Brush dialog that appears. Make sure the Direction is set lengthwise along the shape, then check the Proportional option in the Size section and click OK. Now that you have this graphic as a brush, you can delete it from the artboard.

STEP 6 Create Background
Select the Rectangle tool and click on the artboard. In the Rectangle dialog, enter 15″ for Width and 8″ for Height. Fill the rectangle with R:247, G:147, B:30.

STEP 7 Add Gradient Fill
Open the Appearance panel and drag the Fill item onto the Duplicate Selected Item icon at the bottom of the panel. Open the Swatches panel and select the black-and-white radial gradient (Radial Gradient 1). Then go to the Transparency panel and change the blend mode to Overlay.

STEP 8 Create a New Shape
Now select the Ellipse tool (L) and click on the artboard. In the Ellipse dialog, enter 1.5″ inches for Width and Height. Then open the Brushes panel and click on the brush we created in Step 5. This will wrap the stripe effect around the circle you just created.

STEP 9 Make a Symbol
Now open the Symbols panel and drag this object into the panel. In the Symbol Options dialog, select Graphic and click OK. This will turn the original art into a symbol instance. Since we’re going to create a new graphic with the Symbol Sprayer tool, select this instance on the artboard and delete it.

STEP 10 Symbol Sprayer
Select the Symbol Sprayer tool (Shift-S) and make sure that the symbol you created is still selected. Then just randomly click in the center area of the background graphic. Note: The longer you hold down the mouse button the more Symbol instances are laid down. Now select the Symbol Sizer tool that’s grouped with the Symbol Sprayer tool in the Toolbox. Click on the symbols to increase the size of each instance. Hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key to decrease the size of the symbols. Finally, select the Symbol Screener tool to vary the opacity of the objects as you click on them.

STEP 11 Create Line Element
Select the Line Segment tool (\) from the Toolbox and click to the right of the background. In the Line Segment Tool Options dialog, enter 15″ for Length and set the Angle to 0°. Then set the Stroke to white in the Control panel. Go to the Effect menu and choose Distort & Transform>Transform. In the Move section of the Transform Effect dialog, enter –0.25″ for Vertical, set the number of Copies to 12, and click OK. Now choose the Selection tool and move the lines onto the background.

STEP 12 Distort the Lines
Next, go to the Object menu and choose Envelope Distort>Make with Mesh. Enter 1 for Rows and Columns, and click OK. Choose the Direct Selection tool (A), select the top-right corner handle, and drag it just beneath the bottom-right corner. As you can see, the lines distort the bend of the shape. Feel free to select other corner handles and drag them apart to change the distortion. Position the overall object so that lines run off either side. Top it off by adding a swinging silhouette party girl and it’s celebration time!


  • said says:

    good one than you .

  • Maria Miller says:

    I think is great and very easy to do!

  • René says:

    Watch your document’s colour mode!

    The Overlay mode with a grey gradient on top of a coloured fill in the appearence panel just works in RGB but doesn’t in CMYK.

  • edith says:

    thank u for the tip. nice tutorial:) if i had to make so many circles i`d probably make them with the ellipse tool, but this way is much much easier.

  • Mark says:

    GOOD! but i like to know how to get a striped line flowing seemlessly into a circle…or imagine a straight striped line flowing into an S shape i tried envelop distort mesh..and it’s just too wobbly..any ideas?

  • alberto says:

    yea that was really easy i do that very often and take me to long to do it but whit thisis so much easyer

  • Dennis says:

    @Mark: Create an Art Brush from the stripes using the Brushes panel. Then apply to your circle or S shaped stroke.

  • marakas says:

    I’m a total beginner and your tutorial has shown me so many possibilities. Thanks.

  • jonny says:

    im trying to learn illustrator and for some reason it doesnt seem to do what you have told me! so annoying thanks any way

  • joan says:

    Why not use the blend tool in STEP 11: draw two lines between which you’d like the distortion and use blend with steps in between to create the “distorted” lines in the background?

    Just a thought.

  • Shari says:

    Argh! I can’t seem to create the gradient properly. When I apply the multiply to the b/w fill, nothing happens. Any thoughts on what I’m missing?? I can make the gradient with a yellow and orange swatch, but it seems that this is an important step that would come in handy another time.

    Thanks for this tutorial. It’s got lots of great re-usable elements!

  • Joe says:


    As Rene mentioned, make sure your document is in RGB mode- File>Document Colour Mode>RGB colour.

  • omprakash says:


  • John says:

    My Illustrator CS3 must be defective. My horizontal lines in Step 12, Envelope Distort -> Make with Mesh, Direct Selection Tool (A) moves all lines as a block and does not distort the shape of the lines at all.

  • R M says:

    Make with mesh does not work. Very frustrating and disappointing tutorial

  • sajan says:

    nice..awaiting more from u

  • Heather says:

    I had the same problem with the distort > make with mesh, with the direct selection tool just moving the whole block of lines… but if you click on one on the anchor points it directly selects it then allowing you to create the warp.

    Great tutorial!!

  • Melody says:

    I can’t get the concentric circle bit to work. When I apply the brush to the ellipse I get this nasty white and orange line through it. 🙁

  • chris T says:

    If you’re on CS3 you should have no problem at all with this. IF not, then it may work differently or not at all. Thanks for the nice tutorial; it was disappointing at all.

  • Sumfata says:

    Why I cannot get the orange gradient even after change to RGB

  • Ryan says:

    It woked out with me. and i like the effects very muck.. keep on the good work…..

  • Jose says:

    Very Cool

  • chuck says:

    nice! thanks : 0

  • pap says:

    cool … in the final step u can use white anchor to move free form

    great …..I can do it ….

    million thanks teacher

  • Cos says:

    Nice work and well-explained!

  • Rudy says:

    That’s a really cool affect

  • Sarah says:

    When I do the last step, and drag the top right corner under the bottom right corner, it creates a giant white block. Any tips on what I’m doing wrong?

  • Lucky says:

    Hi,Thanks a lot for this.It’s very simple yet innovative.GOD Bless you.Take care.

  • valeria says:

    awesome tutorial! the only thing i couldnt do, was the gradient part, every time i put overlay a yellowe colour appeared and it was not gradient 🙁 any suggestions?

  • KRenea says:

    Ok so I’m a total beginner. How do you get the party girl silhouette into illustrator?

  • cynthia says:

    I love this tutorial… I’ve been looking for a good retro tutorial for some time. If you don’t mind I am going to use it in my classroom and show them your work.

  • MorRock's says:

    is nice..
    and very simple

  • MorRock's says:

    is nice..
    and very simple

  • SensualGeekNY says:

    I feel so empowered!!!

  • SensualGeekNY says:

    I feel so empowered and I love it!!!

  • joe says:

    yeah how do u get the silouhette chick in the background? is it a photoshoped image

  • chuck-spcba says:

    thank you for this tutorial.. im just
    a beginner and it help me a lot..
    thank you..


  • Will says:

    good tut.. awesome!!!
    when i try the circle in another document it does not come out…
    i did save how can i keep it in the symbols panel for other documents?

  • Shay says:

    I’m stuck on step 7. I followed the stop and my rectangle color is changing to yellow not the gradient (orange and yellow) as shown in the tutorial. help

  • Saranga Asith says:


  • didibibi says:

    love it and hate it

  • Sumithra Wijayantha Thilakarathna says:

    I love this tutorial…
    NicE artwork.

  • Keith says:

    hey, all. step 12 – bending the lines – just add a double click to the top right anchor point after selecting the Direct Selection Tool (A). -k

  • Allan says:

    I’m having problems using the radial gradient swatch along with the overlay transparency effect… Instead of getting it as the example shows, a yellow color appears out of the blue, and I just can’t make it! Is it a CS3 bug or something?
    Nice work with the walkthrough though.
    Thank you!

  • charlotte says:

    It would have been a great tutorial if it was possible to get the swinging silhouette party girl into. But you didnt tell us how or where to get it – to bad!

  • Martin says:

    hello, i’m not speak a very well english, but for the problem of the gigant stroke, its because you have tu chage de fill color to transparent, and the stroke to white. i’m sorry for my bad english, i’m from argentina..
    very nice work!
    thank you

  • Hayley from Nz says:

    This is so cool! I’m just starting out on illustrator and this has been really easy to follow! Looks like I’m a professional already! I’m just having a small problem, when I try and screen the symbol instance it happens so quickly that it almost disappears, I don’t have much control over the transparency, any tips?

  • Pat says:

    make sure your squares dont have a stroke on them otherwise you will have a white line going across the circle!