Design with Swirls and Flourishes

By   |  Stashed in Design & Drawing

It’s very common these days to see swirls and flourishes within graphic design. You can use brushes or vectors to achieve this look, but if you want to customize your own you’ll have to dig in and spend some time creating them. This swirl designs tutorial will cover some of the techniques you can use to create your own beautiful swirls and flourishes.

A quick thanks to Zoe who requested this kind of tutorial by dropping me a comment. If there is a tutorial you would like to see covered, I would love to see your suggestions.

You should check out My 10 Favorite Swirls and Decorative Brush Sets post for some awesome free design elements you can download.

Design with Swirls and Flourishes Tutorial

Step 1

Open up Illustrator and create a new document. All the shapes I’m gonna draw are merely suggestions and I would encourage you to experiment with your own shapes and styles. Grab the pen tool and draw a nice wavy line.

Step 2

Throughout this tutorial we are going to create brushes and symbols to help us make the shapes. I want the vines to begin wide and gradually get thinner, so we are going to use a simple custom brush to create this look. Grab the pen tool or use a 3 sided polygon and draw a long triangle shape like below.

Step 3

Open up the brushes palette. If it’s not open click Window->Brushes. Drag the shape you made over to the brush palette. In the options that appear choose New Art Brush. In the second window of options keep all the defaults except change the colorization method from the dropdown menu to tints. That step is important if you want to change the color of the brush later.

Step 4

Click on the swirl you made and then the new brush you made to apply the brush. You should now have a simple wide to narrow swirl shape like below.

Step 5

Next up we are going to make a tighter swirl at the end of our line utilizing the spiral tool. Grab the spiral tool, which is nestled by default under the line segment tool. Single click anywhere on the canvas to bring up the spiral tool options. I used the options shown below.

Step 6

Rotate and size the spiral into place.

Step 7

Draw another branch coming of the vine. I think it really helps the design look organic if you vary the size of the vines. For this branch I changed the stroke to .5.

Step 8

Now we are going to design a leaf to make it into a symbol we can use throughout the design. Grab the pen tool and draw out a leaf shape like below. Draw the basic black shape and draw a highlight in white. Use the image below as a reference.

Step 9

Open up the symbols palette (Window->Symbols). Drag your leaf that you drew over to the symbols palette. Change the name to something applicable and switch the type to graphic.

Step 10

Click and drag an instance of that leaf symbol onto your canvas. Rotate it and resize it into place at the end of the smaller vine. I also added a second smaller leaf and rotated a little more.

Step 11

Now we are going to make another brush for some of the smaller vine branches. Draw a long triangle like before, using the brush we made earlier, the pen tool or a 3 sided polygon. Then grab the ellipse tool and draw an oval at the end. Use the image below as your reference.

Step 12

Just like in step 3 select the shapes you made and drag it to the brushes palette to make a new brush. Don’t forget to select tint from the colorization method.

Step 13

Grab the pen tool or the arc tool and draw a small branch. Click on the new vine brush you created and that will give you a simple branch you can use throughout the design. Change the stroke to .25

Step 14

The rest of the vines are more of the same. I did add two more leaf symbols to help vary the look. Use the image below to add two more symbols.

Step 15

The techniques for this second large branch are all the same brushes and symbols that we’ve already stepped through. To make the thicker swirl on the right side I used the twirl tool with a .5 stroke and stroked it with the second vine brush we created. Here’s were I’ve got so far:

Step 16

Continue making swirls, branches and leaves until you have a design you’re happy with. Be creative and remember to experiment with different sizes and widths to keep the look organic. Here’s what I came up with.

Step 17

Now it’s time to add some color back into our design. If you have colors in mind that you want to use, feel free to color the image right now however you’d like. I decided to get some help from Adobe Kuler. I wanted a simple green theme for the vines. I found an awesome swatch theme called “Rainy Green Light.” If you’ve never used Kuler before you can learn a little more through a short tutorial I wrote about Using Adobe Kuler. Basically, all you need to do is signup for an account so you can use their service. Sign in, find a theme you like, download the theme and place the swatches in your swatches folder within your Illustrator folders (if you are using windows, that path will most likely be: C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Illustrator CS3\Presets\Swatches). Within Illustrator open up your newly found swatch theme by clicking on the small arrow in the top right of the swatches palette, choose Open Swatch Library and choose your theme. Kuler is an awesome service, it’s definitely worth experimenting with.

Step 18

Using your own color theme or the one you downloaded change the swirls to different colors. Play around till you get something you are happy with. Here’s where I’m at so far:

Step 19

Illustrator is perfect for making lines and vector shapes, and photoshop will service us nicely finishing off the look and adding some texture. So go ahead and open up photoshop and create a new document at the size you want. With the document opened up in Illustrator select everything, then click and drag it into your new photoshop window. Resize it and rotate it into the top left corner. Click enter to accept the placed object.

Step 20

Make a copy of the left swirl layer (while selected click Layer->Duplicate Layer). Then hit ‘ctrl, t’ to bring up the free transform tool. Rotate and place the copied flourish in the lower right portion of the canvas.

Step 21

Click on the text tool and add your text to the middle of the canvas. For the fonts I used OptimusPrinceps and Scriptina.

Step 22

Now you can add a nice design element I choose a cool bird silhouette. You can find this one in the Birds of a Feather font (letter t). All three of the fonts I used can be found for free at DaFont.

Step 23

I thought the background could use some more interest and texture. Click on the background layer and add a slight radial gradient like the one below. My colors are: #c4c083 and #f6f2ba.

Step 24

Next up, I went out and found 2 awesome free textures. If you’d like to use the same ones, you can download them here. Place the one called texture2 on the top layer. Change the layers blend mode to linear burn and the opacity to 20%.

Step 25

Place the file called texture 1 on the top layer. Change the blend mode to Darker Color and the opacity to 60%.

Step 26

I think that looks pretty slick already, but now the swirls and text looks like they could use a little texture as well. Copy the layer for texture 1 and paste it on it’s own layer at the top. Then ‘ctrl, click’ on the thumbnail in the layers palette for the left swirl to select it. Hit ‘ctrl, shift, i’ to select the inverse, then click delete to get rid of any part of that new texture layer that isn’t directly above the left swirl. Change the blend mode to Multiply and the opacity to 93%.

Step 27

Repeat these texture overlay techniques for the right swirl and the bird. For the bird layer I used Hard Light for the blend mode at 73% opacity. Here is my final result.

Your Thoughts

Let me know what you think of this swirls tutorial. I love getting feedback.

About the Author

Andrew is a primary contributer for MyInkBlog. He is a full time web developer for Niagara University. When he's not working there, he's a blogger, twitter'er, wordpress'er, silverstripe advocate, blessed father and husband.

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  • Ben

    great tut!! i just bought cs4 and im still really new to the photoshop experience since ive been using it for about 3-4 months, im 16 years old and want to do work as a graphic artist, you guys have any usful tips/info. i have flash( dont know how to use it though =] ) and ill. i have an idea how to use it but not much. plz write back.

  • Andrew Houle

    @Ben – My best advice to an aspiring designer is to stick with it and always keep learning. The majority of designers have gotten to where they are with desire and a lot of hard work. Not all of us are blessed with great natural ability. I’m not the best with Flash myself. For some great tutorials, be sure to check out and

  • Babyriddhs

    Great tutorial!!!
    I hardly ever stick around to read a complete tutorial.. but this one was amazing!!!!
    GOOD LUCK!!!!

  • Ben

    yes i spend alot of time on photoshop, i kind of lose track of time when i get into the work =) im learning new ways in illustrator and getting better i will keep up the work and see what the out come is. right now my project is creating my own website. ty agian

  • Cate

    I’m a Multimedia Design student at uni, and I’m always looking for tutorial of things I’ve never tried before & to develop my skills & knowledge of all things design… This is a fantastic tutorial, as are your others! It’s really helped me in an area I’ve always wanted to explore, but never had the confience… Now I feel a lot more confident & willing to use this technique more!

    Thanks for a great tutorial & helping me in this area!!!

    Cate x

  • Seht

    I’m very frustrated :-(

    I don’t understand step 24-25

    “Place the one called texture2 on the
    top layer”

    I dunno how to do that, could you explain it for newbs like me pls =) ?

  • Andrew Houle

    @Seht – I just mean to place them at the top of the layers palette as shown in the layers image below step 25. If they are not at the top layer when you place them, just click and drag the layer to the top.

  • Rosy

    Thanks for a great tutorial

  • bebopdesigner

    Mind blowing! great tut. Thanks for posting

  • amuii

    now i don’t need to download the brush!
    thx for ur posting!
    (sorry, my english not good)

  • Kevin

    I love that resources like this exist. As a new designer it’s nice to pick up little bits and pieces around the web from different sources. Thank you for your contribution, I’m sure it will be very helpful.

  • LamechD7

    Big Up! Great TUT. ONE!

  • Dug North

    A great tutorial that touches on *several* useful techniques that I know I will use often from now on. Thanks very much for sharing your knowledge!

  • NBK

    Awesome stuff here! A clear and simple way to create those classy lookin’ swirls. Some useful techniques in here as well. Kudos!
    .-= NBK´s last blog ..Class Pride 2010 T-Shirt Design Contest =-.

  • hitesh

    thanks i was looking for this type of tutorial i am much interested in this type of things especially floral and swirls
    .-= hitesh´s last blog floral and swirls brushes and vectors download =-.

  • kathy

    wow! really its nice…..

  • Lorraine

    Thanks for this fantastic tutorial. It came at a very important time for me. I love the links to other tutorials and useful links too.
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Wild Witch Bear (7) =-.

    • yaaaaa

      yaaaaa thaks for this

  • Medical Revision

    I loved that tutorial. One question, how do you change the colours of the leaves and other symbols?

  • Andrew Houle

    @Medical Revision – Right click on the symbol and choose ‘Break link to symbol’

  • kstan

    great,it let me learn a new thing
    .-= kstan´s last blog ..The Last Remnant Pc Version =-.

  • Rob W

    I just learned more in the last 10 minutes than I have all week. Thank you for this excellent tutorial. As a web designer without a whole lot of graphic design experience, this has inspired me to dig in and start messing around with brushes instead of code.

  • Kaplang

    really useful tutorial, I am going to try it out now :)

  • Tyler

    Thank you so much for this information, it has been eluding my searches for a while now. I am hoping that with your tutorial in my back pocket, that I can create an animated growing grapevine in Flash. Again, thank you, and great job on the tutorial!

  • Russell

    could you explain from step 26 onwards…it looks intresting but i dont seem to understand it :(

  • cep telefonu

    thanks very good .
    Thank you very nice sharing
    .-= cep telefonu´s last blog ..Anahtarlık büyüklüğünde cep telefonu =-.

  • Rob W

    Step 26, after “Copy the layer for texture 1 and paste it on it’s own layer at the top. Then ‘ctrl, click’ on the thumbnail in the layers palette for the left swirl to select it. Hit ‘ctrl, shift, i’ to select the inverse, then click delete” I receive the following message: “Could not complete your request because the smart object is not directly editable.”

    What am I doing wrong? Thanks,

  • bogus0409

    i tried to follow this tutorial, but unfortunately i got lost, on step 15, i can’t get the 2 branches to overlap. both of them have white fill. how did it happen? i cant make a stroke path, it always have fill in it. what should i do? pls help! by the way, im new to illustrator.

  • Andrew Houle

    @bogus0409 – Try going through the first few steps for creating the first branch again.

  • ave

    nicely done bro! keep up!

  • Ayse

    good work, i like it, thank you

  • Martha

    Great post. I learned more brushes and symbols in Illustrator than I was aware of. I had to go and try it out for myself too. I was wondering if you or any others can tell me where to get the high resolution texture files you used here? The downloads link is to 72 dpi files and i would love to have them larger.

    thanks again for the great tutorial.

  • Andrew Houle

    @Martha – There are lots of good places to find textures. Here is a huge list to get you started:

  • Lou

    I was wondeirng if it was possible to use a similar technique with Photoshop Elements and how would I do it? I am trying to design my own monogram flourish for my wedding

  • http://dracular margerat fletcher

    i liked the ideas and it has really helped me graphics .thankyou

  • Kamila – Darc Vanilla Design

    Great tutorial. Although I still have difficulty of drawing Greek ‘Alfa’ kind of shape in Illustrator. Does anyone know more resources about the subject of creating swirls?

  • Ren

    This is an extremely helpful tutorial. However I wanted to ask, because part of the process confuses the heck out of me… after you apply the brush to the line, how do you then make that entire thing a shape with paths and not just a line with the brush applied?

  • World Label

    Thank you so so much, Unreal how this helped us with a design for a customer. I learned so much, much appreciation.

  • Karen

    Brilliant tutorial, thank you very much. Im going to practice now!

  • Zane

    This is a great post :) Thank you!

  • Heather Spicer

    This was awesome, I couldn’t have mastered this if I tried and I have been forever on my own and without direction this stuff seemed impossible and this so far has been the best tutorial I have seen. I don’t know if this is new or how I stumbled on it but it was a better tutorial than I got in class at the art institute. Thanks so much!

  • stu

    thanks for this excellent tutorial. i am illustrator beginner and can use photoshop okay. This tutorial forced me to learn new techniques with the pen tool that I can now use in photoshop!!

    The tutorial was very well written and I followed (as a beginner) with no problems. The only part I didn’t understand fully was the step #26/27. But this mattered not, as I know photoshop I played a little with some fx and added my own touches.

    Did you mean to rasterize the vectors in 26/27? I rasterized and made the multiply layer which of course simply darkened the swirl effects. I use CS4, maybe there was a compatibility difference for these steps.

    Anyhow – GREAT tutorial – I learned LOADS. Very good work :)

  • Kristin

    Mine didn’t come out so good. Must practice! But very good tutorial :) Thank you!!
    Do you have any tutorials on how to create the above flourish with buds sprouting from the branches and then flowers blooming? I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that. It’s so beautiful and would love to create that for my website :)

  • Shayna

    AMAZING tutorial. You have a knack for explaining things. There are so many tutorials that are great tutorials save for the terrible explanations. I’ll be looking for more of your tutorials!

  • TheBozz

    Fan FLAMING Tastic, I’ve been looking at and their vector images and been seriously thinking about purchasing an image as it quicker than creating my own – No need now AWESOME Tutorial seriously BIG Thanks

  • Desmond

    it is really a good tutorial.I seldom read a complete tutorial like yours. It is inspiring.Thanks for the sharing.

  • Rachel

    Thank you! I am teaching myself Illustrator CS5 and this tutorial has given me some great new skills, as well of a better understanding of many of the functions. I’m very pleased with the finished result.