Intuitive Tools for Digital Artists

How to Create Proper Gears Using the Dynamic Shapes Tool, PathScribe Tool and Adobe Illustrator

Vector Proper Gears

I’ve seen a lot of gear wheels created by artists. Most of them have nothing to do with a real gear wheel. In this tutorial we will learn how to create gears which much closer resemble true gears. It is not hard to do if you are using the Dynamic Shapes Tool and PathScribe Tool (both part of the VectorScribe Studio plugin). Besides creating the shape, you will learn how to create a three-dimensional image and learn how to create a conic gradient. Let’s get started!

Step 1

Take the Dynamic Shapes Tool and open the Dynamic Shapes panel (Window > VectorScribe > Dynamic Shapes). Choose the Dynamic Circle in the Dynamic Shapes panel, at the same time you can set the desired diameter of the circle here. Double clicking on the blank area creates the necessary circle.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 2

Copy the created circle you paste it back (Cmd + C; Cmd + B). Keep the copy selected, and change the parameters in the Dynamic Shapes panel: change the shape type to a Dynamic Star, set the number of points, inner and outer diameter of the star, rounding radius of the star rays and the type of angle.

Vector Proper Gears

The gear template is ready.

Step 3

With the help of the Dynamic Shapes Tool and Dynamic Shapes panel create another gear that will mesh with the original.

Vector Proper Gears

The created object is dynamic, so after it is created you can control its shape. To change the size of the gear you have to drag one of the outer corner points.

Vector Proper Gears

To change the height of the tooth you have to drag one of the inner corner points.

Vector Proper Gears

To change the angle of the sides of the tooth, you have to click on one of the outer corner points, then holding the mouse button, press Cmd / Ctrl button and drag the corner point.

Vector Proper Gears

Creating gear that looks like it meshes correctly, you have to adjust the shape of the objects so that the teeth of the both objects have the same height and angle of the sides. Of course, all the transformations are done by eye; this is just an illustration, not a true technical drawing. You can read more how to control the Dynamic Shapes with the help of shortcuts here.

Step 4

Using the described technique, create a few more gears that mesh with each other.

Vector Proper Gears

The profile of gear teeth should not be straight. They are typically curved, and being technically accurate, the name for this curve is the involute. Let us continue transforming the shape of the teeth. Take the PathScribe Tool and select the entire gear. Open the PathScribe panel (Window > VectorScribe > PathScribe) and convert all the points in the shapes to smooth ones by clicking on the Smooth Point.

Vector Proper Gears

Take the PathScribe Tool, and holding down Shift, select all the segments at the teeth tips.

Vector Proper Gears

Now click on the “Retract handles on selected segments” button.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 5

Now take the Lasso Tool (Q) and select all the points on the tops of the teeth tracing out a croissant-shape trajectory with this tool.

Vector Proper Gears

Take the PathScribe Tool and click on the blank area holding down Shift + Opt / Alt. This action selects all handles of selected points and enters Multi-Handle Mode.

Vector Proper Gears

Now, operating the handle of any of the points, we got the same changes in all the other selected handles. Now, our shape is similar to the proper gear.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 6

The same should be applied to the remaining gears.

Vector Proper Gears

Now make holes in the wheels. Select a gear wheel and a circle (in the figure below it is filled with red color) and click on the Minus Front from the Pathfinder panel.

Vector Proper Gears

Perform the same actions with the other two gears.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 7

Now proceed to 3D modeling. Select all the gears and group them (Cmd / Ctrl + G). Keeping the group selected, go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel…. Set the effect parameters in the dialog window as shown in the figure below.

Vector Proper Gears

Of course, you can set any other parameters creating your own composition. Once you achieve the desired result, choose the Surface: ‘No Shading’ and click OK. This will simplify your work in the future (after doing the Expand Appearance command you will get less objects).

Vector Proper Gears

Step 8

Keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance. As a result you got a group of regular vector objects.

Vector Proper Gears

Now go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release then Object > Path > Clean Up…. We’re going to color them with the help of a gradient fill to make the gear wheels look metallic. We will be creating a conic gradient on the upper surface of the wheel, while for the convenience of further work I have filled them with different colors.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 9

Proceed to the creation of a conical gradient. This type of gradient fill is not provided in Adobe Illustrator. We have no choice but to create our own.

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle of arbitrary size, and fill the rectangle with linear gradient. The gradient does not have to be as complex one as on the figure below. You can always add new colors in the process and control its sliders. The only condition that you must follow is that extreme colors of the gradient should be identical, otherwise you’ll get an abrupt transition of color in the resultant conic gradient.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 10

Now take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle that we fill with black and white radial gradient.

Vector Proper Gears

Keep the circle selected, go to Object > Expand and tick the Gradient Mesh in the dialog window.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 11

Open the Layers panel and remove the underlayer with Clipping Mask.

Vector Proper Gears

Take the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) and holding down the Opt / Alt click on the inner grid line removing it.

Vector Proper Gears

Vector Proper Gears

Step 12

Go to Object > Envelope Distort > Envelope Options… and check that you have set the parameters detailed in the figure below.

Vector Proper Gears

Select the rectangle with a linear gradient and a circle with the Gradient Mesh, and go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object.

Vector Proper Gears

Vector Proper Gears

The conical gradient is ready.

Step 13

There are several ways to create a conic gradient in Adobe Illustrator. The uniqueness of this method is that the conic gradient can be controlled after itís created. Let’s see how it’s done. Click on the Edit Contents button in the top toolbar.

Vector Proper Gears

Now you can customize a conic gradient as a regular linear gradient: add and remove colors, move sliders, etc.

Step 14

Place a circle with a conic gradient above the surface to which it is to be applied. In the Layers palette find the shape of the upper surface of the gear, to which we apply the gradient, and move it so that it is above all the objects.

Vector Proper Gears

Different colors of the upper surfaces will help us to find the desired shape in the Layers palette fast. Select the top surface of the gear and the circle with a conic gradient. Press the Cmd / Ctrl + 7 shortcut creating a Clipping Mask.

Vector Proper Gears

Apply the described technique to all the upper surfaces of each gear.

Vector Proper Gears

It will be nice if conical gradients will be slightly different one from another, it will add some variety to the composition. In some places, you can simply rotate the shape with a conic gradient about its axis.

Step 15

To fill the lateral surfaces of the teeth, I used regular linear gradients. You can take the colors of these gradients from already existing conic gradient. Here’s how itís done: take the Eye Dropper Tool (I), select the slider of the linear gradient in the Gradient panel, and holding down Shift, click on the desired color.

Vector Proper Gears

This is how the teeth look like after filling all of them with linear gradients:

Vector Proper Gears

Step 16

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle. Place it below all the objects and fill it with linear gradient from light gray to white. This will be the background of our composition.

Vector Proper Gears

Clipping Mask are often used for cropping. But it is faster and more efficient (access to individual objects of the artwork is not limited) to create white rectangles, which will be limiting the composition.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 17

Now create soft shadows on the background surface of the gears. Create an ellipse below all the objects of the gear with the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with gray color.

Vector Proper Gears

Create another ellipse with a fill of a darker gray color.

Vector Proper Gears

Set 0% Opacity for the bigger ellipse in the Transparency panel.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 18

Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options… and set the number of steps of the blend. Select both ellipses and go to Object > Blend > Make.

Vector Proper Gears

Step 19

In my opinion, the shadow is too dark in the gear hole. Take the Direction Tool (A) and deform the upper ellipse, as it is shown in the figure below.

Vector Proper Gears

Using this technique, create shadows of the rest of the gears.

Vector Proper Gears

Vector Proper Gears

Conclusion

Using the VectorScribe Studio plugin, the creation of any complex shape such as a gear wheel becomes a much easier task for all users!

Download the final tutorial artwork

Click here for the Illustrator CS3/CS4 version…

Click here for the Illustrator CS5 version…

Written by Iaroslav

Iaroslav

Iaroslav Lazunov is a graphic designer from Zhytomyr, Ukraine who has found the job that allows him to share his extensive knowledge and experiments with Adobe Illustrator and plug-ins from Astute Graphics. Iaroslav was also a key author over at Vector Tuts+ as well as his own website Vectorboom

Comments

  1. Good, but I think that illustrator can do really creative things.
    The example of the gears is welcome to show how interesting is this software, but I think that out of the technical parts, Illustrator is more an instrument for design with some esthetic side.
    Thanks

  2. Hi danbo,

    I would agree that Illustrator is a graphic design system rather than a technical drawing one. However, when gears are drawn naively in a professional illustration, they can unbalance the illustration for many viewers who know better. With Iaroslav’s tutorial, it is demonstrated that creating more realistic gears needn’t be a taxing process, especially with the use of VectorScribe.

    Best wishes,

    Nick

  3. Hi Nick,
    This is the best tutorial by far on this design. Thank you. I do have one question for you. When I get to step 11, I am able to remove the clipping mask but I have the hardest time removing the inner circle. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. could you help me?

    Thanks.

  4. I hold in the Alt (PC) + Mesh Tool and when I try to click on the path I get the icon (next to the mouse pointer icon) that basically means you can’t preform this function.

Any comments?

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