How To Build a Vector Clock Graphic in Illustrator
This post was originally published in 2010
The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.
If you’re looking to develop your Illustrator skills, here’s a tutorial for you! Follow this walkthrough to see the how adding layer after layer of vector shapes, along with a range of gradients and a spot of texture can quickly create a great looking icon-style clock graphic.
The main ingredient we’ll be adding to this design, other than a bunch of circles to build up the overall shape, is a range of gradient fills. These gradients are what really adds that extra touch of depth, and combined with an extra shadow or two, results in a fairly realistic looking graphic.
Open up Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. I personally use the CMYK colour mode, simply because I find it easier to manage the level of black in each colour, but you may certainly use the RGB for a wider spectrum of colours. Draw a circle on the artboard. Hold Shift to maintain a perfect circle and fill with an angled linear gradient from dark to light blue.
Press CMD+C to copy the shape, and CMD+B to paste behind. Grab the corner with the Selection Tool and scale up very slightly. Remember to hold Shift to keep the shape proportional. Adjust the lightest swatch from the gradient to a lighter shade of blue.
Copy (CMD+C) the outer shape and press CMD+F to paste in front. Scale the shape down while holding both the Shift and Alt key. Adjust the angle of the gradient so that it flows diagonally in the opposite direction.
Press CMD+F once again to paste another copy of the large outer circle on top of the stack. Fill this shape with black, then go to Effect > Texture > Grain.
Change the blending mode of the grain-filled circle to Multiply, then reduce the opacity right down to around 15%.
This grain adds a little texture to the clock casing, which helps add a touch of realism. After all, things aren’t perfectly smooth in real life.
Paste in another circle and scale it down to fit in place as the clock face. Replace the fill with a radial gradient from grey to white. Adjust the sliders to ensure the gradient doesn’t creep too far towards the centre.
Elsewhere on the document, draw a small thin rectangle. Fill the rectangle with grey, then duplicate it by holding the Alt key and dragging the shape downwards. Hold the Shift key to keep the axis constrained vertically.
These two shapes will be the base of the clock face metrics, but we need to duplicate them accurately to fill the remaining space. Group the shapes together (CMD+G), then to go Object > Transform > Transform Each. 360 (degrees in a circle) divided by 12 (figures on the clock face) equals 30 degrees each, so enter 30 in the Angle option. Press Copy to initiate the first transformation, then simply press CMD+D to repeat the action.
When you have a complete set of metrics, group all the shapes together and position onto the clock face.
Copy and paste another duplicate of the clock face, then scale it right down to the centre. Adjust the gradient to flow vertically with a medium to light grey.
Grab the rounded rectangle tool and draw a few fingers of various sizes. Fill each one with a relevant colour, such as a darker grey for the ‘little hand’, a light grey for the ‘big hand’ and red for the seconds counter.
Rotate and position these shapes onto the clock face. Use the shortcut CMD+[ to alter the stacking order so that they appear below the centre circle.
Select all three circles and duplicate by pressing Alt and the downwards cursor key. Change the fill of all three shapes to black and change the blending mode to Multiply at 20%. This creates the impression of a little shadow underneath the fingers.
Use the Type tool to brand your clock. Remember the CMD+[ shortcut to adjust the order of the objects so the text is below the clock finger.
Copy and paste another copy of the clock face and fill with black. Use the Ellipse tool to draw a temporary shape across the black circle. The aim is to achieve a nice flowing curve that intersects the black object. With both shapes selected, use the Minus Front option from the Pathfinder palette to chop out the shape. Change to Multiply at just 3% to form a subtle shadow.
Let’s start on the background. Grab the rectangle tool and draw a large square then fill with a diagonal cyan gradient. Use the shortcut CMD+Shift+[ to send the object to the back.
Copy and paste in front the background square and fill the new object with a repeating pattern. This horrendous fish pattern is hidden away in the default Illustrator swatches collection. Change the blending mode to Overlay to merge the colours with the blue gradient.
Draw a slightly larger black circle behind the clock, change the blending mode to Multiply at 30% and offset towards the bottom right.
Keep the black circle selected, then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 30px radius in the options panel.
This pretty much renders our little clock complete… Just don’t rely on it for the correct time!