How to Make Fractals in Illustrator

by David Weedmark ; Updated September 28, 2017

A fractal can be loosely defined as a shape that repeats itself to create larger and seemingly complex designs. For example, if you were to look at a snowflake with a magnifying glass. you would see that it is made of smaller, snowflake-shaped pieces. Because Illustrator uses vectors, which can be resized without distortion, you can make your own fractal patterns by drawing basic shapes and using the Transform Effect to duplicate them. As an example, a basic star can be repeated and modified to create snowflake and ice crystal fractals.

Making a Basic Snowflake Fractal

Launch Illustrator and create a new document by pressing “Ctrl-N” on the keyboard. Type “800 px” in the Width field and “600 px” in the height field, then click “OK.”

Select the “Star Tool” from the Toolbox. If you cannot see it, place the cursor over the “Rectangle” or “Ellipse Tool.” Hold the mouse button down to reveal it. Drag the tool over the center of the page to make a star approximately 60 by 60 pixels in size.

Select “Distort & Transform” from the Effect menu and click “Transform.” The Transform Effect window opens. Click the “Preview” check box so you can watch the changes you make take effect immediately.

Type “120” in the Horizontal Scale field. Type “10” in the Copies field. Press “Tab” on the keyboard. The star repeats itself on the left and right as if it had grown wings.

Click the “Reflect Y” checkbox. The star pattern is now reflected over itself, making it look more like petals on a flower. Click “OK.”

Double-click the “Stroke” color swatch in the Toolbox, then select a color such as blue or green. Click “OK” to transform the object lines to that color.

Press “Ctrl-C” to copy the object, then “Ctrl-V” to paste a copy. Select “Distort & Transform” from the Effect menu, then click “Transform” again. A warning pops up informing you that you are going to apply a new effect. Click “OK.”

Type “90” in the Angle field of the Transform Effect window and click “OK.” Drag the center of the star so that it is over the center of the first star.

Press “Ctrl-A” to select both objects, “Ctrl-C” to copy them, then “Ctrl-V” to paste a copy onto the page. Select “Distort & Transform” from the Effect menu and click “Transform.” This time type “45” in the Angle field and Click “OK.” Click the center of the new star and drag it so it overlaps the first star. The stars now resemble a snowflake.

Repeating and Expanding the Fractal

Press “Ctrl-A,” then “Ctrl-C” to copy the design as it is. Click a corner of the blue square around the center of the stars and drag it outward until the star is about 350 by 350 pixels in size. Click the center of the stars and drag them back into the middle of the page. The page is now full of a snowflake pattern.

Press “Ctrl-V” to paste a copy of the pattern. Drag a corner of this pattern until it is about 100 by 100 pixels in size. Move it to the center of the document.

Press “Ctrl-V” one last time to paste another copy on top of the two enlarged copies. Drag it to the center of the page.

Press "Ctrl-V" as many times as you wish to add additional snowflakes and resize them as desired until you are satisfied with the patterns.

About the Author

A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.