Vector Tree Rings Tutorial – Illustrator

posted in: Blog, Tutorials | 1

I recently got a new phone – a Samsung Galaxy S5 – a huge upgrade from my trusty Droid Razr Maxx (I’m sure the GS5 will sound dated very soon :). I’ve been drooling over wood phone covers for awhile and have seen tons of them for iPhones. Thankfully, the awesome people at makes beautiful real wood covers for a variety of models and they even have the option to customize with laser engraved. I had to make it happen.

What I came up with was a homage to my Northwest heritage and a solemn bear for good measure (I LOVE bears). The text “Pacific Wonderland” is referenced from the classic Oregon license plates, and I wanted the overall design to feel like a Forest Service or National Park sign since my husband and I love to explore places like that.

The tree rings weren’t necessary, but I felt that it gave it a hand-carved look. Now, I’ll stop boring you and show you how I created the vector  tree rings in Illustrator in just a couple of steps…ok, 15.

Chop in to this vector tree rings tutorial!

  1. Open up Illustrator, make the artboard whatever size you like, and add a medium brown colored box for your background.
  2. Add your central design and make the color a dark brown – this is the shape you want your tree rings to radiate from – in my case the bear. // The shape can start out clean; we’ll roughen it up a bit later.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 1
  3. As you can see, the design is made up of a couple pieces. To make the rings, it will need to be one solid piece. Copy the shape group so you have two of them. Hide one of the vector groups to keep the original and then remove any inner shapes in the other vector group // We want to only create the rings from the outer edge of your design.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 2
  4. Select the shapes that are left and open your Pathfinder tools (Window > Pathfinder) and choose Merge (bottom, 3rd from left) // Now we have a beautiful shape ready for tree rings!
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 3
  5. With your merged shape selected, swap the fill color and stroke color so that the shape is outlined with dark brown without a fill.
  6. Next, with your object still selected, choose Object > Path > Offset Path. // This will open the Offset Path window.
  7. Set the first of your rings to something like .2″ for the Offset, but this will depend on how large your artwork is. Keep Joins at “Miter” and Miter limit at 4.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 4
  8. After you click “OK”, you’ll notice that the new outline is grouped with the original path, which will keep this nice and tidy and we create more. Next, you’ll want to repeat step #7, but choose the outline you just created. You can continue offset at the same amount, or start upping that number as you’re creating the rings. // I added .05″ to each previous offset outline – my progression: .2″, .25″, .3″, .35″ and so on. Do what ever makes it look natural for your design.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 5
  9. Now we’ve got some rings! As you can see, they get more and more rounded out and they get further from the center – just what we’re looking for 🙂
  10. Now we’re ready to had some roughness and thickness to the rings. Select the rings group and make the stroke weight thicker. I’ve made my 4 pt // This may add too much thickness to your central design. If so, you still want to keep it, but change the stroke to be Inside the shape and not Centered.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 6
  11. Next, copy the outline group and with one of the outline groups selected, choose Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. Set the size to 1%, the detail to 2%, and the Points to Smooth // These settings may differ for your design, so play around with it.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 7
  12. Now that the roughness is applied, you can see that there are some gaps between your unroughened outlines and the roughened ones. You can do a couple things to fix this by editing the roughened outlines individually.
    • First try changing the stroke size of individual roughened outlines. This may help fill things in.
    • Try removing some anchors points, or selecting a point and moving to remove the gap.
    • OR remove inner shapes after the next step (I’ll show you what I’m talking about)
  13. This is what my rings look like before I removed the gaps.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 8
  14. If you’re ready to finish this, select both the roughened and unroughened outline groups. Select Object > Expand Appearance and then Object > Expand with Fill and Stroke both checked.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 9
  15. Now you’ll use the Pathfinder tools again and choose Merge. //The strokes are now merged and have some inner shapes that we can remove.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 10
  16. Remove the inner shapes by using your Direct Selection Tool and click on an anchor and delete them. This will help make the rings more solid.
    vector tree rings tutorial - image 11

Guess what? You’re done!

Below is how my Carved phone case turned out. It took about 2 weeks to get, but well worth the wait.

vector tree rings tutorial - finished case
vector tree rings tutorial - finished case

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