Illustrator Tip: Duplicate a shape along a circle

A photo of a splayed color swatch book

This is one of those little workflows that can be a complete pain on the rare occasion that you need it. So I’m making this as much as a reminder for myself and our design team as it is a tutorial.

Illustration of cross section of oranges

Making a shape mathematically duplicate itself along a circle sounds like something illustrator would handle flawlessly. Well it is, if you can find it. This not very well documented procedure I have the need for maybe 3 times a year but every time its a challenge to make Illustrator do what I want it to do. That is until I discovered this little method. Follow these easy steps to duplicate a shape along a circle perfectly every time.

1. Create your shape, in this case I made a teardrop shape to rotate and look like seeds of an orange.

Teardrop shape atop a circle, in Illustrator

2. Create your circle that will define the path for rotation and orient the two so that your shape is seated the way its soon to be clones should be.
3. With your shape selected hit the [ R ] key or select the Rotate Tool from your toolbar.

Illustrator toolbar with rotate icon selected (shortcut key R)

4. While holding Option down click on the center of the circle you made.

In Illustrator, teardrop shape selected and Option + Click on circle center

This will open up a dialog box like the one below. What you want to do here is choose the degrees that your shape should duplicate across and how many instances of your shape will span that circumference.

"Rotate" dialog box in Illustrator

Angle: [ Degrees / Number of shapes ]

This is important. When you are done – hit COPY. (not “OK”) – Hitting copy will create a single copy of your shape.

Teardrop shape shown duplicating around circle in three stages

Then hit CMD-D to duplicate the rest of the way until you have perfectly rotated your shape around a circle in the exact increments you wanted. And if you don’t like the shape or number of shapes. It’s an easy process to replicate until you do.

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