How to Create Dynamic Infographics with the Warp Tool

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

Adobe Illustrator has a set of warp tools that can add a dynamic flair to your infographic designs with just a couple of clicks. Find these tools on the Tools palette, under the Variable Width tool. These tools all do basically the same task: distorting your vector elements, a lot or a little, depending on how far you click and drag.

Click and hold the Variable Width tool, located about halfway down the Tools palette. The warp tools will show up in the drop-down menu.

Click the tear-away bar at the right of the window to separate it from your Tools palette to see the tools all at once and access them easily.

The Variable Width tool affects only lines or strokes. If you click a line in your design, it will change the width as you click and drag. This tool is good for making your lines look like brushstrokes from a paintbrush, among other things. If you hold down Option/Alt while you drag, only one side of the line expands.

If you like the kind of line you just made and want to keep it to apply to other lines later, add it to the Variable Width profiles drop-down menu, located along the top. There, you can choose from the menu of saved presets or add a new one.

So, to save your finished line, select it, and open the Variable Width profile menu in the control panel. Click the Add to Profile button at the bottom (looks like a tiny floppy disk). Then you can name and save the changes you made to your line into the Presets menu. It will be available to use later on any other line in your document.

The Variable Width tool is conceptually similar to the warp tools, but it’s different in one key way. The lines themselves are not changed; it’s just an effect that’s applied and can be edited at any time. Look at your line in preview mode (Cmd+Y/Ctrl+Y) to see that your line and its points are all still as you initially drew them.

The warp tools, however, actually change the geometry of the line or shape that you use them on.

  • Warp: Behaves a bit like the Smudge tool in Photoshop, moving your lines or edges in the direction you push.

  • Twirl: Creates spiral shapes. Select the tool, and then click and hold a spot on your line. The longer you hold it, the tighter the spiral. If you press Option/Alt after you start the spiral, the spiral will spin in the opposite direction.

  • Pucker: Pulls in parts of your drawing like cinching in a waistline or tightening a belt.

  • Bloat: Does the opposite of the Pucker tool. It adds organic scaling or “bloating” to parts of your vector shape.

  • Scallop: Creates scallops (dips between points) that become deeper the longer you click and hold. Hold it for a couple of seconds, and your scallop shapes become thin enough that they now look like hair, grass, or cracks on a mirror.

  • Crystallize: Similar to the Scallop tool but jagged. The effect looks a bit like how explosions are drawn in comic books.

  • Wrinkle: Also similar to the Scallop and Crystallize tools but smoother. The distortions to your edges look more like waves.

All these tools can be adjusted and controlled numerically for really precise handling. Double-click the tool icon itself, and an Options dialog box appears where you can change size, angle, intensity, and more.

Multiple effects can be applied to the same vector object or line. You can start with the Bloat tool, for example, and add scalloping to it for a paint splatter effect. Or create spirals and then further distort those spirals with one of the other tools. The results of these tools are quite complex and can really add a lot of visual interest to your work.