Illustrator Quick Tip : How to Create a Skull & Bones Icon

Just as I have started the Photoshop Quick Tip series, I’ve summoned it’s idealistic partner. The Adobe Illustrator Quick Tip Series and it’s time for a Skull & Bones Icon.

So, let’s start creating this Skull & Bones Icon!

We’ll achieve our currently set goal by taking advantage of various Illustrator tools in the process. Basically this is a quick tut taking advantage of shape creation, symmetry and the Pathfinder tool (among others) in Illustrator to obtain some very cool results in mere minutes.

Step 1

Skull & Bones Step 1

Every design starts with a sketch or an idea, even if it’s not clearly formulated and evolves throughout the design process. I basically used the Brush Tool in Illustrator and my mouse to quickly sketch a skull & crossbones character and placed him on two overlapping squares of different dimensions. Nothing too complex but it deserves a bit of attention as we see that the final result on the right stayed loyal, to some extent, with the initial idea. What’s interesting here is that I had a color scheme in mind and stuck with it to the end. I had identified my goal and went for it.

Step 2

Skull & Bones Step 2

Let’s start with the basic shapes to form the upper part of the facial structure. I’ve isolated a few sub part steps for clarity.

  1. Grab the Ellipse Tool and draw out a perfect circle while holding the [Shift] key down and give the circle a black stroke with a width of 5pt. Now using the same settings, with the Pen Tool, draw a shape to resemble the one in the picture. Make sure that the right side of the shape is perfectly straight and aligns with the center of the circle.
  2. With the same settings again, draw another shape as illustrated in the picture, making sure they are aligned to each other on the right side and with the center of the circle.
  3. Here starts the fun with symmetry. Duplicate the shape created in sub part 1 by selecting it and pressing [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F]. Then reflect the design by right clicking on the newly pasted shape and selecting Transform–>Reflect. Now align it as shown in the picture, basically align it with it’s parent shape on the left.
  4. Repeat this process with the shape created in sub part 2.
  5. With all the shapes duplicated and appropriately aligned, select all of them and using the Pathfinder Tool, click on Unite.

Step 3

Skull & Bones Step 3

Now let’s take care of the lower part of the facial structure, the jawbone.

  1. Without changing the settings from our previous steps, draw half of the final shape you’d like to create and align its’ right side with the center of the upper facial structure.
  2. With the shape created, repeat the process seen in sub part 3 of step 1 and make sure the alignment is correct. Activating Smart Guides can help with all these alignment conundrums.
  3. After selecting the two shapes just created you can go ahead and repeat the process seen in sub part 5 of step 1 and Unite them to create one single shape.
  4. Give both new shapes a white fill color, and place the jawbone behind the upper part of the skull head in the stacking order by right clicking on the object and selecting Arrange->Send to Back.
  5. Finally duplicate the jawbone using the [Ctrl + C] and [Ctrl + F] keyboard shortcut. All that’s left is to reduce its’ size, suppress its’ stroke by setting it to none and give it a black fill color.

Step 4

Skull & Bones Step 4

Well we’ve taken care of the main underlying base of the skull head, now it’s time to envisage the finer details.

  1. For the teeth it couldn’t be any simpler. All you have to do is create three basic strokes with a width of 5pt and a stroke color of white for the bottom teeth. Now just duplicate this series of strokes, give them a stroke color of black and place them on the upper part of the mouth to create the wanted illusion.
  2. The nose can be done in two ways, either make two overlapping shapes or as I have done, as it presented no problem in this case, use one shape with a fitting stroke width. I used a black 5pt stroke width and aligned it inside the shape in question.
  3. Here is an important part of the design, as the eyes can dramatically influence the overall feel of the design, even if this is a simple icon it shouldn’t be neglected. As you can see in the picture it’s comprised of an almond looking shape to represent the socket and two concentric circles. The first circle has a white fill color and no stroke, while the the overlapping circle representing the pupil has #C1272D for the fill color and a black 1pt stroke.
  4. Once you’re satisfied with your eye, duplicate it, reflect it, then align them properly. A good tip is to group each individual eye and align them to the center of the skull head. Once you’ve done that, all you’ve got to do is nudge them with your arrow keys a finite number of times to the left for the left eye and respectively to the right for the right eye.
  5. Finally implement a few plies to reinforce the tone of the facial expression. With the Pen Tool draw out a few simple strokes as illustrated on the picture and give them a stroke width of 2pt and Round Caps.

Step 5

Skull & Bones Step 5

The crossbones are a piece of cake as well.

  1. First step is to create a rectangle and 4 perfect squares with the Rectangle Tool. Now align them as depicted in the picture above, no difficulty here whatsoever. Give them a black stroke with, again, a width of 5pt.
  2. With all the shapes jut created selected, use the Pathfinder Tool to Unite all of them into one shape.
  3. Last step is to create two small strokes on each side to enrich this ever so simple design. Give them a stroke width of 2pt.

Step 6

Skull & Bones Step 6

The repeating pattern is a nice and interesting part of this tutorial, as it’s a technique that involves different tools and can be used throughout a wide array of design situations through which some very interesting effects can be achieved.

  1. Firstly let’s draw a perfectly straight line using either the Pen Tool or the Line Tool. Give it a black 1pt stroke width. with the stroke selected, go to Effect->Distort & Transform->Zig Zag. In the dialog box that opens up use the following settings :
    • Size: 3px Absolute
    • Ridges per segment: 10
    • Points: Smooth
  2. Take the “Zig Zag” just created, duplicate it and nudge it lower on the canvas. Go to Object->Blend->Blend Options. In the dialog box that opens up use the following settings :
    • Spacing: Specified Steps 10
    • Orientation: Align to Page

    Click OK and then use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl+Alt+B] to finalize the effect.

  3. Now that we’ve got the first part of our repeating pattern, let’s duplicate it, rotate it 90 degrees and overlap it. Now select both of them and go to Object->Expand Appearance then again to Objects->Expand, make sure the three check boxes are ticked and press OK.

Step 7

Skull & Bones Step 7

We’re almost done here folks. Let’s finish this repeating pattern effect shall we?

  1. Grab the Rectangle Tool and draw out a perfect square delineating the exact dimensions you’d like, use the picture for reference. suppress its’ fill color if it has any, and give it a black stroke with a width of 1pt.
  2. Select all those pretty shapes, head over to the Pathfinder Tool and click on Divide. Voila! Logically enough you should be left with what we see in the picture above on step 2.
  3. Last step is to create two perfect squares. The first one is a simple underlying square with a black fill color. The next one is smaller square with a simple radial gradient using #ED1C24 as the outer color and black as the inner color. Finally give it a White stroke with a width of 3pt and place the repeating pattern on top and smack dab in the center.

Step 8

Skull & Bones Step 8

The final step is to arrange all the elements we’ve created as seen in the picture above. That’s it folks! Easy as can be really.

Final note

This concludes our tutorial. Below is a zip file containing the Illustrator source files. Make sure you follow the “Terms and conditions” in order for all files distributed on this site.


Please consider that these series have for objective to aid in understanding the basic Illustrator tools and to obtain quick and effective results. this series, along with the PS Quick tips, allow me to target the novice individuals who are just starting to fiddle with these software.I hope you enjoyed this small and quick tut and would love to hear your thoughts.

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