How To Create A Sunburst Effect In Illustrator

A sunburst or sun rays effect can have many applications from scenic to dramatic back lighting of objects. Once you get the technique down you’ll be looking for excuses to use it because it couldn’t be more simple. This exercise is different from others you will see on the internet. Often the other methods require transforming straight lines into spheres or other manipulation methods that do not translate well into all applications.


In this lesson we'll use methods that allow you to use the file in any application without format issues and have you creating like a pro.

Part One
The first part is to determine how many rays you want to produce. When doing this, keep in mind that there will be equal space between each ray (at least for this example). For this lesson we will be creating 12 rays so 24 total.

We start with one horizontal line. No fill, with a 1 pixel black stroke (the stroke color will be useful later). Then we right-click on the line and under ‘Transform’ bring up the ‘Rotate’ window. Now we need to determine the degree we want to use for this effect. Since we know there will be 24 total sections, we can divide 360 degrees by 24 to get 15 degrees. This means that each line will rotate 15 degrees. So go ahead and set 15 degrees in your rotation box and hit enter. You now have a line that is 15 degrees off perfect horizon.

Part Two
Now we want to quickly and easily create all of our rays. Keyboard shortcuts will be key here and is the trick that makes this so easy. With your line selected hit command/cntrl+C to copy the line. Next hit command/cntrl+F to paste a copy of the line right in place. Then hit command/cntrl+D to duplicate the last action performed to an item. This will rotate your newly pasted line 15 degrees. With that line still selected you are going to repeat the previous steps and copy, paste and duplicate transform. Do this one after another until you have a complete circle of lines.

Part Three
Right now we just have 24 lines. So the next step is to make sections from those lines. To do this, create any desired shape and place it over the lines. In this lesson I just went with a 200px by 200px box. With everything in place, select all of your lines and your shape and open the pathfinder tool. In the pathfinder window choose ‘Divide’ and you will see your lines conform to the shape you placed over it. In this current state everything is selected but also grouped. Right-click on the grouped items and select ‘Ungroup’. Now you can select a section and since there is no fill, the lines make it easier to make your selection.

Part Four
Now we’re going to remove half of the segments, so select every other section and delete it. (You could keep them and do other effects but that’s up to you.) With half of the sections gone we add a background. I just did a simple gradient and sent it to the back (shift+cntrl+[ ). Now with my alternating rays having a white fill I set the transparency of the fill to 25%. Again, you can play around with this and try various fills but for this lesson I am going simple.

Part Five
Now with our rays created we can add to the overall effect. From here we can use the effect to make an object stand out or, as in our case, we can create a scene. I simply create a circle from the center of the rays. With the circle shape tool selected put your cursor in the center of the rays and with shift+alt pressed down, drag your cursor out to make a perfect circle from the center out. I then filled it with the same gradient and set the transparency to 65%to add some depth.

Next I use the paintbrush to make a shape that looks like a hill and make two copies. With one copy I fill it with a scribble effect. With the other copy I place it over the scribble and fill it with green at 25% transparency. I then group the two shapes to make moving them easier. Then I create another scribble effect for a shape in the sun burst area. Once in place I make sure it is behind the hill image and set the transparency to 10%.

This is just one of thousands of ways you can use this effect. In this case I just created a very simple card-like design. The best part of this is how easy it is to create things with this method. You can use the mesh tool to make some really neat designs or blur your sections to make a more heavenly effect. You can add in varied degrees of lines to create a more random looking effect. Have some fun and play around to see what you can create.


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