Adobe Illustrator tutorial: How to draw a mandala

Create a mandala template that automatically repeats what you draw around a circle with this step-by-step Illustrator guide.


Often used as a meditation aid, a mandala is a radial pattern featuring a series of 'gates' that practitioners can focus their attention on and through to block out external stimuli - ending up in a trance-like state. Mandalas were originally a symbol of spirituality in Indian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism - but have been broadened in meaning by Western cultures to represent a sense of oneness within the universe.

The purpose of this tutorial isn’t to teach you how to draw a particular style of mandala – that’s up to you. Instead Breno shows you how to build a radial template where anything you draw is automatically replicated around the circular structure of your mandala – with alternating variations for more visual interest and a more handmade feel.

Once you have this template, you can create mandalas in any style from traditional to modern – incorporating organic or mechanical styles, or even a cartoon or sci-fi look.

Breno has also provided 9 brilliant drawing tips on how to improve your mandala’s linework.

To help you, Breno has provided an Illustrator (Ai) file of one of his completed Mandala template for reference. You can download it below (in both Illustrator CC and Illustrator CS4 versions).

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.

STEP 1

First let's create the structure that underpins the mandala. Create a new document file (Cmd/Ctrl + N).

The artboard dimensions should be square, so the mandala structure can be centred.


STEP 2

My mandala will be based on a 16-sided polygon, otherwise known as a hexadecagon - but you can create a structure based on however many sides you want if you prefer. 

To create the polygon, we'll use the Polygon tool. Select this, click where you want this polygon to be created and press Enter. In the dialog box that appears, put the radius you want for this polygon and the desired amount of sides. In this case, I've used a polygon with a 50px radius and 16 sides.

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STEP 3

Once you've created the polygon, we'll divide it into slices - in this case, 16.

To start this, select the Line Segment too (\) and trace a line that divides your polygon into two parts.

Select the line segment and – using the Rotation tool – rotate this line by the appropriate amount. In my case, it's 22.5 degrees – a number I calculated simply by dividing 360 degrees by the number of sides of our polygon.


STEP 4

Select the line segment, press the R key and you will see this dialog box. Fill in the tilt angle – 22.5 degrees again for my mandala – but instead of clicking OK, click on Copy to create a copy of our segment rather than just rotating it.


STEP 5

Use the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + D – which repeats your last action – six times and we have our hexadecagon split into slices.

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STEP 6

We don't need to draw each of these slices - we'll just build one and use the Symbol tool to create instances of that slice, which will be automatically generated by Illustrator.

In fact, we will draw only half a slice, because it's actually an equilateral triangle - and we can use of this symmetry to make the process quicker and easier..

So from the centre of our structure, draw a segment that divides one of your slices into two equal parts.


STEP 7

Rename the current layer to 'STRUCTURE' and lock it. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + L to create a new layer and name it 'SYMBOL 1’.


STEP 8

In this layer we will draw our symbol with Pen tool (P). Draw one triangle on the right side of our main slice.

Use a different fill colour so you can easily see the area that slice will take up within our structure - I used a cyan (R 40 G 255 B 200). It won't appear in the final artwork. 

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STEP 9

Turn the half-slice into a Symbol by clicking on the slice and hitting F8 - or by using the Symbol panel (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F11).

Imaginatively, name this symbol SYMBOL 1 and select its type to be Graphic. Press OK. You now have your first symbol - which you can see in the Symbols panel.


STEP 10

We need to create a copy of the half-slice for us to use to build an entire slice. Click on the half-slice and use the Cmd/Ctrl + C and Cmd/Ctrl + F to create a copy in the same place. 

Select the copy and hit O to use the Reflection tool. Set the reflection axis by clicking first on the top-left corner of our half slice and – while holding Shift – click again anywhere below that point.

Okay, we now have our whole slice. Select both halves and use Cmd/Ctrl + G to group them.


STEP 11

Now we have to replicate and distribute our Symbol radially around the circular structure.

Select the slice, hit R and select its bottom end as the rotation axis. Hold Shift and Alt, and drag your cursor around to rotate a duplicate of your slice. (Alt creates the copy, while Shift key snaps the rotation to 45 degrees - which, not by coincidence, is double the 22.5 degrees we used for rotation earlier) 

Use Cmd/Ctrl + D more six times to complete the base for our mandala.

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STEP 12

You may be wondering now, "why were the slices distributed with space between them?". Don't worry, soon everything will make sense – you are doing it right.


STEP 13

Now, let's divide our structure further, so that when we create our mandala, it doesn't look so obviously created using mathematical precision while still having a balance from following an underlying grid.

To do this, select our main slice and use Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy it (remember to lock your 'SYMBOL 1' layer). Create a new Layer (Cmd/Ctrl + L) above your first layer and name it 'SYMBOL 2'. Use Cmd/Ctrl + F to create a copy directly above the original.


STEP 14

Select copied slice that you just pasted, press R and then Enter to rotate it -22.5 degrees. Move it right and position it so it lines up exactly with the underlying structure.

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STEP 15

Now we need to break apart this slice to create our second Symbol. Select it and ungroup it (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G or right-click > Ungroup).

Select the left side of the slice and delete it. Right-click on the right side and select Break Link to Symbol (you can also find this function in the Symbols panel).


STEP 16

Clicking your new half-slice, and change it's colour to R200 G200 B200. Press F8 to create a new symbol and name it SYMBOL 2. Set its Type to Graphic, as we did with the previous symbol.


STEP 17

Using the same technique as in step 10, create a copy of SYMBOL 2 and reflect it.

Select the Rotation T (R) and rotate it -45 degrees. Place this second half in the correct location, select with halves and group with Cmd/Ctrl + G.

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STEP 18

Select SYMBOL 2 and again perform the rotation procedure from Steps 11 to create a series of six instances of the slice, filling the empty segments of the circle.


STEP 19

Now you have two ‘half slices’ that you can draw the elements of your mandala in and see them automatically replicated around the circle without it seeming too simplistic and repetitive.

Just remember the positions of the slices you created initially, because these are the ones that you draw in (not the copies).


STEP 20

Now we'll draw the mandala bt editing these two symbols. To do this you simply double-click the layer in the Layers panel to access the group and double-click again to edit the symbol. 

A warning will appear when you do this, but it's fine to click on OK. I strongly recommend you to tick Don't Show Anymore before clicking OK, as you will be editing this symbol many times and this warning will get really annoying.

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STEP 21

When I design my mandalas, I usually divide the slices into segments, so I can better visualise the space and fill it with more 'organised' designs. 

To do that, select SYMBOL 1 and draw a line just on one half slice by hitting \. Use a 1pt stroke and a lighter gray (R222 G222 B222) so it's differentiated from the rest of your template..

Create a shorter line at the lower end of your half slice, parallel to the first line and inside your slice. Select both slices and, using the Blend tool (W), click on the two line segments. Still with the lines selected, press Enter to bring up this dialog, where we'll define the amounts of intermediary lines for this 'grid'. 

Set the Spacing to Specified Steps, and choose your desired number of step. Use Preview to get a sense of how this 'grid' will look like. Choose the number of steps to match the level of detail you want in your mandala – I went for 10.


STEP 22

Instead of repeating the same procedure in other Symbol, you can just copy this sequence of lines from within SYMBOL 1, select SYMBOL 2 and paste it there.

For more variation in your mandala though, you can use different amounts of reference lines on each slice. I used 22 steps in SYMBOL 2 for this project.


STEP 23

Save your file as a template and it can serve as a basis for you to create dozens of mandalas in many different ways. 

Use the PEN tool to draw within each of the two half main slices – and you'll see how the Illustrator applies the changes to all instances of the symbol when you finish.

Now you can spend more time thinking about the design you want execute and less manually doing the repetitions.

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STEP 24

Now get drawing! From here, it's up to you to draw the shapes you want in your mandala in any style you like. However, I'll now give you a few important tips to ensure your design comes out looking the best that it can.


Tip 1 

STEP 25

When designing a mandala, remember that this is only half the slice and you can use this symmetry to create designs that are replicated on the other side of the slice.


Tip 2 

STEP 26

To make a dot, first make a short dash. Select one point and drag to the other one. Voila, a dot.

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Tip 3 

STEP 27

Switch between the two variations when designing to get a better sense of how the design is getting.


How to draw a mandala – Tip 4

STEP 28

Draw lines that match the initial structure. It will help you understand what you are doing, even if you delete them later.


Tip 5

STEP 29

Use Cmd/Ctrl + Y often to toggle Outline and Preview modes. it will help you better visualise how your mandala is going.

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Tip 6

STEP 30

When you are more familiar with the structure created, you can go getting rid of it to see more clearly how your design is getting.


Tip 7

STEP 31

If you think working with colours are tough, work in black first.


STEP 32

How to draw a mandala – Tip 8

Keep in mind that you need to work only in these two areas

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STEP 33

How to draw a mandala – Tip 9 

When doing a series of dots, use dashed line with a very low size to dash like 0,01 and 1pt for the gap