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Illustration of a traditional incandescent light bulb with a clear glass envelope and a tungsten filament inside.

Create a Semi-Realistic Light Bulb in Adobe Illustrator


light bulb preview

Tutorial Resources

Step 1: Create a New Illustrator Document

First, let’s set up our artboard. Create a new Illustrator document that’s 500x500px in size.

step01 document 3

Step 2: Import a Reference Photo

I used a light bulb I had at home as a reference photo; I’ve provided it to you for this tutorial. Download this light bulb image and open it in Illustrator.

Lock the layer of the photo to avoid accidentally moving it.

step02 image

Step 3: Draw the Light Bulb’s Outline

Create a new layer above the reference photo; the new layer is where we’ll draw our illustration.

To start, we’ll draw the outline of the light bulb. Grab the Pen Tool (P) and trace the left side of the light bulb.

step03a outline

step03b outline

step03c outline

step03d outline

Switch to the Selection Tool (V) then click on the path we have just created to select it. Go to Object > Transform > Reflect.

Select the Vertical option and then hit the Copy button. This will create a mirror image.

step04 mirror image

Hold down Shift, click on the reflected path, and then drag it to the right; we have to hold down Shift so that movement is constrained horizontally.

Grab the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select just the upper anchor points of both the left and right paths. Right-click on one of them and then choose Join from the contextual menu that appears to combine both anchors.

step05 join 1

To join the lower anchor points, just grab the Pen Tool (P) and click on each anchor point to close the outline’s vector path.

Step 4: Draw the Screw Cap’s Shape

Next, we’ll create the lower part of the light bulb (the metallic part) which is commonly called the screw cap.

Select the Pen Tool (P) and start to draw the top part of the screw cap where it meets with the bulb.

step06a drawing

step06b drawing

step06c drawing

step06d drawing

step06e drawing

step06f drawing

The middle part of the screw cap is a little bit tricky to draw.

But it doesn’t need to be perfect, just try to follow the shape of the cap and do your best. Make sure to draw smooth lines and curves, and don’t worry if you can’t draw it nicely the first time around; you can always adjust and tweak individual anchor points using the Direct Selection Tool.

step07 drawing

Keep drawing until you have all the main parts of the metal cap.

step08 drawing

step08a drawing

Step 5: Draw the Threads on the Screw Cap

Now we need to make the screw cap’s threads. Select the Rounded Rectangle Tool and then create the rectangle shown below.

step09 rectangle

We need to distort it a little bit.

Select the rectangle then go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Warp.

step010 distort

In the Warp Options dialog window, choose Arc for the Style option, choose the Horizontal option, and set the value for Bend to -9. This will bend the rectangle exactly in half.

step011 warp options

With the Direct Selection Tool (A), select four anchor points at the middle of the rectangle by holding Shift and clicking on each of the anchor points. When the anchor points are selected, use the Left Arrow key to nudge the anchors a few pixels to the left. It will distort the rectangle a bit more, which will contribute to the realistic look.

step012 bend

Switch to the Selection Tool (V) and click on the rectangle to select it, then expand it by choosing Object > Expand.

Afterwards, move it on the metal cap of the light bulb.

step013 placement

Duplicate it several times and place the duplicates as shown below.

More or less, this is the basic shape of the metal cap:

step014 copy

Step 6: Applying Gradients to the Screw Cap

With nice metal color gradients, we can make the lower part of light bulb more persuading. It will also help us create some depth in this illustration.

To apply gradients, go to Window > Gradient (Ctrl/Cmd + F9) to open the Gradient Panel.

For the threads, apply the gradient shown below.

step015 thread

For the electrical contact, we’ll use a simple radial gradient.

step016 contact

Continue using metallic gradients until you reach the desired look.

step017 gradient 1

step018 gradient

step019 gradient

Step 7: Creating Metallic Highlights

Let’s highlight some edges. It will improve the metallic look of the screw cap.

Select the upper part of the cap and duplicate it two times by copying (Ctrl/Cmd + C) and then pasting in front (Ctrl/Cmd + F) twice. You should know have three copies; the original plus two duplicates. Nudge one of the duplicates 2px upwards and scale it up a little bit.

Then select both copies and, under the Pathfinder Panel, press the Minus Front button.

step020 minus front

Apply the linear gradient shown below.

step021 highlight

Do the same thing for the lower part of the cap.

step022 highlight

step023 black

Step 8: Create the Inner Components of the Light Bulb

In this step, we’ll use our reference photo to create the elements inside the glass part of the light bulb.

To start, just grab the Pen Tool (P) and start drawing. A tip: Just follow the shape of the object you’re drawing; it doesn’t need to be perfect because we can adjust individual anchor points in case we don’t like how it looks. As a reference while you’re drawing, follow along in the progression below.

step025 shape

step026 shape

step027 shape

step028 shape

step029 shape

step030 shape

step031 shape

step032 shape

To create the coiled tungsten filament — the curly wire that goes across in the middle — select the path we drew at the top and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag.

Set the Size to 1.5pt, Ridges per Segment to 20, Points to Smooth.

step033 zigzag

Without the light bulb reference photo, our illustration should look like this:

step034 look

We’re moving along quite nicely, wouldn’t you say?

Step 9: Apply Colors to the Glass Part of the Light bulb

Our light bulb looks flat and it certainly needs some color. Let’s apply a nice blue gradient and see what we get.

First, we’ll create a white outline for the glass of the light bulb. Select the glass and then choose Object > Path > Offset Path.

Set the Offset to -3.

step035 offset

Select the inner shape of the glass and then duplicate it.

Set the Stroke color of the larger shape to a light gray (#C2C4C6) and the Stroke color of the smaller shape to white (#FFFFF). Select them both and go to Object > Blend > Make.

step036 blend

Now, select the other copy of the smaller shape and set the Fill color to a light blue (#ADE0ED).

step037 blue

Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle at the middle of the glass. Give the circle a nice blue-to-white radial gradient.

step038 gradient

Step 10: Applying Reflections and Shadows

We are almost done!

All we need to do is to create some nice reflections and shadows (it is a light bulb, after all!) Reflections can be various shapes and forms, but the best way to make them is to follow the shape of the object.

Select the blue shape of the light bulb and create two copies. Move one of the copies, then rotate it a bit. Select both copies and, under the Pathfinder Panel, hit the Minus Front button.

step039 minus front

Select the resultant shape and scale it down a bit.

Apply the radial gradient shown below.

step040 radial gradient

Let’s do the same thing, but on the other side of the light bulb. Create two copies of the blue shape again, move one of the copies a little bit, rotate it, scale it up or down (feel free to be creative and follow your instincts). This way, you can mimic the non-uniformity of reflections in the real world.

When you’re satisfied, hit the Minus Front button in the Pathfinder Panel to create the reflection.

step041 minus front 1

Select the reflection object and give it a radial gradient.

step042 radial gradient
Using the same technique, create a few more interesting reflections.

step043 look

We should do the same with the inner components of the light bulb. Each time you want to create a reflection, use the same technique: duplicate the object twice, move one of the copies, rotate, scale it up or down and when you’re happy with the shape of the reflection, hit the Minus Front, Unite, or Intersect button in the Pathfinder Panel depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

The more details we focus on, the more compelling and realistic our illustration will be. Just make sure not to exaggerate; we don’t want to create a busy, overcrowded and unfocused illustration.

step044 reflection

step045 reflection

When you’re done creating reflections and details, adjust the position and size of all the elements in order to complete the light bulb illustration.

Also, don’t forget to create the shadow.

step046 shadow 1

Tutorial Summary

In this tutorial, we used the Pen Tool quite a lot.

The Pen Tool is really a powerful Adobe Illustrator feature, but it requires practice to master. Also, I showed you a popular technique that many illustrators do, which is to use a reference photo for helping us draw our illustrations. It’s much easier when you have a reference image that you can use for tracing.

I hope you liked this tutorial and thank you for following along!

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