Inspired by these posts from Aegir Hallmundur, who writes The Ministry of Type, we wanted to explore guilloches. Some of our clients have lately expressed an interest in this archaic but fascinating class of design elements, and we wanted to learn more about them.
Guilloches are reminiscent of the shapes you may have made as a child with your Spirograph. As you started drawing with your pen carefully clicked into this gear-based toy, you couldn’t really see where the design was headed, but by the time you had gone around the entire shape, it was a really interesting medallion you could never have thought up or drawn by hand. I used to play with mine for hours, with the brutal pen pressure only a 10-year-old can inflict. There are permanent Spirograph designs etched into my parents’ dining room table.
The genius of Spirograph is that it capitalized on the guilloche’s concept of a single point held steady in relation to moving parts, allowing even a child to create intricate, symmetrical shapes. In the case of a Spirograph, it’s the gear and the placement of the hole your pen is in that provide the movement. In the original guilloches, it was an etching tool that mechanically created intricate, repetitive designs on the surface of a metal object. Different applications of the technology meant that some guilloched objects were created to trap ink and print the intricate designs, as in the case of banknotes, others were used to add tactile interest or better grip to physical objects and tools, and still others were simply meant to be admired as objets d’art in their own right.
It’s simple enough to make detailed, rotation-based patterns in Illustrator. What’s difficult is to do them with the inspired combination of accuracy and randomness required to make truly interesting guilloches. Here are a few tools we found to help with the process. The first one below was used to generate the cover image of this post, which we then refined a little more in Illustrator.
Vectorizer Free vector generator, but you may have to tweak to get a really nice looking guilloche once you bring it back into Illustrator.
SubBlue This produces really nice guilloches and I just figured out if you print it to a PDF it’s an editable vector! Whoopee! This might be the best web-based solution we have found.
Cerberus Professional (and really expensive) guilloche generator. For those of you who are actually involved in currency design ;)
GuardSoft Parent company of Cerberus also provides CDs of vector guilloches, royalty free, for you to use.
Feel free to submit others in the comments if you come across them!
We’d love to see your examples of guilloches in action!