Making a Clock Face in Illustrator

smiling bearded creative drawing on tablet in home office
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This tutorial explains all you need to know to make a clock face in Illustrator. The "Transform Again" command can save you a lot of work, and when you use it with the rotate tool, it can also save you from doing the math. See how easy it is to space objects around a circle combining these two tools.

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Setting up Illustrator

screenshot from Illustrator


Start a new letter-sized document. Open the Attributes palette (Window > Attributes). Make sure the "Show Center" button is depressed. This will make a small dot appear at the exact center of your objects. Turning on Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) also helps placement because angles and centers will be labeled as you hover over them with the mouse.

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Adding Guides and Rulers

Adding Guides and Rulers


Use the ellipse tool to draw a circle for the clock dial. Hold the shift key as you draw to constrain the ellipse to a perfect circle. The one shown here is 200 pixels x 200 pixels due to space limitations, but you may want yours larger. If you can't see the rulers on the document, go to View > Rulers or Cmd/Ctrl + R to activate them. Drag guides from the top and bottom rulers across the center mark of the circle to mark the center.

To start, mark the minutes first. The minute markings are usually different from the second markings, so use a longer and darker tick mark than for the second marks later. We've also added an arrowhead (Effect > Stylize > Add Arrowheads). Make one tick mark using the line tool on the vertical guideline at 12:00.

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Making the Hour Markings

Making the Hour Markings


With the tick mark selected (not the circle), click the rotate tool in the toolbox. Then option/alt click on the exact center of the circle. Now you can see why we had to use the Attributes palette earlier to open the Rotate dialog. This will set the point of origin at the center of the circle.

Let Illustrator do the math to find the angle needed to rotate the hour markings. Type 360/12 in the Angle box in the Rotate dialog. This means 360¼ divided by 12 marks. It tells Illustrator to figure out the angle needed -- which is 30¼ -- to place 12 marks for hours evenly spaced around the point of origin you set at the center of the circle.

Click the Copy button so a copy of the original tick is made without moving the original. The dialog closes and you'll see two tick marks. We'll use the duplicate command to add the rest. Type cmd/Ctrl + D 10 times to add the remaining 10 tick marks for a total of 12.

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Making the Minute Markings

Making the Minute Markings screenshot


Make another small line to add the minute markings using the line tool on the vertical guideline at 12:00. It will be over the hour tick mark, but that's OK. The mark shown here is a different color and shorter and thinner than the hour marks, and the arrowheads were also omitted.

Keep the line selected, then choose the Rotate tool again in the toolbox and opt/alt click on the center of the circle again to open the Rotate dialog. This time, create 60-minute marks. Type 360/60 in the angle box so Illustrator can figure the angle needed for 60 marks, which is 6¼. Click the Copy button again, then OK. Now use cmd/Ctrl + D 58 times to add the rest of the minute marks.

Zoom in close using the Zoom tool and click with the selection tool on the minute marks on top of each of the hour marks. Press Delete to get rid of them (be careful not to delete the hour marks).

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Adding the Numbers

Adding the Numbers screenshot


Choose the horizontal type tool in the toolbox and choose "Center Justification" in the control palette. You can use Paragraph Palette if you're using a version of Illustrator that's older than Illustrator CS2. Choose a font and color, then place the cursor above the 12:00 tick mark on the outside of the circle. Type 12.

Select the rotate tool again and opt/alt-click on the center of the circle again to set the point of rotation. Type 360/12 in the angle box and click the copy button, then OK. Now use cmd/Ctrl + D 10 times to copy the number 12 around the circle. You should have twelve number 12s when you're done. 

Use the type tool to change them to the correct numbers. They'll also be in the wrong positions -- six will be upside down, for example -- so each number must be rotated. 

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Rotating the Numbers

Rotating the Numbers screenshot


Select the number one. Choose the Rotate tool in the toolbox and opt/alt click on the center of the baseline of the numeral. There will be a small dot at the center of the baseline so you don't have to guess where it is. This puts the point of orientation at the base of the numeral. Starting with 30¼ for the numeral one because the hour tick marks were rotated at 360¼ divided by 12, type 30 in the angle box in the Rotate dialog. Then click OK to rotate the number by 30¼.

Select the next number -- two -- and choose the Rotate tool in the toolbox. Opt/Alt-click on the center of the baseline of the numeral to set the point of orientation and keep the numbers rotated in proportion to the hour marks, adding 30¼ for each rotation. You rotated one by 30¼ so you'll rotate two by 60¼. Enter 60 in the angle box and click OK.

Continue adding 30¼ of rotation to each number around the clock face. Three would be 90¼, four would be 120¼, five would be 150¼, and so on, up to 11 for 330¼. Depending on how far from the original circle you placed your first 12, some of the numbers will be too close or even on top of the clock face when you're done.

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Repositioning the Numbers

Repositioning the Numbers screenshot


Shift click to select only the numbers. Hold the opt/alt key and the shift key and drag outward on a bounding box corner to resize the numbers. Holding the shift key constrains the resizing to the same proportions, and holding the opt/alt key allows the resizing to take place from the center. Now use the arrow keys to nudge them into position so you have something that looks like this. You can hide the guides at any time by going to View > Guides > Hide Guides if they get in your way. 

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Adding the Hands

Adding the Hands screenshot


Click the circle with the Selection tool to select it. Shift+opt/Alt+drag one of the corner handles on the bounding box to resize it in proportion from the center. This will make the clock face larger than the numbers. Add hands using the line tool with arrowheads: Effect > Stylize > Add Arrowheads. Place them on the vertical and center guidelines. If your clock is larger than this one and you want to add a rivet to hold the hands together, draw a circle and fill it with a radial gradient. Place the rivet at the center of the clock face.

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Finishing the Clock

Finishing the Clock screenshot


Give your clock face character with images, styles, strokes or fills. If you want to remove the arrowheads from the hour marks, open the Appearance palette (Window > Appearance) and click the "Clear Appearance" button at the bottom of the palette -- it looks like the "no" sign, a circle with a slash across it. Because the clock face is totally vector, you can make it as large or as small as you wish. Just make sure to Select > All and then group it (Object > Group) so you don't miss any parts when you're resizing or moving the clock.