How to Make a Water Ripple Effect in Illustrator

Updated November 21, 2016

The natural flow and movement of water can be both beautiful and mesmerising, whether in the form of a waterfall cascading over a mountainside or a still lake interrupted by the slightest ripple. Unlike many of nature's elusive wonders, the rippling effect of water can be mimicked fairly simply using computer imaging. Even if you have little or no artistic experience using imaging software, you can realistically recreate and customise a scalable version of this aesthetic in Adobe Illustrator.

Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document 600 pixels wide by 600 pixels high.

Select the "Line Segment" tool from the "Tools" panel. Double-click the "Stroke" box in the "Tools" panel and select a shade of blue for the line colour. Choose "OK." Click anywhere on your art board to bring up the "Line Segment Tool Options" box. Enter a value of "600 px" for the line's length and click "OK."

Click the line to select it. Choose "Effect," then "Distort & Transform," then "Zig Zag." Enter a value of "13 px" for the size and "10" ridges per segment. Select "Absolute" sizing and "Smooth" points. Select "Preview" if you want to see the effects before applying. Click "OK" to apply.

Select the line again. Choose "Object," then "Envelope Distort" and finally "Make with Warp." Select "Fish" from the "Style" drop-down list in the "Warp Options" pop-up menu. Apply it horizontally with a bend value of "50%" and leave all other values at "0." Preview the effect, which should replicate the diminishing nature of water ripples. Click "OK" to apply.

Select the line. Choose "Object," then "Expand." In the "Expand" pop-up menu, click to select "Object" and "Fill," then click "OK."

Choose the "Direct Selection" tool from the "Tools" panel. Drag the first anchor point upward until its height is approximately doubled. Reposition the other leftmost anchors by clicking and dragging, and adjust the angles by dragging the handles as required to create the shape of a question mark connecting to the rest of your wavy line. Add extra anchor points to accomplish this, if necessary, by selecting "Object," then "Path," then "Add Anchor Points" with the line still selected. This will create a droplet effect in the final product.

Select the line again if necessary. Make a copy by choosing "Edit," then "Copy" followed by "Edit" and "Paste." Click and drag your duplicate line out of the way temporarily.

Select the original line and click "Effect" followed by "3D," then "Revolve." Enter "-35" for the first rotation value, which is the rotation around the X axis, and "0" for the other two. In the "Revolve" section of the menu, choose an angle of 360 degrees and select to turn the cap on. Do not enter any offset value. Click "More Options" to reveal further customisation possibilities. Select "Plastic Shading" from the drop-down menu" and enter the following values: "100" for "Light Intensity," "25" for "Ambient Light," "70" for "Highlight Intensity," "80" for "Highlight Size" and "50" for "Blend Steps." The shading colour should be black. Leave the final two boxes unchecked. Choose "Preview" before clicking "OK" to see the effects, and adjust if necessary. Click "OK" when satisfied.

Create a reflection of the droplet using the duplicate line you made in Step 7. Select the duplicate line, drag it back onto your art board, then click "Object," "Transform" and "Reflect." Choose a horizontal axis and "0" for the angle value, and click "OK."

Trim the line to include only the reflected droplet portion, resembling an upside-down question mark. Select the "Scissors" tool from the "Tools" panel and click on the anchor point at the top of the first peak in the reflected line, breaking the path at this point. Choose the "Selection" tool from the "Tools" panel, select the unneeded portion of the line and press "Delete" on your keyboard.

Select the remainder of the line, the reflected droplet, and choose "Effect," "3D" and "Revolve." Choose the same values as last time, but choose "Custom" in the "Shading Color" drop-down menu. Click in the colour box that appears and choose white. Check "Draw Hidden Faces," then click "OK."

Align the reflected droplet below the original droplet. With the new droplet still selected, change the opacity value to "20" per cent in the Transparency panel. Resize it using the "Selection" tool to maintain accurate perspective.

Select the "Rectangle" tool from the "Tools" panel, and select a "Fill" colour --- also in the "Tools" panel --- matching the colour you previously chose for your line. Click in your workspace to bring up the options for creating your rectangle, and specify the dimensions of the document. Click "OK," then drag the rectangle to fill your document. Choose the "Selection" tool, then right-click the rectangle and select "Arrange," then click "Send to Back."

Select the water ripple, then choose "Effect," "Stylize" and "Feather." When prompted for the "Feather Radius," enter a value of ".5" and select "Preview." Adjust the value so that the ripple blends realistically into your solid backround. Click "OK" to apply.


Add extra, smaller water droplets above the first for varied effects.

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About the Author

Alyssa Brode began writing in 2001. She served as a staff writer for her high school newspaper, "The Arrowhead," and has been freelancing ever since. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from Westminster Choir College of Rider University with a double major in voice performance and computer information systems and is pursuing a Master of Music in opera performance.