Polar grid tool in Adobe Illustrator and how to use the underused grid design tool
The polar grid tool can be found beneath the line segment tool. Like too many tools in AI, it is tucked away beneath another tool - I have often put in requests to Adobe for them to extend the toolbox or at least remove under-used items from the toolbox. Perhaps that will happen one day (something like the Photoshop customization would be useful)
You can create all kinds of grids using this tool but the basic generated polar grid is a 5 concentric circles and 5 divider grid. You can also skew the results and set the size of the result via the PG panel. The initial grid is made only of strokes but you can always expand the result, fill the grid, use it with brushes and much more. Literally millions of amazing designs can be created using this powerful tool and it definitely should not be overlooked as a useful all-purpose Illustrator tool. It has been in the toolbox for years and years but I always wonder how often it is used and finding any articles about the tool are hard to find. You can find grid symbols here and grid fonts
Set the radial to 0 and then you will end up with just rings which is a pretty good way of generating concentric rings in Illustrator as the app (great for lots of things) does not come with a whole range of tools such as generating rings. You can set the concentric to 20, 50 etc rings and then set the width as required. You can find many different ring font shapes and ring custom shapes and ring symbols for Illustrator
You can generate a pie slice or radial spokes by setting the concentric to 0 (though weirdly it does still generate a single entry) and you can then set the radial to any number of spokes you wish to generate a pie slice or spokes (you can always remove the circle by ungrouping the path and then deleting it). You can set the color of the slices, you can tweak the lines and much more to create all kinds of wonderful line art
The polar grid is not a live effect tool, you can't change the path once you have created it (other than delete it and re-start). So to add more radial dividers to the polar grid or concentric dividers, you must delete the path and then re-generate the work. Be quite useful to see this tool as a live effect, can't see any real reason why it isn't. It is just a standard path that could be stored in the Illustrator dictionary and be updated on demand, perfect for a live effect. Perhaps for another version of Illustrator.
You can hold down the shift key to create a circle / polar grid. If you don't hold down the shift, you can create a circle (by eye) or an ellipse polar grid. You can find many different circle themed sets on the site such as circle symbols and circle fonts and circle custom shapes
If you want to create just slices then set the concentric dividers to zero. If you want 14 slices in the polar grid, enter 14 into the radial divider field. If you want a circle of 40 slices, enter 40 into the radial divider field. The limit is 999 which does result in a pretty narrow slice. The polar grid slices can also then be manipulated further by using the ungroup command found in the object menu. The result of the ungroup being a solid circle and a set of lines (not slices). To turn them into slices, use the live paint tool to fill all the slices with the same color or different colors and then move the slices to different positions. It does require a few additional ungroups to get at the slices or you could separate all the slices by using the isolation mode (double click the polar grid).
Set the radial divider to zero and then set the concentric divider to 12 or 20 etc to get concentric rings from the polar grid tool. As with the slices (or radial), you can also ungroup the circles and transform each of the circles (as below) or use the isolation mode approach to break down the path. The end result is just a ring symbols for Illustrator (whether filled or not depending on the fill grid option
Setting the radial to zero and setting the concentric dividers to greater than zero, you can create multiple rings by simply selecting the polar grid and then clicking the exclude option on the pathfinder panel. Again, the rings can be re-positioned (like the circles and the slices) by ungrouping the vectors or using the isolation mode and then moving the individual paths. You can also re-color the individual rings as this point by using either isolation mode approach or ungrouping the entire path into separate items or using the live paint tool to fill the rings with color
You can create a standard path and then just copy the path via the pasteboard into Photoshop where additional effects can be applied to this standard path. You can apply a variety of different effects on the polar grid as well as adjustments (smart adjustments). Or bas relief filter / poster edge / water color / blur filters / camera raw filters or Photoshop styles applied to the artwork or add paths to the object in PS such as grid custom shapes / brush strokes etc. You can also now store them in the creative cloud library and then access them in PS via the library and all your generated grids are then available and store safely on the cloud.
The polar grid is just a standard path and you can apply strokes and fills to the art - in particular, variable width profiles (as below). You can find variable profile widths beside the stroke setting along the top option bar.
You can also use Illustrator brushes with the polar grid tool. To do so, select the PGT and then just click the artboard and drag the mouse to define the size of the grid. The effect is not a live effect so if you wish to have 10 conentric dividers then it is best to set that before you apply it to the artboard. You can set the stroke width but if you try and set the brush stroke before you add the grid then the grid will appear but not with the brush applied. If you wish to add a brush stroke to the PG then add it afterwards along with any width profile. You can modify the PG in 1000s of ways by using combinations of brushes and width profiles, scatter brushes, artistic brushes, pattern brushes etc. You can recolor the grid and stroke via the stroke color setting. You can expand the PG and stroke by using the object menu and expand appearance and then combine the result by using the pathfinder tool and the unite option. The result of any expand with the brush stroke and width profile will result in an awful lot of points so you may wish to use either the simplify tool (never that impressed by the results) or use the Astute graphics' smart remove brush which generally reduces the points and leaves a pretty decent grid behind. The artwork can then have additional live graphic styles etc applied such as adding extrudes and twirls. You can also add multiple brush strokes to the PG if you use the grid with the appearance palette by adding two or more additional strokes with different or the same brushes and also with the same or different width profiles and strokes.
The grid can be transformed in a number of ways
1) By using the standard selection tools (all of the grid) as well as the direct selection tool to modify a selection of points
2) The grid can be modified by the scale and rotation and shear etc tools which can be found in the object menu and the transform commands. You can rotate and shear and reflect the artwork in numerous ways
3) You can also create distorted polar grids by using the free transform tool on the selected PG by using the effect menu and distort and free distort command. The tool hasn't been updated for years and years (though perhaps the underlying code has been changed but the functionality has not changed such as the size of the panel and also the range of the distortion). It is a live effect so you can modify the result via the appearance panel. You can also add additional free distorts to the PG along with other effects.
4) The grid can also be modified by the envelope distort tool (object menu) though the results are often less than impressive as the path is based on a stroke. You can use the make with warp (arc etc) as well as mesh warp where you use a rectangular grid to transform the path. You can also warp it using a top object (stars etc) via the make with top object command.
5) A totally radically approach would be to copy the path to Photoshop and use the transformation tools there (somehow I don't think that is very effective even if it is possible). There are other vector apps such as the Affinity Designer and Inkscape and you can use those to transform the generated PG paths.
Not sure why the number fields have no slider - that would be useful. The skew does have a slider (there is a skew for the radial and concentric) and you can use the skew to create some interesting variants where the circles are crunched into the center or the edge of the polar grid; or the radial lines are bunched together. You can also skew in the negative. The skew for the radial is perhaps less impressive but it does enable different sized slices to be created.
There is an additional checkbox at the bottom of the dialog in Adobe AI and checking this means the generated circles are compound paths. This means rings are created without the need to use the pathfinder exclude function. Doesn't work for the radial divider / slices. See below an example with a skewed concentric divider and 5 radial dividers
The polar grid can be used as is. You can create it and leave it but you can use visual effects within Adobe AI as well as adding additional fills and strokes to the grid. You can do this via the live effect menu (effects) and via the appearance panel. On the right side menu of the appearance panel you will see add new fill and stroke. You can also blend the new fill and stroke by using blending modes (found via the opacity setting for the new fill etc in the appearance panel). You can create multi-colored polar grids using combinations of fills / gradient swatches / patterns and strokes (as well as effects).
Illustrator graphic Styles are not so useful straight out of the box. Applying a graphic style (and you can find 1000s of graphic styles on this site) might just result in a border or a gradient but not the expected style. You will have to go to the appearance panel and manipulate the appearance by moving the fills / strokes around so the style can be seen.
You don't need to create one, you can create multiple polar grids. Just set the size in the grid dialog and then just click the document where you want to place the polar grid (the generated result seems to be slightly offset from the expected position) and you can create multiple grids. You can also change the color of the grid in between applies. You can also blend the multiple grids by using the transparency panel to set the opacity and blending mode for the top level polar grids in Adobe AI. You can use the polar grid to create many different interference patterns by using more than one and shifting the paths slightly from the lower. You can also physically blend the paths by using the pathfinder tools to exclude etc - though, personally, the results are not that good (or perhaps useful)
You can also use visual effects such as the pucker and bloat to the polar grid. You can apply one effect or multiple effects to create some truly unusual polar grids. As they are live effects, you can always remove them or modify the live effect via the appearance panel in Adobe AI
You can fill the grid with a variety of color by using the live paint tool in Adobe AI. The polar grid can be filled section by section or an entire ring can be filled with the same color. On filling the grid with the live paint tool, you need to expand the result. Once finished, you can use the color guide (edit menu) edit colors or via the window color guide to re-color the grid with an improved color scheme
The polar grid can be copied into the symbol panel and the polar grids can be applied multiple times (as instances) using the symbol sprayer or by dragging the polar grid symbol to the Illustrator artboard. The example below uses the same symbol created using the color guide. At this point, the symbols can also be stained, resized etc by using the various tools that come with the symbol sprayer. You can also save the artwork as a new dynamic status symbol and use the direct selection tool to re-color the dynamic presets
The polar grid radial dividers can be set to 0, the concentric to 30 - apply with no fill and only a thin stroke and you can create an intense circle and that can be re-applied over and over and as the fill of the polar grid is [none], an entire background of intense rings can be created in seconds. Similarly, you can use the effect menu 'transform' command to create a vast number of circular works by setting the copies to 10 or 20 and then setting the scale / move / rotate settings to different settings to create a spiral from the thin circular polar grids. You can also combine the live effect transform and the polar grid with other effects such as the pucker and bloat to create some truly weird and wonderful images from the polar grid. Or just apply a distortion or shear to the grid and then use the thin line polar grid with the live effect transformation command to create even more magical grids. If you have a scroll button on your mouse you can also just move the settings quickly through all the settings to create many different exciting graphics in seconds. Some combinations of transform and polar grid work better than others.
The tool just generatesis just a path so you can also just apply text to the path using the "type on path tool".
As the polar grid is just a path, it can have a stroke and it can have stroke settings such as a dashed line - with varying dash gap combinations and cap settings. You can then create a quick dot and dash grid using the tool.
If you set the concentric dividers to zero (you still get a backing circle which can be deleted by ungrouping the path and deleting the circle) and setting the radial dividers to say 40 - you get a starburst or star in seconds. As this is Illustrator, you don't need to stop there and you can apply live effects to the lines as well as variable width profiles (option bar) or brush strokes. Or the twirl tool in the Illustrator toolbox to create a twirling extreme line art - combining the twirl with the variable width profile can create any number of dramatic paths (which can all be stored in the symbols panel and used as a symbol spray) or combined with others. You can find many different stars such as star custom shapes and starburst fonts and star fonts
The polar grid doesn't have a huge number of modifiers - do the following while dragging the polar grid
shift - constrain
up arrow - increase the number of circles
down arrow - decrease the number of circles
left - decrease the number of radial lines
right arrow - increase the number of radial lines
F - decrease the skew radial
V - Increase the skew radial
X - decrease the skew circles / concentric
C - Increase the skew circles / concentric
ALT - draw from center
Space bar - Move the polar grid while dragging
There are other combinations but I struggled to get them to work.
Sadly, there is no reset feature with the dialog so the only way is to either 1) open the polar grid dialog and set the skew to 0 etc and the concentric etc back to 5 or 2) re-start Illustrator. Using the modifiers can be useful to quickly see the effect of a particular skew or concentric etc setting but not so useful in resetting the values.
Create one polar grid and then go to the selection tool (first tool in the toolbox) and then hold down the alt key and drag and release and repeat this to create multiple grids.
As the polar grids are just lines, you can use the reshape tool in Adobe AI to warp and distort the polar grid in 1000s of ways. Click on either the concentric lines or radial lines and then drag and distort the lines as required. You can also hold down the ALT key and drag and release to create multiple lines based on the original concentric line or radial divider line in the tool. You can also hold down the shift to constrain the movement of the path.
If you are looking for more info about another super useful AI tool.. Flare Tool for Illustrator Tutorial as well as our Illustrator symbols. You can also find many additional tutorials on how to enhance or add to spirals in Illustrator and how to export svg files in Illustrator tutorial