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Ellipse Tool In Illustrator Tutorial - How To Modify Live Vector Ellipses Guide Beginner's Guide

By Andrew Buckle, Video Tutorial Creator / Designer

Updated : 2021


How to use the live shapes / ellipse tool in Adobe Illustrator tutorial. live shape and ellipse tool


Illustrator has a new live shape circle / ellipse tool.

  1. Ellipse tool in Adobe Illustrator toolbar (live shape) - select that tool (it is beneath the rectangle tool)

  2. Draw ellipse / circle

  3. Go to the right side of the circle

  4. Select little dot on the right

  5. Open the circle / ellipse to create additional options for the live design

The live ellipse tool is a powerful interactive tool that can be found in the Illustrator toolbar. The live circle can be updated at any point. The live circle can also be turned into a pie slice design which is also interactive and live. As well as converted to a regular shape.


1. Basic Live shapes / Ellipse tool in Adobe Illustrator

live shapes illustrator ellipse tool

The new 'live shape' status was added to Illustrator a while ago so you probably should have that feature but if you have an old version of Illustrator then the feature may not be available.


It is in the same slot as the ellipse tool in previous versions but it is now 'live'.


live ellipse tool


The live ellipse / circle shape has some new features added such as the creation of arcs etc. To use the tool, go to the toolbar (or toolbox) panel and select the tool which is normally found beneath the rectangle tool.

  1. Select the ellipse tool in the Illustrator toolbar

  2. Drag and create on the artboard

  3. Set the fill and stroke etc

  4. Go to the transform panel

  5. Set ellipse properties

I would suggest also going to the window menu and selecting the transform panel which has all the key properties or the properties. The properties panel is a better source for all the tools but in this case, the transform panel has the tools in a more accessible way.


live ellipse tool


2. Create the circle by using shift key or use smart guides

live shape ellipses in Adobe Illustrator

The first thing to notice after selecting the live shape ellipse tool and dragging the ellipse is that as you hit a circle shape, two cross hairs will appear and disappear as the size of the shape changes - they will appear if the width and height are equal. If you hold down the shift key, you can create a circle but the smart guides will not appear. Once you have the shape, you can then manipulate it either via the bounding box etc or via the transform panel.

  1. select ellipse tool / live shape ellipse tool

  2. go to the artboard

  3. draw ellipse

  4. hold shift key down

  5. size circle

  6. release mouse



3. Ellipse Height and Width properties

ellipse properties for live shape in Adobe Illustrator

There are a two sets of fields for the height and width as well as the ellipse height and width, they are not equal but they can be set to the same but only when the shear angle is not involved.


You can change the width etc via the up and down controls on the keyboard as well as just typing in the value or using the bounding box or the side points (to size proportionally use the left and right and use the top and bottom ones to squeeze or stretch up and down. You can change the angle (but if this is a circle then you won't see any difference).

4. Create contour circle design by using properties panel

You can use a combo of the transform and the layers to create a quick contour design with the live ellipse. Select a circle say 600 x 600 and then go to the layers panel andelect that and go to the right side menu and select the duplicate ellipse command and then go to the transform and height and width field and enter 500 x 500 and go to the properties panel and change the color. Repeat the duplicate and transform and re-color with 400 x 400 etc. You can also enter a percentage into the transform such as 99% of the height and width as well as adding in a mathematical equation such as the current value - 2 etc


live ellipse tool


5. Shear angle - a live feature of the circle / ellipse tool

This is one of the weird features of the live shape ellipse tool, if you change shear value, the circle will be sheared and you can see it stretch off at 45 degrees etc but as soon as you enter a value, the transform panel sets the shear back to 0, even though it is definitely an ellipse at an angle. In earlier versions, shear would break the live shape but that does not appear to be the case now.


live ellipse tool


6. Expand the ellipse shape via the expand shape command

expand shape for ellipse live shape

You may or may not love the live feature as the tool does end up adding additional options that can sometimes get in the way of positioning the artwork.


You can expand the live artwork by going to the object menu and shape and expand and you can then also re-convert it back again via the same menu. Once you have the normal path then you can use the sliced path (if the pie slice was used) in numerous ways such as creating all kinds of abstract backgrounds (see an example below). You can also create all kinds of other artwork using live effects such as the transform with the path


  1. select the ellipse

  2. go to the object menu

  3. shape and expand shape


live ellipse tool


To do the reverse, select an expanded live shape and go to the shape and 'convert to shape' command. You will note once the live ellipse shape has been turned into a regular circle then some of the controls in the properties are gone. When you run the convcert to shape then they will return


live ellipse tool


7. Create radial designs using the appearance panel with ellipses

live ellipse and transform

You can add all kinds of transformations and other effects to the artwork.


Select and create a slice using the slice angle 0 to 5 say.


live ellipse tool


Then go to the effects menu and transform commands and set the preview to ON (it is not sticky) and set the number of copies to 20 or 30 and then set the angle and rotation center as well as the move setting.


live ellipse tool


You can use that to create a very quick burst / zoom effect. The transform effect will appear in the appearance panel. You can then change the setting by double clicking on the transform line. The image on the left was generated using a very small path (still editable) along with a distort / transform added with a number of copies and combined with a live drop shadow.


The entire artwork is still live and can be changed at any point. You can also add additional transforms such as only setting the number of copies and the scaling to create interesting radial artworks. The artwork is still editable so you can create thin or thicker slices interactively as well as via the transform panel. You can also use other effects as well such as blurs and distortions and zigzags

  1. ellipse tool in the Illustrator toolbar

  2. window menu and transform

  3. go to the transform panel

  4. create a circle using red as the fill (as right)

  5. set the pie start to 0 and pie end to 10

  6. effect menu and distort and transform

  7. transform command

  8. preview ON

  9. set copies 10

  10. set angle to 20

  11. set the center of transform to top left

  12. click OK


live ellipse tool


As the live shapes / ellipse is a live shape then you can alter the angle etc and the change will be reflected in the transform as well

8 Live ellipse tool works well with the object menu repeat command

You can also now use the live ellipse shape with the repeat feature. Probably a lot more flexible than the live effect transform approach. With your live ellipse shape selected, go to the object menu and repeat and then radial (or grid etc)


live ellipse tool


Change the number of instances as well as the radius of the repeat object. You can double click into the repeat object and then change the live properties of the ellipse such as the height / width / pie / shear etc


live ellipse tool


Change the shear etc


live ellipse tool


You can also edit the individuak ellipses and change the rounding of the ellipse though at that point the design is expand.


live ellipse tool


9. Arc shapes can be created using ellipse tool transform panel

You can set the live ellipse shape as an arc by using the pie settings with a shape that has no fill and has a stroke


live ellipse tool


You can use the direct selection tool and delete the 'middle' point of the shape by pressing the delete key


live ellipse tool