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A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

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The Dotted Line: An Illustrator In-Depth Guide

The Dotted Line: An Illustrator In-Depth Guide

Our Adobe Illustrator series is designed to help you learn how to create effects in vector design software. We’re here to help simplify the design process for everyone, from beginners to veterans! Today we’re focusing on how to create dotted lines.

Adobe Illustrator is a powerful tool used across the world for graphic design and illustration.

It’s packed with features that enable you to design anything you can imagine, but it’s also known to have quite a steep learning curve. Even professional designers who’ve been in the game for ages sometimes need a refresher on applying some effects. So whether you’re dropping in for a refresher or learning how to create a dotted line in Illustrator for the first time, carry on reading! 

In this article, we'll cover some of the different ways you can create a dotted line in Adobe Illustrator, as well as show you how to make one in Vectornator.

When Should You Use a Dotted Line in Graphic Design?

There are many reasons why a designer might want to use a dotted line in their design. Here are some motives:

  • A decorative effect that adds texture to an image
  • To create a dotted design
  • To show movement and direction such as flying
  • To show direction on a map or infographic
  • To create a graph paper effect
  • To give directions such as where to cut something on packaging design 
  • To show where something should be written or signed
  • To provide instructions such as where to fold something
scissors cutting dashed line on illustrator
Image Source: Dreamstime

How to Create a Dotted Line in Illustrator

A "dotted line" can take the form of circular dots, squares, rectangles, or any shape at all. Dotted lines and dashed lines are interchangeable, and the instructions below will cover both. 

There are a few different ways to create a dotted line in Illustrator. We'll cover three options below. Why not try them all to see which method you prefer?

Option 1: Create Dotted and Dashed Lines With the Stroke Tool

  • First, start by drawing a line. 
  • Next, open the appearance panel by navigating to properties-> appearance or using the shortcut F6 for Windows and Shift+F6 on Mac. 
  • Once your appearance panel is open, select "Stroke." This will open the strokes panel and give you various stroke options. 
  • Select the "dashed line" option in the Stroke palette. This will, as you might imagine, create a dashed line. 
  • Now select "rounded cap" to make rounded dashes.
creating dashed line on illustrator
  • You can reduce the rounded dashes into dots by adjusting the stroke weight and gap values in the stroke window. This gives a dotted line effect.
  • You can make the dots larger or smaller by increasing or decreasing the stroke weight, respectively.
  • To create a square dot, select "Projecting" cap. 
  • You can manipulate the space between your dots or dashes by increasing or decreasing the gap values. 
creating dotted line on illustrator
  • You can edit the color of your dotted line by editing the "Stroke Color." Clicking on this option will open a color panel where you can select your desired color. 
  • If you wish to create a dash pattern or a dash sequence made up of various lengths of dashes or a dashed pattern, you can play around with the dash options, and create different sequences by adjusting the dash and gap values. 

Option 2: Create a Dotted Brush With the Brush Tool 

For this method, you're going to start by creating a circle. 

  • Select the shape tool in your Appearance Panel on the left. This should give you the options of rectangle tool, rounded rectangle tool, ellipse tool, polygon tool, star tool, and flare tool. You are going to select the "ellipse tool." 
  • Hold "shift" and drag the mouse to create a circle. 
  • You can edit the circle you have created by adding a fill, changing the color, and adjusting the size. 
  • Once you're happy with your circle, navigate to window-> brushes. The brushes window will now appear. 
  • Now, click and drag your circle to the preset section. 
  • A dialogue window will now pop up, saying "Select a new brush type."  It will give you the option to select "Scatter Brush," "Art Brush," or "Pattern Brush."

  • Select "Scatter Brush" and hit "Ok."
  • Another window with further “Scatter Brush” options will pop up. Select "Ok."
  • Now you're going to go to the line tool and drag the line where you want your dotted line to appear. 
  • Now select the brush you just created. 
  • Voila! A dotted line will appear where you just created your line. 
creating dotted line brush on illustrator
  • It might not be to your desired specifications just yet, so you’ll want to adjust it. To edit the dotted line, double-click the brush you just used.
scatter brush option menu for doted line on illustrator
  • A new window will pop up where you can adjust the size, color, and weight of your dotted line, as well as the space between dots. You can adjust these settings by dragging the sliders. You can even randomize the spacing to create a dotted line with irregular spacing between dots. 
  • When you're happy with the edits, hit "Ok" and "Apply To Strokes." 
Pro Tip - Using this method, you could create a variation of a dotted line by selecting a different shape to "Ellipse" when you're creating your brush, essentially creating a dotted line out of stars, rectangles, or any other shape you can imagine! 

Option 3: Blend Tool

You can also create a dotted line using the blend tool in Illustrator. 

  • Start by creating a line with the line tool. 
  • Now create a circle using the ellipse tool. Hold shift while drawing your circle to form a perfect circle.
  • Next, you're going to duplicate the circle. First, switch to the “Selection” tool. 
  • Next, hold down the alt key, click the circle, and drag. This will make a copy of the circle. 
  • Now, select both circles and navigate to “Object”-> “Blend”-> “Make.” You could also achieve the same effect by selecting both circles, switching to the blend tool, and then clicking on one circle and then the other to create a blend. 
object blend mode on illustrator screen
  • Next, select both the blend and the line with your selection tool. 
  • Navigate to “Object”-> “Blend”-> “Replace Spine.”
object blend replace spine on illustrator screen for dotted line
  • Now, navigate to “Object-> “Blend”-> “Blend Options.”
  • A dialogue box with options for spacing and orientation will pop up. 
  • Next to "Spacing," select "Specified Steps" from the drop-down menu.
  • Now, enter the number of dots you wish to have between the first two dots you created to achieve your desired spacing. For example, if you enter "2" there will now only be two circles in-between the original two you created.
creating dotted line on illustrator with blend options
creating spaced dotted line on illustrator with blend options

 

  • You could also select "Specified Distance" from the drop-down to change the gap values and set the distance between the dots, resulting in a larger or smaller gap size between dots. 
  • Once again, you can build your dotted line from any shape you like using this method. 

Try an Illustrator Alternative

If you’re interested in trying an Illustrator alternative for macOS, try Vectornator. It’s designed to be highly user-friendly while maintaining the standard and feature capability of industry-standard software like Illustrator. We’ve put together a guide below on how to create a dotted or dashed line in Vectornator

Check out the .GIF below for a quick tutorial on how to make a Dotted Line in Vectornator, and follow the instructions we’ve written out underneath. 

dotted line in Vectornator iPad
  • First, begin by creating a line with your pen tool. If you need some help learning how to work with the pen tool, you can get the lowdown here. 
  • You can create a straight line, a curved line, or an entire shape. 
  • Once you’re satisfied with the line, go over to your Inspector on the right-hand side of the screen and click the toggle next to “Stroke” to switch it on. 
  • The stroke menu will now appear. 
  • You can adjust all your stroke settings inside this menu, from the stroke width to the cap shape and color. 
  • Similar to Illustrator, you’ll select a rounded gap to achieve a dotted line. 
  • To change the stroke into a dotted or dashed line, go to the “Dash” section in your stroke menu. 
  • Insert a value into the box on the left. This will determine the length of each dot or dash. You can choose any value to begin and adjust this as needed as you go. 
  • Now move over to the “Gap” section in your stroke menu and enter a value into the box on the left. This will determine the gap size between your dots or dashes. 
  • To make all dots equal in size, with equal gap distances between them, make both boxes under “Dash” and “Gap” have the same values. 
  • To create variety in your pattern, you can adjust the values in each box to create different gap sizes and dash lengths. 
  • Once you’ve created your desired dotted stroke, you can select any of the same tools to draw with it. This makes it very easy to create dotted shapes such as a line, square, or circle.

Some Dotted Line Inspiration

Now that you know how to make a dotted line in both Illustrator and Vectornator, check out the examples below for some ideas on different ways to apply dotted lines. 

Depict Movement On a Map

Twisting and turning dotted lines are pretty common to come across on maps. They work well for depicting the direction of something. 

Depict Cutting Instructions

The dotted or dashed line preceded by a scissors icon is a universal indication of where to cut something. This will probably be something you encounter if you’re in the game of package design. 

scissors cutting dashed and dotted lines on illustrator
Image Source: Dreamstime 

Texture and Dimension

Dotted and dashed lines add texture and dimension to images. They can look great incorporated into illustrations, particularly abstract geometric designs like the one below.  

using dashed line to create texture and dimension on illustrator with yellow shapes
Image Source: Dreamstime 

Infographic

Dotted and dashed lines are excellent for communicating direction in infographics, like in the image below. 

infographic with dashed line o a flow chart example with illustrator
Image Source: Dreamstime 

Ready?

Hopefully you’re feeling inspired and equipped with the knowledge you need to create dotted lines and dotted designs in both Adobe Illustrator and Vectornator.

We’re always keen to see what our community is creating, so if you feel inspired to share your dotted line design with us, be sure to drop us a line over in our DM’s!

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