Get Creative with Vector Speech and Thought Bubbles

Speech and thought bubbles have made their way from comics to Web and print design. Using Adobe Illustrator CS2-CS4 and a few easy techniques, you can create your own in a few minutes. I used CS3, but the steps below also apply to Illustrator CS2 and CS4.

Are you wondering about the difference between the two bubbles? Here’s a speech bubble:

This is a thought bubble:

Step 1
Open Adobe Illustrator. Go to File > New and click OK.

Step 2
First, you’ll make a basic rounded rectangle speech bubble. Click and hold on the Rectangle tool and select the Rounded Rectangle tool.

Step 3
With the Stroke set to Black and the Fill set to White, click and drag out a rectangle.

Step 4
Select the Pen tool.

Step 5
Click once, then move the mouse and click again as shown here to begin to add to the speech bubble.

Step 6
Click again a little lower, then complete this triangle shape by hovering over the original point and clicking to close it.

Step 7
Choose the Selection tool and click-and-drag around both of these objects to select them.

Step 8
Go to Window > Pathfinder to bring up this Pathfinder palette:

Step 9
In the Pathfinder palette’s top left corner, click the Add to shape area option.

Step 10
Click the Expand button to make the objects one.

Step 11
Your speech bubble should look something like this:

Step 12
Time to add a gradient to the fill. Click the Fill in the Toolbar and then go to Window > Gradient. Drag the Gradient palette off the side of the screen, and click and drag a color from the Swatches palette onto a side of the gradient. I chose a blue.

Instead of the Swatches palette, you could click one of the ends of the gradient and select a color from the Color palette.

Step 13
After applying this gradient fill, you can adjust the angle or level of the gradient by selecting the object, clicking on the Gradient tool, and clicking and dragging across the bubble. Next, with the object still selected, change the Stroke to something other than 1 point. I set mine to 20 points.

Step 14
Next, set the Stroke to None by clicking the red line on the bottom of the Toolbar. I also adjusted the angle of the gradient to make sure there was enough blue. Note: Clicking and dragging a wide area makes the colors more evenly distributed.

Step 15
Click and hold the Warp tool and select the Pucker tool.

Step 16
Double-click on the Pucker tool in the toolbar and change the settings to those shown below.

Step 17
Click once quickly while over the bottom left part of the bubble to give the speech bubble a more subtle shape.

To easily compare the difference in your before and after speech bubbles, you can duplicate the original at the end of step 16 by Option/Alt-clicking the object.

Step 18
Now let’s quickly create a thought bubble. Click and hold the Rectangle tool, select the Ellipse tool, and click and drag an ellipse.

Step 19
Draw another ellipse, but make it a perfect circle by pressing Shift. Make it much smaller than the original. After it’s drawn and selected, go to Object > Transform > Transform Each.

Step 20
Change the Move Horizontal and Move Vertical to -35 pt. If you want the circles to become gradually smaller, change the Scale as well, or resize them by hand afterward. Be sure to click Copy and not OK. Press Cmd/Ctrl-D to repeat the same effect to the new object. Depending on whether they’re scaled, two possible results are below.

Step 21
The speech/thought bubble you’ve created so far look something like these:

You can vary their appearance using the different Warp tools or Warp-related tools, the Pathfinder palette, and different fills, strokes, and gradients.

Step 22
You don’t always have to fill these objects with text. To place images inside your bubbles, check out this clipping mask technique.

(C) iStockphoto/Paul Topp

(c) iStockphoto/Sharon Dominick (angry woman) and P. Wei (fire)


Posted on: January 26, 2009

5 Comments on Get Creative with Vector Speech and Thought Bubbles

  1. I cottoned on to this when I was trying to work out how Comic Life did those wonderful tricks with stretching out the tails of Quote Bubbles and Arrows. So simple, the tail is separate from the bubble and head.

    Just never expand the 2 in Pathfinder and you can play and stretch them to your heart’s content.

  2. You can do a heck of a lot better balloons than that in AI. I suggest you check out the Comicraft book on the subject.

  3. Thanks a lot!

  4. This is just what I was looking for! Great tutorial!


    Amy Putkonen
    Owner & Creative Designer of Cirkla Simple Business

    Stop by for a free ebook on how to utilize The Power of Synergy to grow your business!

  5. Thank you for this tutorial!!!! Brand new to illustrator 🙂

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