I always wondered how to create a those custom grids like you can see on David Pache's works (http://dribbble.com/helveticbrands) and Igor Duibanov.

I found out how to create a tangent to a circle from a certain point but I can't find how to draw a tangent that will cross through 2 circles like here:


I'm really in love with this topic but I can't understand how to work like this, I tried but I failed and didn't come even close.

4 Answers 4


What you're referring to aren't really grids; they're construction guides. The grid is just what's formed by the horizontal and vertical components.

And while some of these construction guides look really fancy and complex, they probably weren't as hard to create as you imagine. Usually, the designer starts with a general idea of what they want to build and then gradually lays down guides over a long design process. So they might end up with a very complex set of guides at the end, but they probably started with just a few horizontal and vertical lines or maybe just a single circle.

But on to the part that you probably don't want to hear...

So, remember those days way back in high school, sitting in your geometry class, listening to your math teacher drone on and on about axioms and postulates and theorems, and you muttered to yourself "when am I ever gonna use any of this stuff?" Well... this is one of those times.

That's actually why a lot of the construction guides you see are so complex—the designer needed to use geometry to find the precise positioning of one element based on another element, and they required a lot of intermediary guides to get there.

That isn't to say all of these designers aced their geometry classes. Many of them probably don't even understand the geometric theorems they're applying, and they're simply applying tricks they've picked up through trial & error aided by perhaps a little logical intuition. And this is something that most anyone can do. It just takes a little practice.


Here's a quick and dirty method for drawing outer tangents for 2 circles:

  1. Start with your 2 circles. Orientation and size don't matter, as long as 1 circle is not wholly surrounded by the other.
    Circles need tangents too

  2. Draw a rectangle with width (or length) equal to the diameter of the smaller circle. It's length (or width) should be at least as long as the distance between the 2 centers. The end of the rectangle should be centered on the smaller circle's center.
    Basic structure

  3. Use your Rotate tool and set the rotational reference point at the center of the smaller circle, then drag an edge of the rectangle until it forms a tangent on the larger circle.
    Rough outer tangent

  4. Clean up your rectangle length, and duplicate your efforts on the other side.
    Final structure

The result may not be mathematically perfect, but it can be as good as you desire.


  • 1
    If you want to be super-precise, you can also rotate the small circle and rectangle in step 3 so that they're lying horizontally. This will ensure that the large circle will snap tangentially to it if you have smart guides on. You can also find tangent points by creating a line that bisects the circle horizontally or vertically and then rotating it to your desired angle. You can then make this a guide and add a point to the circle that can be used to snap against. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 0:59
  • Definitely a great way, thank you. If only I could rate you guys up because you are really helping me and I really appreciate it, Keep on with the advice and opinions! :)
    – ronka
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:03
  • @Lèsemajesté The only drawback to that is that it will only snap 1 side. The only way to get the other side as equally precise is to rotate the whole assembly until the other side is also horizontally aligned. If we knew the precise angles to perform that transformation...
    – Farray
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:04
  • 1
    That shouldn't be a problem. One way to do it is create a horizontal guide through the center of one of the circles. Then rotate about that center until the center of the other circle snaps onto the guide. Double click on the rotate tool, and you can rotate by the same amount again. And you should be all lined up for the other side. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:30

I haven't used AI in a long while, so not sure if these are features that now exist, but back in the day, there weren't tools for doing geometric connections such as tangent lines and the like. CAD software, on the other hand, is designed specifically for that, so is often where you'd go. To do it in AI, it's a lot of zooming and eyeballing.

Keep in mind that a lot of these design grids you see on places like Dribble are added AFTER the fact. They're kind of neat as a presentation tool, but odds are they aren't used as often for the actual creation of the design as much as you think.

  • 1
    I sure most of them are added after but there are some projects that you can see that this is a part of his processes, like here: behance.net/gallery/Nick-Oldschool/1080185.
    – ronka
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:00
  • @Ron: I don't know that most are added after. I think amongst professional logo/type designers, using construction guides is standard practice. (It's kinda hard not to.) What they might do, however, is draw a rough version of the logo without the guides (usually drawing many different variations to explore different directions), and then once they've selected the rough design, they'll add in the construction guides to re-build the design with a cleaner, more geometric construction. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 9:32
  • @Lèsemajesté but how do I integrate geometry with illustrator? I'm on my last year in high-school and I can think on a way to integrate both.
    – ronka
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 11:23
  • +1 for this being a built in feature of Autocad (and probably other CAD software).
    – e100
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 12:45

A simpler and more precise way is to use Hiroyuki Sato's 'Common Tangent' script for illustrator

  1. Create and select the circles you wish to combine
  2. command+f12 to open illustrator script, open 'Common Tangents.js'
  3. The common tangents will be drawn for you, you can close the lines off with the pen tool to create solid shapes from the lines
  4. use path finder to merge all the shapes into one object

It is included in his excellent suite of scripts: http://park12.wakwak.com/~shp/lc/et/en_aics_script.html

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