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For 2,000 years, mathematicians and scientists have been searching for a ‘super formula’, a single algorithm that can be used to describe any shape that can occur in nature. So, what did Johan Gielis do when he discovered this super formula during his botanical research? He turned it into an Illustrator plug-in, of course.

The plug-in is called Supergraphx, and when you install it you see a new Supershapes tool on the main Illustrator toolbar, as well as a new set of Supershapes palettes.

Click on the Supershapes tool and it pops open to display a series of standard shapes, such as circles, stars, rectangles, and leaves. Initially, these ‘super shapes’ appear similar to the ordinary shapes that you can create with Illustrator’s standard vector tools. However, the additional tools in the various Supershapes palettes give you immense scope to modify these basic shapes.

The main Supershape palette includes a number of settings that you can use to modify shapes. Initially, all Supershapes are symmetrical, so you use the Iterations setting to specify the number of symmetrical points, such as the number of points on a star or petals on a flower. There are a number of slider controls that let you modify properties such as the length or angle of these symmetrical points. Unfortunately, the developer’s scientific background gets in the way here, as these settings are merely labelled with vague names such as “n1” and “n2”. The manual doesn’t really explain how these settings work, so you’ll have to experiment and figure it out yourself.

One powerful feature is the ability to create asymmetrical distortions by adding ‘c-points’ to shapes. These allow you to isolate individual sections of your shape and to modify them without affecting the rest of the shape. It’s a useful feature, but again, it’s not well explained so you’ll have to spend some time figuring it all out. Once you’ve arrived at a shape you’re happy with, you can convert it from a Supershape into a standard vector object that can be edited as normal.

Supergraphx is an immensely flexible drawing tool, and the 30-day trial version is well worth investigating. However, its rather technical presentation may initially be a bit off-putting for arty creative types. Genicap might want to look at the Autoshapes feature in Fireworks, which isn’t as powerful as Supergraphx, but is much easier to use.