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Create A Vector Art Twitter Bird Character Icon In Adobe Illustrator


Twitter is quite a social media juggernaut as of late. It’s getting to the point that one has to have a Twitter account. And what good is a Twitter account without a link to it? And what better way to link to your Twitter account than with a cool blue bird character illustration? This tutorial will walk you through the steps from sketch to vector in creating an original cartoon-style character vector illustration.

I currently work in Adobe Illustrator CS4, but most of the steps here can be retro-fitted to earlier version of Adobe Illustrator — or to alternate vector art graphics software. This tutorial also assumes you have a working knowledge of Adobe Illustrator, the basics of creating vector paths using the pen tool, and the basic vector art tools. What follows is a walkthrough of a method to go about creating cartoon-style illustrations in vector art giving them a clean, yet hand-drawn look. Hold on to your Beziér curves, and let’s get started…

Step 1: Scan Your Sketch


Typically I scan at 200 or 240 DPI. This gives me plenty of resolution to work on refining the sketch in Photoshop without having the file size being larger than needed for the eventual Illustrator template this sketch will serve as. I scan sketches with the B/W (grayscale) setting as I have no need for the color information, and the “line art” setting will not pick up the nuances of your pencil sketch.

Note that I sketch very roughly in pencil on paper — below I will explain my sketching process in Photoshop, which allows for much more flexibility when refining the drawing. My full sketch process is 25% pencil, 75% Photoshop.

Step 2: Open In Photoshop


Step 3: Sketch Prep


I like to work on transparent layers when working on sketches in Photoshop so parts of the sketch can be easily copied, pasted, or cut without having to worry about the background white. I do however like to have the white background behind all the transparent layers so everything appears normal when sketching.

Step 4: Sketch Prep Results


Step 5: Refine The Sketch — Drawing In Photoshop


I always work by using a separate layer for any distinctive part of a drawing, even with a single character. This allows me to resize, distort and reposition elements of the character in Photoshop to get the right proportions and design down.

This is why I do not spend much time with paper on pencil; what I do on paper is just enough to get the basic idea worked out.

Step 6: More Refining Using the Free Transform Tool


Step 7: Even More Free Transforming


Step 8: New Sketch


Sketching directly into Photoshop using the Wacom graphics tablet, I quickly worked up a new body, wings and feet. You can see here how much I utilize as many features of Photoshop as I can when working on my sketches. While all of this could be done without graphics software, I like to put my tools to work for me.

Step 9: Group Your Layers


Note how many layers I am using, even for this fairly simple character. By keeping all the elements on separate layers,and working on copies of layers, I never have to waste time to go back and re-draw anything. Better safe than sorry. RAM is cheap and if I want I can flatten or delete all the layers once I have my finished sketch.

Step 10: Create The Final Clean Sketch


Step 11: Final Sketch  


Step 12: Create Your Illustrator Document


Step 13: Place Your Sketch As A Template In Illustrator


Go to the File menu, and scroll down to the “Place…” command.

Step 14: Check the Template Checkbox


Step 15: Work In Outline Mode


Step 16: Create The Vector Paths Using The Pen Tool


You can see here that the final line art sketch was created with the vector art in mind. Nothing was left to the imagination at the final line art sketch stage, so when the vectors are created you do not have to figure out what needs created. At this stage it’s mostly a matter of tracing the outlines.

I use the Pen tool 99% of the time when working on the line art, and I create all my vector art by hand-no Live Trace is used. Not only does creating the vector art by hand allow you to keep the number of anchor points to the minimum, by doing so it also keeps the lines nice and fluid, allowing curves to flow and blend into each other. This results in a much sleeker final illustration.

You’ll also notice that I do not use the Calligraphic Brush tools. In essence I actually trace the line art as if they were shapes. Primarily this is done to give me much more control of the tapering thickness of the line art, which I just cannot achieve using a uniform tapered calligraphic brush (believe me, I have tried).

Step 17: Quickly Create Smooth Compound Curves


The key here is that each “corner” is actually a small curve. By making these corners small curves, when I go back and add a central point between two “corners”, that anchor point had control points added and is technically a very, very wide curve.

By switching temporarily to the Direct Selection tool by holding down the Command key (note that the Direct Selection tool must be the last selection tool used before you switch to the Pen tool for this to work), I can then quickly reposition the newly-added anchor point and snug it up to the arc/curve in the line art template sketch. This technique is much easier than dragging it out while you create and trying to approximate the proper length the control handles should be.

This technique is much easier to see than to explain, so I have put together a quick video demonstrating how it’s done .

Step 18: Basic Vector Shapes Complete


Step 19: Switch To Preview Mode


Step 20: Erase Overlapping Shape Areas


Step 21: Final Line Art Complete


Step 22: Create The Flat Color


All the color areas were created on a new layer, underneath the line art layer. This way, the line art sits on top and the color shapes are underneath and on a separate layer. This allows for more flexibility when adding shading later.

Another method of creating the flat color shapes is by using Illustrator’s Pathfinder -> Unite feature on a copy of the line art, and then releasing the resulting compound path so you can select each interior shape and recolor as desired. Running the Offset Path feature with 1 or 2 pixels for the offset to add a bit of overlap could also be done to ensure there are no gaps where the filled areas meet the line art. Place this layer below your line art layer. It really depends on the illustration — this alternate method works great in some cases and not so great in other situations depending on the structure of your vector art file.

Step 23: Select Same Colors


Step 24: Create Global Colors


Once I have done this for all the colors in the bird, I can then go back and double click on the global swatches in the Swatches panel and tweak the colors to preference.

Step 25: Final Color Complete


Step 26: Prep And Add Shading


By targeting the layer, we can then apply a Blend Mode to the layer, and this blend mode will affect all the objects on the layer. This saves us time from having to set blend modes and opacities for each object on the layer individually. I am setting the Blend mode via the (new to CS4) Appearance palette.

For the shading, set the blend mode to Multiply, and then also reduce the opacity to 40%.

You’ll notice, if you look back at the Layer target that the circle is now filled in with a dark gray; this indicates a Blend mode has been applied.

Now we can just create flat color shapes on this layer, and let the layer effect give us the desired results. Typically the Multiply blend mode will allow you to use the same exact color you used for the flat color as the shading color. Sometimes however you may need to create a new swatch and darken it up with a bit more K (Black).

Note: if you are using a version of Illustrator without transparency (versions 8 and lower), you’ll need to just create a flat color for the shading and skip the steps above.

Hopefully my thought process behind the separating of the line art and the flat color on separate layers is making more sense now. With the shading layer sandwiched between the two, this allows us to have much more flexibility and also not have to worry as much about precision since the line art layer sits above all the other layers.

Continue to add all your desired shading.

Step 27: Tweak Your Line Art


In the screenshot you’ll see that my earlier tip about hand creating your vectors and keeping your anchor points to a minimum comes into play here, making it much easier to grab just a single anchor point and tweak and refine the line art where necessary.

Step 28: Duplicate Your Art With Multiple Artboards


Illustrator CS4 now has a “multiple artboards” feature, which I am going to use here so I can work on a copy of the original art on it’s own artboard within the same document.

This is a great example of why I like to create the elements of the artwork as full shapes as opposed to just the visible lines. Making size revisions like this is much easier. Unfortunately, I did not create the artwork this way (or already erased the parts which were full shapes) and I didn’t save a copy of my line art layer as I recommended earlier in this tutorial. I will thus need to go back and edit the line art manually. This is easily done since I hand-created all the vectors in this artwork, as opposed to using the Live Trace feature. Live Trace ends up creating too may stray vector points, and cleaning up and smoothing out the paths takes more time than just hand-creating your vectors from the start.

On a side-note, this is also a good example of being able to step back and look at your artwork objectively, even at the final stages. Ideally, the overall design would be worked out before you reach the vector art stage — but never let that stop you from evaluating your creations and making sure they are achieving the goals they are intended to reach.

Step 29: Beak Tweaking


Step 30: The Final Character Art


Step 31: Add The Background Elements


Obviously, there are some extra steps in the tutorial above, especially the parts where I reworked the art at the end. Instead of showing the ideal method, I wanted to give a real-world example, warts and all. I believe by showing the errors, it helps explains why the artwork is created as it is — one can see how easily an illustration can be tweaked at the end of the project if need be, by using a smart process from the start.

I would also encourage you to not use this tutorial as a “bible” for creating character illustrations, but rather use it as a stepping stone. As with any graphics software programs, there are as many ways to do something as there are users. Hopefully this tutorial gave you one way of approaching the creation of a character, which you can then use to expand and enhance with your own methods and techniques.

I look forward to your comments on how this tutorial helped your workflow, as well as any suggestions on how it might be improved. I am always looking for — and open to — new ideas, methods and techniques to improve my workflow and productivity.

And I suppose this Twitter bird tutorial wouldn’t be complete without my own link so you can connect with me on Twitter .

At Go Media, every great relationship starts with a conversation and some free advice.

Go Media has been a staple in the Cleveland graphic design, logo design, and website design for more than two decades. We understand marketing, brand building, and beautiful design - and we're passionate about helping each of our clients look - and function - at their best.

We believe in creating remarkable design experiences, going beyond the boundaries of technology to create provocative web design & branding that gets noticed. Our clients trust us to deliver inspired creativity unique to them, service that's personal and responsive, and expectations and costs that are transparent. We strive to create work that's not only authentic and bold - but impactful.

We'll be happy to provide insight on whatever your design or development situation may entail.

Let’s talk.

steps for creating vector art

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Creating Vector Art for Tattoos or Iconography


Introduction: Creating Vector Art for Tattoos or Iconography

Creating Vector Art for Tattoos or Iconography

Step 1: Create the Base Sketch

Create the Base Sketch

We're going to create a tribal style ladybug for this Instructable. First, fire up your copy of Sketchbook Pro or your pencil and paper. Take the size you want the final bug to be and divide that in half vertically. I mean that literally: draw a vertical line right down the middle of where the bug will be. If you're using Sketchbook Pro, hit the "Symmetry Y" button. That will automatically draw the line for you. It will also mirror everything you draw on the other side of the line. Here's the big secret to this entire Instructable: we're only going to draw half. We'll let the magic of computers make the rest! Once you have a nice line going down the page you've also overcome any psychological resistance to working with the blank page in front of you. It can be paralyzing to sit and stare at a blank page before beginning a work of art. The most effective strategy I've found for overcoming this mental inertia is to immediately fuck the page all up . Crinkle it, rip it, cut it, burn it, put an ugly line right in the middle, do something to make a mark on the page. That way whatever you end up creating is better than your initial mistake. No more inertia! Our vertical line takes care of this nicely. Next, we can start sketching out what our bug will look like. Since we're drawing a ladybug I started out by looking at some pictures of ladybugs on Google image search . I noticed immediately that they are insects. Specifically, that means they have six legs and 3 body sections. They have antenna, and the body has the obvious distinctive black spots on a red shell. With those notes in mind, begin sketching. Remember that you only have to draw one side! The other side will be taken care of by Sketchbook Pro, or later in our vector artwork program. As I sketch I try to inject as much tiny detail as possible, since I don't have to worry about making the other side perfect. Don't worry about the quality of this sketch or whether or not it even looks like a ladybug. Don't worry about anything.

Step 2: Redraw the Whole Thing

Redraw the Whole Thing

My sketch is terrible! It's OK, though, I know how to fix it. Fire up Adobe Illustrator or whatever vector program you're going to use. I'll try to keep my notes generic, but I am going to end up using specific Illustrator features because that's what I have and that's what I know how to use. The first thing to do is to draw a vertical line that will represent the same vertical line you drew on the paper or in Sketchbook. Once that line is in place either lock it or make a new layer and lock the layer the line is on. We don't want to accidentally select the line later or accidentally move it or bind it to some other piece of our drawing. Now we can begin the process of reproducing your sketch using vector tools. We're not going to let our vector program mirror anything. There's no need. In Illustrator, you can begin with the paintbrush tool (B). Here's a great trick with the paintbrush: you can redraw sections of a brushed line. This means you can rough in the head of your ladybug and then get the little details perfect later. After you're done reproducing the lines of your sketch as a vector illustration let's add some detail and mirror the thing so it looks awesome!

Step 3: Vectorize That Thing!

Vectorize That Thing!

Right now we're not looking so good. Let's fix that. First, we're going to dump the paintbrush lines we made and turn those outlines into solid colors. Select the shapes you brushed and then hit the D key. This will apply the default brush stroke, fill color, and stroke color to the shape. That's black and white with a 1px stroke. Then just invert the colors and remove the stroke color. Now you've got nice, solid shapes with an organic feeling because they were hand drawn using the brush tool. We need to make sure the paths are closed on the little stylized spots. Press (on a mac) Cmd+y, which will show the raw path information without any fill or stroke colors. You can easily see what is and is not a complete path. Once those paths are whole, make sure they're over the ladybug shell. Then use the pathfinder tool to remove the front, which will leave little spot shaped holes on your ladybug shell. We're almost done! Next, we're going to add some detail and style to the antenna. At some point recently Illustrator introduced the Width Tool (Shift + W). This tool is fantastic for this use. Click the antenna and then click the Default Fill and Stroke button over in the toolbar by the fill and stroke color indicators. This will remove the brush stroke while keeping the path intact. Remove the while fill color, we don't want that. Next, hit Shift + W to switch to the Width Tool. Now click and drag on your line and it will adjust the width of the line as far as it can. Continue down the path until you've got something approximately cool looking. Sometimes the Width tool will leave the tips of lines boxy looking. No problem, just adjust the width at that point to be ...pointy. In the last step we'll take a look at how our bug came out! See the photo for the final result of this step.

Step 4: Reflect Your Sketch

Reflect Your Sketch

OK, now for the fun part. Delete the vertical line you created when we started the file. You won't need it anymore. Select everything you've drawn. In Illustrator, go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Choose the vertical option and hit Copy, not OK. Copy. Super important. We want more stuff, not stuff the other way. That will layer everything you've created, as a mirror image, over the other bits you created. Either hold the shift key to and move the duplicate shapes until they're symmetrical, or move them to the right with the arrow keys. You may want to clean up some of the angles and make the lines join each other. No problem, just hit Cmd + y to see the paths, and then use cmd+alt+j to open the Path average tool dialog. Averaging points both vertically and horizontally will ensure they don't break symmetry. If you want to make changes to your sketch at this point it's better to undo back until it's just one side again and then proceed forward when you're happy. Take a look at the pictures in this step. We went from our rough sketch to this nice, smooth, approaching professional looking illustration using a few simple techniques. By only worrying about half the sketch we can make something that looks great. Since you only have to worry about half the detail of the sketch, the final result has twice as much as it would have. Let me see your bugs in the comments!

steps for creating vector art

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Cakenstein Mask

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Project-Based Learning Contest

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Make It Bridge

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Magnets Contest

10 years ago on Introduction

Amazing!! I personally saw the final result and it has better quality than a lot of board games you find in a store. Good one!!!

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