Final

Simple Digital Illustration in 7 Steps

TURN A SKETCH INTO A SIMPLE DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION IN 7 STEPS – FOR TOTAL BEGINNERS

Ever wanted to turn a drawing, whether it be yours, your child’s, or that random man’s by the bus stop into a an awesome simple digital illustration in only 7 steps? Imagine spamming all your friends and family your very own art. Well, imagine no longer! This super simple tutorial aimed at beginners will give you all the power you need to go from a sketch to an awesome and sharable image optimized for the web – even if you’ve never used the software used for this project before.

Difficulty: Easy

Software used: CS6 Illustrator and Photoshop

STEP 1 – SKETCH

STEP 2 – GET YOUR SKETCH TO YOUR COMPUTER

STEP 3 – CLEAN UP YOUR SCAN OR PHOTO

STEP 4 – USING BASIC SHAPES TO BUILD YOUR ILLUSTRATION

STEP 5 – ADDING COLOR

STEP 6 – DETAIL

STEP 7 – SAVING

BEFORE WE START

Don’t get daunted if your project doesn’t look like it’s coming along well as you go through the process, keep going and you’ll be surprisingly pleased (in general) at the end. I often feel like a project is coming out terribly and won’t work, but it usually all comes together in the end.

Be Strong!

Tools and shortcuts: After I reference a tool I’ll set the shortcut in parentheses. If you’re not comfortable with shortcuts you can always use Help > Search and type in the tool’s name.

Where to Search for Help

SOFTWARE USED

I use CS6 Illustrator and Photoshop in this tutorial. Don’t have any version of Illustrator or Photoshop?! No worries, just grab a fresh and fancy CC trial from Adobe!

Get Illustrator CC

Get Photoshop CC

STEP 1 – SKETCH

Unless you already have your child’s or that random man’s by the bus stop sketch, you’ll need to get your hot little hands on one… the best way? Sketch it yourself of course! Go buck wild at this stage. No one will ever need to see the sketch so it’s best to experiment all over the place. Be as sloppy and crazy as you want. You’ll choose what to actually use later and more ideas only help.

I like to sketch on paper because I just love the feel of pen on paper – but you could totally just sketch directly in Photoshop, Illustrator or whatever floats your boat.

Here we go! Here’s my sketch.

John's Sketch

STEP 2 – GET YOUR SKETCH TO YOUR COMPUTER

Scanning: If you’ve opted to draw on paper, you’ll need to get that jazz to into your computer so you can start work. The easiest and cleanest way to get your drawing into your computer is scanning. Just remember to scan at 300 DPI (dots per inch) to get a real juicy drawing.

Photo: What I usually do nowadays is just take a quick photo of my sketch with my phone, email it to myself and then download it. Although the photo usually gets a lot of extra pen or pencil marks, odd shading and poor lighting it doesn’t really matter (unless it’s extreme) as we’re just using the sketch to guide us and no one will ever have to know how ugly our photo was.

STEP 3 – CLEAN UP YOUR SCAN OR PHOTO

If your drawing is a bit hard to see like mine was, don’t fret! Using Photoshop we can quickly edit the photo or scan to increase the sketch visibility. How you ask?

1. Open your scan or photo in Photoshop and convert it to greyscale (CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + U).

2. Use level adjustment (CTRL/CMD + L) and lighten up the light areas and darken down the dark areas. To do so, simply bring the little dot on the far right a bit to left and the little dot on the far left a bit to the right.

Level Adjustment

Here’s mine! Barely an update but, hey, at least it’s something.

John's Sketch Cleaned

STEP 4 – USING BASIC SHAPES TO BUILD YOUR ILLUSTRATION

Try to approach everything in basic shapes and then build up from there by uniting the shapes with the unite feature found in the pathfinder window (SHIFT + CTRL/CMD + F9) which then become complex shapes. This is a really easy and enjoyable way to construct simple digital art.

Here’s the unite command in the pathfinder window.

Unite Command

Here’s the process of building with shapes visually.

1. For the jam’s body I started with a rectangle by using the Rectangle Tool (M) for the body and an oval by using the Ellipse tool (L) for the circular parts.

Building with Shapes 1

2. Put the shapes together, now it kinda’ resembles the bulk of the jam’s bodice. I turned down the opacity on my shapes so I can see the sketch below and it’s easier to lay the shapes where I want.

Building with Shapes 2

3. Select both shapes and hit the unite command and poof! You now have a square with a circular top in one beautiful shape. Having everything united as one shape will help us color later.

Building with Shapes 3

For trickier shapes or adding shapes that can’t be made out of simple shapes, just use the ol’ Pen (P) tool. Trace whatever you want to add with the pen tool and then unite them back into the main shape you’re adding to, exactly the same way as combining simple shapes.

Small warning: the pen tool can be frustrating for some at first, just play with it and eventually the pen tool will become your best, most cherished friend.

Here’s how it goes down when using the Pen to make and add shapes – see that little piece of arm sticking out on the left side of the jam? Welp, let’s make it!

1. Select the Pen, trace the shape – remember to be patient with the pen tool. If you be nice to it it’ll be nice to you later.

Building with Shapes 4

2. Use the unite command again with the two shapes together and that’s it! Now we have our jam’s little arm all in place. Pretty simple, huh?

Building with Shapes 5

Just keep making shapes and adding them with either simple shapes from the tools or your own shapes you made with your best friend, the Pen. Soon you’ll have all your drawing filled in with shapes that resemble your sketch, once there you can proceed to color. Eventually this is what it should look like right before coloring (depending on your initial colors – Oubly colors ftw).

Shapes

STEP 5 – ADDING COLOR

Once your work is all in shapes and everything you want included in the art is represented, I like to smack down the color. I don’t really like to add color as I go because it tends to slow me down as I make choices and then change my mind again and again. If you’re stronger than me you could color as you go. But if you’re as weak as me I recommend just picking random colors that help you differentiate shapes until everything is done and then color everything at once.

You can create your own color palette or use a website like Kuler where you can explore hundreds of user made color palettes (woo) or even make your own.

Here’s all you have to do to make your own color palette using  Kuler:

1. Find a color that you like, any color.

2. If it’s on the web somewhere, just take a screen shot and open it in Illustrator.

3. If it’s around you scan or photograph it.

3. Use the Eyedropper (I) tool and click on the color you want.

4. Get the hexadecimal code from the fill box.

Fill

Fill 2

5. Head on over to Kuler and put your color code in the center color box.

Kuler Setting the Main Color

6. Then just pick the color rule you want to use and ding! Now you’ll have harmonious set of colors to use.

Kuler Rule Set

Now that you have colors you just have to put the colors in your shapes. If you’ve been uniting the shapes so that they’re single, it’s super-super easy to apply the colors. Do you know how to apply colors to a shape? If so, skip to step 6. If not, read on.

1. Select the shape you want to color.

2. Double-click the fill.

Fill

3. Replace the hexadecimal code with your color’s code.

Fill 2

Adding simple shades: to add simple shades like my toast’s darker bread area or arm color change, simply trace the and make the color a bit darker or lighter depending on what you want. After coloring and adding any simple shades we want we should be about here:

Basic Color Added

STEP 6 – DETAIL

Now that our work is all colored up, it’s time to start adding details! This is the really fun part where an illustration will rapidly increase in quality and coolness.

1. Add a stroke to each shape in the same color as the shape.

2. Change the brush definition of the stroke to “Pencil – Feather” (to do so, select the current brush definition and then select open the brush library and head over to Artistic_ChalkCharcoalPenciland Pencil – Feather is the third on from the bottom.

Adjusting Brush Definition

3. Change the stroke weight so the effect is balanced (I used about .5 mostly). Experimentation only helps!

Here’s my composition before adding detail.

Plain Edges

And here’s the detailed version.

Detailed Edges

It looks extreme but when zoomed out I like how it has a slight drawn type feel to it.

STEP 7 – SAVING FOR WEB

Now that we have our work built, colored and detailed it’s time to save this delicious morsel for the web so we can start throwing it at everyone. Here’s our final product!

Final

1. Select save for web (CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + OPTION + S)

2. Select PNG-24 preset under name

3. Make sure it’s the size you want

4. Hit save

Fish Woot!

Woo – now we have a real hip image prepped and ready to send all over the internet. I hope this tutorial was a bit informative and fun! There are a whole bunch of different ways to do the same thing, I recommend experimenting and checking other tutorials. I would love to see what anyone makes using this basic method.

John Hansen

John Hansen

John Hansen is a Los Angeles based graphic designer. Loves typography and messy illustration. Digs cats, reading books and cooking. Blue.

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