When I first began getting into graphic design, even before hand lettering, I desperately wanted to know how to create quick and simple digital artwork in Adobe Illustrator. However, I searched all over the web and YouTube only to find Live Trace tutorials that half explained what I wanted to do, or tutorials on how to use the Pen Tool that would take far too long for the time I wanted to spend. Well, now that I know how to do this pretty well and after spending countless hours making quick vector pieces, I want to explain how to do this for those that are in the same situation I was.
So, I’ve decided to step out of my comfort zone and create my first ever tutorial video. The following is a tutorial using Adobe Illustrator CS5 on Windows 7. There are minor differences between newer versions of Adobe Illustrator, as well as differences between Mac and Windows, but I tried to keep it relevant for whichever version and operating system you’re using. Follow along in the video and read over the written tutorial to grab any details that I didn’t cover in the video.
For this tutorial you need two things: your artwork and Adobe Illustrator. I will also be using Adobe Photoshop which isn’t needed, but it’s helpful if you have it. Your drawn artwork will work best in this tutorial if drawn with black ink on white paper.
First, get your artwork onto your computer. Do this by either scanning it or taking a picture on your smart phone and using email or cloud storage to get it onto your computer. Once you have the image onto your computer, open it up in Photoshop.
Make a Levels adjustment to your image by selecting Image > Adjustments > Levels. Make note of the keyboard shortcuts for the actions throughout the tutorial to save time in the future; the levels adjustment shortcut, for example, is Cmd + L for Mac or Ctrl + L for PC. This step is to manually adjust the image to make Adobe Illustrator perform a more accurate live trace. The left slider adjusts shadows, the middle slider adjusts midtones, and the right slider adjusts highlights. Adjust the shadows, midtones and highlights in order to make you artwork as dark as possible and your background as light as possible without distorting the image or damaging the detail of the image. Keep in mind that Illustrator will trace the dark objects of your images and ignore the light parts, so this is making sure the unwanted midtones of your image won’t show up.
Be careful not to adjust the levels too much, as to retain necessary detail. This can be done by keeping a general rule of thumb of sliding the left and right sliders inwards just up to the first bump, closest to the slider. The middle slider should be positioned towards the flat, middle part of the spectrum. Click OK and select File > Save for Web & Devices.
The image size may be very large, so resize the image as needed and save and rename the image so you can easily search for it.
Now open up Adobe Illustrator. Select File > New. Select the dimensions for what your final product will be. Take into consideration the dimensions, color mode, and raster effects and adjust accordingly. You want to really consider these settings right now so that you can create a template file and won’t have to do it again. For example, I am creating square dimensions because the final image will be for Instagram’s square format. Click OK to create the new document.
Now go to the Layers panel and create three more layers. Then select File > Save As and change the “Save as type” to Adobe Illustrator Template (*.AIT) and name and save your template. This is very important in making sure that this process will be a quick one in the future. Next time just open the template and begin from there.
Select File > Place and open up the image that you adjusted in Photoshop. Go to the top menu bar and click the down arrow next to the Live Trace button. Go to the bottom of the list and select Tracing Options.
The setting in the Live Trace dialog box are the ways you will be able to adjust how your trace will come out from your original image. Make sure to activate the Preview and Ignore White check boxes. Now adjust the following settings to create a clean and accurate trace:
Threshold: The value used to separate black from white; all pixels lighter are converted to white, all pixels darker are converted to black.
Blur: Blurs the image before the trace to get smoother lines and remove bumps.
Path Fitting: Controls the distance between the traced shape and the original pixel shape (lower values create a tighter path fitting, higher values create a looser path fitting)
Minimum Area: The smallest feature, in pixels, that will be traced.
Corner Angle: The sharpness of turn in the original image that is considered a corner in the tracing result path.
Once you adjust the settings and like the result, select Save Preset and name it. Then select Trace. A Live Trace preset, in conjunction with your Illustrator template, are the keys to making this a speedy process. Once you have a Live Trace preset, the next time you open up your Illustrator template and place an image, just select the preset in the Live Trace drop-down menu.
Click Expand at the top, near the menu bar. This will allow the tracing to be edited by turning it into a path.
Now select the whole object. Then grab the corner of the bounding box and hold down Shift and Alt or Option as you scale up or down to an appropriate size on the artboard. Then open the Align panel, and if you cannot find it, go to the menu bar and select Window > Align. Make sure that the “Align To” option is set to “Align to Artboard” in the Align panel. With your object still selected, select the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons . This will center the piece in the middle of the artboard.
With your object selected, select Edit > Copy. Select your Layer 3 that is below Layer 4 which holds your object. Then select Edit > Paste in Place to have two copies of the object exactly on top of one another. Now, with only the object in Layer 3 selected, use your arrow keys to nudge the object in any direction just a little. Then change the object to a different color. As you will see, it creates an illusion of thickness to your object. This approach works well with this lettering, but this may not work as well all the time, so this is completely optional.
Select the object in Layer 4 and you can change the color as well. Go to Layer 1 and select the Rectangle Tool and drag a rectangle from corner to corner of the artboard to create a background. Select a color for the background and then go to Layer 2.
Adding textures to your work will create another aspect to your artwork that will make it look a little more natural and increase it’s visual interest. You can search online for free vector textures and use those, or if you’re willing, you can buy some really nice ones. I use a bundle of 20 high-resolution vector textures created by Sean McCabe that are available on Creative Market. Once you’ve got your textures, open them up in Illustrator. Select one of them and click Edit > Copy.
Now go back to you artwork document. Edit > Paste the vector texture on Layer 2, in front of the background, but behind the other objects. Adjust the position with the selection tool. Then hold down the Alt or Option key and drag from the texture to drag out a copy of the texture to a different part of the artboard. Right click or Control click on the copy, then go to Transform and select Reflect or Rotate to avoid having an obvious cookie cutter duplicate. Then change the color of the textures and the opacity in the Transparency Panel to change how prominent or subtle you want the texture to be. Then select Layer 4.
Paste the texture on top of the object in Layer 4. Locate your Pathfinder Panel or open it up by selecting Window > Pathfinder. Now select the texture and the object in Layer 4 while making sure that the texture is on top of the object. Go to the Pathfinder Panel and select the Minus Front button.
Paste another copy of the texture and repeat this step to any areas that didn’t get textured. This will create a hole-punch effect to the object and allows the layers below to show through where the texture was.
Once you finish, select File > Save As and save your Adobe Illustrator file to have the ability to go back and edit. Then File > Save for Web and Devices to create a .jpg file to be able to share your finished product on the web.
If you have any questions on how to create quick vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator please get in touch with me and let me know.
I’d love to hear from you!
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