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Create a Happy-Bright, Children's Coloring Book Cover

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In this intermediated tutorial, I show you how to create a children's coloring book cover from sketch to finished vector art. We'll use gradients, custom brushes, and typography. You can easily put together a book cover and use the techniques learned on other projects.

You can find the source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.


Tutorial Notes

I wanted to go over some details regarding this tutorial before we start. First, we are going to create this tutorial with a CMYK profile for the intention of sending the file to a printer. Moreover, I am going to use inches for the measurements, but you can easily translate to your measurement system.

Also, since we are going to be using raster effects in this tutorial, you are going to want to set the documents raster effects to 300 ppi for the highest quality print results. To change this, go Effects > Document Raster Effects Settings and choose High (300 ppi).

I don't go into great detail for the color I choose in the tutorial, but I advise you to use bright popping colors. These type of colors appeal to children more than muted colors.


Step 1

The first thing to do is sketch a layout of the book cover. I like to sketch out some quick thumbnails of the cover and then sketch out a more detailed version of anything I am going to need to trace in Illustrator. In this tutorial, I am just going to draw a more detailed sketch of the boy character. You can sketch in whatever medium you want. I like to sketch right into Photoshop with my Wacom pen tablet. Regardless of how you sketch it out, save the image file in a easily accessible place on your computer.



Step 2

Now we can get into Illustrator! Create a new document by going File > New. In the New Document dialog, choose Letter from the Size drop-down menu, change the Top Bleed field to .125 in and make sure the Make All Settings The Same button is pressed (it looks like a chain icon). Now we have our document set up with bleeds for printing and trimming.



Step 3

With the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 7.5 inch by 10 inch rectangle and place it in the center of the document. An easy way to center the rectangle on the artboard is to select Align To Artboard from the Align To pop-up menu on the bottom right corner of the Align panel. Then press the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons in the Align panel.



Step 4

This rectangle is going to be our guide for the cover. We don't want any important text or information exceeding these limits. To turn the rectangle into a guide go View > Guide > Make Guide (Command + 5).



Step 5

To place the original sketch image, go File > Place and find your image on your computer. Once placed, choose Template from the pop-up menu of the Layers panel. This will lock the layer and screen back your image, making it easy to trace.



Step 6

I like to keep the document organized so it is easy to edit the illustration later. To create your first layer, press the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. It is also a good idea to rename the layer for better organization. To rename the layer, double-click on the layer to open up the Layer Options. Here you can change the Name along with some other handy options. Start by renaming the new layer to "Head."



Step 7

Now we can start tracing the head of the original image. Use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the main shapes and lines of the head. With some of the shapes, like the face and hair, you are going to want to close the path. Other lines like the eyebrows, nose, and lines under the eyes, can be left as strokes. It is easier to apply a tapered line brush to these lines. Also, don't trace the eyes just yet because we will use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the eyes. For some great Pen Tool (P) tips and best practices, check out the Vectortuts+ Illustrator’s Pen Tool: The Comprehensive Guide article.



Step 8

Draw an oblong ellipse with the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with black and no stroke. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the left anchor point of the ellipse. Once selected, the Control Panel defaults to the Anchor Point option. Press the Convert Selected Anchor Points To Corner button in the Control panel. Next, convert the right anchor point in the ellipse to a corner.



Step 9

Select the ellipse and drag it into the Brush panel. When the New Brush dialog opens, chose New Art Brush. In the Art Brush Option dialog the only thing you need to change is the Colorization. Chose Tints from the Method pop-up menu under Colorization making it easy to change the color of the new Art Brush.



Step 10

Now that we have created our brush, we can apply it to some of the strokes created with the Pen Tool (P). Simply select a stroke and select the custom brush from the Brush panel. You might have to play around with the Stroke Weight in the Stroke panel to get the weight how you like it.



Step 11

Next come the eyes. We could have easily traced the eyes with the Pen Tool (P), but it is easy to create consistent eye shapes with the Ellipse Tool. Start by creating four ellipses over the left eye shape.

In the sketch you can see that the eye shape is cut off at the bottom. To create this effect draw a shape with the Pen Tool (P) that cuts off the bottom of the eye. Select all the eyes shapes and the shape you created with the Pen tool (P) and press the Divide button in the Pathfinder panel. Next Ungroup (Command + Shift + G) the objects a couple of times and delete the unwanted shapes.



Step 12

Select all the eye shapes, Copy (Command +C) and Paste (Command + V). Now place the eye shape over the right eye.



Step 13

Now that we have all the shapes and strokes created for the face. We can start filling the face with color. I like to start with the bigger shapes (head and hair) and fill them with a basic color. Next, change the stroke color on the custom brush strokes. Depending on which shapes you traced first, you might have to do some arranging. Send objects backward by going Object > Arrange > Send Backward (Command + Left Bracket key) or Object > Arrange > Bring Forward (Command + Right Bracket Key).



Step 14

Now that we have some basic color in the face, we can add some more depth with gradients. Start by deciding where you want a light source coming from. For this tutorial, the light will be coming from the right side of the character.

Now select the main face shape and fill it with a linear gradient from the Gradient panel. Change the first Color Stop in the gradient to your skin color and the second color Stop to a darker skin color. Adjust the gradient from the top-right to left with the Gradient Tool (G), so the lighter part of the gradient is on the left side of the face.



Step 15

Continue to add gradients to the other shapes in the face keeping in mind your light source. For the eyes shape, use a radial gradient instead of a linear gradient.



Step 16

We can add even more depth to the face by creating more shapes and gradients. Create an ellipse with the Ellipse Tool (L) the size of an eye and place it below one of the eyes.

Fill the ellipse with a radial gradient and change both Color Stops in the Gradient to a pink skin color. Select the right Color Stop in the Gradient Slider and change the Opacity to 0. Copy (Command + C), Paste (Command + V), and place below the other eye.



Step 17

To add even more depth to the character's face, use the Pen Tool (P) and draw a path that distinguishes the contours of the nose, mouth, and eyes. To make the new face shape line up with the main face shape, Copy (Command + C ) the main face shape, Paste in Front (Command + F). Select the main shape copy and the new shape contour, and press the Intersect button in the Pathfinder panel.



Step 18

Fill the new shape with a linear gradient with both Color Stops a dark skin color. Change the Opacity of the second Color Stop to 0. Adjust the gradient so the darker part of the gradient is on the left side of the face. Next, go Object > Arrange > Send Backwards (Command + Left Bracket) until the contour shape is right in front of the main face shape, but behind all other eye, nose, and mouth shapes.



Step 19

Now that the face is done, we can start tracing the body of the character. To start, create a new layer from the Layers panel and name it "Body." Drag the "Body" layer below the "Head" layer.



Step 20

Within the new "Body" Layer, start tracing the sketch with the Pen Tool (P).



Step 21

Just like with the face, fill in the shape with an appropriate color.



Step 22

Also like the face, fill the colored shapes with a gradient to add more depth to the character.



Step 23

With the Brush Tool (B) and your custom brush, create some strokes on the clothing to add some depth. Next change the color of the stroke to match the clothing.



Step 24

The character is looking pretty good. To finish off the character, we need to scale and place it within the document at the correct size. If we take a look at out sketch of the layout, the character takes up about three fourths the page.

To scale the character, select all the artwork on the "Head" and "Body" layers. Now with the Selection Tool (V), scale the character to the appropriate size. Also, by this point in the tutorial, we don't need the sketch image template anymore. Hide the template layer by pressing the Visibility icon for the "Template" layer in the Layers panel.



Step 25

It is also nice to have the artwork on the layers nice and clean so the artwork is not going past the bleed that we set up. An easy way to crop the artwork in a non-destructive way is to use a Layer Clipping mask. To do this, first draw a rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (L) the size of the document's bleed on the "Body" layer. Then choose Make Clipping Mask from the pop-up menu of the Layers panel.



Step 26

Create a new layer from the Layers panel, label it "Background," and drag it below the "Head" and "Body" Layers.



Step 27

In the Background Layer, create a rectangle that is the size of the document's bleed. FIll the rectangle with a radial gradient and change the first Color Stop in the gradient to white and the second, to a sky color.



Step 28

With the Pen Tool, create three simple cloud shapes and fill them with white. Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V) the cloud shapes around the "Background."



Step 29

Create a rectangle the size of the document's bleed and create a clipping mask from the Layers panel like before.



Step 30

Create a new layer form the Layers panel, name it "Title," and make sure it is the top-most layer, above the "Head," "Body," and "Background" layers.



Step 31

Create a rectangle that is about 1/4 the height and as wide as the document's bleed. Place the rectangle at the top of the document. Fill the rectangle with a linear gradient, with the first Color Stop a light orange and the second Color Stop an orange color. Adjust the gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) from top to bottom so the lighter part of the gradient is at the top of the shape.



Step 32

Create a small .125 in by .125 in ellipse. Fill the ellipse with the same linear gradient as the previous rectangle, but adjust the gradient so the dark part of the gradient is at the top of the ellipse.

Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Back (Command + B). With the copy still selected, move it down slightly. Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Back (Command + B) the original shape again. Select the new copy and the moved copy, press the Minus Front button in the Pathfinder panel, and change the color to a light yellow. Next, select the main ellipse and change the Color Mode to Multiply from the Transparency panel.



Step 33

Group the ellipse and other shape together, then place them about an inch to the left of the artboard and an half inch from the top of the artboard.



Step 34

With the grouped ellipses selected, go Effect > Distort and Transform > Transform. With the Transform Effect dialog open, change the Horizontal Move to .375 inches and the copies to 24. Next, go Effect > Distort and Transform > Transform again, but this time, change the Horizontal Move to .25 inches, the Vertical Move to -.375 inches, and the Copies to 4.



Step 35

Create an oblong ellipse toward the middle-top part of the document. Fill the ellipse with a linear gradient with the first Color Stop a light blue and the second Color Stop a darker blue. Adjust the gradient so the darker color is at the top of the ellipse. Next, Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) the ellipse. Scale the ellipse down slightly using the Selection Tool (V) and fill it with white.



Step 36

Use the Type Tool to type out some text. In this tutorial, I used Myriad Black, but you can change the font as needed. Outline the text (Command + Shift + O) by going Type > Create Outline. Also, be sure to Ungroup (Command + Shift + G) by going Object > Ungroup.



Step 37

With the ungrouped text selected, go Object > Transform > Transform Each. In the the Transform Each dialog, change the Horizontal Move to .05 inches, the Vertical Move to .1 inches, set the Rotate Angle to 10, select the Random checkbox, and press OK.

Depending on how the Transform effect turns out, you move, rotate, and adjust any of the letters. Next fill the letter in with the same blue linear gradient as in the previous ellipse.



Step 38

With the text still selected, Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Back (Command + B). Move the copied letters down and to the left. Next, fill the copied text with a light gray color.



Step 39

Create a rectangle that is the width of the document's bleed and about 1 inch tall. Go Effect > Warp > Arch and in the Warp Options, make sure the Horizontal radial button is checked and change the Bend to 20. Next, expand the effect by going Object > Expand Appearance. Then fill the rectangle in with the same linear gradient, adjust from top to bottom, as in the previous type and ellipse.



Step 40

Use the Selection Tool (V), hold down the Shift and the Alt keys, then drag a copy of the rectangle so the top arch of the copy is in the bottom fourth of the original. Take off any fill and stroke and click on the top arch shape with the Type On a Path tool toward the left side. Type in your title with the font of your choosing. I used Grobold that I download from Dafont.



Step 41

Outline the text and Ungroup (Command + Shift + G) it. With the ungrouped text selected, go Object > Transform > Transform Each. In the the Transform Each dialog, change the Horizontal Move to .05 inches, the Vertical Move to .1 inches, set the Rotate Angle to 10, select the Random checkbox, and press OK. Depending on how the Transform turns out, you can move, rotate, and adjust any of the letters as needed.



Step 42

With the letters still selected, go Object > Path > Offset. In the Offset Path dialog change the Offset to .125 inches and press OK. Select the offset letters and the the arch shape and press the Untie button in the Pathfinder panel.

Change the color of the united shape to the same blue linear gradient you have used before. Next, go Object > Arrange > Send Backwards (Command + Left Bracket key) until the untied shape is behind the original letters.



Step 43

For this step, fill each individual letter with a different linear gradient adjusted from top to bottom.



Step 44

Select all the letters, Copy (Command + C), and Paste in Back (Command + B). Move the copied letter slightly towards the bottom and to the left. Fill the copies with a dark blue.



Step 45

Select the blue gradient ellipse in the title, select the blue gradient arch shape, and go Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. In the Drop Shadow dialog, change the Opacity to 40, the X Offset to 0, the Y Offset to .1 inches, and the Blur to .07 inches.

Since we are creating this design for print output, check to make sure your raster effects are properly set. To check the settings, go Effect > Document Raster Effect Settings and make sure the Resolution is set to High (300 ppi). This will ensure that the raster effect print out clear with no pixelation.



Step 46

Create a new layer in the Layers panel and call it "Page." Make sure the Page Layer is on top of all other Layers.



Step 47

With the Pen Tool (P), create a triangle in the bottom right side of the document. Fill the triangle with the orange linear gradient you have used in the title.

Add an extra Color Stop to the gradient by clicking right below the Gradient slider in the Gradient panel. Change the new Color Stop to your orange color and the last Color Stop to a darker orange color. Next, move the middle Color Stop to the right, close to the last Color Stop. Adjust the gradient to a 45 degree angle so the lighter part of the gradient is at the bottom-right side of the document.



Step 48

Create a page curl shape with the Pen Tool (P). Fill it with a three Color Stop Gradient: the first stop white, the second light blue-gray, and the third a dark blue- gray. Adjust the gradient to a 45 degree angle so the white part of the gradient is at the top left side of the page curl.



Step 49

With the page curl selected, Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Back (Command + B). Use the Selection Tool (V) to grab the top-right anchor point and scale the copy down to the bottom-left. Change the fill of the copy to a blue-gray color and go Effect > Stylize > Feather. In the Feather dialog, change the Feather Radius to .125.



Step 50

Create some white text with the Text Tool (T) to describe what is inside the book. For this, I used Myriad Black text that is right justified.



Step 51

As a last step, clean up any layer with artwork going past the document's bleed using a layer clipping mask. All done!



Final Image

Below is the final image.


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