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Create a Rainbow Vomiting, Kawaii Unicorn in Adobe Illustrator

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It's the age old question: where do rainbows come from? Sure, you could answer with science, or you can open up Adobe Illustrator, grab your Pen Tool (P), expand some strokes into objects, and get with your gradients to reveal the truth: unicorns puke them out with sparkles and love. Add in the look of a sewn appliqué design, and we've got a stew of cuteness going.


1. Sketch and Base Body

Step 1

I drew this cutie out in Adobe Photoshop. You can follow along, sketch your own, or build your unicorn baby from the vector shape up.

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Step 2

Starting with the Pen Tool (P) (we'll be using it an awful lot, get comfortable with your pen friend), I've traced the base head shape of my little unicorn pony pal. If you don't get the shape in one go, you can always manipulate the anchor point handles either by using the Direct Selection Tool (A) or holding down Alt when using the Pen Tool (P).

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Step 3

The ear is comprised of three points. I started at the leftmost point, curved up, and around to form this smooth, cone-like shape.

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Step 4

The blue I'm using here it pretty light, but I wanted you to see the head, ear, and leg without the sketch for a quick second. I traced my sketch to form the leg and place it properly. Like the ear, it also has three anchor points.

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Step 5

Back to showing the sketch beneath the body. I've added another leg and a round shape for the body. With a darker blue, I drew a third leg and placed it behind the other body shapes in the Layers panel. At this point, I decided only three legs were going to show.

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2. Draw the Hair and Horn

Step 1

Working on the hair, which will be purple in a moment, I traced the fluffy coif I drew earlier with the Pen Tool (P). For the top hair, there will be seven anchor points.

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Step 2

The sides of the mane is one shape as well. I drew this shape with the Pencil Tool (N), which explains why the opening and closing anchor points are not closed at the time of the screenshot. I find I can sometimes speed up drawing curved items if I use the pencil versus the pen. The process was repeated for the tail.

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Step 3

Quick note about the colors here, I kept switching the lilacs used for the hair while working on this illustration. Your finals colors are not always decided at the beginning so play with your swatches until you're happy with the outcome. Now with the Pen Tool (P) yet again, I've drawn a shape that will serve as an under shadow for the tail. Place it beneath the tail and body shapes.

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Step 4

I've hidden the other body and hair shape layers to showcase the very simple horn. Three points is all it takes. Draw a triangle and manipulate the right handle of the right most anchor point to get the curved bottom.

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3. Draw the Eye

Step 1

I've isolated this process for an easier explanation. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw two ellipses, one white and one dark blue. They're pretty much the same size. the white will be the base of the eye and the blue will be part of the iris. Offset them as much as you want your unicorn to look off to the right.

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Step 2

With both the white ellipse and dark blue ellipse selected, grab the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M) and select the bit of the dark blue ellipse that doesn't overlap with the white. Deselect all shapes, reselect that outside bit, and delete it.

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Step 3

Draw a hot pink ellipse, smaller than the other two, and slightly offset from the dark blue one.

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Step 4

Repeat with a yellow and teal ellipse: smaller than the others and offset a bit so you've got a little rainbow. With the Star Tool, draw a five-point star. This will serve as the unicorn's pupil.

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Step 5

With the star selected, go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners. Play with the radius to get a level of roundness that you like (make sure Preview is selected so you can see the effect before applying it.

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Step 6

Once you have a rounded star you like, go to Object > Expand Appearance. This will make your effect the actually shape of your object.

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Step 7

Now to delete everything that does not intersect with the base white ellipse. Select all of the eye parts and grab the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M). With that tool, select anything outside of the white ellipse. There are seven pieces of objects to select in total here. Deselect everything and reselect those outside bits.

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Step 8

Delete them and you've got your eye, ready to go.

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4. Create Simple Body Details

Step 1

Here's our unicorn so far. All the basic shapes are drawn out and its rainbow starry eye is in place. I added a dark background with the Rectangle Tool (M) so the unicorn pops a bit more from the previously used white.

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Step 2

Using the same dark blue from the third leg, draw a feather-like shape for the inside of the ear with the Pen Tool (P). Place it beneath the hair shapes in the Layers panel.

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Step 3

This crescent shape serves as an underbelly shadow. Two anchor points (make sure the shape is closed after the second point) with manipulated handles is all it takes to get that smile-like curve.

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5. Vector Simple Face Details

Step 1

This shape outlines the puffed-up cheeks. If it extends beyond the head shape, that's alright; we'll just delete the excess area.

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Step 2

With both the shadow shape and the head selected, use the Shape Builder Tool again to delete the object that doesn't intersect with the head shape.

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Step 3

Draw a small tear drop for the unicorn's nostril. Once again, it's just two anchor points with handle manipulation to generate the right shape.

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6. Create the Rainbow Vomit

Step 1

Since the rainbow vomits shape was already drawn out in the sketch, I traced mine with the Pen Tool (P). If you're building this character from the ground up, arch your shape from the mouth, with some waved ends, and back into the mouth. When done, the rainbow shapes will be Grouped (Control + G) together and placed beneath the head shape in the Layers panel.

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Step 2

The next stripe in this rainbow is the same yellow from the unicorn's eyes. Four stripes will make up our rainbow in total, so leave ample room for the other two. It's alright if they overlap each other.

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Step 3

The next two stripes are a bright turquoise and lavender. All of the shapes extend beyond the hot pink one because it is our base shape and will define the rest of the rainbow.

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Step 4

Select all four pieces of the rainbow and use the Shape Builder Tool to select each area that does not intersect with the pink base shape.

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Step 5

Deselect and delete these non-intersecting shapes.

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Step 6

Group (Control + G) your rainbow pieces together and place them beneath the head shape in the Layers panel.

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7. Add Swirls to the Hair

Step 1

Using the Pencil Tool (N), I drew a looped sparkle shape at the end of the unicorn's horn. It has eight points total, four of which are larger and longer than the others.

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Step 2

Grab a darker purple for these swirl shapes. The point of them is to add graphic dimension (rather than rendered dimension) to the unicorn's mane. You can create these carefully with the Pen Tool (P), Pencil Tool (N) (which would allow you to go faster, but you'll have to make sure each shape is closed), or the Blob Brush Tool (Shift +B) (usually easiest to use with a tablet, as it requires some precision).

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Step 3

This is often the result of using the Pencil Tool. I've got the Direct Selection Tool (A) at the ready to carefully move the left point and will join the two anchor points in order to close the shape.

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Step 4

Continue along the unicorn's bangs, creating swirls. Each swirl here emphasizes the curve of each curl.

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Step 5

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), I'm able to modify the curves of the swirl by manipulating the anchor points' handles or moving the anchor points themselves to the more visually pleasing location, thus changing the shape of the swirl.

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8. Swirls in the Mane

Step 1

Moving beyond the bangs and on to the rest of the mane, these swirls will follow the bumps and curves of the overall shape a little less. Once again, this shape was created with the Pen Tool (P).

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Step 2

I want the curls of the mane to cascade down the unicorn's side. In order to do so, the shapes intersect with one another, creating new shapes out of the space in the purple mane.

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Step 3

Continue down the mane creating whatever shapes you think work best in defining those curls.

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Step 4

Add swirls to mane. When done, select all of your unicorn shapes and Group them together.

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9. Add Secondary Swirls in the Mane

Step 1

The hair isn't quite done yet. I decided another color should be added. Something lighter that contrasts well with the first round of swirls. My initial thought was to make it match the unicorn's horn (light yellow).

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Step 2

The new swirls were quickly drawn with the Pencil Tool (N) and in this case I wanted them to serve as highlights on the mane.

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Step 3

However, after staring at this piece for a while, I used the Eyedropper Tool (I) on the new swirls and selected the blue from the rainbow. Instead of highlights, the unicorn has streaks in its mane.

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10. Add the Initial Appliqué Outline

Step 1

Group (Control + G) together your unicorn once more. Copy and Paste the character and change its color to dark blue. Unite this shape in Pathfinder.

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Step 2

Switch the shape's fill to a stroke set at one or two points of weight and hit the dashed line box in the Stroke panel.

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Step 3

Align your dotted outline with the unicorn character. Your initial appliqué lines are ready to go.

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11. Add a Simple Gradient Background

Step 1

Let's jump to a simple gradient background. As we add more details in to the overall design, having the background ready to go will allow you to see the piece are more completed. Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a triangle radiating outwards, past the art board, from the center of the picture plane (or thereabouts).

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Step 2

Continue drawing these triangle shapes around the unicorn.

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Step 3

Select all of the triangle shapes and Unite in Pathfinder. Apply a radial gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) going from dark purple or blue to the same color with 0% Opacity. Let's get back to those design details.

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12. Detail the Eye

Step 1

The eye is looking a little plain, believe it or not. Copy and Paste the white ellipse from the base of the eye, set it to dark blue with a Stroke Weight of 1pt. Align it with the rest of the eye.

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Step 2

Starting on the left side of the eye, curve around to the other side, overlapping a bit (this shape is being drawn with the Pen Tool (P)), add some pointy eye lashes, and curve back over to the left again to close the eyelash shape.

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Step 3

Time to add more dashed lines for that "sewn together" look. Draw an arching line above the eye with the Pen Tool (P). Set the stroke to a weight of 1pt, and adjust the dashes as you desire in the Stroke panel. Once you have a line that you're satisfied with, select the line and go to Object > Expand.

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Step 4

This dialogue box will pop up. Hit OK after you make sure both Fill and Stroke are selected.

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Step 5

Now your dashed stroked line is a set of objects!

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Step 6

I added a few more line segments to form little X's at the bottom of the eye. Each was converted into a shape (you can also use the Rounded Rectangle Tool for this part). A white stroke was added to the dark blue star of the eye. Make sure that it's placed beneath the eye lashes and additional details.

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Step 7

Using the Pen Tool (P) draw a shape similar to the one shown below. It will serve as a shadow with a linear gradient applied with the Gradient Tool (G) going from the dark blue (or purple) to the same color set at 0% Opacity. Edit the angle so the darker color comes from the top of the eye.

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Step 8

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw on a cute rosy cheek. Grab the Gradient Tool (G) and add a radial gradient going from hot pink (same as the pink from the rainbow and eye) to the same pink at 0% Opacity. Reduce the Opacity of the overall shape in the Transparency panel.

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13. Add More Appliqué!

Step 1

In case you're not familiar with the wonderful worlds of sewing and quilting, appliqué is a technique by which embellishments, decorations, etc are sewn to other pieces of fabric. Often they're stitched around the shape itself as well as through it, creating interesting patterns in the fabric. It's a look that I love. If you're not into it, feel free to have skipped these points for your vomiting unicorn.

Once again, we'll be using the Pen Tool (P) as a means to draw stroked dashed lines that will be transformed into individual objects. See below for a quick refresher on the process of turning a dashed line into a series of objects or separate shapes.

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Step 2

I've started these stitched details with more swirl shapes on the mane.

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Step 3

Continue along the mane and over to the ear. The top-stitching lines should enhance the shapes already created.

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Step 4

Lines were added to the rainbow, separating each color, and throughout the rest of the unicorn's mane.

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Step 5

Finally, lines were added to the tail. Only the top side of it, though, as too many dashes will overcrowd the design. You've probably noticed the gradient shadows hanging around the unicorn. Let's get to those and some additional details to finish up the unicorn.

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14. Add a Heart

Step 1

Two quick steps to this section. I freehanded the heart with the Pencil Tool (N) and made sure the shape was closed.

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Step 2

Then, the heart was Copied and Pasted, set to a dashed stroke, and offset from the first heart. What a cute little mark that is!

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15. Add Further Gradients

Step 1

Starting with some highlights, draw a shape that will serve as a shiny highlight on the unicorn's nose. This gradient goes from white to a completely transparent white. Adjust the gradient's angle as you see fit.

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Step 2

A similar gradient highlight has been added to the unicorn's horn.

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Step 3

Now for those shadow gradients beneath the unicorn's mane. Using the same blue from the shadows made previously, draw a shape that mimics the curves of the mane. Gradients will go from blue to transparent blue and originate beneath the mane as though its casting a shadow on to the unicorn's body.

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Step 4

Continue adding gradient shadows around the unicorn. The one on the rainbow is the same gradient as that from the eye.

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16. Create a Final Outline

Step 1

Group together your unicorn design. Copy and Paste it, Unite the shapes in Pathfinder, set the fill color to a light lavender, and the stroke to rounded corners and edges with a 5pt Stroke Weight.

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Step 2

Align the lilac outline with the main unicorn and set it behind it in the Layers panel. Repeat the process with a dark purple or blue shape set at 40% Opacity. Set it behind this new shape and the unicorn, but don't align it. The image below shows the new shapes and background without the interference of the unicorn group.

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So Sickeningly Cute!

As you can see, a few color tweaks were made to the final version of our little unicorn. Forever, it will vomit out rainbows, making the world a brighter, cuter place. Its giant starry eye will see into your very being, causing you to smile and laugh (or scream in terror. I'm really not sure). In any event, you've got some groovy techniques down for creating your own kawaii characters now. Kudos!

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