From Sketch to Vector, Simple Illustration That’s Not So Simple


Simplified, clean and minimalist illustration is becoming popular again. This style of illustration is interesting, not only visually but also technically. Successfully achieving this style is less about rendering skills and more about design elements and principles such as balance, harmony, color, proximity and contrast. In this Vector Basix tut you will learn how to take design from a sketch to vector and how to make a minimalist illustration of your own.


Breaking an image down to simple forms and stripping away any 'fluff' while still achieving visual interest is the goal of this tut. Here are a few folks that do it beautifully;

The thing to keep in mind here is simplicity. Now, there is a difference between simple and just plain boring. Illustrating something simply, but with character, or personality, is the desired outcome. With circles, squares and lines, I will outline the 4 main 'processes' that I use to create this beautiful illustration style.

Step 1

It's time for an idea, having one is always a good place to start. With summer approaching and such nice weather outside (at least in Chicago), the gardens are starting to bloom. I have my idea! Fruit and vegetables!

Step 2a

Sketch your idea. Because the main focus of this illustration style is simplicity, try to break each fruit/vegetable down to its most basic form. The focus isn't in rendering the shape, it's trying to use as little lines and shapes as possible to describe the form. This is a step in the process that shouldn't be over looked. Basically you're 'doing your homework' so when you come to the vector part you know what to do.

Step 2b

Scan the sketch and open a new document in Illustrator. Place the sketch and the inspiration photo next to your work area. Even though we wont really be using either in the illustration, its helps to have the images as quick references.

Step 3a

Let's jump right in. The most basic drawing in the illustration is the orange. Start by simply drawing a circle. (Just incase you are extremely new to Illustrator, use the Ellipse Tool (L) while holding shift)

Step 3b

The orange fruit literally could be just an orange filled circle, but in-order to make sure its not too boring, draw a small, slightly darker orange oval on top of the circle. That's it; one fruit is already done, in 2 shapes! Easy peasy.

Step 4a

As I said there are 4 very basic 'processes' that I use to create this illustration style. First, adding or combining shapes together. To create the top of the broccoli, simply combine circles in varying size on top of one another. Doing this, as opposed to trying to draw the shape with the pen tool, helps keep visual consistency.

Step 4b

Then using the rounded rectangle tool, create 3 rectangles and angle them, 1 vertical and one on either side, like broccoli stalks.

Step 5a

Second, subtracting shapes. Instead of drawing unusual shapes with the pen tool, you can 'subtract' simple shapes from each other to make the shape you need. The banana pepper is a good example. Start by creating 2 circles. Using the pathfinder, subtract the top (white) circle from the light green circle (Window> Pathfinder> Minus Front).

Step 5b

Next, using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) , add a point to each side of the pepper. Using the Delete Anchor Point tool (-) delete the points you don't need above the 2 points you just created.

Step 5c

To create the top leaves/steam overlap 2 circles and in the pathfinder palette select the Intersect option (Window> Pathfinder> Intersect). This will subtract the side and leave you with just the overlap area; a perfect leaf shape. Next just copy and paste the same leaf shape on both sides and using the Rounded Rectangle tool create the stem. Using the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) delete the unneeded points of the rectangle (select a point point then press the delete key). Boom, banana pepper.

Step 6a

The third 'process' that I use, is to add anchor points in strategic places on the shapes, and then remove the unneeded points. For example, to create the lemon start with an oval (again created with the Ellipse tool) and add an anchor point to either side of the top and bottom points of the oval using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+). In order to keep things symmetrical, it helps to drag a guide to the desired point of intersection and turn on the Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides).

Step 6b

Using the Direct Selection arrow nudge the top and bottom points up and down respectively (select the point and press the up or down arrows). To finish simply draw a small circle under the top tip of the lemon.

Step 7a

Lastly, the fourth super simple 'process' that I suggest is to use subtle scaling to express layering. A good example of this is a half grapefruit. Start with a yellow circle (peel), copy & paste in front (Command C, Command + F) a white circle (inside peel) and scale it to 95% (Control + Click > Scale). Copy & paste in front another pink-ish circle (pulp) (Command + C, Command + F) and scale that 95% (Control + Click > Scale). To finish use the line tool to create a vertical line, and simple copy & paste this line 3 times to create the pulp sections. Rotating while holding shift will help to keep the sections symmetrical.

Step 7b

Also, notice how I added a subtle round ending to the grapefruit pulp section lines. I did this to give it an extra element to describe the shape.

Step 8a

Showing how to construct every piece of fruit/vegetable would be extremely boring. Essentially it's the same process over and over, just using different shapes and colors. A good way to see how I created the individual fruits and vegetables is to look at the outline view. Notice how the grapes are exactly like the broccoli and are made from a bunch of circles layered upon each other. By applying a simple stroke to a few circles, you get the 'depth' that describes the grape bunch.

Step 8b

Notice how the lime wedge is almost the same as the half grapefruit, with different coloring. The banana is 3 shapes; a big yellow shape created from two overlapping circles (ref. step 5a.), a small brown triangle shape and a curved light brown line, copied from the yellow shape. The mushroom is a rectangle with a half circle on top of it. Simple, smart, subtle.

Step 8c

Draw the remaining fruits and vegetables. Again, look how the avocado and cucumber slices are constructed in the same way as the grapefruit. The carrot is just 2 shapes, same as the orange. The sprouts, possibly my favorite of the fruit and vegetable ills, are basically just a line with a stroke repeated numerous times.

Step 9

Color is vital in this illustration style; it can make or break the overall feel of the image. It's fairly easy with this subject matter, because you can simply reference our 'inspiration photo'. As you can see with the banana, I have used a fairly realistic color scheme. Overall, I have refined the color scheme slightly so that it's slightly more vibrant than the actual colors.

Step 10

The finally, the most important aspect of this illustration style is composition. Because the forms and shapes of the fruits and vegetables are so simple, maximizing the composition is imperative. Condensing the space between the fruits and vegetables helps to create visual interest. Tie your illustration together by drawing a nice, vibrant pastel blue background color.


The four 'processes' I have showcased here are extremely basic, but sometimes it's good to go back to the basics and think about things simply. Remember, it's not the technique but the idea that makes an image stand out from the rest. Practice your visualization and you will be making amazing vector compositions in no time.

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