How to Color a Cute Character using Graphic Styles
Coloring a character sketch can sometimes take much longer than anyone expects. With a few layer tricks and Graphic Styles, I will show you how to create a character that is quick to ink, easy to edit and a breeze to re-color. Let's get started!
I've sketched the character using Photoshop and a drawing tablet. The character base is in blue and the clothing and accessories are in pink. This is to make the sketch clear and easier to trace when it's in Illustrator.
Create an A4 document in Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place and place the sketch onto the artboard. Select the sketch and reduce the transparency to something light, but not too light to view. This sketch looks good at 40%. Make a new layer underneath the sketch layer and lock the sketch layer so you don't accidentally draw onto it.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and outline the hair by drawing points on the middle of the curved areas. Once you've completed the shape, select the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and click on the points and drag outwards to smooth out the points to make the wavy lines. Once you have some waves, go back with the Direct Selection Tool (A) if you want to further refine the lines.
Select the Hair and go to the Appearance Panel, Window > Appearance and set the fill to a color you like, I'm using a light yellow. Then go to the Fx button at the bottom and select Path > Offset Path and set the Offset to be slightly smaller than the hair shape. I've used -2mm with a rounded join, you can tick the preview box to see the result before you click OK.
Click the Add Fill button at the bottom of the Appearance Panel and move it below the main hair color, fill it with the outline color you want to use. My illustration is going to have a cute Japanese character style so I've used Purple.
Save the style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later. You can do this by selecting an object with the Appearance applied, in this case the hair, and clicking the New Graphic Style button at the bottom of the Graphic Styles Palette. After you save the style, keeping the hair selected go to Object > Expand Appearance. This will create a group from the hair with the outline and the fill as two separate shapes.
Double click the hair to enter the Object Group, select the Fill shape and with the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) and make a line in the hair corresponding with the one in the sketch. Double Click anywhere on the Artboard to return to the main illustration.
With the Ellipse tool, outline the hair ornaments and apply the Graphic Style from the hair. Change the fill to a color you want to use for the ornaments, I've changed mine to Blue.
Save the new style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later. After you save the style, keeping the hair ornament selected go to Object > Expand Appearance.
Double click the hair ornament to enter the Object Group, select the Fill shape and with the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) and make a line in the ornament corresponding with the one in the sketch. Double Click anywhere on the Artboard to return to the main illustration.
Arrange the ornaments in a way that looks nice and send one to the back (Command + Shift + Left Square Bracket)
Take the Pen Tool (P) and outline the bow by drawing points on the corners of the bow. Once you've completed the shape, select the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and click on the points and drag outwards to smooth out the points to make the rounded lines. Once you have a shape you like, go back with the Direct Selection Tool (A) if you want to further refine the lines.
Apply the Graphic Style from the hair ornaments to the bow and change the fill color to a color that matches, I've used light pink. Apply a Stroke below the two fills and set a heavy weight line, I've used 40pt, then check the Dashed Line option box and set the Dashes to 0 and the Gaps to a number slightly smaller than the line weight, I've used 30pt.
Make a copy of the Stroke by clicking on the Duplicate Item button at the bottom of the Appearance Panel, position it under the first Stroke. Click into the settings and make the Stroke color the same as the outline color you're using and increase the weight. I've made mine 50pt.
Make a small Rectangle with the same color as the bow fill color using the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a Circle on top of it in the color of the outline using the Ellipse Tool (L). Select both shapes and drag them into the Swatches Palette (Window > Swatches)
Select the Bow and go to the Fill Color in the Appearance and change it to the Dot Pattern you added to the Swatches. Save the style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later.
Make a new layer above the hair layer and draw an Ellipse (L) to make the head.
Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the top point to cover the entire face area.
Apply the Appearance Style from the Hair and change the Fill to the skin color you would like to use. You will notice that I'm using the HSB color sliders, this is so I can have exact control over the Hue and Saturation. Save the style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later.
Go back to the hair layer and double click into the group of the hair shape. Select the Fill Shape and copy it (Command + C), go back to the main artwork by double clicking anywhere on the artboard and lock the Hair Layer. Select the Face Layer and paste the hair above the face (Command + F).
Select both the hair and the face shape and go to the Pathfinder Options (Window > Pathfinder) and click Minus Front. This will make the face shape follow the line of the hair fill so the body can be placed under the face but above the hair.
Set the Fill Color to be the same as the outline and using the Blob Brush (Shift + B) draw in the Eyes, changing the color to white draw on the highlights. Remember that the color of the blob brush is set with the Stroke rather than the Fill.
To make the eyebrows symmetrical, draw one eyebrow, select it with the Direct Selection tool and select the Reflect Tool (O) and Option + Click on area between where the eyebrows will be. In the Reflect Settings, chose Vertical and click Copy to make the second eyebrow.
To make the Mouth, draw it in with the Blob Brush (Shift + B) and clean up the shape with the Erase Tool (Shift + E) to make a nice curve.
Make an Ellipses for both of the cheek areas, apply the hair appearance and change the fill color and the Offset Path settings. I've reduced the cheek offset to -1mm so it's half the size of the main outlines.
This is a trick I use to make Heart shapes. Make two circles with the Ellipse Tool, select them both and click Unite in the Pathfinder Options.
Delete the two bottom points of the circles, leaving the point in the middle. Then click the bottom middle point with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) to create the point at the bottom of the heart, and then with the Direct Selection Tool (A) move the handles on the side points and the bottom point to make the heart shape.
Fill the heart with a color matching your illustration and outline it with the outline color. Paste it onto the Face layer and move it into position.
Make a square with the Rectangle Tool (M) and set the fill to the same color as the outline on the bow and place a copy of the heart over the top in a lighter color and rotate it sideways. Select the rectangle and the heart and drag them into the Swatches Palette
Make a layer between the Hair layer at the bottom and the Face layer at the top.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and outline the body by drawing points on the middle of the curved areas. Once you've completed the shapes, select the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) and click on the points and drag outwards to smooth out the points to make the curved lines. Go back with the Direct Selection Tool (A) if you want to further refine the lines. Draw an Ellipse to make the thumb.
Select the objects and move them into order with Command + Left Square bracket to move the object backwards and Command + Right Square bracket to move the object forwards. Position the Arms and Legs to the back and the body to the front.
Fill the arms with the same Appearance as the Face, but this time we will change the Offset to be on the outside of the arms as the line weight will take up most of the fill on small shapes like this. With the arms still selected, go to the Appearance Panel and drag the Offset Path setting from the inside color to the outline color and remove the minus from the Offset Setting (I've changed mine from -2mm to 2mm). Save the style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later.
Repeat the same steps for the skirt so the points in the curves are kept sharp. Save the style to the Graphic Styles Palette (Window > Graphic Styles) for later.
Draw in the neck line using the same style as the Face with the offset aligned to the inside.
Select the Skirt and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Double click the skirt to enter the Object Group, select the Fill shape and with the Eraser Tool (Shift + E) and make lines in the skirt corresponding with the ones in the sketch. Double Click anywhere on the Artboard to return to the main illustration.
Select the Leg and go to Object > Expand Appearance, then Object > Ungroup (Command + Shift + G). Select the Fill shape and paste a copy above it (Command + F). Select both fill shapes (I select all of the leg then Shift + Click the outline to un-select it) and Control + Click the shapes and Select Make Clipping Mask.
Double click into the Mask and Using the Blob Brush, draw the stocking and stripes into the leg. Repeat the same steps with the other leg.
Go back to the main illustration by double clicking anywhere on the artboard and with the Blob Brush (Shift + B) set to the line color, draw in the additional details such as the bracelets, hair lines and shoe details.
This is how the layers look. Select the entire illustration and click the New Color Group button at the bottom of the Swatches Palette Check the Option to make the swatches Global.
Modifying the Colors : Step 01
The colors are nice, but I'm not 100% happy, so I'm going to show you some tricks I use for coloring. Because the colors are global you can now easily edit them to make variations on the design. I've changed the hair to a bright pink and decided on the color by clicking the Preview option so I can see how it looks before clicking OK. All areas of yellow will now be changed to pink.
You will also notice that changing a global color that appears in a pattern will also change the swatch of that pattern.
Here's another tip. The colors I've chosen are matching well, but they could match a bit better. I will adjust the colors with a color adjustment layer. First, select the entire illustration and copy it (Command + C) then make at the top (below the sketch layer if you still have it) and paste it into place ( Command + F).
Go to Object > Expand Appearance then Object > Expand and expand the strokes. With the shape still selected go to the Pathfinder Panel and click Unite. You will then have a solid color in the shape of the illustration.
Fill the shape in the color that is most used in the illustration (mine is a mid-pink) and change the transparency settings to Overlay with an opacity of anywhere between 10% - 40%, play around with the settings to find a setting that looks good. By using a color adjustment layer the colors all have a slight pink tone to them which gives the character a harmonious color palette.
Here's the finished illustration. Because the character is made in layers, it's very easy to change the hair style and outfit to come up with many character variations in a short amount of time. I hope you've enjoyed this tut!