Create an Underwater, Vector-Style Illustration in Photoshop


Photoshop isn't the first application that we think of when some one mentions vector-style illustrations. That's because we have Illustrator to easily produce vector artwork. While Photoshop wasn't originally designed to create these types of illustrations, it does have the capability to produce illustrations that can meet or exceed that of Illustrator. In this tutorial we will demonstrate how to create a fun, underwater, vector-style illustration using Photoshop. Let's get started!

Before You Begin

It will be a huge help if you use a graphic tablet for this tutorial. Start with a huge file (3,000 x 2,000 px, for example). You’ll resize the image at the end. Working with large files will allow you to be more precise. Also, remember, if you’re designing for print, make sure to use 300 ppi and a CMYK color profile.

The Sketch

The first step will be to produce a sketch. Unfortunately, I forgot to save my original sketch so you will be on your own here. My sketch was done directly in Photoshop but you are free to draw it on paper and scan it in.

Tracing Your Line Art

This guide will form the basis of the techniques that you will use throughout this tutorial. Using the Pen Tool, trace the shape below.

Right click on the path and then click Fill Path.

Now apply the same technique to your line art.

Step 1 - Colors

Now that the lines of our artwork have been filled, now it is time to add color. Using the pen tool, draw the paths that will create highlights and shadows. Once each path has been closed, fill each path on a new layer.

Add Shadows and Highlights.

Add details.

Apply the same techniques to the other elements in your illustration.

You can use different opacities to from 50-60% to add a variety of different colors.

Your illustration should now look similar to the image below.

Step 2 - Background

Now, we have to work on the background. We'll start with the sand. Make a path with pen tool and fill it on a layer.

Now apply a noise filter by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

Your first sand dune should look like this.

Use the same technique to add other sand dunes. Add them on a different layer and use a darker color to give it some depth.

To add some more depth, set the opacity to the last layer to 60-70% and then add a Gaussian Blur.

Lastly, make a shadow layer using the Pen Tool. Use a dark color with 50-60% opacity. You could add a blur as well.

Draw some sharks and blur it to give it some depth.

Now apply a motion blur. Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Set the blur at an angle to give this impression of movement.

Your shark should now look similar to below. To make a copy, duplicate, reflect horizontal and resize, if necessary.

Use the same technique to produce the reef. Just draw a simple path and add a Gaussian Blur. You can add some highlights be adding some light spots with a blur.

Your image should now look similar to the image below.

Select your white background layer and apply a gradient to color the water.

Use a radial gradient.

Draw the gradient as shown below.

Show the other layers in your illustration and it should now look similar to the image below.

Step 3 - The net

Now let’s start work on the net. Draw your lines as shown below.

Fill with a basic color.

Add shadows and highlights.

Continue drawing the back side of the net. Fill with a basic color.

Add shadows and highlights.

Keep adding more line art.

Fill with basic color and add shadows and highlights.

Add a layer style to that layer and select Pattern Overlay. I created a small chess board pattern and applied it to the net layer.

Fill opening as shown below.

I added a tag to the net. Here is a close up.

Add some bubbles. They are simple to do. One layer for lines, one layer for highlights and spots. Set layers’ highlight opacities to 60-70%.

Almost done!

Step 4 - Lights

Now we will make some adjustments.

Add some little spots with 1px, 2px, 3px and 4 px hard brush, just with one click. Every kind of spots on the same layer, and set layer's blending mode on "lighten".

Duplicate the layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting 1px. Set then layer blending mode on "linear dodge".

Create a new layer, and with a big and very soft brush make shapes on lights points.

Set opacity to 45%, fill at 15%, and blending mode on "linear dodge."

Now we want to improve the quality of the image.

So create a new layer, leaving it blank. Go to image > apply image, and set this values: (if you are working on CMYK, channel will be CMYK, so don't worry.)

After that, selecting the layer we've just created, go on filter > sharpen > sharpen. Then set layer fill on 40%. Look, our quality improved!

Final Image