This tutorial was originally published in August 2010 as a Tuts+ Premium tutorial. It is now available free to view. Although this tutorial does not use the latest version of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, its techniques and process are still relevant.
In this tutorial you will learn how to created a vector portrait using a limited color pallet. You will learn how to modify a stock image in Adobe Photoshop and how to use various blends and techniques within Adobe Illustrator to create a soft monochrome portrait.
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I'm going to be using a stock image from my favorite stock provider Natalie Paquette, specifically the following image.
1. How to Modify Your Reference
First I open the reference image into Photoshop so I can modify the reference. I'm going to increase the contrast of the reference. I do this by playing with Curves which can be found in Image > Adjustments > Curves. I've used the Strong Contrast setting from the drop down menu. I do this to simplify the shadow and wash out the skin. This makes it easier to recognize where the shadows are when vectoring it.
Then go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White. I'm going to use one of the preset settings from the drop down menu. I'm choosing Maximum White as this will wash out the skin further and leave the defining shadows.
Now to introduce the coloring. I do this by using Color Balance which can be found in Image > Adjustment > Color Balance and using the following settings.
- Highlights: Cyan/Red. 0, Magenta/Green. 0, Yellow/Blue. -25
- Midtones: Cyan/Red. +50, Magenta/Green. -100, Yellow/Blue. 0
- Shadows: Cyan/Red. -35, Magenta/Green. -35, Yellow/Blue. +30
Using the Crop Tool (C), I'm going to crop the area of the reference I want to work from. I'm aiming for the shoulder area and face.
To simplify the coloring further, I'm going to run it through Curves again on Strong Contrast. On other images, you may want to do this further. Increase the contrast until you can clearly see where the areas of shadow are.
Then Save the reference image at about 600 width.
2. How to Create the Skin
Open up Illustrator and start a New Basic CMYK Document. Go to File > Place. Using the Free Transformation Tool (E), hold Shift-Alt to resize and place the image on your canvas.
Double-click on "Layer 1" and rename it to "Reference". Lock the layer. Create a New Layer and rename it "BG". In the layer using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a rectangle to cover the whole canvas with a white Fill color and No Stroke. Reduce the Opacity to 30% and Lock the layer. Create another New Layer and rename it to "Base".
Using the Pen Tool (P), with the Fill color as white and Null Stroke, draw around the skin area.
Lock the layer and Control-Click on the eye to turn it into Preview mode. Create New Layer and rename it to "Shading". Your Layer palette should look like the following image.
I'm going to be using a limited palette of colors for this vector portrait. Throughout the tutorial, I'll be referring to these colors by the names.
The key is to keep the lines as smooth as possible by using the Pen Tool (P) with as little points as possible. When you draw your shapes for the shading areas, don't worry about keeping the lines adjacent to the skin base. In fact I'd encourage you to make sure you go beyond the edges. The reason for this is that I'm going to use a Clipping Mask later on in the tutorial to make sure the lines are kept crisp.
For each step of shading, draw the shapes just beyond the shadow area for flat areas of skin. However for areas with a crisp line, for example the edge of the nose and nostril, keep the lines as close as possible.
With the second example below, the top of the nostril needs the shape line to be as close as possible. Whereas the shadow cast by nostril requires the line to be just beyond the shadow cast.
When drawing additional areas of shading, you don't need to keep the lines exactly parallel to the previous lines drawn. In fact with the example, because I felt I haven't included all the shadow in the initial shape I drew, I went beyond the original shape to include it. Later on in the tutorial, I'll be adjusting the Transparency of these shapes, so it doesn't matter if you go beyond the original shapes.
I'm going to draw the initial skin shading shapes using light pink as the Fill color and Stroke as null. About four shapes to be layered over the darker areas and use less of course where the shadow is not as intense. I work in Preview mode for this layer so I can see the previous shapes I've drawn.
Select All (Control-A) and change the Opacity of the shapes to 7%. Then Group (Control-G) them together. Go into the Base layer and select the skin shape in the folder.
Copy (Control-C) and Paste in Front (Control-F).
Drag the shape above the shading group in the shading layer folder.
Select the shading group and the shape above and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7).
Move this Clipping Mask into the Base layer folder.
When you view the vector elements alone, you should have the following.
As I've copied the skin base, I can hide the Clipping Mask and still work in Preview mode to use the skin base as a guide.
Now using the Pink as Fill and the Stroke as Null, I'm going to draw my next shapes. This will be the darker areas of the shadow. I'm going to draw a further three shapes.
Select All (Control-A) the Pink shapes and then lower the Opacity to 5%. While still selected Group (Control-G) them and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask you created in the Base layer folder. With just the vectored layers shown, you should have the following image.
As before, hide the Clipping Mask and use the Purple Fill color and No Stroke for the darker areas of the portrait. I'm going to draw the following two sets of shapes.
Select All the Purple shapes (Control-A) and then lower the Opacity to 6%. While still selected Group (Control-G) them and drag and drop them into the Clipping Mask you created in the Base layer folder. With just the vectored layers shown, you should have something similar to the following image.
Copy the white filled skin base and Paste in Front (Control-C then Control-F). I'm going to fill this with a Light Pink to Light Pink Transparent Radial Gradient.
3. How to Shade the Lips
I'm going to create the next group of shapes for the lips in the Shading layer folder. With the reference hidden and the vectored layers shown, Zoom into the lips. Draw around the lip area and then Fill it with a Purple to Purple Transparent Radial Gradient.
Set the Opacity to 40% and on Blending Mode to Color Burn. Create another shape with the same Gradient and Layer Opacity/Blending Mode.
To add more detail on the lips, I'm going to add the following shapes Filled with Navy and Null Stroke. The Opacity is set to 10%.
At the bottom of all the lip details, create the following shape with a Pink to Pink Transparent Radial Gradient on Blending Mode Color Burn and Opacity 50%.
Now Group all the lip detail shapes (Control-G) and then drag them into the Base layer folder, above the clipping mask group.
4. How to Shade the Nose, Face, and Ears
Working in the Shading layer folder, Zoom into the nose area. I'm going to add further shadow to the nostril, I'll do this by adding a shape and using a Purple to Purple Transparent Radial Gradient. I've set the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 50%.
I'm going to add some blusher to the cheek bone to make the lighter area of the portrait less flat. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), I've drawn a circle then used the Free Transform Tool (E) to Rotate it and then flatten it. Apply a Light Pink to Light Pink Transparent Radial Gradient and shift the source of the gradient to the top of the cheek bone. Lower the Opacity to 25%. This adds a very subtle blush effect on the cheek.
Now zooming into the ear area, I'm going to add the following Purple shapes with a Blending Mode of Color Burn and Opacity 10%.
Set the final shape to Normal, 10% and Filled with Pink.
Group the shading shapes you've made for the nostril, cheek and ear (Control-G) and then move them to the Base layer folder.
5. How to Create the Eyes
Zoom into the eyes area. I'll be working in the Shading layer folder. Whatever I do on one eye, I'll be repeating on the other. I start with drawing the following two white shapes at 60% Opacity.
Draw the pupils using Pink. I'm drawing two shapes, one slightly smaller than the other at 30% Opacity.
Then add Purple shapes with the Opacity of 10%.
Create two shapes with a Purple to Purple Transparent Gradient Radial Fill. This is to give an effect of blurred eyeshadow. Set it to Color Burn and 60% Opacity.
Set the next ones to Multiply, Opacity 60%.
I'm going to add further detail into the pupil. Add the following shape with Navy fill, on Color Burn 25%.
With the same color and blending mode, this is at 15% Opacity.
With the Fill color as Navy, Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 30%, I'm going to make the following shapes.
Group all the eye detailing shapes and drag them on top of the other groups in the Base layer folder (Control-G).
For the next stages you will need to create some brushes from the Width Profile tutorial. Specifically you will need to create the Width Profile 1 and Width Profile 5 Brushes. These will be used for the eyelashes, eyebrows and hair.
With the Stroke color as Navy, Null on Fill, I'm going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw on the eyelashes. The brush will be set to 30% Opacity and using the Width Profile 5 Brush. The motion you want to go in is a curl shape, to make sure you're hanging some of the curve over the eye line as eyelashes don't go straight upwards.
Continue along the line until you feel the eyelashes are thick enough. Group the top eyelashes (Control-G) and drag and drop them into the Base layer folder.
The lower lashes are not as thick, so instead of decreasing the stroke width, I'm going to Reduce the Opacity to 15%. You wont need to add as many eye lashes here. Group (Control + G) the bottom eyelashes and drag and drop them into the Base layer folder.
Using the Width Profile 1 Brush, Stroke color on Pink and Blending Mode Color Dodge, Opacity 50%, I'm going to add further detail into the eye by layering many strokes. Here is a close up to show you. Repeat this on both eyes. Then Group (Control-G) the strokes and drag and drop them into the Base layer folder.
6. How to Draw the Eyebrows
Using the same settings as above and the Blend Mode set to Multiply, begin drawing on the eyebrows.
Change the Stroke color to Purple and lower the Opacity to 30% and add further strokes to the eye brows. Group (Control-G) up all the eyebrow strokes and drag and drop them into the Base layer folder. While selected, reduce the Opacity of the group to 70%.
7. How to Create the Hair
It's now time to start working on the hair. Create a New Layer between the Base and Shading layer folders and name it Hair.
Using the Paintbrush Tool (B), Stroke color White, Width Profile 5 Brush and with the Stroke Weight of 5pt, begin to draw strands of hair overlapping onto the skin, as shown below.
Tip: Start the strokes about a third above the edge of the layers used for the face. This is so you get a smooth line over the face.
Reduce the Stroke Weight to 2pt, the Opacity to 7% and the Stroke color to Pink. Now add some strokes above the face to show strands of hair above the hair line. Use these strokes as if you are outlining the hair.
Change the Stroke Color to Purple and add further strokes to add more depth to the hair.
8. How to Add the Final Details
Lock the Hair layer. In the Base layer folder, I'm going to use the Ellipse Tool (L) and a Purple to Purple transparent radial gradient to add some moles on her shoulder and cheek at 70% Opacity. I like to think that these give more character to the portrait.
Now using a White to White Transparent Radial Gradient, I'm going to draw circles over the eyes in the Shading layer for the shine in the eyes. I'm using the Ellipse Tool (L) and holding down on Shift-Alt for even circles. These will be at 100% Opacity.
Draw a rectangle over the canvas with the Rectangle Tool (M) and Fill it with a Pink to Pink Transparent Radial Gradient. Set it to Color Dodge and 15% Opacity. This will add some color variation to the skin and hair.
Draw another rectangle and fill it with a White to White Transparent Radial Gradient with the 0% Opacity in the center. Position the gradient to fade over the line of the skin edge and soften areas of the portrait.
Now to add a subtle texture on top of the portrait, go into your Swatch palette and into the drill down menu. Go to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures > Circles. Using the Rectangle Tool (M) draw over the entire canvas with this pattern on fill. Reduce the Opacity to 5% and the Blending Mode to Multiply.
Finally, create a New Layer above the Base layer and rename it to Lines. Along the profile, nostril crease and shoulder, these curves aren't as apparent. So to make these look clearer, use the Pen Tool (P) with the Stroke Weight of 2pt, color of Purple on Multiply, 10% to draw in the lines you feel need to be stronger.
Here's the final portrait.
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