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  2. Illustration

Create a Stylized Performance Car in Illustrator CS5


In today's Tuts+ Premium tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a stylized performance car from a reference image using many gradients, custom art brushes, patterns, clipping masks and not a single gradient mesh or blur in sight!


In today's premium tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a stylized performance car from a reference image using many Gradients, custom Art Brushes, patterns, Clipping Masks and not a single Gradient Mesh or blur in sight!

Car Stock Images

You'll find when you look for stock images of cars, the big branded cars you may fancy will be very hard to find from professional stock market websites. This is because in order to use a branded car for commercial purposes, you would require written permission from the brand itself. Therefore car stock is only offered for editorial use. As always refer to the terms and conditions of your stock market supplier for more details.

The stock image I'm going to be using in this tutorial can be found via Photodune.

Step 1

Although the two following steps are not necessary, it may help those who find it hard distinguishing dark area details. If you're wanting to vector the interior of the car, it's not helpful when you have a stock image with blacked out windows, however there is a little work around.

Using the Lasso Tool (L) in Photoshop with a 2px Feather, draw around the area of the windows and fill them with an off white fill color on a new layer.

By then changing the Blending Mode to Soft Light, you can then see some of the detailing within. With this one you could possibly include the back seat details and some of the front seat.

Step 2

A similar process can be done with the wheels and grill, which I would like to see more clearly. With an off white fill, use the Brush Tool (B) to cover the areas on a new layer you wish to lighten.

Then again change the Blending Mode to Soft Light to make this area a lot easier to see.

Step 3

Now go into Adobe Illustrator and start a New Document with landscape orientation. Double-click on "Layer 1" and rename it "Reference". Go to File > Place and locate your stock image. Use the Free Transform Tool (E) to scale the image to the art board.

Create a New Layer and rename "BG". Within, draw a white fill Rectangle (M) over the canvas and reduce the Opacity to 50%.

Create a New Layer and rename it "Line Art".

If you're working from a white car on a white background, like I am here, I find adding an additional Rectangle (M) over the canvas with the Blending Mode Color Burn and Opacity 50% helps make the image stand out more. Depending on the image you use, will depend on which fill color to set this rectangle, as some colors will pick up artifacts on the reference more than others.

Step 4

I'm going to start drawing the line art of the car. Although it won't be visible in the final product, it helps me construct the sections of the car a lot easier, so the stroke settings are irrelevant - as long as you don't expand the lines! You'll also find it a lot easier in the line art steps to have Smart Guides (Command + U) enabled. I start with the body of the car. Treat the spoiler and wing mirrors as separate entities in this.

Step 5

Draw around the shapes for the windows and use Pathfinder > Minus Front to cut them away from the main body image. If you notice I have not drawn them individually because I wanted to maintain a straight and uniform line around the entire shapes for the non-white, non-body sections.

Duplicate the shape, lock it and hide it for now. Then draw shapes for the lights, air vent and grill. Use Pathfinder > Minus Front again to remove theses shapes.

Step 6

I'm going to build upon the line art by sectioning off the body of the car. For ease of use in the future, I've color coded them and will Group them (Command + G) once they are done.

The pink lines are for dividing the car into definite areas, such as the doors, bonnet, roof, etc... These are collectively known as "panels".

I'm going to be using Live Paint after finishing the line art, and the shapes produced will help me when placing gradients to the cars body. If you view the body as a collection of shapes with gradients in each, especially those with harder lines (for instance the front wheel arch has a harsh gradient on it). Draw lines of a different color onto the panels to divide it up further.

I've then used another color to draw the lines of the sections of the windows, lights, air vents and grill.

Step 7

Duplicate all the line art and then Group it (Command + G). Change them all to the same stroke width.

Step 8

With the line art group selected, use the Live Paint Bucket (K) to fill in the shapes. I've opted for different shades of gray; however, at this stage you could use whichever base color you desire, as the shading will be done with off whites and off blacks.

Step 9

Using the same line art processes, I've now added the spoiler and wing mirrors and used Live Paint to fill the shapes.

Now it's time to reorganize the layer folders. For the time being, the "Line Art" folder is redundant, but I will be accessing it later, so don't delete it.

Step 10

For the line art for the wheels, I've used the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw a circle, and then used the Free Transform Tool (E) to angle and scale. Draw the first circle and position it, then duplicate it. Position it, scale it, and continue onwards.

Duplicate the largest circle and move it to create the hidden side of the tire. This will have ensured you have the correct shape and scale.

Step 11

Duplicate the initial largest circle again and hide the other circles, bar the back end of the tire for now. Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the lines connecting the circles, and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine them to create the overall shape of the tires.

Step 12

Draw in the circles with the Ellipse Tool (L) for the hubs. You can use the same process for the bolts if you wish to add further detailing.

Step 13

Again, use the Live Paint Bucket (K) to fill in the shapes as you did before.

Step 14

The eager eyed of you will notice that the body is overlapping the wheel, so we're going to get around this by creating Clipping Masks (Command + 7).

Duplicate the line art for the body and use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) to remove the overlapping section of the wheel arch.

Draw squares (M) over the wheel areas and place them underneath the body line art. Then using Pathfinder > Minus Front, you can create the two shapes required to have the wheels visible.

Step 15

Create New Layer and rename it "Wheels". Use the shapes created in Step 14 to make two Clipping Masks (Command + 7).

Step 16

Create a New Layer below the "Mirror" layer folder and rename it "Car Back". Use an off black fill with the Pen Tool (P) to create the shadow within the wheel arch, behind the wheels.

Step 17

Now to begin the shading of the car. When working on each of the sections of the car which has been filled with Live Paint, first duplicate the group - this is good in case you make a mistake you can't undo (for instance after saving and closing) and is good practice in general. Then make the stroke color null, you should be left with just the fills of the shapes.

Now go to Object > Expand. In the dialogue box, uncheck the "Stroke" box, as you just want the Objects and Fills expanded.

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select one of the panels and then go to Select > Same > Fill Color. This will select all of the panels. Now Cut (Command + X), Paste In Front (Command + F), and Group the shapes (Command + G). Drag and drop this new group above the other so it's easier to get to later on.

Step 18

When I'm working on vectoring cars, I don't tend to use the reference image directly below my vector work, as I would for say vectoring people. So I've duplicated the reference image and then moved it to the side so I can see it while I'm creating the gradients on the panels.

Step 19

I've created some mid gray transparent gradients - both linear and radial to apply to the panels throughout. I've duplicated the panel group, but removed the sill, as the overall shading of the body is different here due to the angle it's at. Use the Appearance panel to Add New Fills for each of these gradients.

Each one of the gradients will be set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 50%.

Step 20

Select the sill and duplicate it. Now apply the following gradients to it using the same mid gray transparent gradients.

Step 21

Using the gray transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50%-100% depending on the area, I then use it to darken areas of the panels and create harder angles. My usual method of coloring is to darken areas first and then highlight them, building it up as I go along.

With some of the sections, after selecting them with the Direct Selection Tool (V) and duplicating them, I'll need to make them a Compound Path (Command + 8) to ensure the gradients don't give unnecessary hard edges.

Step 22

Before I begin work on the highlights, I'm going to darken the base color of the car slightly. This is so the highlights are more detectable and can be more vibrant, which if the car is a light color, is hard to achieve.

Step 23

As with before, duplicate the whole body of the car and use the Appearance panel to add highlights to the car using an off white transparent radial gradients. Make sure its set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 10% to 50%, depending on the area.

Step 24

As before, with making several shapes as a Compound Path (Command + 8), be sure to add highlighting gradients to the panels and to also use the edge to create a harsh line.

Step 25

These shapes also have a harsh line on them to be done with a gradient, but are separate shapes and not Compound Paths.

By making the gradient slim (with the Gradient Tool) you can also create harsh lines, which may be intense lighting.

Step 26

I'm going to create some art brushes which are from blends. I'm going to show you the basic shapes I'm going to use; however, if you'd like to know how to make these shapes specifically, you can find out more in this tutorial I've written.

Step 27

In the Brush palette, click on "New Brush" and then select Art Brush. I've reduced the width of each blend to "50%" and ensured the Colorization Method is set to "Tints".

I've named the brushes from top to bottom... "Circle Center Blend", "Circle Shift Blend", "Square Center Blend", "Square Shift Blend" and "Semi Circle Blend".

Step 28

The first strokes using the brushes are the highlighting ones. They range from 0.5pt to 2pt Stroke Weight with an off white stroke color. The specific blend brush used depends on which area you're highlighting. For instance, for the wheel arch at the front, I've used the "Semi Circle Blend" as I want to maintain a harsh line. For the highlights on the sill, I've used the "Circle Center Blend".

All strokes are set to Blending Mode Screen with a varying Opacity of between 20% to 60% depending on how vivid I want the shine to be.

Step 29

Now we'll use the brushes again for the shadows, with one small addition around the headlights and the lower air vent. These strokes have a Profile applied to them with a much larger Stroke Weight of about 8pt-10pt. The Profile used is "Width Profile 4" to create a triangle gradient effect.

All strokes have an off black stroke color and are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 50%-100%.

Step 30

Duplicate the base panels and create a Compound Path (Command + 8). Use this to then make a Clipping Mask for the blend brush strokes (Command + 7).

Step 31

Use these same process of shading with gradients. Then add further details with the blend brushes for the panel/gray surfaces of the wing mirrors and spoilers.

Step 32

Going back into the "Line Art" folder, duplicate the lines which sectioned the panels (the lines were pink in my case).

All the lines will have a black stroke color; however, depending on their placement and visibility of the line on the car, will dictate their Stroke Weight, Opacity and Profile. I've set all the lines to Blending Mode Multiply and placed them below all the shading gradients in the "Body" layer folder, so they benefit from any harsh highlights and shadow.

Step 33

A lot of the lines dividing the panels have highlights on them, with edges that have been caught by the light. So I'm going to add highlights around the body - not just the edges. These will be an off white and set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity 50%. They will be between 1pt and 2pt and will have the Profile "Width Profile 1" applied.

Step 34

I've used the Direct Selection Tool (V) to select the shapes around the wheel arch, and changed the fill color to one shade darker in gray than the one already being used. These shapes are under the gradients used for shading, so they will benefit from them.

Step 35

Now it's time to start working on the shapes for the window. Create a Compound Path (Command + 8) with the relevant shapes and then apply the below graphic settings in the Appearance panel. There are two highlighting gradients, one coming in from the curved point on the right and one along the top.

Step 36

As before, add lines to add detailing on the edges for shadow and highlights.

The highlights will be done with the Circle Center Blend brush, rather than a uniform stroke. This is so the edges along the bottom of the window have a glow.

Step 37

All the shapes for the windows are created with the same settings in the Appearance panel. There is the initial dark gray fill, then two new fills are created, both have a -3px Offset Path and 5px Round Corners. One is with a lighter gray and the other with a radial gradient.

Step 38

Using gradients and then blend brushes in a similar way, I've added contouring to the wing mirror.

Step 39

For the door handles, I've first added a circle (L) with a light gray to darker gray transparent radial gradient and then shifted the source of the gradient towards the top of the circle.

I've added a New Fill in the Appearance panel and inverted the gradient. With the Gradient Tool (G) I've reshaped the gradient and moved it towards the bottom. This fill is set to Blending Mode Soft Light with Opacity at 100%.

Step 40

For the handles themselves, I've traced the shape with the Pen Tool (P) and given it the same gradient, but as a linear gradient. Then I've Offset Path by -1.5pt and reduced the Opacity to 70% with a light gray fill. This gives the shape a subtle gradient stroke.

I've then added two black transparent radial gradients to either side of the handle, set to Blending Mode Multiply to create a subtle shadow.

Step 41

Now it's time to work on the grill, starting with the bumper. I've added two black transparent radial gradients. The first is covering the whole shape with the source to the left of the shape. The second is much smaller and is to give a much deeper shadow. Both are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity at 50%.

Then add a light gray transparent radial gradient at the top corner set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity of 30%.

I've used the blend brushes set to Blending Modes Screen and Multiply to add further detailing and highlights to the shapes. They are included within a Clipping Mask for the bumper (Command + 7).

Step 42

For the columns within the grill, I'm going to use three lines with the Square Center Blend brush on. They are 1pt, 0.5pt and 0.25pt Stroke Weights set to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 10% within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 43

For the bottom part of the grill, I've added two Square Shift Blend brushes along the edge. A light gray stroke color set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 40%, with a Stroke Weight of 2pt to give the overall curved gradient. Then add a darker gray set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 80%, with a Stroke Weight of 0.5pt to help add a curve to the edge. Both lines are within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7) for this section.

Step 44

Now we'll add shines on the bottom of the inside grill with three lines using the Circle Center Blend brushes. The longer line is set to Blending Mode Screen and Opacity 10%, with the smaller Opacity 30%. These are contained within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 45

For the grill/mesh itself, I'm going to use a pattern which you can find from using the drill down menu in the Swatch panel, Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. The one I've used is called "USGS 7 Vineyard" and it's used to fill a Rectangle (M), which I've altered via the Transform panel using Shear at 45 degrees.

I've then used the Free Transform Tool (E) to rotate it and set it to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 80%.

I've put it within a Clipping Mask for the mesh (Command + 7) and added a vignette effect on top with an inverted black transparent radial gradient set to Multiply.

Step 46

The bar along the bottom of the grill is made with changing the fill color to a dark gray and applying two Circle Center Blend brushes set to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50% and 100% for the shorter line to give a stylized quick chrome effect. All are contained within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Step 47

Create a New Layer and rename it "Lights". I've duplicated the shapes for the lights and then made a Compound Path (Command + 8) of the three shapes for the lights themselves. I've added the Square Center Blend on the stroke of these shapes with a black/red shade. This is then set to Blending Mode Multiply, with Opacity 100%. and contained within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7).

Within the Clipping Mask I've added a white transparent radial gradient, which goes along the center of the lights, stretched. Then I've added indicator lights with a dark orange to light orange radial gradient, as shown below.

Step 48

Using the blend brushes, I've added shines to the contouring of the lights within the Clipping Mask group, as well as adding a black stroke around the lights with a 0.5pt Stroke Weight, which also includes the darker area of the lights. The highlights, as usual, are set to Blending Mode Screen and the shadow set to Blending Mode Multiply.

I've then added further highlights over the entire light, with varying Opacities set to Blending Mode Screen.

Step 49

I've duplicated the overall light shape and filled it with the pattern "Mezzotint" to give a distorted plastic effect. This is set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 20%.

Step 50

For the lower air vent, I've changed the colors to the shapes to all the same dark gray shade. Within one of the shapes I've added a transparent radial gradient to create a ring effect.

I've then used blend brushes to add further shapes to the vents.

Step 51

The vent on top is created with using the Square Shift Blend brush with the Profile "Width Profile 4" applied to create the triangle gradient. The vent itself and the washer sprays are created with plain dark gray fill shapes created with the Pen Tool (P).

Step 52

I wanted to create the wheels as if they were in motion; however, if you're wishing to do more detailed wheels, you can check out this great tutorial here on Vectortuts+ for more.

Using the same technique of the Square Shift Blend brush with a Profile (Width Profile 4) attached, I'm going to create the center of the wheel. With the line at a slight angle, they will look as if they are in motion. Then go to Effects > Transform & Distort > Transform and use the below settings.

Then use Effects > 3D > Rotate to line up your circle to the wheels angle.

Step 53

I've then positioned the spokes within a Clipping Mask (Command + 7) and set it to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 100%.

Step 54

The tires themselves and the center of the alloys/hubcaps are created using basic gradients.

Remember, in the center of the alloys/hubcaps the shine will be in the opposite direction, as its convex.

Step 55

The side light/indicator light is just made up of a gray to orange radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, with Opacity 20%, and the Square Shift Blend brush to give it a shine.

Step 56

For the side grill, I've used the same pattern for the fill, rotated it (Object > Transform > Rotate) 45 degrees, and unchecked "Object". Then I've set the shape to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 10%.

To add further detail, I've added a light gray to dark gray linear gradient set to Opacity 60% to add a highlight at the top and shadow towards the bottom. I've then applied some blend brushes on the strokes and put all the shapes within a Clipping Mask group (Command + 7).

Step 57

I've created a Clipping Mask of the shape of the car by using Pathfinder > Minus Front to remove the overall car shape from a Rectangle (M). I'm going to modify the contrast of the car and the best way to do this is overlapping colors of different Blending Modes.

The first is with a dark gray set to Color Burn with Opacity at 20%. Then set dark green to Color Burn at 30% and then set orange to Color Burn at 30%. Finally, I've added an off white transparent radial gradient over the front set to Color Dodge at 30%.

Step 58

To add more clarified shine to the car, which aren't gradient/gradual highlights, I've added several off white shapes across the front/top of the car. These are set to Blending Mode Screen with Opacity at 60%.


I've finished off the car by putting it on an orange background with a gradient in the background and a transparent radial gradient underneath for the shadow; however, this is optional. The windscreen wipers are produced in the same way of adding gradients to a shape with the blend brushes on top.

I hope you've enjoyed this Tuts+ Premium tutorial on creating a stylized performance car!

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