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  1. Design & Illustration
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Design a CD Cover in Low-Polygonal Grungy Style in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Ever wanted to make your own stylish CD cover? In this tutorial, we’ll go through a process of creation of a stylish CD cover, with simple yet modern styled graphics.

We will use the popular low-polygonal style, and give our cover a unique grungy look with the help of Adobe Illustrator artistic brushes. Together, these elements will help our CD cover have a modern look and stand out among the crowd of other albums.

Let’s start!

1. Create a Low-Polygonal Base for the Elephant’s Head

Step 1

For this tutorial, I’ve used one of my old pictures (which you can download directly below by right-clicking on the image) that I File > Place on the Artboard as a reference. Lock the layer with your reference image and create a New Layer above the locked one. 


Step 2

I make the reference image a bit brighter, and started drawing small triangles above it using the Pen Tool (P).


Step 3

Continue covering the reference image with triangles of various sizes. You don’t have to be very precise here. Don’t waste your time trying to make the triangles match, because later we’ll do an easy trick in a few clicks.

add extra triangles

Step 4

If your image is more or less symmetrical, try using the Reflect Tool (O) to mirror some repeating parts to the other side of your image. Here, for example, I select a group of triangles around the eye-area and reflect it over the vertical axis. Use the Copy button to make a reflected copy of the selected area.

reflect tool

Continue rendering your image. Make the triangles larger to emphasize the large pieces, such as the wide upper part of the elephant’s trunk. Use smaller triangles to highlight the minor details such as eyes and tusks. 

larger and smaller triangles

Step 5

Finish up with the elephant’s trunk by covering it with a set of varying triangles.

triangled head

Step 6

Move on to the ears by putting some triangles over the left ear. Make the sides of the triangles longer to indicate that the shapes here are more extended and protruded.

triangle ears

When you are finished with one of the ears, use the Reflect Tool (O) again to copy the reflected objects to the other side of our image. Edit some triangles by changing their size and position if they are off the area.

reflect ears

Step 7

The base for our low-poly illustration is ready! I’ve changed the Stroke Color of the triangles to bright red, to see them more clearly.

outlined triangles

Step 8

Now the fun part! Find a group of triangles which you need to merge, so that they would fit nicely to each other. Select the corners of these triangles by dragging the Direct Selection Tool (A) over the anchor points or by using the Lasso Tool (Q). Focus on the Align Panel (Window > Align) and choose the Align to Selection option. Finally, click on the middle positions in Align Anchor Points and Distribute Anchor Points fields in order to combine the triangle corners.

merge triangles

Step 9

Move on to the next group of corners which you need to combine.

do it again

Step 10

If it happens so that your triangle don’t combine, like in the example below, just go ahead and add an additional triangle by dividing the big one into two separate shapes, and align the anchor points in the same way.

add extra triangles

Edit the shapes on the elephant’s face.

edit shapes

2. Color the Elephant Using the Live Paint Bucket

Step 1

When all the triangles are aligned nicely to each other, select everything and go to Object > Live Paint > Make.

Live paint

Step 2

Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the color from the reference image and then fill the shape with the selected color, using the Live Paint Bucket (K). Use the Alt key to switch between these two tools, thus speeding up your work.

paint in triangles

Step 3

Here is how the fully colored image looks at this stage. Some triangles are made much darker than the others to emphasize the shadows and to make our illustration more dimensional. The brightest shapes mark the highlights on the most protruded and bulged shapes.

colored elephant

Step 4

Remove your reference image and set the Stroke Color to None after you’ve finished coloring all the shapes. Fill in the blank missing parts if there are any. 

no reference image

You may notice that some of the triangle’s sides do not match. This may happen while using the Pen Tool (P), if you accidently click and drag, thus making a rounded smooth corner instead of a sharp corner. Don’t hesitate and edit the anchor points with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) by clicking on the anchor points in order to convert them to sharp corner.  

fix mis-matches

Step 5

As long as you are satisfied with the result, select several random shapes with Direct Selection Tool (A) and change their color to lighter and darker gray in order to make our image more intricate and stylish.

add grey

3. Design the Front Part of Your CD Cover

Step 1

Create a New Layer below the layer with the elephant’s head. Place the completed head over the blank CD-cover template. Keep the elephant’s head on a separate layer, so that you are able to add new objects behind it.

CD cover template

Step 2

Let’s create a nice grungy background. We don't want it to be too distracting, but at the same time still want it to highlight the main object, making the cover look trendy and minimalistic. Stick to gray monochromatic tones, so that the elephant’s head will remain the only bright and eye-catching object of our composition.

We’ll use some default Adobe Illustrator brushes, which you can find in the Brush Libraries Menu > Artistic > Artistic Watercolor and other from the same section. See the list of the brushes which I’ve used on the screenshot below.


Select some watercolor brushes to your liking and make several strokes with the Paintbrush Tool (B) in different directions.


Step 3

If some of the lines are off your drawing area, you can always hide the unneeded parts by duplicating the basic cover shape, placing it above the brush strokes and making a Clipping Mask.

hide lines that are off drawing area

Step 4

Continue filling up the background by using various ink splash and splatter brushes, varying their darkness.

add ink splashes

Step 5

Move from the center of the cover to the edges, adding smaller details and filling up blank spaces.

add smaller details

Step 6

I added a thick charcoal stroke at the bottom of the cover, assuming it as a good spot for some text.

text splash

Step 7

Add more details by using other brushes from the list. Choose lighter shades of gray in order to make the overall composition airy and light.

add more details

Step 8

Create a New Layer above the layer containing the elephant’s head. Make a few strokes with artistic brushes and switch the Blending Mode to Color Burn to add a nice touch of blue to our elephant.

color burn

Use the Clipping Mask again to hide the unneeded parts.

clipping mask

Step 8

Inspired by Indian and military facial warpaint, I decided to add a big stroke across the elephant’s eyes. Object > Expand Appearance, converting your stroke into a separate object, and switch it to Multiply Mode, lowering the Opacity down to 20%.

eye stroke

Step 9

The last but not the least thing to do here is to add a gentle shadow under the elephant’s head in order to make it more dimensional and to separate it from the background. Go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and play with the settings to your liking. You can find my settings on the screenshot below.


Fantastic Job!

Congratulations, you’ve just completed designing the front part of our CD cover! I hope it was a useful experience for you. Good luck with making your own unique CD cover design!

finished cover
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