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Design an International Women's Day Wall Decal in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Whether you work in a store, a basement, an office building, or from your own home, there are a few things you can do to upgrade the look of your space. Decals are a fun and affordable way to do so, and you can customize them in any die-cut shape, size, and quantity. And what better way to decorate any environment than with a empowering message, celebrating International Women's Day.

In this tutorial we will create a wall decal to honor, respect, and show our love towards ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in history and in their communities, to emphasize gender equality, and the empowerment of women in their society.

International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8, with purple, white and green ribbons, to symbolize justice and dignity—the values associated with women's equality.

In this tutorial, we will start with an initial dynamic idea and go through the step-by-step process of creating and preparing our files for decal printing and cutting.

1. Setting Up Your File

Step 1

Open up any version of Adobe Photoshop, create a New Document (Command-N) with a Preset: International Paper, Size: A4, Background: White, and Resolution: 300pixels/inch.

adobe photoshop create new document sketch illustration a4 international paper resolution 300 command n pixel inch

Select the Type Tool (T), and with a light grey color selected, type in the number "8" with the font Gill Sans: Regular at a Font Size of about 971 pt. I stretched and scaled down the font a bit to create a more feminine form.

For International Women's Day, I went for a spring theme, with lots of floral and leafy elements, which I will convert later on to a nine-color vector. I also added a cute feminine face, along with the text: "March 8 : International Women's Day". Remember to maintain a neat and simple design.

Add a new layer to sketch on (Create New Layer from the Layers panel). With a light blue color selected and the Brush Tool (B), lightly sketch out your idea within the borders of the "8".

Here's a look at my design:

sketch international womens day adobe photoshop type tool 8 layer font gill sans brush tool

Trash the "Text" and "Background" layers, and save the file as "IWD_Sketch" in PNG format, to maintain its transparency.

Step 2

Open Adobe Illustrator CC and create a New Document, measuring A3 size and Orientation: Portrait, and set the color mode to CMYK. These settings can be altered at any stage when working in Illustrator.

A3 size works best for this project, because it will fit on any wall.

File > Place (Command-Shift-P). A preview icon of your file will appear. Click on the upper left corner of your artboard, to center your image on the artboard. Then open the Layers panel, Window > Layers.

In the Layers panel, name your image layer "Sketch".

Open Layer Options from the Layers panel, and select Options for 'Sketch'. Check the Dim Images to: 20%, check Lock and click OK

layer options panel lock dim percentage layer sketch adobe illustrator

Step 3

Then on top of the "Sketch" layer, Create New Layer, and name it "8".

Select the Type Tool (T), and type in the same font type and size you applied on Adobe Photoshop, to write the "8". Remember I initially distorted the "8" slightly, so Object > Expand, and the Expand dialog box will appear. Check Object and Fill, and click OK. This will turn your type into an object.

Distort the shape to fit the illustration.

object expand type font shape fill ok adobe illustrator

Once you've got the shape aligned properly, View > Guides > Make Guides (Command-5), to transform your object into a guide outline. This will guide our artwork within the borders of the "8".

Lock the "8" layer, and then between the "Sketch" and "8" layer, Create New Layer, and name it "Artwork".

We are now ready to start tracing.

layer sketch create type guide font make guides command five 5 adobe illustrator

File > Save (Command-S), and save your illustrator file as "IWD_Decal".

2. Type, Color Palette, and Cut Contour

Step 1

Start by typing in the text.

Open Windows > Type > Character (Command T).

Select the Type Tool (T), Gill Sans Bold, with Paragraph: Align Center, type in the text, and vary the font size to create a dynamic look.

type text gill sans bold international womens day align center  character windowmarch 8 adobe illustrator

Highlight "March 8" and "International", and set the Leading to 56 pt, to create a little space between the words.

text set leading march 8 international womens day character window command T adobe illustrator

Next highlight "Women's Day" and set the Leading to 38 pt to bring the two words closer together.

test set the leading 38 pts international womens day adobe illustrator

When you are done, Type > Create Outlines (Shift-Command-O)—this will turn the type into objects.

Close the Character Panel, because it is no longer needed. Object > Ungroup (Shift-Command-G) the words so we can give each letter a color.

Step 2

The graphic world has a lot of online tools that can help you quickly create new and exciting color combinations to use for your projects. Each app has a unique functionality, so you need to know which ones can deliver the features you need. I’ve got a deep admiration for ColRD. It allows you to upload images to extract color palettes, and it lets you download swatches to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Check out the color palettes available on the site. Make sure to choose one with International Women's Day color codes. Once you have chosen or generated your color palette, save it as IWD_Palette, download it and move it onto Adobe Illustrator.

It will open in the Swatches panel, Window > Swatches. 

We need to set up our spot colors. Do not use gradients.

Double click each color swatch to open Swatch Options, and convert Color Type to Spot Color.

Once you have set the nine spot colors, add one red color swatch and name it "Cut Contour", as we will use it to create our cut outline.

adobe illustrator create color swatch spot colors cmyk cut contour name swatch type

Step 3

Color the text shapes with shades from the generated IWD_Palette.

color shapes using spot colors adobe illustrator swatches palette

For decal cutting, you will need to create a border outline around each shape. This is the line that the machine will cut. So Windows > Stroke, select your text shapes, and give them a Stroke of about 1 pt, with the "Cut Contour" spot color from the Swatches panel.

Do not expand strokes. Keep in mind that the cutting system cuts letters based on their outlines. The cutter follows the contour of each path and not its stroke.

stroke cut line machine contour outline adobe illustrator red

File > Save (Command-S).

3. Shapes, Form & Contour

Step 1

Let's start by tracing out the lady face.

Select the Ellipse Tool (L), with no fill and black stroke of 1 pt. Create the cheek ellipse.

To create an ellipse within an ellipse: Object > Path > Offset Path at about -0.15 in, Joins: Round and OK.

ellipse offset path inner circles round joins preview limit inches adobe illustrator

Repeat the action again but with -0.1 in. There should be three ellipses in total.

Give the cheeks a blush of color, by filling in the fill and keeping stroke to none. For the outer ellipse, give it a "Cut Contour" stroke of 1 pt, since we only need the machine to cut the outer ellipse, and not the inner ones.

Next trace the eyes. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and hold down the Shift key to constrain proportions, to create a perfect circle.

To create the pupils: Object > Path > Offset Path, at -0.1in.

object path offset path circle ellipse tool inches round joins preview adobe illustrator

Fill in the eye ellipses, and then select the Pen Tool (P), and trace the right eyelashes, eyebrows, and nostril.

When designing a decal it's better to stay away from thin lines and pointy edges. So make sure your shapes are thick and edges are rounded slightly.

In Adobe Illustrator CC, Live Corners are a great feature to help you control the shape of corners. To access the tool, take the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the object you want to edit, and you will see inside each corner edge a small double circle icon. 

One way of adjusting the corners is by double-clicking on one of the Live Corners, and a Corners dialog box will appear where you can edit the corner style, radius and rounding.

For the eyelash shape, select Corner: Round and Radius: 0.02 in, with Rounding: Absolute.

live corner widget round corners direct selection tool radius rounding adobe illustrator

Another method of adjusting the Live Corners is selecting the shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A), and dragging the live corner widgets. Just play around with the options to see what's fitting with the shapes you created.

Color in your shapes, and add a "Cut Contour" stroke of 1 pt to the outer shapes only where the machine will cut.

Step 2

Select the Pen Tool (P), with white fill and black stroke of 1 pt, and trace in the lips.

Open Window > Pathfinder, and Pathfinders: Trim the upper and lower lips.

pathfinder panel trim pathfinders fill ungroup adobe illustrator

Adjust the Live Corners of the lips.

Object > Ungroup (Shift-Command-G).

Color the fills.

Then select both the upper lip and lower lip, Copy (Command-C), Paste in Front (Command-F), and Shape Modes: Unite from the Pathfinder panel, so that we can outline the lips' edges for cutting. 

Remove the fill and add a "Cut Contour" Stroke.

stroke outline cut corners unite pathfinder shape modes copy paste in front command f command c adobe illustrator

File > Save (Command-S).

Step 3

Next we need to mirror the facial features to make it symmetrical.

Select the right eye, nose and cheek features with the Selection Tool (V) .

Then select the Reflect Tool (O) and set up the center reference point (blue anchor point) next to the nose shape; Option-Shift-Drag and release when the object is properly mirrored into position. (This shortcut will snap the reflected object to 45°angles.)

selection tool V and refelect tool o option shift drag short cut reflect objects 45 degree angle adobe illustrator

Create New Layer, name it "Features", and move the text and facial features into that layer, and lock.

Step 4

Move onto the "Artwork" layer to start tracing the floral artwork in the "8" borderlines.

Start with the easy parts, the ellipses. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and with fill set at none, and stroke at black, trace over the round objects. Hold down Shift and Alt to create perfect circles.

To diversify the looks of the circles a bit, increase the stroke weight of some selections. Make sure the strokes are quite thick.

Then Object > Expand. Check Fill and Stroke, and click OK.

ellipse object expand fill and stroke tool L artwork development adobe illustrator

Color the ellipses, and give the stand-alone ellipses a "Cut Contour" Stroke. As you go along, color each ellipse and arrange the order of each according to its suitable layering. 

If you want to move an object to the top or bottom position, select the object and choose Object > Arrange > Bring To Front (Shift-Command-]) or Object > Arrange > Send To Back (Shift-Command-[).

To move an object by one step to the back or to the front, select that object and choose Object > Arrange > Send Backward (Command-[) or Object > Arrange > Bring Forward (Command‑]).

Step 5

Next we trace the vine-like shapes.

Open the Stroke Options from Stroke panel, and select a Stroke Weight of 6 pt, with Round Cap and Round Join Corner.

Select the Pen Tool (P), and start drawing in the vines. Vary your stroke weight with each vine—just keep in mind to keep the lines thick for the decal so the stickers don't break when you paste them to the wall.

adobe illustrator stroke panel options round cap corners join pen tool P points artwork

Once the vine-like features are traced, change all strokes to filled objects by selecting all with the Selection Tool (V) and Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Give each a fill color.

Next, using the Pen Tool (P), with green fill and stroke set to none, trace over the leaf-like elements. Create variation by giving leaves different shades of green.

Again, a nice trick to create paths within paths is to use Offset Path (Object > Path > Offset Path), and give it a suitable offset value. A minus (-) numeral will create an inner path, and vice versa.

adobe illustrator minus path offset path object shortcut inner

As you move along with the artwork, again you must adjust the object positions to the front or back, check the alignments, and remove unnecessary strokes.

Gradually, the artwork will come to life.

pen tool P adobe illustrator trace stroke weight offset postion front back

Step 6

Let's create some simple flower shapes.

One of the most basic building blocks in Adobe Illustrator are polygons. The fastest and simplest place to start would be the Polygon Tool, found in the main toolbar, under the Rectangle Tool (M). 

Select the Polygon Tool. Click once on the artboard where you want the shape. A dialogue box will appear. Select 5 Sides, 0.19 inch Radius for a simple flower, and click OK.

Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat, and a dialog box will appear. Increase the percentage by 47% to Bloat the shape in order to create petals.

Effect Distort  Transform Pucker  Bloat adobe illustrator polygon tool percentage create flowers

Object > Expand Appearance, and offset path (Object > Path > Offset Path), about 0.04 inches to create an outer path around the flower petals.

You can create hundreds of designs by simply experimenting with these three functions. Try increasing your polygon sides, for example, and test out the Pucker & Bloat option. 

adobe illustrator offset path pucker bloat options expand appearance polygon tool

Step 7

There are plenty of irregular designs in the piece. I like to keep away from mechanical looking pieces, so use the Pen Tool (P) to create a more hand-traced feel to the objects.

Select the Pen Tool (P). With fill set to none and a black stroke of 1 pt, trace the rest of the sketch. Keep in mind we will offset some paths right after to create some diversity and layering in the artwork.

adobe illustrator use pent tool P trace irregular objects shapes

Delete the "Sketch" layer. Give the traced shapes color fills, and alter the black strokes to none. As you go along, make sure the objects are positioned correctly. 

Remember to move a shape on top or bottom, select the path: Object > Arrange > Bring To Front (Shift-Command-]) or Object > Arrange > Send To Back (Shift-Command-[).

Moving shapes by one step back or front, select that shape: Object > Arrange > Send Backward (Command-[) or Object > Arrange > Bring Forward (Command‑]).

adobe illustrator arrange objects color send to front back bring forward step

Step 8

Go back through the artwork, and offset more paths to create variation in the floral artwork.

adobe illustrator offset paths create variation floral artwork

Color in the new offset paths.

offset path color adobe illustrator variation style floral artwork

Unlock the "Features" layer.

Go over the entire artwork, retouch any color fills, add, remove and scale any shapes that look ill-fitting, and make sure all elements fit properly into the "8" guide. Stay away from small elements, and too many sharp edges. Some sharp edges are acceptable, but keep it under 50%.

adobe illustrator retouch scale rotate offset color artwork

4. Preparing the File for Print and Cutting

Step 1

For decal laser cutting, an outline is required around the elements that need to be cut in the artwork.

Since we have a lot of separate elements and not one single object, we need to create an outline for each separately. Outlining this design in the red "Cut Contour" swatch means that's where the laser cutter will cut out the design.

With the Selection Tool (V), select elements that are connected to one another.

Follow these steps: 

  1. Copy (Command-C).
  2. Paste in Front (Command-F).
  3. Shape Modes: Unite from Pathfinders Panel, so we can outline the group.
  4. Set Fill to None, and click "Cut Contour" Spot Color in the Swatches panel, to outline the group with a Stroke of 1 pt.
outline cut contour group outline adobe illustrator decal cutting machine

Repeat this action for all connected elements. For stand-alone elements, just add a "Cut Contour" with Stroke of 1 pt.

Your file should look something like this at the end:

adobe illustrator cut contour outline elements cutting printer

Hide the "8" layer.

Step 2

To make sure there are no mistakes, check that each element's line work, color, and cutting line are perfect. Make sure that:

  • all paths, except cutting lines, are outlined
  • all text is converted to outlines
  • the cutting outlines do not overlap, double-up, or cross
  • all line thicknesses meet the minimum requirements set by the print house

Step 3

Save a master copy of the artwork in Illustrator, and then export a copy of the file in Illustrator EPS format. This is the standard file format for most cutters.

Now that the file is set, take it to your local printer, and they will assist you in printing and should guide you on how to apply the decal to your wall.

wall decal phot living room apply international womens day  march 8

Congratulations, You Are Done!!

You learned a step-by-step process of creating a fun decal by simply learning to use shortcuts like offset path, paste to front, working with live corners, uniting paths and using the Pen and Polygon Tools, and selection tools to manipulate paths.

If you are looking for a way to decorate your walls without damaging them with nails, glue or thumbtacks, decals provide a fun and easy way to decorate. Decals can easily be customized for each season, event or holiday.

Remember to ask your local print house for guidelines before you begin designing. They will give you the best advice, specific to your needs and design.

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