It’s been a long time since I wanted to do this project, and today my wish has finally come true, and boy you’re going to love this one.
If you haven’t figured it out from the preview image, we’re going to create a piece from the Star Wars Universe, more exactly an illustration of the cute new BB8 bot, using some of Illustrator's basic tools such as the Pen Tool, and a couple of shapes.
1. Set Up a New Document
As always, start off by creating a fresh new document by going over to File > New or using the Control-N keyboard shortcut, and then adjusting it as follows:
- Number of Artboards: 1
- Width: 800 px
- Height: 600 px
- Units: Pixels
And from the Advanced tab:
- Color Mode: RGB
- Raster Effects: Screen (72 ppi)
- Align New Objects to Pixel Grid: checked
2. Set Up a Custom Grid
As some of you might already know, Illustrator allows us to take advantage of its powerful Grid, which we will adjust by setting it to the lowest possible values, so that we can adhere to a “pixel-perfect workflow”. By doing so, we will take full control over our shapes, ensuring that our illustration ends up looking as crisp as possible.
The settings that we’re interested in can be found under the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and should be adjusted as follows:
- Gridline every: 1 px
- Subdivisions: 1
Quick tip: you can learn more about custom grids by reading this in-depth piece on how Illustrator’s Grid System works.
Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu, which will transform into Snap to Pixel each time you enter Pixel Preview mode.
Now, since we’re aiming to create our illustration using a “pixel-perfect” workflow, I highly recommend you go through my how to create pixel-perfect artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills and get you up to speed in no time.
3. Set Up Some Layers
Once we’ve created our document, we can now prep our project by creating a set of individual layers, which will help us separate the different sections of our illustration, making our workflow a lot easier.
So, assuming you know how to use the Layers panel, bring it up and create four layers, naming them as follows:
- layer 1 > background
- layer 2 > bb8
- layer 3 > overlay
- layer 4 > texture
4. Create the Background
We’re going to kick things off by starting working on the background, so make sure you’ve positioned yourself onto the right layer, locking all the other ones.
Grab the Rounded Rectangle Tool and
create a smaller 30 x 8 px shape (
with a 4 px Corner Radius, followed
by a larger 254 x 8 px (
we will position 8 px from one
another, making sure to vertically center them to the Artboard at about 182 px from
its bottom side.
Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and
create the upper section of the background by drawing a 304 x 186 px ellipse, which we will color using
#EFE1B9, and then
adjust its overall shape until it looks similar to a bean.
Using the Pen Tool (P), draw
the sand dune (somewhere around 312 x
142 px) using
#CEBB8D as your fill color, making sure to position the new
shape on top of the background line.
Select the sand shape, and then give it an 8 px outline by going to Object
> Path > Offset Path and applying an 8 px offset to it, which we will color using
Quick tip: if you’ve never used offsets before but want to learn more about them, I recommend you go through this tutorial on the two main methods for creating line icons, which will show you all there is to know.
Give the sand dune a highlight, by first creating two copies of its main shape (Control-C > Control-F). Then, move the topmost one towards the bottom by 4 px, and select both it and the one underneath and use Pathfinder’s Minus Front shape mode to create the new shape.
Turn the resulting shape into a highlight by coloring it using white
#FFFFFF) and then setting its Blending
Mode to Soft Light while
lowering its Opacity to 80%.
Start working on the two sections of the city, by drawing some simple
#4C3B3B as your main color. Take your time and make your
illustration unique by coming up with your own version. Then, once you’re done, move on to the next step.
Zoom in on the left section of the city, and start working on the little X-wing using the attached reference image.
Once you’ve finished creating the X-wing, group all its composing shapes
together (Control-G) and then
position it towards the right side of the tower, adding some subtle trail lines
#B29F76) behind it.
Finish off the background by adding the little sun, which we will
create using a 14 x 14 px circle (
#CEBB8D), to which we will add a 4 px thick outline (
give it a 2 px thick inner highlight
(color: white; Blending Mode: Soft Light; Opacity:
80%), and two 8 px offsets which
will act as outer glows (color: white;
Blending Mode: Soft Light; Opacity: 80%).
With all our background’s elements in place, select and group them (Control-G) and then use a copy of the underlying bean-shaped ellipse, which we will paste on top, to mask them (right click > Make Clipping Mask).
Since at this point we’re done working on the background, we can lock its layer and move on to the next one, where we will start creating our little BB8 bot.
5. Create the BB8 Bot
As always, start by making sure you’re on the right layer, locking all the other ones so that your composing shapes won’t get misplaced.
Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and
create a 100 x 100 px circle (
to which we will apply an 8 px offset
for the outline (
#4C3B3B), and then position both shapes onto the background
line, making sure that the outline overlaps it.
Add the head, by creating a 60 x
60 px circle (
#D8D2D2) (1) which we will cut in half by selecting its
bottom anchor point using the Direct
Selection Tool (A) and then pressing Delete
(2). Then, add a 60 x 12 px rectangle
(3) which we will adjust by pushing its bottom anchor points towards the inside
by 6 px (4). Unite the two shapes
(5), and then give them an 8 px outline
#4C3B3B) using the Offset Path method
Once you’ve created the main shapes for the bot’s head, group them, and then position them onto the body, slightly overlapping it.
At this point, we have the main shapes for our little BB8 bot, which means we can now start adding details to them.
Start by adding a subtle shadow to the lower section of the head, which
we will create using a 76 x 4 px rectangle
#897C7C), which we will then mask using
a copy of the underlying shape as a Clipping
Mask (right click > Make Clipping
Double click on the masked shadow to enter Isolation Mode, and then add a 76
x 10 px rectangle (
#4C3B3B) towards its upper section, and another 76 x 2 px one (
#897C7C) on top of it.
With the Rectangle Tool (M) still
selected, add another thinner 76 x 2 px line (
#4C3B3B) towards the upper section of the head, leaving a 2 px empty space gap between it and the larger outline.
Add a 4 x
1 px segment (
#4C3B3B) towards the upper section of the horizontal divider line that
we’ve created in the previous step, making sure to
align it to its center.
Next, move over towards the lower section of the head, and add a couple
of 2 px tall rectangles (
using different width values, which will act as detail lines. Once you’re done,
select and group them (Control-G) so
that they won’t get misplaced.
Continue adding details to the head by selecting a dark orange (
as your main fill color and using it to draw a bunch of rectangles and lines
with the help of the Rectangle Tool (M).
Add a couple of subtle highlights to the main head divider line, using
#FFFFFF) as your fill color, Soft
Light as your Blending Mode,
and lowering the Opacity to 90%.
Next, add a
ring-like highlight to the upper section of the head, using white (
your fill color, Soft Light for your
Blending Mode, and lowering the Opacity to 80%.
Also, make sure to position the highlight underneath the two divider lines, so that it ends up overlapping just the orange sections.
Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and
draw a 16 x 16 px circle (
which we will position towards the center of the bot’s head, at a distance of 6 px from its top side.
Add a subtle highlight (color: white; Blending Mode: Soft Light; Opacity: 60%) over the camera that we’ve just created using a 16 x 8 px ellipse, making sure to mask it using a smaller 8 x 8 px circle.
Add another subtle 2 x 2 px reflection towards the lower left corner, using a circle with the same values that we used for the previous highlight.
Create a copy of the bot’s main eye-camera shape, and turn it into a shadow, by selecting its bottom anchor point and pushing it towards the bottom by 4 px. Then, lower its Opacity to 40% and make sure to position it underneath the camera itself by right clicking > Arrange > Send Backward a couple of times until you get it right.
Add another smaller 8 x 8 px eye-camera using the same process, and position it towards the right side of the head, leaving a gap of 2 px between it and the neck section.
Using the Ellipse
Tool (L) add a 4 x 4 px circle
#4C3B3B) over the empty space created by the main eye-camera and the neck
Finish off BB8’s head by adding
the antennas using a smaller 2 x 16 px rounded
#4C3B3B) with a 1 px Corner Radius
followed by a taller 2 x 28 px one (
Position the two shapes 4 px from
one another, and then group (Control-G)
and center align them to the upper section of the head.
Since we’ve finished working on the head, we can move on to the body and gradually start adding details to it.
First, add a subtle shadow just underneath the bot’s head, by drawing a 116 x 16 px rectangle (
we will adjust by lowering its Opacity to
60% and then mask using the grey
fill circle as a Clipping Mask.
Next, we’ll need to create the three ring sections from the bot’s body,
by drawing a 60 x 60 px circle (
from which we will subtract a smaller 48
x 48 px one using Pathfinder’s Minus Front Shape Mode. Then, we’ll
simply add a 4 px outline (
using the Offset Path method, and
create two copies of the rings, positioning them as follows and making sure to
Once you have the three ring sections in place, start adding the
inner-facing four clips (
#C48251), with the help of an 8 x 8 px rectangle, which we will need to adjust by pushing its top
anchors towards the inside by 2 px.
Position one clip on each side of the circles, and then give them the same 4 px outline (
#4C3B3B), which we will
send to the back of the ring outlines (right
click > Arrange > Send to Back).
Select the bottom ring, and rotate it (right click > Rotate > 45 degrees) so that the clips are now positioned diagonally instead of across.
Using the Ellipse Tool (L) add
an 8 x 8 px circle (
#A39999) with a 4 px outline (
#4C3B3B) to the center of
each of the three ring sections.
Start adding more and more details to the three ring sections, using reference images of the real BB8 to get as close to it as possible. Add shadows and highlights where you feel they are needed, masking them using the shapes that we’ve already built.
Once you’ve finished adding the different details to the rings, it’s time to mask them using a copy of the underlying grey circle as a Clipping Mask. To do that, simply select all the required shapes, paste a copy of the circle on top of them (Control-F), and then right click > Make Clipping Mask.
With the help of the Rectangle
Tool (M), connect the three ring sections using 4 px thick lines (
#4C3B3B), as follows.
Once you’ve added the connector lines, it’s time to add the little
circular insertions, which we will create by drawing a 4 x 4 px circle (
#A39999) to which we’ll add a 2 px outline (
#4C3B3B) and a smaller 2 x 2 px circle (
#4C3B3B) to its center. Group all three shapes (Control-G) and then position a copy
onto each side of the connector lines.
Finish off BB8’s body by adding some subtle highlights, which you’ll create using 2 px offsets for the smaller shapes and a larger 4 px one for the main body.
With the offsets
in place, color them using white (
#FFFFFF) as your fill color, Soft Light as your Blending Mode, and 90% for
Finally, select both the bot’s head and body and group them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.
6. Create the Gradient Overlay
Since at this point our illustration is all done, all we need to do now is add some finishing touches, and we’ll start by adding the gradient overlay.
Before we move on up to the “overlay” layer, we’ll need to unlock all the other ones containing the shapes of our illustration, and use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to grab a copy (Control-C) of the bean-shaped background, the background line, and the bot’s body, which we will then paste (Control-F) onto the third layer, locking the first two layers again.
With the shapes selected, go to the Pathfinder panel, and click on the little down-facing arrow to bring up the options, where we will click on Make Compound Shape.
The reason we did this is because we will want to turn them into a single shape without having them distorted, which would have happened if we were to use the Unite Shape Mode.
Once we’ve created the Compound
Shape, we can bring up the Gradient
panel and apply a Linear gradient,
with the angle set to 90 degrees, using
#ED1C24 for the left color and
#FBB03B for the right one.
Adjust the gradient by setting its Blending Mode to Screen and lowering its Opacity to 68% from within the Transparency panel.
7. Add the Texture
Once you’ve added
the gradient, all you need to do now is apply a nice texture onto the last
layer, and color it using white (
You can use your own texture, or you can download and apply the one that I’ve provided in the attachments of the current tutorial.
It’s a Wrap!
There you have it: a fairly comprehensive tutorial on how to build your very own BB8 illustration using some simple shapes and techniques.
I hope you’ve found the tutorial easy to approach and most importantly learned a new trick or two along the way.
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